Make us your home page


Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Most Florida teachers continue to get strong evaluation ratings

Nearly all of Florida's evaluated public school teachers continued to receive strong reviews in 2015-16, according to newly released data from the state Department of Education.

As in previous years, about 98 percent of teachers statewide rated either "highly effective" (42.9%) or "effective" (52.0%), with a tiny 0.2 percent receiving "unsatisfactory" marks, 0.7 percent as "developing" in their first three years, and 1.2 percent "needs improvement." Another 28,683 teachers were not evaluated.

For the past five years, these results have been used to guide district decisions on raises and contract renewals, among other key actions. The state also has taken the information into account when determining eligibility for its controversial Best and Brightest bonus.

District leaders, meanwhile, have suggested they would like to see a more meaningful evaluation model that places a heavier emphasis on criteria other than test scores, with an eye toward helping teachers identify areas of excellence and deficits needing more training. Superintendents recently called upon lawmakers to eliminate the value-added model, that incorporates testing results, and allow for more locally driven decisions. …

Full Story

Pasco County parents petition to keep principal Chris Dunning (but he's going anyway)

Principal Chris Dunning

Times file photo

Principal Chris Dunning

It took maybe an hour after the news came out Friday for parents to start protesting the reassignment of admired Seven Springs Middle School principal Chris Dunning.

"It goes without saying how much we love Chris Dunning at SSMS...and we​,​ meaning staff, parents and students," community activist Heide Janshon wrote in an email to superintendent Kurt Browning. "The news we all got today is shocking and crushing. We do not want to lose him."

Other messages soon followed, with the words "stunned" and "saddened" prevalent. At least one person suggested the move to Ridgewood High was "politically motivated," noting Dunning and his wife were vocal opponents of the superintendent's plan to rezone their Longleaf neighborhood into different schools next fall.

A petition to keep Dunning at Seven Springs, where he's worked since 2012, quickly appeared online and gained more than 600 signatures by early Monday.

But Dunning told the Gradebook he intends to make the move to Ridgewood, effective Wednesday. …

Full Story

Florida education news: Budget cuts, teacher evaluations, A-Plus funds and more

BUDGET CUTTING: Hillsborough County school district officials are hesitant to cut grant-funded programs that help students, even after the money runs out.

IN COURT: A former Pinellas County student who was attacked at school sues the district.

EVALUATIONS: Nearly all Manatee County teachers receive a performance rating of "effective" or "highly effective," primarily because of a contract agreement, the Bradenton Herald reports.

RECOGNITION FUNDS: Florida schools see a 36 percent decrease in state A-Plus money as their student test results decrease, the Florida Times-Union reports.

SICK SCHOOLS? A new report by an environmental group suggests Florida schools might have high lead levels in their water, WGCU reports.

SUPERINTENDENTS: Eighteen people have applied to be Alachua County's next superintendent, the Gainesville Sun reports. • Polk County superintendent Jacqueline Byrd answers five questions for the Ledger. • Palm Beach County superintendent Robert Avossa would be eligible for a raise next year under a new proposal, the Palm Beach Post reports. …

Full Story

ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of Feb. 12, 2017

Florida education news always picks up when lawmakers get to Tallahassee, and this week is no exception. They debated testing and other key issues in another round of committee meetings. But there was so much more. The State Board of Education approved tiny Jefferson County to become Florida's first county charter school district, several leaders with ties to education won spots on the Constitution Revision Commission, and some Palm Beach children and parents learned what pressures they face when they decide to speak out against school district actions.

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 …

Full Story

Pasco County school district announces several principal shifts

Four Pasco County schools got new principals appointed Friday, as part of a leadership shakeup that began with the death of Crews Lake Middle School principal Adam Kennedy in January.

Brandon Bracciale, principal of Weightman Middle School, will transfer to the same job at Chasco Middle School, where David Huyck led until his move to Crews Lake two weeks ago. Bracciale had applied for the district's assistant superintendent for middle schools position, and was offered the Chasco Middle job after the district post went to Marcy Hetzler-Nettles.

Angie Murphy, principal of Ridgewood High School since 2012, will take Hetzler-Nettles' old job at River Ridge Middle School. Murphy, who lately has run into problems over dress code issues, requested to be reassigned, district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said.

