The Polk County School Board voted unanimously on Tuesday to expand McLaughlin Middle School & Fine Arts Academy into Polk’s newest middle-high school. Teachers, parents, community members and students flooded the school board meeting to show their support of the plan. They also praised McLaughlin’s positive impact on the area’s youth. “I hope that kids in the future will be able to experience the incredible opportunities and experiences I have been able to have,” said Tristan Harbert, an eighth-grader at McLaughlin. “I know that where McLaughlin is concerned, there will always be academic and social excellence.” “Providing our students with the highest caliber of educational experience is of the utmost importance,” said Hailey Bottoms, an English language arts teacher at the school. “Becoming a middle-high school is a testament to the dedication that this school and the district have to that goal.” Currently, McLaughlin serves students grades 6 – 8. Under the approved plan, it will continue serving middle school students but will also add ninth grade beginning next school year (2022-23). Additional grade levels will be added each year until McLaughlin covers grades 6 – 12. The project will better utilize available space at McLaughlin and prepare for anticipated population growth in the area. Another benefit is allowing students to stay connected to McLaughlin as they adapt to the challenges of high school. Students can stay focused on the increased academic responsibilities while still experiencing the continuity of their familiar neighborhood school. McLaughlin’s principal, Dr. Debra Wright Hudson, said she was touched to see how much the project has been embraced by her students, staff, families and the entire community. With this transition, McLaughlin will be able to offer even more unique opportunities to its students, including expanded athletics, clubs and electives. “In the words of Sam Cooke, it’s been a long time coming,” said Hudson. “This is a historic moment for the city of Lake Wales, and most importantly, the students of McLaughlin who will set the path as inaugural graduates of the class of 2026.”
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