Diversity is one of the stories at Plant City High School. So, too, is the school's academic progress.
"Years ago, we were known as an agricultural school," principal Colleen Richardson said. "Now we're known much more as an academic school."
This year, a Plant City graduating senior mustered the highest grade point average — 8.92 — in the school's 98-year history and the second highest countywide among new graduates.
Six years ago, 23 percent of seniors had taken college-level Advanced Placement classes at Plant City High. That figure hit 47 percent this past school year.
Also this year, 82 percent of graduates are college-bound — the highest number in the school's history.
One reason for the change? A districtwide emphasis on academics, Richardson said.
Another: Plant City's increasing racial and economic diversity. It emerges each time Richardson, who became principal in 2007, strolls the halls between classes.
After 2000, the city's Hispanic population doubled, its Indian population grew by 56 percent and the number of Asians rose by 85 percent, census figures show.
At the same time, more professionals, office workers and managers found work in Plant City.
The census indicates that workers in management and professional jobs increased by 34 percent after 2000. Sales and office positions rose 26 percent.
The population increases also brought about a third high school. Strawberry Crest opened in 2009 and drew some students from Plant City High.
Though it remains in many ways a tight-knit farming community, the city's changing economic, racial and cultural landscape has resulted in expectations, both by parents and students, of life beyond agriculture, Richardson said.
"We have many more parents who are professionals and we cater our curriculum around the needs of our parents," she said.
"Plant City may still have a small-town feel," she said. "We still have a lot of farms and have the Strawberry Festival. But our academic programs have grown substantially."
Rich Shopes, Times staff writer