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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida education news: Testing, superintendents, reading and more

TESTING: Students and teachers react to the Florida Department of Education's decision not to count math end-of-course exams.

SUPERINTENDENTS: The Brevard School Board agrees to consider non-traditional candidates for its next superintendent, Florida Today reports. • Manatee deputy superintendent Diana Greene ponders her options as her School Board seeks a new leader, the Bradenton Herald reports.

READING LESSONS: Extra reading instruction has little effect on Palm Beach County's lowest performing readers, the Palm Beach Post reports.

GOING DOWN: Marion schools see a 36 percent decrease on property insurance, the Ocala Star Banner reports.

STUDENT DATA: Polk school officials deal with concerns that student social security information appears on test documents, the Ledger reports.

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Florida education news: Valedictorians, charter schools, science lessons and more

TOP OF THEIR CLASS: Pinellas County high schools name valedictorians and salutatorians. • Some Brevard high schools change their policies regarding valedictorians, Florida Today reports.

CONSTANT CAMPAIGN: Gov. Rick Scott often includes schools and students in his never-ending promotional efforts.

JUDGMENT CALL: It's unclear what it takes to keep or lose a job in the Hillsborough school district, the Times editorializes.

FUNDING: The Florida Education Association joins the call uging lawmakers to improve education funding, the Palm Beach Post reports.

ANSWERS NEEDED: Florida courts need to give the state's corporate tax credit scholarship program a proper constitutional review, the Sun-Sentinel editorializes.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: The Palm Beach school district takes its effort to exert more control over local charter schools to court, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

TEACHER DISCIPLINE: A Monroe first-grade teacher resigns after being caught drunk in front of her class, the Keynoter reports.

STEM LESSONS: A science experiment gone wrong injures students at a Leon high school, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

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Pasco school officials call for full education funding in 2015-16

While Florida Board of Education members urge lawmakers to meet the governor's call for historic per-student funding, superintendents have a slightly different message.

They want lawmakers, who head into a budget special session June 1, to fully fund the growing number of students entering the school system.

Flagler County superintendent Jacob Oliva raised the issue Wednesday when addressing the State Board. Pasco superintendent Kurt Browning and School Board chairman Steve Luikart followed up with public statement a day later.

"This school year, we have seen our funding reduced from the per-student funding levels allocated by the Legislature in 2014, because student enrollment exceeded projections, and we can't endure that for another year," Browning said.

Because of larger than anticipated enrollment statewide, Pasco got $67.37 per FTE less than was originally budgeted for the 2014-2015 fiscal year. District per student funding dipped from $6,992.70 (original budget) to $6,925.33 (4th quarter calculation).

"Our students deserve - in fact, are entitled to - have their schools funded at levels that will allow them to receive a world-class education," Luikart said. …

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Florida education commissioner takes heat over tweet

Stewart: I wake up with one goal- making sure every single students is able to receive a high quality education for future success.

The Florida Department of Education posted to Twitter on Thursday what officials hoped would be an inspirational, supportive message from commissioner Pam Stewart.

Instead, a stray "s" has made the tweet the subject of ridicule.

As Diane Ravitch, the national hero to groups fighting education "reform," put it on her blog, "Florida: Why the State Superintendent Should Not Tweet."

The comments under the department's tweet tell the tale, as people frustrated by testing troubles offer their version of the saying, "Judge not lest ye be judged." To note just one:

@EducationFL "every single students" huh? Perhaps we need less testing so teachers can get back to basics like grammar. #PublicEdRevolution

This is not, of course, the first time a typo has plagued the department. Remember when the Department of "Eduation" planned to release "mathmetics" results?

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Florida education news: Community school, flunk fees, class times and more

COMMUNITY SCHOOL: Hillsborough's Sulphur Springs Elementary prepares for conversion to a K-8 community school to better serve neighborhood children.

MOVING ON: Joe Sabin retires as principal of Jesuit High after 44 years at the school. • Twins Jake and Jon Wahl graduate Bishop McLaughlin High as their class salutatorian and valedictorian.

HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS: Florida high school coaches and athletic directors urge lawmakers not to revisit a proposal to overhaul athletics oversight, WTSP reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: The Escambia School Board terminates the contract of a charter school over contract violations, the Panama City News Herald reports.

COLLEGE COSTS: The University of Central Florida increases the fees for taking a class a third time, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

BELL TIMES: Three Manatee high schools might start earlier as they abandon block scheduling, the Herald-Tribune reports.

