Polk State Lakeland Collegiate High School has been named a 2023 Cognia School of Distinction for excellence in education.
This year, Cognia, the global nonprofit school improvement organization, recognized 33 schools and school systems in the U.S. and in four other countries across the globe as 2023 Cognia Schools or Systems of Distinction. Cognia selected Polk State Lakeland Collegiate High School as one of the 25 schools and eight systems out of more than 1,100 eligible institutions that hosted a Cognia Accreditation Engagement Review during the 2022-2023 school year.
“Our school focuses intensely on continuous improvement,” Principal Rick Jeffries said. “We’re always evaluating ourselves and trying to find ways to be better. For our accrediting body to take notice means a lot.”
Lakeland Collegiate participated in Cognia’s rigorous Accreditation Engagement Review process, which is grounded in research-based performance standards. The process includes a third-party review of evidence by education experts, interviews, and classroom observations. The review evaluates institutions and seeks evidence of growth in learning, a healthy culture for learning, engaging and high-quality instructional environments, and effective leadership for learning — all characteristics Cognia expects to see in quality schools that also demonstrate a commitment to continuous improvement.
Lakeland Collegiate has been a fully accredited high school since its inception in 2004 and has participated in the reaccreditation process numerous times since. This is the first time it has received this designation.
“It involved every member of our staff,” Jeffries added. “My leadership team met more than once a week during the reaccreditation process. We had students provide feedback as well as parents and stakeholders. Cognia indicated how impressed they were with how that’s embedded in our culture.”
To ensure representation across stakeholders, Lakeland Collegiate has created a Principal’s Advisory Council (PAC) and School Advisory Council (SAC). The PAC is made up of about 10 students who meet regularly with the principal during lunch to discuss various ways the school can improve. The SAC consists of business owners and parents, who do likewise.
“Everyone has a voice and a part in this accomplishment,” Jeffries said. “It takes a village, and we have a great village.”
Representatives from Lakeland Collegiate will share strategies and be presented a plaque and banner as a School of Distinction during next week’s Cognia IMPACT Conference in Tampa. During the Florida Charter Schools Conference in Orlando from Oct. 18 through 20, they will lead a session explaining their recipe for success.
“Polk State Lakeland Collegiate High School is to be commended for earning the designation as a School of Distinction,” said Mark A. Elgart, President and CEO of Cognia. “Cognia accreditation is already a mark of school quality recognized around the world. Being named a School or System of Distinction further acknowledges the demonstrated commitment to education quality and a mindset of continuous improvement that Polk State Lakeland Collegiate has for its learners.”
Polk State College has three collegiate high schools that allow students to simultaneously complete requirements for their high school diplomas while earning college credits. In most cases, students graduate with both their high school diplomas and Associate in Arts degrees at no cost to them.
For the 2021-22 Academic Year, Lakeland Collegiate and Polk State Chain of Lakes Collegiate High School each received an A grade. Polk State Lakeland Gateway to College Collegiate High School achieved a Commendable school improvement rating, which it receives in place of a school grade due to differences in its mission and charter. Commendable is the highest rating.
“To see Polk State Lakeland Collegiate recognized among the elite institutions in our nation and across the globe speaks to the commitment of faculty and staff in providing an exemplary level of education to students throughout our community,” Polk State President Angela Garcia Falconetti said. “Our three collegiate high schools continue to excel at the highest levels while providing some of our youngest students with a robust, accelerated college experience.”