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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida education news: Bullying, Common Core, middle schools and more

BULLYING: A new report says Florida schools don't adequately protect LGBT students, WGCU reports.

COMMON CORE: Former Florida governor Jeb Bush keeps fighting for the controversial standards, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

MIDDLE GRADES: Duval officials prepare to launch an overhaul of their middle schools, the Florida Times-Union reports.

SECURITY: The Florida attorney general says it's okay for the Manatee school district to hire armed guards, WTSP reports.

TESTING: Brevard parents circulate a petition calling for changes to the state's testing rules, Florida Today reports.

GROWTH: Enrollment unexpectedly surpasses 100,000 in Polk schools, the Ledger reports.

STUDENT TRANSPORTATION: Half of Lee school bus drivers have at least one traffic ticket, some many more, the Fort Myers News-Press reports.

SUPERVISION: An Orange high school teacher says she had no choice but to leave a disabled student behind during a fire drill, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

LABOR NEWS: Pensacola State College faculty vote no confidence in their campus president, the Pensacola News-Journal reports. …

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Let the legislation begin: Florida lawmakers file several education bills

The elections are over. The leadership is chosen.

With committee meetings just weeks away, Florida lawmakers have begun to put forth their proposals for another session. As in past years, several focus on education.

Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Jacksonville, hits on the high profile issue of testing with his SB 100, in which he aims to force school districts to do what many of them already are doing voluntarily -- scale back their assessment days. His proposal, though, is very specific:

"A school district may not schedule more than 10 school days in a school year to administer all local assessments and statewide, standardized assessments required under this section. If more than 10 school days are needed to administer such assessments, the school district must approve the number of additional days." …

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Is an anti-testing resolution worth it in Florida?

School boards across Florida continue to ride the wave of opposition to a quick move to a new high-stakes testing system, adopting resolutions with increasing regularity as their annual meeting in Tampa approaches.

The Marion School Board was the latest to act, moving on Thursday to ask lawmakers to allow parents to opt out of state tests for their children.

But the resolution revolution isn't for everyone, it seems.

The Pinellas School Board couldn't generate enough interest to adopt one when it met Thursday. The Hillsborough board hasn't even approached the subject. And as the Pasco board moved closer to taking a stand on Tuesday, one of its members repeated his thought that the documents aren't worth the paper they're printed on.

"Resolutions and whereases have been done by just about everyone," Pasco board member Allen Altman told his colleagues. He suggested that the district instead draft a letter detailing its testing concerns, including examples from affected teachers, and then share it with friendly lawmakers.

"I think it would be much more effective than resolution No. 87 that they received in the last week," Altman said. …

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Florida education news: Common Core, FSU shooting, state testing and more

STANDARDS: Former Florida governor Jeb Bush calls for a common ground on Common Core.

FSU SHOOTING: A deadly shooting at the campus library rocked Florida State University. Students prayed to get them through, while other state universities sought to reassure everyone they have ways to deal with such crises. The accused shooter, who was killed at the scene, is suspected of having mental illness. New FSU president John Thrasher played a key role in blocking a 2011 bill that would have allowed guns on college campuses. Hopefully other colleges and universities will learn something from the response to what happened at FSU, the Times editorializes. See lots more local reaction on the Tallahassee Democrat website.

WELL DOCUMENTED: A new documentary follows the vaunted Tarpon Springs High marching band's trip to last year's Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade.

MANDATORY VIEWING: Sen. Alan Hays files a bill that would require all Florida public school students to watch 'America: Imagine the World Without Her,' which Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell lampoons. …

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Pinellas can't agree on testing resolution

A growing list of school boards in Florida have urged the state to slow down as its makes changes to its accountability system. 

The resolutions haven't been exactly the same, but boards in Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, Broward, Duval and Polk counties, among others, have requested that Florida ease the transition to new standards and tests by limiting the consequences for schools and students. Palm Beach County's resolution called out high-stakes standardized testing at both the state and federal level and said it was "undermining educational quality and equity" in public schools. 

Lee County, at one point, voted to opt out of the state's testing altogether. They later reversed themselves and crafted a resolution. …

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Stephen Colbert riffs on Polk school's controversial 'live shooter' drill

You know you've hit the big time when Stephen Colbert makes fun of you. Just ask the Pasco school district.

Polk County schools, welcome to the club.

Last night, Colbert poked not-so-gentle fun at the Polk school that made headlines for running a "live shooter" drill, complete with rifle wielding police officers, without warning parents or students.

"Look, I know these drills can be upsetting, but they serve a vital purpose," Colbert said. "Cops get training responding to school emergencies, and in the event of a real tragedy, the kids will be glad they had all those practice nightmares." See the video below.

The Colbert Report
Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,The Colbert Report on Facebook,Video Archive

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Jeb Bush sticks to his usual education reform themes at his annual conference

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush is holding his annual education reform conference in Washington, D.C., today, touting the accountability model and other initiatives he championed while in office. Though some of the ideas, such as heavy testing, have lately come under fire, Bush held firm to the principles he has long espoused during his keynote speech.

"Of course choice is at the center of our reform efforts," he said. "But there are others: High standards. Rigorous, high-quality assessments. Accountability for school leaders. Early childhood literacy and ending social promotion. Digital and distance learning. Transparency for parents to see whether their schools are getting better or getting worse. These policies matter."

Read on for his full prepared remarks.

Remarks Prepared for Delivery 

Thank you, Denisha, for that very kind introduction.

You are the reason we are here.

It's a struggle to reform our schools. The unions fight us. The administrators often fight us. Sometimes we reformers fight amongst ourselves.

