Magazine article District Administration

Lake Wales Charter Schools Caters to Those in Need: Florida Citrus-Belt District Reaches out to Migrant Families, ELLs and the Economically Disadvantaged

Magazine article District Administration

Lake Wales Charter Schools Caters to Those in Need: Florida Citrus-Belt District Reaches out to Migrant Families, ELLs and the Economically Disadvantaged

Article excerpt

Lake Wales Charter Schools, an entirely charter K12 district in central Florida, is the only charter Local educational agency (LEA) in the state. As an LEA, the Lake Wales system functions as its own public school district, retaining administrative and financial control. The Lake Wales Charter Schools district faces several challenges, including educating a large migrant population and high poverty rates. Serving over 4,000 students, Superintendent Jesse L. Jackson and his administration have been innovative in fostering an internal culture of collaboration and communication to engage their ESL students and families.

DA: How did Lakes Wales Charter Schools become an LEA?

Jesse Jackson: Our charter system developed when parents and faculty banded together to convert the majority of failing schools in our local Polk County public school district into charters. In a town of seven schools, five were converted to charters over the years.

Polk County was the district in charge of the Lake Wales schools before they converted, receiving federal funds that were distributed to the charters. In addition, our charter system was paying the district around $ 1 million annually in administrative fees. We believed that if we are servicing the students, then we should get the federal dollars directly and pay much less in fees.

When I came on board as superintendent in 2008, my first task was to encourage legislation in Florida to give us local control as a recognized LEA district. Since we do not depend on the district for anything except student data information for reporting, we now pay substantially less to the district system following our approval as an LEA.

Has Lake Wales' distinction as an LEA changed the services it offers?

The distinction enabled us to receive all federal entitlement funds directly, rather than through disbursements controlled by our local district. As an LEA with Title I designations, we qualified for several federal programs, including grants to provide resources and funding for economically disadvantaged children, migrant and homeless education programs, professional development, English-language learning and more.

In switching from public schools to a charter system, Lake Wales was not looking to serve a select student population but rather pursued the option to retain more financial and administrative control. As an LEA, private dollars can also be used more efficiently to help programs. One of the challenges as an LEA is the debt and responsibility that comes with purchasing and maintaining facilities rather than utilizing local district money. We found our community to be highly supportive.

Charter principals are like CEOs of their schools, managing much of their budgets, utility and maintenance costs. By doing so, we create leaders who really understand curriculum, budgets and evaluation with much more individual accountability. Being an LEA has facilitated them to pursue different curricula with less red tape than they would have to contend with in a district. Responsibilities are more fluid, and teamwork and information sharing are highly encouraged at central office and in the schools.

When the town was thinking of becoming a charter district, Lake Wales backed serving all students regardless of their families' status or the children's disability levels. …

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