Grantee Corner  |  Polk County Public Schools

Polk County Public Schools, between Tampa and Orlando, Florida, serves over 93,000 students. More than 10 percent of these students attend one of Polk County’s 20 magnet and choice schools. The majority of the students in the district are minorities, and more than two thirds receive free or reduced-price lunch.

Polk County’s Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) grant supports five schools, three of which are using the magnet grant to turn around their low-academic performance. Of the five, one existing arts school (Jewett School of the Arts) has been transformed into a science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) academy, and another (Winston Academy of Engineering) has established a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) theme. Three schools (Dundee Ridge Elementary, Dundee Ridge Academy, and Lincoln Avenue Academy) have International Baccalaureate and STEM themes.

Polk County’s MSAP project features unique components for improving all students’ educational experiences. One such component features elementary and middle school fabrication labs that offer high-tech career exploration and facilitate college readiness. Students experience and master STEM curricula through project-based tasks that utilize high-tech 3D printers, laser cutters, and milling equipment. These labs were developed in partnership with the Teaching Institute of Excellence in STEM, Fab Foundation, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Bits and Atoms Program.

An innovative interactive summer learning component aims to prevent and minimize summer learning loss. This program aligns Florida Academic Standards to high-interest, online and offline activities that provide remediation, practice, and enrichment. Teachers support parents and students by providing academic feedback, participating in portfolio reviews, and assisting with technology platforms.

Other components critical to project success include intensive, sustained professional development and curriculum development supported by teacher release time and professional coaching models. These efforts tightly align with district and state initiatives, and rely in part on collaboration with national consultants. In addition, building on change management theory, each school has developed and is implementing multiyear academic and recruitment goals. This work helps schools prioritize their capacity for change, rebrand their marketing materials, and upgrade their web presence.

Student engagement is emphasized through innovative, technology-rich instruction. Whether constructing a tornado tube or growing a hydroponics salsa garden, students actively participate in rich experiences embedded in each unit of study. For example, a fifth-grade unit challenges students to become city planners. Students master geometry and measurement standards by creating scaled blueprints of buildings, finalizing designs with 3D software, and printing the buildings of their model city.

Parents, businesses, and community members support project development and sustainability. Through Polk County’s MSAP grant, students have reached beyond school walls and into their community. For example, Mosaic, a local phosphate company, helped create a simulation of a phosphate mine. The company also brings a mobile lab to schools so students can engage in hands-on extraction of phosphate from mined ore. In addition, Clear Springs donates blueberry bushes and works with students to test the soil and adjust the pH balance to maximize growth and production. Schools work with local business partners to produce blueberry jelly that will be sold at farmer’s markets and local supermarkets.

Carolyn Bridges is Polk County’s MSAP Project Director, and the Senior Director of the Office of Acceleration and Innovation. Under her leadership, the district has expanded a variety of accelerated and rigorous academic programs offering innovative technology solutions. Ms. Bridges has served as a state and national presenter at International Baccalaureate Conferences and Magnet Schools of America.

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