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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida education news: Working conditions, school choice, teacher housing and more

Pinellas Park Middle School

Cherie Diez | Times

Pinellas Park Middle School

WORK CONDITIONS: Two teachers at a Pinellas County middle school request transfers out, saying the campus has become "hostile and racially charged." The problems appear to have begun when these black teachers started a tutoring program for black students, who traditionally have scored lowest in the school on state tests.

SCHOOL CHOICE: Education advocates debate charters and vouchers at a recent Tampa Tiger Bay Club forum.

CHARTER CONTROL: Jefferson County residents and leaders assess how their school system looks two months after being taken over by a charter firm as part of a state-mandated improvement plan, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

'BOOTS ON THE GROUND': Marion County schools hire 53 additional employees, mostly teachers in schools, the Ocala Star-Banner reports.

WHAT'S A STUDENT? A Jacksonville councilman asks the state Attorney General to define "student" for purposes of determining how to finance school crossing guards, Florida Politics reports.

AFTER THE STORM: Polk County schools receive 159 students from Puerto Rico, with more expected, the Ledger reports. …

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ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of Oct. 15, 2017

Times file

Florida's constitution came into the spotlight this past week, as several school boards claimed the state acted unconstitutionally with provisions in HB 7069, the Legislature's omnibus education bill from the spring. The state Constitution Revision Commission, meanwhile, continued its work, which is expected to touch on the rules governing public education. 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.

Florida school districts file formal challenge to constitutionality of HB 7069, Jeffrey S. Solochek
"Thirteen Florida school boards including Pinellas County filed suit Monday in Leon County court, challenging the constitutionality of several provisions within the law created by HB 7069." …

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Is a Florida charter school a public school, or not?

A first grade teacher works on a bulletin board outside her classroom at a southeast Hillsborough County charter school.

Times (2013)

A first grade teacher works on a bulletin board outside her classroom at a southeast Hillsborough County charter school.

Florida lawmakers have taken great pains to include charter schools in the pantheon of the state's public education system.

But the state Ethics Commission saw things a bit differently in a draft advisory opinion offered to a Lake Wales city commissioner who also serves as legal counsel to the Lake Wales charter school system.

In Robin Gibson's case, highlighted in a Politico Florida story that's behind a paywall, the city is considering whether to sell or donate property to the charter school system. Gibson wanted to know whether he could participate in the transaction, or if he had a conflict of interest.

The opinion goes through a myriad points over when Gibson could, and could not, take part in the deal. In one section, the agency states that it considered charter schools to be "business entities" rather than government agencies for purposes of the state ethics code. …

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Gradebook podcast: On HB 7069, with Palm Beach schools superintendent Robert Avossa

Palm Beach superintendent Robert Avossa

Palm Beach County school district

Palm Beach superintendent Robert Avossa

After months of discussion, several Florida school districts filed suit against the Legislature over the contentious HB 7069, calling parts of it unconstitutional. At the same time, some of them also sought grant funding established in the same measure. The Palm Beach County school district did both. Superintendent Robert Avossa talks with reporter Jeff Solochek about his district's views on the legal challenge, the grant program and other aspects of the omnibus education bill that was among the most controversial of 2017.

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Florida education news: Lawsuits, lawyers, school board pay and more

Hillsborough School Board member Susan Valdes is the subject of several allegations in a former employee's scathing lawsuit.

Times (2011)

Hillsborough School Board member Susan Valdes is the subject of several allegations in a former employee's scathing lawsuit.

IN COURT: A former Hillsborough County school district top administrator sues the School Board and its chief of staff, alleging board member corruption and intimidation. District officials say the suit contains inaccuracies, with superintendent Jeff Eakins saying he made the decision to fire former HR director Stephanie Woodford in April. "Character and ethics are extremely important to me," Eakins said.

SUPERINTENDENTS: Tensions flare as the Hernando County School Board offers its evaluation of superintendent Lori Romano. • Okaloosa County superintendent Mary Beth Jackson continues to press for a district-financed lawyer to advise her office, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports.

CROWD IN CONTROL: Opponents of white nationalist Richard Spencer own the day as his rally at the University of Florida goes off peacefully.

HB 7069: The Miami-Dade County School Board is exploring alternatives before entering litigation against the state over HB 7069, WLRN reports. 

GUNS ON CAMPUS: Six Sarasota County schools go on lockdown after a student is found with guns and ammunition on a bus, WTSP reports. …

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Pasco County school district puts two charter schools on notice

The Pasco County School Board has told warned two charter schools to improve.

Times (2017)

The Pasco County School Board has told warned two charter schools to improve.

The Pasco County school district this week notified two troubled charter schools that they have just weeks to work out problems district officials have identified.

One of those schools, Florida Virtual Academy of Pasco, could face closure if it cannot comply.

Florida Virtual Academy (which is not associated with Florida Virtual School) faces a nine-page laundry list of contract violations from the district. Those include poor academic performance, lacking accreditation, late or missing financial reports, and a a constantly fluctuating governing board.

Superintendent Kurt Browning gave the school until Nov. 16 to correct the deficiencies. Failure to do so can lead to the termination or non-renewal of the charter contract, Browning wrote.

