Make us your home page
Instagram

Gradebook

Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida education news: Constitution changes, #HB7069, school security and more

Miami Herald (2017)

NEW RULES: Once every 20 years, Florida convenes a commission to examine whether the state constitution needs amending. Education — Article IX — can play a pivotal role, and this time around the subject appears to be coming into focus for possible change. Members of the public already have submitted their proposals, and the commission has begun discussing where it wants to go next. Voters will get the final say, with approval harder to come by than before.

STUDENT DISCIPLINE: Hillsborough County schools see a dramatic decrease in expulsions.

HB 7069: Thirteen Florida school districts file suit to challenge the constitutionality of HB 7069, which creates a new category of charter schools and forces districts to share their tax revenue with charters, the Orlando Sentinel reports. The Palm Beach County School Board already had filed a complaint separately. More from WLRN.

SECURITY: Gov. Rick Scott calls for an additional $1 million to help protect Florida's private Jewish schools, the Palm Beach Post reports.

LABOR NEWS: The Brevard County school district presents its "best and final" pay proposal during negotiations, Space Coast Daily reports. …

Full Story

Expulsion cases are down, but not as much in New Tampa

Freedom High School led Hillsborough County this year in expulsion and change of placement cases, with 23.

TIMES FILES

Freedom High School led Hillsborough County this year in expulsion and change of placement cases, with 23.

Expulsion and change of placement cases dropped dramatically in Hillsborough County this past year, to a total of 244.

That's down from 508 in 2015-16 and 500 for 2014-15. And it is s steep drop from a decade ago, when the district removed as many as 1,000 students, mostly from its middle and high schools.

A detailed report from the school district shows that African American students account for more than half the cases (124) even though they make up 21 percent of the student population. The proportions are fairly consistent with past years even though the total numbers have fallen across the board.

A big change, under new district policies on discipline, is in the rate of expulsion cases in middle schools. A decade ago, in 2007, the numbers were McLane: 51, Eisenhower: 35, and Madison: 30. This year they are McLane: 3, Eisenhower: 5, and Madison: 5. For the last two years, district leaders have emphasized counseling, mentoring and social-emotional learning programs to address behavioral issues before they escalate. Expulsion cases are limited to specific offenses such as sexual battery, possession of a weapon, threat to the life of another student, and drug possession with intent to sell.

Two exceptions in a sea of mostly lower numbers were in New Tampa's two high schools. Freedom High had 23 expulsion and change of placement cases, nearly 10 percent of the entire district. Wharton High came in second place with 17.

New this year in the report is a school-by-school count of 58 students who have shown "continually disruptive behavior." That's what is represented in the sixth, unlabelled spreadsheet page. 

Those 58 students are not included in the expulsion and change of placement statistics, as their offenses do not rise to the level that would allow an expulsion hearing. They can remain in their schools or, in some cases, be moved to an alternative site.

Full Story

Florida education news: VAM scores, board battles, social media threats and more

This formula is causing some Florida teachers to lose their positions.

Florida Department of Education

This formula is causing some Florida teachers to lose their positions.

FORCED OUT: Five teachers at Hernando County's Moton Elementary School are transferred out because of their value-added measure (VAM) scores. The school has struggled with state testing and received low marks in the state grading system, prompting the move.

AFTER THE STORM: Monroe County School Board members discuss building affordable housing for teachers who lost their homes in Hurricane Irma, the Keynoter reports. • Florida schools are asking state and federal lawmakers for financial help from an anticipated influx of students from the islands, The 74 reports. • The Lee, Collier and Monroe school districts will be able to provide free meals to all students for an additional month, the Fort Myers News-Press reports.

INFIGHTING: Polk County School Board members fight over their roles in a recent employee investigation, the Ledger reports. • Sarasota County School Board members, often split on issues, attend training to improve their working relationship, the Herald-Tribune reports. …

Full Story

ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of Oct. 8, 2017

Seven Springs Elementary principal Todd Cluff took over the school's turnaround effort in early 2017.

Douglas Clifford | Times

Seven Springs Elementary principal Todd Cluff took over the school's turnaround effort in early 2017.

