Polk County close to hiring contractor to improve struggling school

By Stephanie Claytor, Reporter
Last Updated: Wednesday, February 14, 2018, 6:23 PM EST

The future is uncertain for six underperforming schools in Polk County.

  • District recommends 'Educational Directions' for struggling schools
  • Law requires struggling schools to close, convert to charter, have contractor
  • 'Educational Directions' charging minimum of $325,000 per school

The schools include Kathleen Middle, Lake Marion Creek Middle, Bartow Middle Garner Elementary, Griffin Elementary, and Lake Alfred Polytech Academy.

A new law requires these schools to either close, convert to a charter, or have an outside contractor step in if they don’t pull up their grade to a C or better this June.

That’s because these schools received a D or F letter grade from the state for the past two years.

District staff is recommending the school board hire consulting firm “Educational Directions.”

“They’re already working in some of our schools. They’re very collaborative in nature, and we have a really good working relationship with them,” said Dr. Michael Akes, the district’s Chief Academic Officer.

Dr. Akes said the company has already helped improve Denison and Westwood Middle Schools' students’ performance.

Dr. Akes said working with the consulting firm would be more like a partnership, where the company would bring in coaches, data support and provide a customized approach to improving student performance.

The goal is to keep the current staff in place, however, Akes said the firm would help them evaluate whether they have the best leadership teams in place.

School Board member Kay Fields believes hiring Educational Directions as a private contractor is the best option.

“Out of three options that we have, this is going to be the best fit for our school district but more than anything for our students and employees because we will have input. We still will have input over the day-to-day operation of our schools,” said Kay Fields.

School Board member Billy Townsend disagrees.

“It’s immoral. I’m not going to vote to hurt my own community, my own kids, my own teachers. I’m tired of the state of Florida trying to force us to do that,” said Billy Townsend.

Educational Directions is charging a minimum of $325,000 per school for the first year, along with $62,500 for a needs assessment. The school district would be stuck with the bill.

“That’s money not spent on teachers, that’s money not spent on enriching kids, that’s’ money spent on consultants. I think that also affects the rest of the schools because that’s money taken away from them,” Townsend said.

The school board will vote on the matter during its meeting on Feb. 27.