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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

District on teacher evaluation system: "Everything is on the table"

Anna Brown, Hillsborough's chief information and technology officer, is overseeing the transition of Empowering Effective Teachers as the Gates foundation funding ends.

Hillsborough County Public Schools

Anna Brown, Hillsborough's chief information and technology officer, is overseeing the transition of Empowering Effective Teachers as the Gates foundation funding ends.

Anna Brown, chief information and technology officer for the Hillsborough County school district, was placed in charge of the Gates-funded Empowering Effective Teachers program when the original manager, David Steele, retired midway through the seven-year project.

Since then, Brown has overseen the grant and is involved in the program's transition to full district support -- a job that got harder when district leaders realized their fund balance was diminishing rapidly, and when the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation withheld $20 million of the $100 million that the district expected.

Brown spoke with Gradebook this week about the hopes she and others have as they look for ways to adjust the teacher evaluation system.

Here is some of what she said.

"We've learned a lot in this process. And one of the most important things we've learned is what our teachers need. Listening to the needs of our teachers in order to empower them to be the best they can be for our students is the core. …

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Florida education news: Pledge of allegiance, school security, hypnosis and more

FREE SPEECH: A Hillsborough Community College advisory board creates a stir when it decides to drop the Pledge of Allegiance at its meetings.

SECURITY: Clearwater High goes on lockdown after a student lies about seeing a gun on campus. * An 8-year-old Manatee student is arrested after threatening his teacher with a knife, the Bradenton Herald reports.

AFTER-SCHOOL OPPORTUNITIES: Two Bay middle schools get a grant to expand after-school STEM programs, the Panama City News Herald reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Palm Beach School Board members say they're not against charters after rejecting three applications, the Palm Beach Post reports.

BROKEN PROMISES: Marion School Board members vent after a donor backs out on a multimillion-dollar contribution, the Ocala Star Banner reports.

HYPNOSIS: The former Sarasota principal who got fired for hypnotizing students speaks out, the Herald-Tribune reports.

BILINGUALISM: South Florida school districts will recognize students who are fluent in more than one language, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

ADDED SERVICES: The Alachua school district prepares to establish its first community school, the Gainesville Sun reports.

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Will Gov. Rick Scott suspend Florida school grades? No.

So many groups have called on Florida Gov. Rick Scott to "pause" the state's school accountability rules for 2015, it seemed the right time to put the question to him (well, his press office, really).

The response: "Governor Scott believes in accountability and results. DOE (Department of Education) will continue to follow the law."

All other questions were referred to the department.

Commissioner Pam Stewart has steadfastly maintained that she will issue school grades, citing the law (1008.34) that requires them. Superintendents and others have noted the law also mandates the use of learning gains in the formula, but those gains are not available for 2015.

Grades are expected by winter.

Superintendents have urged parents to impress upon the governor, department, lawmakers and Board of Education the concerns they have with the system as it currently exists. Many plan to attend the board's October meeting in Kissimmee. Some are calling for civil disobedience.

With the governor and department seemingly decided, it might take that -- or some behind the scenes work that district leaders are trying to manage. Keep watching.

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Florida lawmakers again seek to scale back restraint and seclusion of students with disabilities

Floridians long have criticized schools' use of restraint and seclusion in handling out-of-control students with disabilities. Rule changes have been discussed since 2009, to limited effect despite clear intentions.

State Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican, is ready to try again. Flores has filed SB 452 this week with very direct goals: It would ban all student seclusion, and limit restraint to times of imminent risk of serious injury or death.

"The Legislature finds that the majority of problem behaviors that are currently used to justify seclusion or restraint could be prevented with early identification and intensive early intervention," the bill's findings state. "The need for seclusion or restraint is, in part, a result of an insufficient investment in prevention efforts."

Flores has filed similar legislation in the past, only to see it die in committee. Federal lawmakers also have pushed for change, while use of the practices have fluctuated in Florida school districts. Some educators say the actions can be the only way to defuse situations, and should remain available. …

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Pasco's 'quarterly check' format could change, superintendent says

The launch of Pasco County's new "quarterly check" testing system has come under fire just days after its official launch. Some parents have contacted district officials to criticize the model, complaining that their children are being tested on materials they haven't learned, several days before the first quarter ends.

The results, they said, are not strong, and they want answers. These parent concerns arose at the same time teachers union president Kenny Blankenship told the School Board that the checks are one step too far in local testing.