School start times matter. Leaders of the nation's eighth-largest school district are trying to change theirs, and have run into pushback as they move toward adoption of a plan that would more closely align with what experts recommend. Catch up on this story and other highlights of the week's Florida education news below. You can keep up with our conversation on Facebook, hear our podcast, and follow our blog to get all the latest Florida education news. All tips, comments and ideas welcome. Know anyone else who'd like to get this weekly roundup or other email updates? Have them send a note to jsolochek@tampabay.com.

At Seven Springs Elementary, a positive outlook and a focus on achievement, Chris Bowling
"For years, Seven Springs Elementary School managed to stay off the lists. The state never found it to be a problem school. It also operated without major oversight from the Pasco County School District. That all changed in 2014, when Seven Springs got a D rating from the state." …

Full Story

Five teachers transferred out of Moton Elementary following state evaluation visit

Less than a week after state educators visited Moton Elementary School as part of an improvement plan, five teachers at the long-struggling school have been relocated.

In an email, district spokesperson Karen Jordan said "the state team that visited Moton last week did NOT initiate the teacher transfers" and that "those staff changes were initiated by enrollment" and Florida Statute earlier this year.

"As early as mid-September, the teachers were made aware of the situation," Jordan said. "The actual transfer only happened recently in order to make the transition at the quarter mark."

She said Moton “was required to transfer” three teachers due to low value-added model (VAM) scores, used as an evaluation tool for educators, earned during the 2015-2016 school year.

Thera Badala, a fifth-grade teacher who had been at the school for 13 years, was moved to Westside Elementary. Jessica Stratt, a third-grade teacher, and Jennifer Odell, a fifth-grade teacher, who both started at the school this year, were also transferred. Stratt is now at Pine Grove Elementary and Odell at Deltona Elementary. …

Full Story

Here's what those two charter schools promised the Hillsborough School Board

Woodmont Charter School has a new principal who described himself as a turnaround specialist. "It's all on me to get the job done," Lane Morris said.

WILL VRAGOVIC | TIMES

Woodmont Charter School has a new principal who described himself as a turnaround specialist. "It's all on me to get the job done," Lane Morris said.

How much authority do local school boards have over charter schools?

Not a lot, the Hillsborough board was reminded this week.

Two D-rated charter schools were required, by law, to come before the elected board and present their plans for improvement.

But, the board members were told, they would not be asked to sign off on the plans and staff, although allowed to visit the schools regularly and offer help, cannot do their thinking for them.

First up was Community Charter School of Excellence, an institution close to a decade old and housed on the back end of a strip shopping center in the low-income University of South Florida area.

A bit of history: Community Charter, which was given an initial contract from 2008-13, got a two-year and then a one-year renewal because of its D grades and F grades. Things got better, the school got a C in 2016 and, having passed a school district inspection with flying colors, it got a five-year extension.

Now it's back to a D.

The student body is 90 percent poor and minority, and principal Matt Torano told the board he embraces that community. That statement pleased board member Tamara Shamburger, who said she never wants demographics to be an excuse. …

Full Story

Gradebook podcast: On mental health, early education, tax credit scholarships and more

Parent Elizabeth Moya, also a legislative aide, addresses the Committee on Early Grade Success during its first meeting this week in Tallahassee.

The Florida Channel

Parent Elizabeth Moya, also a legislative aide, addresses the Committee on Early Grade Success during its first meeting this week in Tallahassee.

After a hiatus lengthened by Hurricane Irma, Florida lawmakers returned to Tallahassee this past week to begin their committee work leading to the 2018 session. Much of the time was spent listening to presentations and overviews, but along the way priorities emerged. Among them, a newly proposed scholarship for bullied students and heightened interest in transforming struggling district schools to charter status. Reporter Jeff Solochek recaps the week's highlights.

Full Story

Florida education news: Turnarounds, state rules, pets' mess and more

Seven Springs Elementary principal Todd Cluff works with second grade teacher Jennifer Kalo and her students.

Doug Clifford | Times

Seven Springs Elementary principal Todd Cluff works with second grade teacher Jennifer Kalo and her students.