Read the district's letter to Florida Virtual Academy for more details.

Pasco MYcroSchool faces a different situation. Its leaders planned to open with 250 students, but had fewer than a dozen on the first day of classes. By Oct. 2, the school's enrollment was up to 37.

The district paid MYcroSchool state funds for two months before students arrived, though, based on the 250-student projection. …

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Canterbury board 'works to regain trust' as head of school to depart

Canterbury School of Florida's graduating class of 2010 walks towards St. Peter's Episcopal Church before their ceremony in downtown St. Petersburg. Their head of school, Mac Hall, will not return to the school next year.

Times files

Canterbury School of Florida's graduating class of 2010 walks towards St. Peter's Episcopal Church before their ceremony in downtown St. Petersburg. Their head of school, Mac Hall, will not return to the school next year.

Mac Hall, the head of school for Canterbury School of Florida in St. Petersburg, will leave his role of 13 years at the end of the school year.

Canterbury spokeswoman Heather Lambie confirmed in an email Thursday that Hall's contract will expire at the end of the school year and will not be renewed.

"It has been decided that we are going to have a change in the Head of School at that time," she wrote.

"Change like this is never easy, particularly when everyone is so fond of the Head of School, as we are of Mac," Lambie added. "While it's common that not everyone will agree with a big decision like this, the Board is doing its job and working to move the school forward based on long-term strategic plans."

The announcement comes days after Canterbury sent "A Message from the Board of Trustees" in an email Tuesday to families and alumni. The email obtained by the Times does not specifically mention the decision not to renew Hall, but alludes to a contentious town hall meeting held Monday night. …

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Florida lawmaker renews push for alternative paths to high school graduation

Times (2014)

Rep. Ralph Massullo, a Citrus County Republican, has filed legislation for the second straight year aiming to ease the path to a high school diploma for Florida students who aren't necessarily headed to college.

With HB 311, Massullo again aims to establish "alternative pathways" to a standard diploma for the teens who have completed their course credits but fell short on the state's mandated tests for Algebra I and 10th grade language arts.

The legislation, which is expected to be filed in the Senate by Sen. Bill Montford, would allow students to satisfy their graduation requirements by earning an industry-recognized certification that includes passing of related assessments, or demonstrating their mastery of the materials with a portfolio of school work.

Massullo removed sections from his similar bill of 2017 that would have let students replace their state test results with concordant SAT or ACT scores. The Florida Department of Education recently hired a firm to analyze whether those tests are properly aligned with the state's academic standards. …

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Florida education news: Free speech, Schools of Hope, student voices and more

Troopers prepare for Richard Spencer's speech at the University of Florida. Gov. Rick Scott has declared a State of Emergency for Alachua County ahead of the event.

Will Vragovic | Times

Troopers prepare for Richard Spencer's speech at the University of Florida. Gov. Rick Scott has declared a State of Emergency for Alachua County ahead of the event.

FREE SPEECH: The University of Florida reluctantly hosts white nationalist activist Richard Spencer for a rally officials are encouraging students to ignore. Campus president Kent Fuchs, who tried to prevent the activity from taking place, talks about his views of free speech, student safety and other concerns. Some background, and a live blog if you want to follow the day's goings-on.

SCHOOLS OF HOPE: Eleven Florida schools with persistently low test scores receive grants through the state's new "Schools of Hope" system. More from the Florida Times-Union, Palm Beach Post.

STUDENT VOICES: Select Pasco County high school students attend the district's new Student Congress to explore issues such as why teens drop out of school. "I think it's a different way to communicate to the students, instead of just the employees of the school district making the decisions," Hudson High junior Kaitlyn Wilke said.

SUPERINTENDENTS: Pinellas County superintendent Mike Grego gets another rave review from his board members. • Sarasota County superintendent Todd Bowden speaks with business leaders about school grades and a planned tax referendum, the Herald-Tribune reports. …

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Eleven Florida turnaround schools awarded 'Schools of Hope' grants

Florida Board of Education chairwoman Marva Johnson said she would like to see more Schools of Hope grants awarded to struggling district schools such as Robles Elementary in Tampa.

The Florida Channel

Florida Board of Education chairwoman Marva Johnson said she would like to see more Schools of Hope grants awarded to struggling district schools such as Robles Elementary in Tampa.

Eleven schools from four Florida counties will receive state "Schools of Hope" grants of up to $2,000 per student to help them implement improvement plans.

State lawmakers set aside about $52 million to support as many as 25 district schools required to turn around their low performance on state tests. The Legislature added the money to HB 7069 to offset criticism that the measure would set aside millions to establish charter schools to compete with those same struggling district schools.

Several school boards sued the Legislature this week over HB 7069, and at least one superintendent wondered whether the Hope awards would be affected by the lawsuit.

Education commissioner Pam Stewart told the Florida Board of Education that her recommendations were based solely on the 58 applications received and how well they met the criteria. Those included the provision of wraparound services, high academic and character standards, parental involvement, faculty recruitment and rewards, and professional development.  …

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Florida Board of Education continues to set computer science as a priority

Times (2011)

Citing the need to fill thousands of computer science-related jobs throughout the state, the Florida Board of Education on Wednesday reiterated its stance that the state needs to expand computer science and coding education offerings in the state's middle and high schools.