Superintendent Kurt Browning said Thursday he understood parent angst over the checks, which he tried not to call tests, and suggested that some changes might be in order after this first round. Those could include moving the assessments to the last day of the quarter, and having them taken on paper rather than computers, he said.

For this first quarter, the checks are computerized with a paper option, and are offered during a multi-week testing window to accommodate computer availability. …

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Florida education news: Charter schools, testing, high school sports and more

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Charter Schools USA seeks to open four new schools in Hillsborough County. * The Palm Beach School Board rejects three charter applications, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

TESTING: Preliminary state test results show Pasco schools performing largely along socioeconomic lines. * Two Panhandle superintendents challenge the state's use of test scores, the Pensacola News-Journal reports. * Alachua's superintendent urges parents to voice their concerns over testing, the Gainesville Sun reports.

IN THE HUNT: Former Hernando County commissioner Rose Rocco announces her candidacy for Hernando School Board. * A candidate for Escambia superintendent is arrested on identity theft charges, the Pensacola News-Journal reports.

STUDENT ATHLETES: The FHSAA asks state lawmakers to make it easier to crack down on high school sports recruiting violations.

IN THE FIELD: Hernando High agriculture students use drones to study their crops.

MORE THAN MEALS: The cafeteria manager at Pasco Zephyrhills High supports students in need.

NO PETS ALLOWED: The Okaloosa school district bans all animals from its campuses, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports. …

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Five activist organizations call on Gov. Rick Scott for accountability pause

Two key Florida civil rights organizations, along with three parent groups, have joined the growing crowd calling for reconsideration of the way the state's spring test results are used.

The NAACP and League of United Latin American Citizens Florida branches, Miami-Dade PTA, Fund Education Now and Parents Across America-Florida sent a letter Wednesday to Gov. Rick Scott, asking for an executive order suspending the application of 2015 Florida Standards Assessment scores for school grades, teacher evaluations and other consequences. The test administration was plagued with technology problems, and a subsequent validity study raised as many questions as it answered.

In light of that report, the groups also pressed for a "pause" in the state's accountability system, pending a thorough review. They echoed requests made by the state superintendents association, school boards association, PTA and others.

"We are not anti-test," the groups wrote. "We all want to know how our students are progressing. But the status quo of arbitrarily failing large numbers of our students is not the way. At present, the FSA scores are useless to students, parents and teachers." …

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Pasco's Sunray Elementary School to get a new principal

Pasco County's principal musical chairs continues, with the appointment of Sunray Elementary principal Lee Anne Yerkey to lead Schrader Elementary School.

The Schrader post became available in late September, when principal Tammy Berryhill was named an area superintendent. The Sunray job was advertised on Monday.

Yerkey, who has worked in Pasco County schools since 1993, has led Sunray Elementary since 2009. Sunray and Schrader have similar demographics, with both serving populations where about 80 percent of children are eligible for free or reduced price meals.

Both schools also have yielded similar results on state testing and grading since the mid-2000s, with each earning two Cs and a D in the past three years.

Other Pasco schools that have seen leadership turn over in since summer include Woodland Elementary and River Ridge High.

Yerkey's appointment is scheduled to take effect Oct. 21.

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Pasco school district offers bonuses for help finding bus drivers

The Pasco County school district really wants to hire more bus drivers.

How badly?

The district has offered employees $100 bonuses for transportation employees who refer a candidate, payable after that new bus driver completes all needed training and successfully works four weeks.

The situation is dire, assistant superintendent Ray Bonti said. Currently, the district has about 60 vacancies in a 400-driver department.

If applied to the teaching ranks, a 15 percent vacancy rate would equate to about 750 open classrooms, Bonti said. It wouldn't be acceptable for teachers, he said, and it shouldn't be okay for bus drivers, either.

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Administrative moves in Pinellas

The Pinellas County School Board will be asked Tuesday to sign off on a couple administrative moves.

Mary Conage, the district's Title 1 director, will become the director of special projects. Conage has worked in the Pinellas school system since 1987. She has been the Title 1 director since 2007. Sherry Aemisseger, principal of McMullen Booth Elementary, will become the director of exceptional student education. She has worked in the school system since 1990. She has been principal of McMullen Booth since 2010.

Lisa Grant, who was the ESE director, resigned in September to become a superintendent in Washington State.