TURNAROUNDS: Seven Springs Elementary School, once one of Pasco County's highest performing elementary schools, looks for a way back to better academic results after its student demographics change. • State education leaders step in to help Moton Elementary, Hernando County's long struggling campus.

FLEXIBILITY: Hundreds of Florida's most successful schools on state testing receive relief on class size, teacher certification, budgeting and other laws. 

OUTTA HERE: A St. Petersburg College provost is fired for waiting too long to report his arrest to school officials.

"SCHOOLS OF HOPE": The Florida Department of Education gives no hints which schools might receive $2,000-per-student grants to help their improvement efforts. The department also is still working on rules for charter school operators to follow if they want support to open near district schools that repeatedly fall short on state testing goals, Redefined reports. So far none have applied for the funding.

LEGAL COUNSEL: The Holmes County School Board hires a new attorney, the Holmes County Times Advertiser reports. …

Full Story

No advance list planned for Florida 'Schools of Hope' recommendations

Florida House of Representatives

Attempting to satisfy public school backers who were leery about pouring state money into a new charter school system, Florida lawmakers set aside $51.5 million this spring for up to 25 district "Schools of Hope."

The criteria were well established, although the guidelines to win the $2,000 per student award were less so. Fifty of the ninety eligible schools applied, with the recipients slated to be announced at the State Board of Education's meeting Oct. 18.

But unlike the new Schools of Excellence program, which listed its accepted schools late Wednesday, there's nothing indicating which schools might land the Hope grant. The Department of Education staff has not included any ranking of the applications, or made any public recommendations.

Rather, department spokeswoman Cheryl Etters said, the State Board will review each submission and then decide which to give the money, if any.

"It's going to depend on how well they meet the criteria for the grant," Etters said.

Florida lawmakers are paying attention. …

Full Story

Draft of Pinellas 2018-19 calendar is out

The Pinellas County School Board will discuss the proposed school instructional calendar for the 2018-19 school year at a board workshop on Tuesday.

Times files

The Pinellas County School Board will discuss the proposed school instructional calendar for the 2018-19 school year at a board workshop on Tuesday.

Take a look: a draft copy of the proposed Pinellas County Schools instructional calendar for the 2018-19 school year is out for review.

If approved, school staff will report back Thursday, August 2, 2018, and students will return to school Monday, August 13, 2018. First semester exams will be held before winter break, which begins Saturday, December 22, 2018 until Sunday, January 6, 2019.

Spring break will take place from Saturday, March 9, 2019, through Sunday, March 17, 2019. Last day of school for students will be Wednesday, May 29, 2019 and for 10-month instructional staff on Thursday, May 30, 2019.

The School Board will discuss the calendar at a workshop on Tuesday. It's expected to go before the board for approval at its next meeting Oct. 24.

Other topics on Tuesday's workshop agenda include a review of a charter school application for the St. Petersburg Academy of Math and Science Charter School, which has applied to open August 2018.

Hillsborough County school superintendent Jeff Eakins is expected to make an appearance to discuss a new collaborative partnership between his district and Pinellas on three initiatives: early learning, workforce and graduation rates. …

Full Story

Two charter school applicants seek to enter Pasco County

Pinellas County-based Plato Academy is expanding into surrounding communities.

Times file

Pinellas County-based Plato Academy is expanding into surrounding communities.

Two charter school operators seeking to extend their reach in Pasco County will ask the School Board for approval to open new campuses in 2018.

Plato Academy, based in Pinellas County, has applied to open its second school in the county. Planned to serve children in kindergarten through eighth grade, the school proposes to open with 288 students and grow to 728 students within five years.

It would be based on the group's Clearwater academy, one of nine already in operation. Plato Academy's Trinity campus, in its second year, has only about 70 students enrolled as construction of its new permanent building has been delayed.

The group does not have a location selected for its second location.

Miami-based Academica has applied to open one of its Pinecrest schools in the Wesley Chapel area, where most of the district schools have struggled with crowding concerns. District officials said they have received resident requests for a charter school to help ease the burden.