Board members noted their top legislative priority remains to get a coding bill through the Legislature that also increases teacher training for computer science/coding, including bonuses for teachers who get or already hold certification in the field. It further aims to support added resources to bring such courses to high-needs districts.

The board is seeking $15 million for the effort.

But board members have suggested that their own proposal does not go far enough.

"We need to be more aggressive," said board member Gary Chartrand, who called for every high school to offer computer coding courses by 2020. "There's no reason why we can't get there."

Chairwoman Marva Johnson, meanwhile, questioned the amount being requested. "I'm not sure if it's enough," she said. …

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Once again, Pinellas superintendent earns high marks from School Board members

Pinellas County school superintendent Mike Grego has once again earned high marks from School Board members on his annual evaluation.

Times files

Pinellas County school superintendent Mike Grego has once again earned high marks from School Board members on his annual evaluation.

Pinellas County School Board members once again gave school superintendent Mike Grego high marks on his annual evaluation, which was made public Tuesday. 

Every year, board members evaluate Grego on his performance on seven goals outlined in the district strategic plan. Board members also rate him on impact/rapport, integrity and work standards. They can also write-in comments.

Grego's best rating was a 4.86 for goal 7, which calls for providing quality technology and business services. His lowest was a three- way tie of 4.43 for Goals 1, 4 and 5, which were evaluated as a group, and goals 2 and 3. 

Veteran board members Peggy O'Shea, Carol Cook and Linda Lerner gave Grego scores of 5, or "outstanding," across every category. O'Shea has given Grego the same stellar ratings for three years in a row, Lerner for two.  …

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Let sixth graders play sports, Pasco County School Board member says

Paul R. Smith Middle School football team

Pasco County schools

Paul R. Smith Middle School football team

Pasco County middle schools offer students the chance to play competitive football, soccer, basketball, volleyball and track.

Just not sixth graders.

Unlike other area county districts, Pasco limits its middle school athletics to older students (though sixth graders are welcome to serve as team managers). School Board member Steve Luikart wants to consider changing that practice.

"We don't have any policies or procedures that are against it. We just haven't done it," Luikart told his board colleagues Tuesday evening. "It is something that I think is worthy of looking at, and getting sixth graders more involved at the middle schools they are in."

Luikart said he could not think of any negatives attached to the idea, although in the past some officials have raised concerns that the sixth graders — who often are smaller than the older students — could get hurt.

Board chairman Allen Altman said the district has considered the idea twice already during his three terms, without changes. He said he was willing to listen to the pros and cons again.

"I think it's worth looking into," board member Alison Crumbley added. …

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Florida education news: Start times, scholarships, school choice and more

Times file

START TIMES: Hillsborough County schools get new bell schedules for 2018-19, with high schools starting an hour later than in the past. Officials said the move is necessary to save money and ensure that all children arrive at school on time. The current schedule has not given bus drivers enough time to complete all their routes.

TRANSFORMATION: Pasco County superintendent Kurt Browning prepares to move ahead with plans to turn Ridgewood High School into a vocational-technical magnet.  

STUDENT VOICES: A Springstead High senior is selected to represent students on the Hernando County School Board.

SCHOOL SAFETY: Two Pasco County students are arrested on separate charges involving weapons at school.

CONSTITUTION REVISION: The Florida Constitution Revision Commission advances only six of more than 2,000 public proposals after months of encouraging participation, the Times-Herald Tallahassee Bureau reports. More from the News Service of Florida. …

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Pinellas makes last-ditch plea to legislators to fix HB7069

Pinellas County school district officials on Monday sent another letter asking local legislators to review their proposed changes to the controversial education bill known as House Bill 7069. Pinellas was one of 13 school districts to officially sue the Florida Department of Education on Tuesday over the controversial bill.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Pinellas County school district officials on Monday sent another letter asking local legislators to review their proposed changes to the controversial education bill known as House Bill 7069. Pinellas was one of 13 school districts to officially sue the Florida Department of Education on Tuesday over the controversial bill.

The same day 13 Florida school boards officially filed a lawsuit against the state, Pinellas, as one of the suit's plaintiffs, made a last-ditch effort to local legislators to right what they believe are the wrongs in House Bill 7069.

Pinellas school superintendent Mike Grego emailed a letter Monday to the Pinellas legislative delegation asking them to consider the reasons behind their objections to the controversial education bill. He attached documents with alternative solutions to 7069 and a copy of how the statutes should be rewritten. 

"We hope the proposed solutions can guide conversations and the current committee work of our state legislature," Grego wrote, adding that he welcomes "discussion of these solutions and coordination of a joint effort to advance these changes."

The letters were sent via email to Reps. Ben Diamond, Chris Latvala, Chris Sprowls, James Grant, Kathleen Peters, Larry Ahern, Wengay Newton and Sens. Darryl Rouson, Jeff Brandes and Jack Latvala.  …

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