Both moves are effective Oct. 14, pending board approval. School board members are expected to ratify the superintendent's personnel decisions unless a candidate is unqualified. 

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Has Florida's testing pendulum swung too far?

The Florida Department of Education is fighting mightily to keep school grading on track. But the state's superintendents are gaining momentum as they step forward with their "enough is enough" message.

While commissioner Pam Stewart's efforts to "set the record straight" fall flat with all but the ardent faithful, superintendents continue to gain attention as they step away from the system they so often defended even as they raised questions.

The latest moves?

Alachua's Owen Roberts abruptly quit Stewart's Keep Florida Learning Committee, telling the Gainesville Sun he had a message to send.

"I believe it's time, that if we really want to see the change necessary in Florida, we need to take action," he said.

Meanwhile, Florida's most outspoken critic of the state's latest moves -- Miami-Dade superintendent Alberto Carvalho -- won a seat at the national testing table, where his influence will continue to spread.

Carvalho will serve four years on the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the NAEP test that many see as the "gold standard" of assessment. Outgoing U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan appointed four new members on Tuesday. …

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Florida education news: Suspensions, toy guns, late buses and more

DISCIPLINE: Pasco school district officials take steps to undo disproportional suspensions of black students.

TIME TO GO: Tarpon Spring High's principal requests a transfer after his handling of a death threat comes under fire.

TESTING: Florida education officials try to set state test cut scores amid a heated political battle over their value, the Orlando Sentinel reports. * Alachua educators say testing has a negative impact on teaching, WUFT reports.

TAKING A STAND: Alachua superintendent Owen Roberts quits the state's Keep Florida Learning Committee over the Department of Education's position on school grading, the Gainesville Sun reports.

SCHOOL SAFETY: The discovery of a toy gun prompts the lockdown of a Broward elementary school, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

LATE AGAIN: Some Palm Beach students say the chronic tardiness of their school buses is hurting their classroom performance, the Palm Beach Post reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Florida lawmakers begin discussions on a new round of charter school law revisions, the Sun-Sentinel reports. More from Redefined. …

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Pasco's magnet school planning delayed, for now

Plans to offer more magnet school options to Pasco County students face a time crunch, because of technical problems.

District officials intended to survey parents about theme preferences in recent weeks, and make recommendations for the School Board's consideration by October.

The survey has yet to go out though. Steve Williams, director of teaching and learning, said the people creating the online questionnaire ran into technology troubles.

Time is of the essence, though, because the staff would have to analyze results, figure out what they can reasonably do and bring a proposal to the School Board -- all in time for the district to run a December application process, as it did for its Sanders STEAM magnet last year.

Williams said he expected to have the survey on the district website as soon as the issues are worked through.

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How much testing is too much for Pasco County schools?

New quarterly tests might be too much for Pasco County teachers and students to deal with, United School Employees of Pasco president Kenny Blankenship told the School Board on Tuesday.

The tests -- scheduled to begin this week in high schools and Oct. 12-23 on other campuses -- take critical decision making away from classroom teachers, who know better than district administrators when students need assessing and what type is best, Blankenship said. 

Although the district eliminated some tests, he said, "Teachers are asking, what can we do about those tests that have been increased?"

Superintendent Kurt Browning defended the "quarterly checks" as a quick method to determine whether students are learning the standards taught in the most recent nine weeks. He likened them to a chapter test or unit quiz.

"It is like going to the doctor and having a thermometer put in your mouth to see if you have a fever," Browning said. "If it impacts classrooms at all, it is negligible." …

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Making the case: Superintendents prepare to fill next Florida Board of Education meeting

The Florida Board of Education regularly gives a representative from the state's superintendents association time to speak at each board meeting.

Next time, the board might need to have extra seats available.

The association has urged as many members as possible to attend the next BOE meeting, Oct. 28 in Kissimmee.

"Given our stance of late, I think it would be prudent to have several in attendance," association lobbyist Joy Frank told superintendents via email.

Many superintendents have taken to newspaper columns to express their growing concerns about grading schools without the use of learning gains, which aren't available. Among others, the leaders of Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco districts penned a joint piece, while Manatee's superintendent had a solo op-ed.

Department of Education officials, along with some lawmakers, so far have been unyielding on the superintendents' proposals, which other organizations have echoed. They've suggested the district leaders have called for a grading "time out," "pause" or "moratorium" enough times over the years to make their current position nothing new. …

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