Replacing Murphy will be Chris Dunning, principal of Seven Springs Middle since 2012. Dunning did not ask for a move, but "accepted the challenge," Cobbe said. "A strong principal is what they need" at Ridgewood. …

Full Story

Florida lawmakers consider bill urging federal government to back off on education

Almost since the creation of the U.S. Education Department, a conservative position has held that education is local, and no federal interference is necessary.

President Donald Trump has suggested getting rid of the department. A Kentucky member of Congress has a bill in committee now to terminate it.

Observers have suggested that the scope of the agency's work, such as enforcing anti-discrimination laws, makes elimination unlikely. But that doesn't mean its influence can't be pared back.

Some Florida lawmakers have that idea in mind.

Through the state House Education Committee, they've put forth Proposed Committee Bill EDC 17-01 calling for Congress to turn Title I funding, used to support low-income children, and IDEA Part B funding, used for programs for children with disabilities, into block grants that states could spend as they see fit for those groups of students. …

Full Story

Gradebook podcast: Testing, recess and more

Anitere Flores, president pro tempore of the Florida Senate, announces the "Fewer, Better Tests" bill in the Capitol on Wednesday.

[The Florida Channel]

Anitere Flores, president pro tempore of the Florida Senate, announces the "Fewer, Better Tests" bill in the Capitol on Wednesday.

This week, some key Florida lawmakers introduced legislation to move the state reading and math tests to the final three weeks of the year, among other changes toward what they're calling "Fewer, Better Tests." A parent proposal to require all elementary schools to offer 20 minutes of daily recess also began to gain traction, but also some cautions along the way. Reporter Jeff Solochek and education editor Tom Tobin talk about these and other Florida education issues making the news this week.

Full Story

Florida education news: State tests, Sunshine Law, Facebook posts and more

TEACHER PAY: Florida teachers react to new teacher incentive proposals from Tallahassee by saying they'd prefer raises rather than gimmicks.

HARD WORK: Struggling Marion County schools strive to ensure their students are prepared for looming state tests, the Ocala Star-Banner reports.

FLORIDA MODEL: U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos cites Florida's school choice system as a leader for the nation, Education Week reports.

SUPERINTENDENTS: The Flagler County School Board asks for public input as it searches for a new superintendent, the Palm Coast Observer reports.

SUNSHINE: A Collier County Republican lawmaker proposes allowing two members of a local school board or other elected body with more than five members to privately discuss government business or policy, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

FREE SPEECH? A Bay County teacher is investigated for making negative comments about students on a closed Facebook page, the Panama City News Herald reports. • A Collier County teacher is removed from her classroom after supporting mass deportation on social media, the Naples Daily News reports.  …

Full Story

Poynter panel lets Pinellas school officials tell their own story about school turnaround

Pinellas County school district officials say they want to write their own story.

In front of dozens of local dignitaries and journalists who traveled across the country to learn about school segregation, they told one Thursday about how their most struggling schools are turning around. It starts with the right leadership, passionate teachers, warm and welcoming learning environments -- and positivity.

Six panelists were invited to speak and answer questions from the audience as part of a day-long seminar called "Separate -- And Still Unequal" hosted at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg. The focus of the panel hinged on the quality of public education and closing the achievement gap between white and minority students especially in St. Petersburg, and was inspired by the Times' Failure Factories series, which documented the decline of five once-average schools after the School Board abandoned integration efforts.

St. Petersburg College president Bill Law and St. Petersburg deputy mayor Kanika Jelks Tomalin spoke about the merits of having a strong public schools. …

Full Story

Plan your supply purchases in the Hillsborough County schools

Need to buy copy paper? Crayons? Folders?

If you work for the Hillsborough County schools, you'll need clearance.

Principals have been asked in recent weeks to consult with their staff and plan all their supply purchases through the end of the school year.

This isn't a sign of any kind of economic crisis, said district spokeswoman Tanya Arja.

Rather, she said, it's a step district leaders want to take to encourage planning and avoid having schools over-order supplies they don't need. As the eight area superintendents are collecting the lists, they can encourage schools to share their surplus supplies with nearby schools that are running short.

"Read the document carefully, review your actuals, and frugally project out needed expenses," Chief of Staff Alberto Vazquez wrote in memo that came with a spreadsheet. "All remaining dollars not needed will be retrieved once your completed sheet is submitted and reviewed."

Arja said the exercise is also better than what happened toward the end of the last school year, when the district "swept" school accounts earlier than usual and caught some teachers and department heads by surprise.

