In 2010, UCF, the Children’s Home Society of Florida and Orange County School District signed a 25-year memorandum of understanding to establish a partnership to start a community school at Evans High — once referred to as a double F dropout factory. Central Florida Family Health Center signed on later as the fourth key part of the partnership. Evans is now a C school.
Polk’s initiative has partnered with UCF, too, Shoemaker said.
“What’s so great about this is that a lot of times we get caught up in a program for a year or two and it’s gone because we don’t think it works,” Shoemaker told The Ledger. “The community school model involves a 25-year MOU between the key partners.
“It’s a marriage, it just doesn’t go away after two or three years,” he added. “It’s my understanding through UCF that a partner has never pulled out and I feel pretty good about the key partners involved.”
The key partners of the community school model are a school district, lead nonprofit organization, a university and a healthcare entity.
Community partners involved in Polk include Polk State College, United Way of Central Florida, Heartland for Children and Central Florida Health Clinic — just to name a few.
Funding for the community school will come from community and business partners, Shoemaker said, and grants are available through UCF’s program.
Shoemaker visited Evans High for the first time in 2012. In November he led a field trip of stakeholders to the school and, recently, they visited Mort Elementary in Tampa.
“I’m passionate about this program for one reason and one reason only,” he said. “It’s because each of those schools that I walked into, we saw happy kids, happy parents and happy teachers.”
The big question: what school will become Polk’s first community school?
“Everyone wants to do it at the high school they’re familiar with,” said Small, but he’d like to see it in an elementary school.
“If we can help children, the younger we can do that, the better off we are,” Small said. “It’s almost like triage at the middle school and at the high school, it is triage.”
And although the concept is to fix problems at schools, Small said advice he received was not to pick the neediest school.
“If you pick a school that needs all the heavy lifting… it’s going to be hard to get it off the ground,” he said. “It can stunt replication and progress.
“We need to be conscious of a picking school where we can really pull this off.”
The committees formed Thursday will meet over the next month to review and discuss factors including location, transportation, free-and-reduced lunch, teacher turnover, retention rates, among other things, and meet altogether again in June.
“There’s going to be 16 municipalities disappointed that the school selected is not in their municipality,” said Katie Worthington, president and CEO of Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce, who signed up for the steering committee. “From a strategic planning perspective … we should narrow it down to three or four schools and say we have a priority list for the next three or four years.
“As our demographics change, our communities grow and we see the definite success of the program, this will be ongoing to see which schools are folded in.”
Shoemaker hopes to get the community school model implemented by 2018.
“We have a tremendous amount of support,” he said.