RECYCLING: The Orange school district will pilot recyclable lunch trays, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

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Zephyrhills High principal announces his retirement

Zephyrhills High School needs a new principal for the next academic year.

Andy Frelick, who lately has come under fire from teachers and some parents, has announced his retirement after 30 years with the Pasco school district. He let his teachers and staff know the news via email on Wednesday:

Dear Teachers and Staff,
It is with mixed emotions that I announce my retirement this summer from the Pasco County School system. I am finishing my thirtieth year and health events both personal and with friends in September helped to readjust my priorities. I look forward to spending time with family and friends and touring the US on my bicycles.
It has been a pleasure to serve all the stakeholders in the Pasco Community. I would like to go out just as I came in with no fanfare, off into the sunset riding my bike.
Sincerely, Andy Frelick

Frelick, 57, became Zephyrhills High principal in 2012 after the previous leader stepped down amid a scandal. He had to steady the staff while also focusing on improving academic performance. His tenure ran relatively quietly until this spring, when he imposed a requirement that students be escorted to the restroom during class time. …

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State to vendors: AIR will help Florida test validity review

The panel assigned to pick a firm that will review Florida's testing validity promised to answer any vendor questions in the week leading to the selection.

It appears that just one firm, Alpine Testing Solutions of Orem, Utah, submitted a query by the May 19 deadline. It asked logistical questions, such as whether Memorial Day would affect submission deadlines. But it also inquired about just how much help Florida's testing provider American Institutes for Research would support the review process.

As much as needed, the state responded in a document that's now posted on the panel's website.

"Upon selection of the entity to conduct the validity study, AIR will provide the entity all necessary specification documents and access to working papers relevant to all aspects of the assessment," the panel responded to one question. "Any other existing technical documentation created or used by FDOE will also be made available to the third-party entity."

They also pledged the full participation of staff: …

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Florida education news: Commissioner evaluation, student spending, lunch room trays and more

TOP MARKS: Florida education commissioner Pam Stewart gets a strong evaluation from the Board of Education, with slight mention of recent testing woes. • The board also debated how much school technology is needed in Florida schools, and for what purposes, WFSU reports.

BUDGET CUTS: The Hernando School Board holds off selecting spending reductions if its sales tax referendum fails. • Gov. Rick Scott continues to push for "historic" per-student funding in the state budget, the News Service of Florida reports.

ATTENDANCE: The Pasco School Board approves its Student Code of Conduct without language allowing students with unexcused absences to make up all missed work.

TESTING: Some Palm Beach schools experience another round of computerized testing glitches, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

SCHOOL SAFETY: An eighth-grade Sumter student is arrested with a loaded gun on campus, the Daily Commercial reports. • The Lee school district investigates students accused of cyberbullying a high school coach, the Fort Myers News-Press reports.

BEING GREEN: Miami-Dade schools switch to recyclable lunch room trays, the Miami Herald reports. …

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Pinellas schools get guidance on assigning math course grades

Now that Florida's state math end-of-course exam results aren't required to count in student grades, district officials have needed to decide how to set the marks. They don't want to hurt students, or make too much extra work for teachers.

Pinellas officials issued their guidelines on Wednesday. Their plan calls for the second semester grade to be based on students' third and fourth quarter grades, and the final course grade to be an average of the two semester outcomes.

The EOC will come into play only if they boost student grade-point averages. From the district:

Next fall, when student scores do arrive in schools for this past spring's new EOC assessments in Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2, Pinellas County Schools will review each student's records to determine if the inclusion of those scores would assist a student's grade point average in the course. If so, we will use the score. If the scores do not assist a student's grade point average, we will not use the scores that arrive in the fall. …

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Florida Board of Education picks new chairwoman

The Florida Board of Education has a new person in charge after two years.

Marva Johnson, a corporate vice president for Bright House Networks, agreed Wednesday to take the reins from two-term chairman Gary Chartrand.

"I am honored and humbled that my fellow board members selected me to serve as chair," said Johnson, whom Gov. Rick Scott appointed in 2014. "Working with Gary Chartrand has been a tremendous learning experience, and I am excited for the opportunity to serve the people of Florida in this capacity."

Board member John Colon, who nominated Johnson, noted the chairmanship can be hard work.

"I'm glad that Marva was actually willing to take up this responsibility," he said. "I was suprised she didn't protest when I nominated her."

Board members thanked Chartrand for his efforts in the chair. He ended the meeting by handing Johnson the gavel and hugging her.