This way, she said, there should be no surprises. …

Full Story

Look at recess mandate for Florida elementary schools through longer lens, lawmakers say

State Sen. Bill Montford says lawmakers should consider "what we have crammed into the school day" when discussing whether to mandate daily recess in Florida elementary schools.

The Florida Channel

State Sen. Bill Montford says lawmakers should consider "what we have crammed into the school day" when discussing whether to mandate daily recess in Florida elementary schools.

Parents across Florida who've been advocating for mandatory daily recess in all elementary schools have grown notably enthusiastic as the proposal gains steam in both chambers of the Legislature.

The idea's primary opponent in the Senate, John Legg, no longer sits in the upper body. And its two holdouts in the House, Speaker Richard Corcoran and Rep. Michael Bileca, appear mollified by provisions in the latest version of the legislation.

But that doesn't mean the concept doesn't still have its skeptics. Two of them raised some notes of caution Thursday during a Senate PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee discussion on the topic.

Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat who heads the state superintendents association, noted that the debate should be much bigger than just recess.

"This is symbolic of a far greater issue" said Montford, who in the past has helped Republican leaders craft key education legislation. "That is, how many hours we have in a school day, what we expect out of these children during the day, and how much we are mandating and cramming into those limited number of hours." …

Full Story

Pasco County school rezoning court case set for early June

A group of west Pasco County parents suing the local School Board to stop recently approved attendance zone revisions will have to wait until early June to get one of their complaints heard.

Circuit Court Judge Declan Mansfield has scheduled a hearing on the parents' request for a temporary injunction against implementation of the new boundaries for 9 a.m. June 2 -- long after district officials anticipate approving school choice assignments and other plans for 2017-18.

The relatively late date of the court date could make a halt to the rezoning, which the parents ask for, difficult to manage in advance of students' first day of classes Aug. 14. Course scheduling, teacher allocations and bus routes are among concerns officials have noted.

Robert Stines, the lawyer representing the parents and students, told the Gradebook the June hearing isn't necessarily too late, though he acknowledged it could be a complicating factor. Stines said he looked to the School Board to take all the angles into account as it meets Feb. 21 in closed session to talk about the lawsuit. …

Full Story

Florida education news: Testing, technology, teacher pay and more

TESTING: Three high-ranking Florida lawmakers introduce legislation to shrink the Florida Standards Assessment testing administration window.

TEACHER TECH: All Hernando County teachers get computer upgrades.

RECRUITMENT AND RETENTION: Key Florida lawmakers suggest some big financial figures to create more monetary incentives for teachers, the Miami Herald reports.

PERSONALIZED LEARNING: Lake County school district officials consider eliminating a personalized learning program because of spotty results, the Daily Commercial reports.

TURNAROUNDS: Principals from some of Florida's low performing schools tell state lawmakers about their improvement efforts, WFSU reports. • The Jefferson County school district could become Florida's first charter district, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

CONTROVERSIAL METHODS: The Marion County school district aims to reduce its use of restraint and seclusion of students with disabilities who become physically violent, the Ocala Star-Banner reports. …

Full Story

Where's the Pasco County School Board agenda?

For nearly six years, Pasco County residents could turn to one website to find the local School Board's meeting agenda and backing documents.

When the publication date arrived this week for the Feb. 21 agenda, though, the document did not appear on the site.

The district has migrated to a new location for its online agenda. The site will include meeting minutes and board votes, as well as an easier to use search function and quicker access to documents that had to be downloaded in the past.

Archived material will remain on the former page until the district can move all the documentation. The board has yet to agree to stream its sessions.

Full Story

Florida per-student funding remains well below average, national report shows

Florida's public education spending per student remained below the national average and under many other southern states, according to a newly released National Center for Education Statistics report based on fiscal 2014.

The report shows Florida spent $8,714 per student, compared to the national average of $10,936. Florida's per-student expenditures exceeded those of Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas anywhere from $100 to $1,100. But it logged in behind Alabama by $311, Georgia by $446 and Louisiana by $2,070, among others.

Florida's 14 largest school districts, all among the nation's top 100 in terms of enrollment, fell within a fairly tight spending band between $8,000 - $10,000 per student that most systems hovered around, except for those in and around major metro areas such as Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. Among them, Miami-Dade spent $9,106 per student, Broward $8,553, Hillsborough $8,685, Orange $8,726 and Palm Beach $9,500 (the highest among the 14 Florida districts on the list). …

Full Story