Pinecrest Academy Wesley Chapel also would be a K-8 school. It aims to open with 652 students in its first year, and to grow to 1,200 students by the fifth year. …

Full Story

Florida Department of Education names schools to get relief from some state rules

Times (2013)

Hundreds of Florida public schools learned late Wednesday that they will not have to follow state rules regarding class size, reading instruction and daily start and end times for the next three years.

They're identified as "Schools of Excellence" through a program the Legislature created in the spring, in HB 7069. Lawmakers said they wanted to make it easier for highly successful schools to operate.

The list largely reflects Florida's schools serving more affluent communities, and some with self-selected populations, much like the state grading system does.

In the Tampa Bay area, the list includes:

Hernando County - Chocachatti Elementary; Gulf Coast Academy of Science and Technology and Gulf Coast middle schools; Challenger K-8 …

Full Story

Florida education news: Anti-bullying voucher, board battles, enrollment and more

Pasco Middle School students wear Tough Guys Wear Pink T-shirts during Pink Out Day, promoting peace in school.

Courtesy Sandra J. Mead

Pasco Middle School students wear Tough Guys Wear Pink T-shirts during Pink Out Day, promoting peace in school.

ANOTHER CHOICE: Suggesting that bullied children shouldn't have to remain in the schools where they've been victimized, Florida House Republican leaders propose a new tax credit scholarship to allow those students to transfer to another public or private school of their choice. "When you put a kid in a good, safe learning environment, good results happen," Speaker Richard Corcoran said. Early reaction to the idea was mixed, with backers praising the expansion of options and critics wondering why not punish the bully rather than encourage the victim to leave. Senate leaders said they were open to the proposal, the Times-Herald Tallahassee Bureau reports.

INFIGHTING: A lack of trust surfaces among Hillsborough County School Board members during a training session on listening and respect.

WHO'S RESPONSIBLE? Palm Beach County School Board members take issue with a legal defense strategy that contended third graders might have borne responsibility for sexual abuse by their teacher, the Sun-Sentinel reports. "I don't think a child can ever consent to being sexually abused," member Frank Barbieri said. …

Full Story

Florida House leadership announces plan for new student scholarship

State Rep. Byron Donalds introduces the Florida House "Hope Scholarship" concept during a news conference Wednesday.

The Florida Channel

State Rep. Byron Donalds introduces the Florida House "Hope Scholarship" concept during a news conference Wednesday.

A bill that won't likely be filed for another 30 days rose to the top of the Florida House's education priorities Wednesday, as Speaker Richard Corcoran and the chairmen and vice chairmen of all education committees gathered to announce the "Hope Scholarship."

Modeled after the corporate tax credit scholarship, which allows donors to contribute to private school scholarships for low-income children, the proposed new system would let students who report being victimized at school to transfer to a different public or private school without cost. They would become eligible 15 days after filing their complaint. 

The scholarship, with its name reminiscent of last session's controversial "Schools of Hope" charter school provision, would allow the students to "continue their learning in a new environment with a fresh start," said Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, who will sponsor the legislation.

He said about 47,000 students could have taken advantage of the scholarship last year, with another estimated 67,000 students who did not report violence or bullying against them. …

Full Story

Hillsborough school board rift is on display at training event

April Griffin has been a member of the Hillsborough County School Board since 2006.

HCPS

April Griffin has been a member of the Hillsborough County School Board since 2006.

TEMPLE TERRACE - The school boards of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties were supposed to be learning how to become more effective through listening and respect. That was the goal, anyway, of the Florida School Boards Association's training event Wednesday at the University of Phoenix.

But just two hours into the day of kumbaya, Hillsborough board members Tamara Shamburger and April Griffin drowned out the room with an escalating argument.

Shamburger said Griffin discounts newer board members on the dais. Griffin said she has "completely withdrawn" from conflict on the board. Shamburger covered her face with her palm.

She then packed up her belongings and stormed out of the room. "I don't get pissed, and now you're gonna get me pissed."

Expletives ensued.

"You supported my opponent Joe Robinson (in the 2016 election). And you treated me like s---," Shamburger said on her way out.

Pinellas board member Rene Flowers tried to calm Shamburger. Flowers followed Shamburger out of the room to console her.

"I treat her with the highest respect," Griffin told her board colleagues after denying that she mistreated Shamburger. …

Full Story