Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida education news: Start times, recess, extended day and more

BELL TIMES: Hernando parents raise concerns about changes to their children's school start and end times.

RECESS: Pasco elementary school leaders view play time as important as academic lessons in their students' day.

MAKING STRIDES: Most students at Pinellas schools that added an hour of daily instruction see improvement in their achievement.

POLITICS: Disagreement over in-state tuition rates for illegal immigrants splits Florida's Republicans. • Gov. Rick Scott should exert leadership in pushing the measure to completion, the Times editorializes.

GOOD WORK: The Broad Foundation says that Seminole schools are making progress toward becoming Florida's best district, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

CITIZENS FOR SCIENCE: A Volusia Sheriff's Office spokesman also speaks for the Florida Citizens for Science, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

DISCIPLINE: African-American students in Duval schools are disciplined disproportionately, even in kindergarten, the Florida Times-Union reports.

DRESS CODE: The Palm Beach School Board will discuss setting clothing standards for parents, the Palm Beach Post reports. …

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Pasco superintendent urges parents to monitor kids' social media

Pasco County schools superintendent Kurt Browning sent a phone message home to middle and high school parents on Friday, reminding them to keep on top of what their kids might be doing on social media sites.

Some parents complained to the district about a site on Twitter called PascoCrushes, on which teens are making some vulgar and inappropriate comments about others in the community. The district has asked the account, which has nearly 1,800 followers, to delete many of the comments.

Meanwhile, Browning advised families to stay attuned to their children's online activities, and to try to stay up to date on the latest sites that kids might frequent. He said the district would also do its part to help educate children about digital citizenship. "This is a community problem," he said. "Thank you for being our partners in protecting Pasco's children."

See Browning's short YouTube message to parents below.

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Pasco charter school for students with autism to close

Florida Autism Center of Excellence-Pasco, a charter school that opened in August, will close at the end of the academic year. The school's Board of Directors voted Thursday to dissolve, just days after their management company Quest Inc. announced it would walk away from the school amid low enrollment and struggling finances.

“This was a difficult decision for the board to make as we had high hopes for the success of the FACE charter school in Pasco County. Some of the significant issues regarding the schools continued operation include the failure of the charter school to achieve enrollment thresholds and the financial losses that are expected this year. The decision to close the school is the most optimal course of action. This gives the families ample time to make alternate plans for next year. Families also have the option to transfer their children to the FACE Hillsborough charter school in Tampa, Florida,” FACE board chairman Brenda Connolly said in a news release …

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Florida education news: Tuition, transportation, innovation and more

TUITION: A bill to grant in-state tuition to illegal immigrants stalls as a key Florida senator blocks its next committee hearing.

SHUTTLE SERVICE: The Hillsborough school district will provide transportation to students who must cross busy Hillsborough Avenue to Middleton High.

KEEP TRYING: The Pinellas school district makes strides in academic achievement with innovative new programs, the Times editorializes.

SINGLE-GENDER SCHOOLS: Six single-gender schools are planned to open in Jacksonville, the Florida Times-Union reports.

INVESTIGATION: A Manatee High teacher is under investigation, and accuses the district of a vendetta against his school, the Bradenton Herald reports.

SAFETY: A Santa Rosa high school student is arrested and charged with having a loaded firearm on campus, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports. • A Broward high school student is arrested for repeatedly stabbing a schoolmate ingym class, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

FEES: The Marion School Board suspends impact fees for a fourth year amid stagnant growth, the Ocala Star-Banner reports.

SLOW DOWN: Volusia parents and teachers call for an easing of Florida's high-stakes testing, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports. …

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In-state tuition bill hits roadblock in Senate

Thousands of undocumented immigrants fighting for in-state college tuition rates may have had their hopes dashed Thursday when a top state lawmaker announced his committee would not hold a vote on the controversial bill.

The surprise move by Senate Budget Chairman Joe Negron — which caught Republicans in the House and governor's office flatfooted — means the proposal (SB 1400) will be a long shot for passage during the final two weeks of the legislative session.

Negron, R-Stuart, gave a list of reasons for rejecting the bill, including the potential cost.

"If state colleges and universities can absorb the tens of millions of dollars in lost tuition, what effect will this policy have on limited financial aid funds for Florida students and parents?" Negron said in a statement. "I believe it is imprudent to commit Florida to a new statewide education law without first ascertaining the present and future fiscal impact."

But Sen. Jack Latvala, the moderate Republican from Clearwater pushing the proposal, called Negron's argument a "red herring." …

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Senate president won't support in-state tuition for undocumented students

The holiday break didn't stop Senate President Don Gaetz from weighing in on one of the most controversial bills of the session.