Scott issued a statement shortly after the adjournment praising Johnson and Chartrand, who will remain on the board. …

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Florida Board of Education urges lawmakers to adopt Gov. Rick Scott's education budget

Perhaps it's not surprising, given the entire Florida Board of Education was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott.

But the board on Wednesday unanimously supported a motion asking the Legislature to "demonstrate its commitment to students" during its June special session by implementing Scott's education budget proposal. Scott has called for per-student funding that would be $50 more than the 2007-08 historic high

Board member Rebecca Fishman Lipsey said the state has made dramatic academic gains, making in the top 10 in national rankings, despite "lean" finances for education. When the board asks for added money, she said, it isn't being lavish.

"We need this money, and we need the Legislature to move on it," added board member John Colon.

Education commissioner Pam Stewart said she would work with her staff to inform lawmakers about the current financial situation, and the needs.

"The funding is absolutely critical to remain on this successful path," she said. …

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Pasco sixth graders get more reading course options

For years, Pasco County sixth graders have taken a course called "developmental reading." Its aim was to better prepare the students for the type of critical reading and analysis that's required in the rest of middle and high school.

That's all about to change.

Basking in the flexibility of HB 7069, which Gov. Rick Scott signed into law this spring, the district is letting schools decide for themselves how they want to deal with reading instruction during 2015-16 and beyond.

Some schools have found that the course works for their student populations and will keep it, teaching and learning director Steve Williams told the School Board on Tuesday. But others are exploring options.

Among them:

- Replacing the reading course with a higher-level course that incorporates reading, research and analysis. Williams said that effort would likely begin with students who excel on state language arts exams and other measures.

Board member Cynthia Armstrong suggested going farther. With all the information on the internet, she said, the sooner students can learn how to assess and use it, the better. "I would hate to just see upper level students get it," Armstrong said. …

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Florida education news: Testing, teacher pay, new schools and more

TESTING: Hundreds of Florida student state math end-of-course exams are invalidated because of calculator misuse in schools. • The test results won't count after a state Department of Education announcement, though, the Palm Beach Post reports. Districts begin to review other ways to make year-end decisions about grades and promotions, the Miami Herald reports. More from the Panama City News Herald, Herald-Tribune.

SHUTDOWN THREAT: Florida teachers wouldn't get paid if the state government shuts down because lawmakers can't settle a budget.

TOUGH DECISIONS: The retiring principal of Leesburg High in Lake County wins praise for bringing the school out from state oversight, the Daily Commercial reports.

TEACHER DISCIPLINE: A Collier high school teacher is removed from his classroom after a student accusation of inappropriate touching, NBC 2 reports. • A Broward teacher faces dismissal over allegations of threatening to hit students and calling them derogatory names, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: The Duval school district expects a smaller migration of students to charter schools with the closure of Acclaim Academy, the Florida Times-Union reports. …

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Survey shows the challenge of teaching at Hillsborough's poorest schools

Survey data released by the Hillsborough County school district this month confirms what a lot of people probably assume -- it's hard to work at a high-poverty school.

Scanning the teacher responses at the district's more than 200 schools, you can find schools in South Tampa and the suburbs where virtually everyone is happy (Claywell Elementary, Grady Elementary, Lithia Springs Elementary). In these settings, teachers answered positively to questions about work conditions, leadership, community involvement and student behavior more than 90 percent of the time. That compares to 79.8 percent for the district as a whole.

At the other end of the scale, a handful of schools -- Chamberlain and Hillsborough High, Dowdell and Van Buren Middle, and Miles Elementary -- showed composite scores between 50 and 60 percent. Both high schools are classified as Title I, which means they serve moderate-to-low income communities. The two middle schools and the elementary school are Renaissance, which means they have even lower-income students. …

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Pasco schools aim to add more on-site technology support

Plans are in the works to get more on-site technology support into Pasco County schools.

Two years ago, superintendent Kurt Browning and the School Board imposed major changes that combined three jobs -- media, technology and literacy specialists -- into one. The goal was partly to save money, and partly to refocus the way technology and media are infused into instruction.

In theory, the school's information communication technology coach would help teachers craft lessons. In reality, the daily work of keeping machines working in device-filled schools remained a high demand.

"We did not create the environment for those folks to be successful two years ago," Browning said.

He did not back away from supporting the changes. But he said the time has come for additional refinements to the model.

To that end, Browning told the School Board on Tuesday he will propose adding 30 non-instructional technology technicians into the schools in 2015-16. That move would free the ICT's to do their intended job.

And to make clear what that work is, Browning said, he will ask the board to rewrite some job descriptions for the new year. Among those: …

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