The Polk County School Board has selected Crystal Lake Elementary as the county’s first center of learning to be transformed into a community school.
“This is one of the neatest projects I’ve ever worked on,” said Deputy Superintendent John Small. “The community school model is a game-changer for us. We will be able to identify available resources throughout the community and connect them with students more efficiently.”
Under the community school model, a public school becomes a center of activity beyond just academics by serving the physical, mental and emotional needs of students and their families. The community surrounding the school will also have access to these services.
The school becomes a convenient hub for students to access social services, health care and other resources in the community. Partnerships must be forged with key organizations to make the concept a reality.
Polk County’s community school will also rely on core partnerships; which will include a long term memorandum of understanding.
Local partners who have been involved in the community school analysis include: Polk Vision, Center for Community Partnership Schools at the University of Central Florida, Central Florida Health Care, Heartland for Children, United Way of Central Florida, Polk State College, Florida Department of Health for Polk County, Polk County Health & Human Services, Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce, Winter Haven Public Education Partnership, Lakeland Chamber of Commerce, Lakeland Regional Health, GiveWell Community Foundation, Learning Resource Center and Polk Education Foundation.
A meticulous process began last year to research which of the 73 Polk elementary schools had the best chance for success as the county’s first community school. A group of stakeholders formed separate committees to explore objective data on the needs of various student populations, as well as the locations and available space of existing school sites.
The group continued to look at more data, such as school grades, transportation numbers, free & reduced lunch rates, teacher retention rates, suspensions, expulsions and feeder patterns. The list was further narrowed down over a period of months.
The group also visited successful community schools in Orange and Hillsborough counties. During these tours, the group met with principals, core partners and community school staff.
At today’s work session, the group submitted its findings to the Polk County School Board.
Board members agreed that Crystal Lake Elementary should serve as the pilot program.
Three schools were identified as prime candidates: Crystal Lake Elementary in Lakeland, Inwood Elementary in Winter Haven and Gibbons Street Elementary in Bartow.
“Our goal is to make this a success and replicate this concept at other schools,” Small said. “All of the schools we researched could benefit from the community school concept. We plan to learn valuable lessons at Crystal Lake Elementary that will help us in the future.”