On Thursday, Gaetz sent an email to his constituents in Northwest Florida voicing opposition to Senate Bill 1400. The proposal by Sen. Jack Latvala would allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates at Florida colleges and universities. 

A version of the bill has already passed in the House.

The Senate bill has 20 co-sponsors, meaning it has enough support to pass on the upper chamber floor. But in order for that vote to even take place, Latvala must first secure a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Gaetz, R-Niceville, has had issues with the bill since the beginning of session.

He made his position clear in his electronic newsletter Thursday.

"Though I am likely in the minority in the Legislature on this matter, I cannot support taxpayer subsidies in the form of tuition discounts for undocumented or illegal students," he wrote.

Gaetz acknowledged that the issue was politically charged. …

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Pasco schools to clarify penalties for student-athletes who are arrested

For years, the Pasco County school district has had a lengthy set of rules detailing how to deal with student-athletes who are arrested.

"Every time we had a situation, a principal would call and say, 'What do I do?'" district athletic director Phil Bell said.

There were eligibility suspensions of 20 days in some circumstances, 40 days in others, and 90 days for still others. The rules were, in a word, confusing.

No more.

Under a new guideline giving tentative approval this week, all criminal activity for all students will be treated in the same, simple manner. It reads:

"If a student is found to have been arrested on or off campus and/or charged with a felony or a delinquent act that would be a felony it that student were an adult, even if adjudication is withheld, then the student will be suspended from an ineligible to participate in extracurricular activities. The student shall be suspended/deemed ineligible to participate in extracurricular activities, including athletics, for no less than 90 school days from the date the school becomes aware of said violation."

The district can lift the suspension if the charges are dropped or a not guilty verdict is rendered. …

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Hand over your mice. It's FCAT season

Florida lawmakers wondering whether schools are prepared for computerized testing need to look no further than Pine View Elementary School in Pasco County for an answer.

With the FCAT approaching, the school's media-technology coach sent an e-mail to teachers confiscating all the computer mice from their classrooms for the testing period. "We need a total of 70 and we have 30 in the computer lab," the specialist wrote. "We need them during the week of April 21st and will get them back to you by the end of that week."

The upshot? Classroom teachers will be bringing compatible computer mice from home to use, or they'll simply do without computers for instructional purposes during the testing time.

This is important because the state has targeted 2015 -- that's next year -- for schools to become largely digital. Lawmakers continue to debate how much money to put into the effort, as the state continues its move to new computer-based assessments. …

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Florida education news: Principals, tests, single-gender classrooms and more

WHOSE JOB? A Hernando School Board member criticizes the superintendent for changing high school schedules without asking for public input or a board vote.

LEADERSHIP: Principals of two Pinellas elementary schools are selected to lead new schools opening in the fall.

SLOW DOWN: Duval teacher and parent leaders call for a longer transition to Florida's next tests, the Florida Times-Union reports.

SIDESTEPPING: Gov. Rick Scott won't commit on the debate over whether voucher recipients should take the state's annual accountability tests, State Impact Florida reports.

SINGLE-GENDER INSTRUCTION: Florida lawmakers move to set rules for districts that establish single-gender schools or classrooms, the Naples Daily News reports.

DROP A LINE: A Marion School Board member encourages employees to send her anonymous complaints after the district refuses to put up complaint boxes, the Ocala Star-Banner reports.

MAKING STRIDES: Polk's superintendent says she's pleased with the district direction after 10 months on the job, the Ledger reports.

TEACHERS WANTED: Volusia schools have a teacher shortage, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

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Two models of assessing civics: Florida and Tennessee

In its examination of states' civics education initiatives, the Education Commission of the States has found just two that have statewide exams with consequences -- Florida and Tennessee.

Both states are launching their tests this year. Both have the same goal in mind, to enhance civics understanding. Yet their approaches are "very different," the ECS reports in a newly released white paper.

Florida continues its high-stakes approach, giving middle schoolers and end-of-course exam that counts for up to 30 percent of their final grade. They must pass the course to move to high school.

Tennessee, by contrast, tries a project-based assessment. The report explains: "The tests are designed to show student mastery of content, including relevant knowledge related to public policy, the structure of federal, state and local government, and the U.S. and Tennessee constitutions. Additionally, the assessments will not be 'standardized tests developed by vendors according to state-determined specifications, but instead are to be developed and implemented by [individual] school districts,' the law states." …

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Pasco school district officials seek consistency in student discipline

Pasco County superintendent Kurt Browning had heard the stories too frequently that students at one district school received a punishment much different from students at another campus committing the same offense.

