Home Lake County FL Education Lake’s leader of 43,000 kids reflects on the new job

Lake’s leader of 43,000 kids reflects on the new job

Lake County Schools Dianne Kornegay

Lake County Schools —

Since starting Jan. 18, Lake school Superintendent Diane Kornegay has nearly filled her journal with reports and Post-it notes from her visits to 45 schools, 250-plus classrooms and the feedback of teachers and community groups throughout the county.

The former Clay County deputy superintendent, who started as transitional superintendent before officially taking the reins from retiring Superintendent Susan Moxley on March 11, was picked to help improve one of the region’s lowest-performing school districts. Kornegay sat down with the Orlando Sentinel to talk about her early tenure.

How have you spent most of your time meeting the goals you set during your first 100 days?

“Goal number one, which is really to build relationships and trust and kind of establish some collaboration, has probably been where I have spent the majority of my time, because I think that has to come first. I’ve visited right around 20 different events, everything from Kiwanis [meetings] to communities and chamber events. I’ve met with a number of individual stakeholders, whether it be city managers, the sheriff, Robert Chandler with [county] economic development and his team.”

What kind of feedback are you hearing, especially from teachers?

“Some of the things that teachers want to continue that I hear a lot is the collaborative planning time, and, at the elementary level, they have some intervention teacher support systems. That’s come up as a really valuable thing for them, to have people come in and go and help with our more struggling kids.The worst thing you can do is have something working really well that they like, and then you take it away.”

Florida’s school-rating system has five components. Are there certain components that you think the Lake school district should focus on?

“There are specific things that we need to focus on, because our data shows there are some holes. One of them is in the area of college and career readiness. In our college acceleration report card, we rank 57th out of 67 [school districts]. The more programs that you have that kids are engaged in, they want to be part of that. … We talk about graduation rates, and while that’s gone up a little bit, we’re still below the state average and the national average. … That’s one way to increase that, is making sure that kids stay in school and when we put programs in place, they’re more likely to come stay in school.”

Lake schools. What led you to do that?

“That was one of the things when I first was learning about the district. Geographically, it’s just so big. You have a growing student population. And as I got to know the schools, they’re so diverse and you go to Umatilla, versus a school in Clermont, you have a growing ESOL [English for Speakers of Other Languages] population to the south — they’re just diverse. I think that it’s very hard when you’re thinking about this central-office concept to meet the diverse needs of 45 schools that are spread so far apart.”

In an ideal world, what changes would you have the Legislature make to schools?

“[I’d] have them undo some of the changes that they’ve done. I’ve been very vocal about assessments. I agree in line with parents and teachers that local control about how we progress-monitor with our kids should be measured locally and the state assessment has now become punitive for teachers.”

As the county grows, one of the district’s struggles is school capacity. What will that look like going forward?

“Right now, we have a five-year capital plan that does’t have a new school to the south until 2021, which means we’re going to have to manage a lot of growth in the meantime, and that’s going to be quite a challenge. … We’re certainly going to have to get creative and look to see what other options exist, because we need capital outlay dollars.”

When someone says, ‘Talk about Lake schools,’ what comes to mind?

“The common theme that I want to mention is that the people here are just tremendous and they genuinely care about their schools and kids, whether they have kids in the school system or not. … Nobody’s pointing fingers — they just say ‘What can we do and how can we make it better?’ I think that’s unique to this community — they’re all about solutions.”

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