"I was starting to get e-mails from parents," Browning told the School Board on Tuesday. "There needs to be some consistent practices."

So for the first time, the district has created a three-page chart detailing offenses and the specific penalties associated with each. Principals and teachers are still offering input as officials edit it in time to place it in the next Code of Conduct.

"It remains a work in progress," Browning said, as he introduced the matrix for initial approval by the board.

As part of this effort, the administration added an expanded explanation of expectations for academic honesty and integrity, which took up just two sentences in the current Code of Conduct. The new section makes clear that students are expected to complete their own work, and lists several examples of violations including cheating, plagiarism, allowing others to copy, and forging parent signatures. …

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Florida education news: Charter schools, summer school, strategic planning and more

CHARTER SCHOOLS: A Pasco charter school serving children with autism faces closure without a big cash infusion as its management company backs out. • One of Duval's oldest charter schools could close if its academic performance doesn't improve, the Florida Times-Union reports. • Miami-Dade breaks ground on a privately funded, district-run charter school, the Miami Herald reports.

SUMMER SCHOOL: Pinellas schools launch a new summer algebra "boot camp" for students with low test scores.

FIX IT: Hernando officials consider major renovations for Westside Elementary School.

PLANNING: The Pasco School Board agrees to pay a consultant $290,000 to help write its next strategic plan.

LABOR NEWS: The Orange teachers union reelects its controversial president to another term, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

TEXTBOOKS: Florida lawmakers should not completely remove the state from textbook selection, the Miami Herald editorializes.

NO SMOKING: The Broward School Board moves to ban all tobacco products at all district schools and sites, the Sun-Sentinel reports. …

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Common ground -- with one exception -- on Common Core

Hillsborough curriculum specialists crammed into a conference room to help the board understand the Florida Standards, aka Common Core.


Hillsborough curriculum specialists crammed into a conference room to help the board understand the Florida Standards, aka Common Core.

It's not hard to find an argument about Common Core.

Members of the Hillsborough County School Board, who held an informational workshop on the issue Tuesday, didn't even have to leave their conference table.

In the final moments of the session, member Stacy White announced, "I refuse to be a PR agent for Common Core."

Espousing the views of many fellow conservatives, White said, "I'm concerned about federal over-reach ... We should be driving this at the local level. When we lose that local control, we get a one-size-fits-all, all-or-nothing model that we have today."

Given that aspects of the Florida Standards, as the state calls its version, are still being debated in the legislature, he said, "I think we need for this to slow down to the greatest extent possible."

White, now finishing his four-year term on the board, is running for Hillsborough County Commission in the largely conservative east Hillsborough District 4. …

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Pasco school district changes rules for foreign exchange and travel programs

Pasco County schools have tightened up their rules for student travel abroad and foreign exchange programs, in light of a recent state Ethics Commission opinion criticizing the district's past practices.

New guidelines, circulated to all principals a week ago, make clear that only foreign exchange companies that have been fully vetted by the district may participate in the schools during the coming year. Further, firms seeking students for travel abroad are not allowed on school grounds to solicit students or teachers.

"The District School Board of Pasco County has policies and procedures in place to create partnerships with various organizations for services," teaching and learning director Vanessa Hilton wrote in her memo to principals. "We need to remain cognizant of who we allow onto our campuses and in front of our students."

The state has warned the district that a conflict of interest could arise if teachers directly recruit their own students to participate in travel tours that offer the teachers rewards for bringing in participants. Superintendent Kurt Browning sought the guidance after learning of the model that teachers have used in the past.

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Scott to schools: Great work creating private-sector jobs

Sure it's just a form letter. But Gov. Rick Scott's recent letter congratulating the Pasco County school district for being named one of the region's healthiest employers by the Tampa Bay Business Journal has raised a few eyebrows.

Why? The governor praised the tax-supported public school system for its efforts in creating private-sector jobs.

"You are to be commended for building a company that is recognizable within your community," Scott (or, presumably, his letter writer) wrote to the district that's headed by his former secretary of state. "Because entrepreneurship is the foundation of Florida's success, I am focused on making the Sunshine State the best place for businesses to grow so that entrepreneurs like you can succeed and continue adding private-sector jobs to Florida's economy."

Some might argue that, while the district does not create private-sector jobs, it has in recent years put some of its employees in line for such work. In dealing with state budget cuts and declining local tax revenue, the school district let go nearly 500 workers in 2011 (although many won new posts later), eliminated nearly 90 jobs in 2012 and about 100 positions in 2013. …

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