But when I hear Denisha's story... I know the struggle is worth it.

And I'm so proud all of you are here to collaborate and champion this work. Welcome to the good fight! …

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Pinellas to discuss revisions to teacher evaluations

The Pinellas County School Board will take a look today at proposed revisions to the evaluation system for teachers and administrators.

Superintendent Mike Grego has recommended that the School Board approve the changes at the regular meeting in December. The changes, if approved, will apply to all teachers for this year's evaluations. That means it will affect teachers under the district's regular evaluation model as well as those working in the 21 schools using the pilot program.

Here's a quick run-down of the proposed changes for teachers:

If a state standardized test is available then that will be used for the test score piece of the evaluation.

District tests will be used when a state test isn't available.

District tests, when used, should be district-developed end of course exams for the subjects the teacher teaches.

In cases where the district doesn't have a district-developed end of course exam, the district will determine student performance based on state tests (or other standardized tests) given to students by the teacher. Teachers in pilot schools could use unit exams when a district-developed end of course exam isn't available.  …

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Pasco teachers, administration inch closer to contract deal

Hoping to have something to give thanks for during the weeklong Thanksgiving break, the Pasco school administration and teachers union met Wednesday to see if they could hash out a contract agreement.

No one sent out e-mails immediately afterward spinning the discussions this way or that way. Instead, the representatives talked, with the possibility of returning to the table again Thursday evening. They later decided not to convene again this week.

This time around, it was the district's turn to bend closer to the union's demands. Knowing that, several United School Employees of Pasco members filled the School Board's Tuesday meeting to raise their biggest remaining concerns: the district's proposals to change paycheck frequency and eliminate its local early retirement benefit, and of course raises.

The district moved its offer on each of those issues, though not all the way to the USEP's position. On raises, the district made clear that every teacher would get a 1.5 percent cost-of-living raise, and not an average. The other 1.5 percent would go into a salary schedule, which would be based largely on evaluation outcomes. …

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Florida education news: Attendance zones, school bathrooms, parent access and more

REZONING: The Pasco school district prepares to draw new attendance zones for several Wesley Chapel area elementary schools. • A Broward parent proposes attendance changes to a successful magnet school that could change the way the school operates, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

PERSPECTIVE: Relatives and community members talk to Pinellas students about their jobs and hobbies during the Great American Teach-In.

EMPOWERMENT: Connerton Elementary School aims to inspire girls to aspire with its Girls on the Run program.

CLEANLINESS: Florida Board of Education member Rebecca Fishman Lipsey calls for cleaner school bathrooms, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

'BARNACLES': Jeb Bush's education plan for Florida faces a credibility crisis as the former governor considers a presidential run, the AP reports. • The Polk School Board is the latest to adopt a resolution urging more time in the transition to new Florida accountability testing and consequences, the Ledger reports.

EASIER ACCESS: The Collier School Board sets a later meeting time so more parents can attend, the Naples Daily News reports. …

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Construction to start on new East Lake Middle Academy of Engineering

Construction should start soon on the new East Lake Middle Academy of Engineering in Tarpon Springs.

District officials have a groundbreaking scheduled at 10 a.m. Friday at the new site. The magnet program, which started ths year, has about 300 students enrolled. Right now students are attending school on the campus of East Lake High. But East Lake Middle Academy has its own principal and assistant principal, teachers and staff. The new program also has a separate address.

Construction on the new building is estimated to cost $7.9 million. It will have 18 classrooms and labs, and it's expected to be ready for the August 2015 opening of school. A rending of the building isn't available yet, said Melanie Marquez Parra, a district spokeswoman. 

The project is one of the few major construction projects going on in Pinellas County Schools. The replacement of Largo High, which is underway now, has been at the top of the district's five-year capital plan for some time. That project is estimated to cost about $55 million.

District officials set aside about $5.8 million last year for the East Lake Middle Academy construction. Another $2.6 million is in the capital budget for this school year.

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Maybe class on Veterans Day was okay, after all, Pasco board member says

Pasco School Board chairman Steve Luikart shifted his position on holding classes on Veterans Day after hearing prominent community leaders praise the move during the board's Tuesday meeting.

Luikart has called the decision not to close for the holiday disrespectful, and said he would push to change the 2015-16 calendar to recognize the federal day off.

During the board meeting, though, Pasco elections supervisor Brian Corley, car dealership owner and veteran Tom Castriota, and others praised the district for organizing events honoring veterans throughout the day. Without the school activities, Castriota said, "I think these young men and women would not have understood what Veterans Day meant."

After all the laudatory statements, Luikart chimed in with his own.

"Having been a proponent of having Veterans Day off, I want to commend the district on doing an exceptional job of bringing the community together on Veterans Day," he said, calling a district-produced webcast celebration a "great presentation. I hope to build on that next year."

Complaints about the district's decision have been limited.

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Pasco School Board member won't seek another term

On the day that three Pasco School Board members took the oath of office for another four years, one of their colleagues publicly confirmed that she won't seek reelection when her term ends in 2016.

Joanne Hurley, first elected in 2008, said that two terms should be more than enough time for an elected official to accomplish his or her goals. After that, Hurley said, "give someone else a chance."

Hurley's plans emerged during the board's annual reorganization. She nominated newly reelected colleague Allen Altman to serve as vice chairman, after the unanimous selection of Steve Luikart as chairman.

Altman declined, saying said he was honored but thought Hurley should have another shot at a leadership post, given her intention to leave the board in two years. He then put Hurley's name up for consideration, and she got the unanimous nod.

Hurley, a stickler for detail when reviewing policies and actions, said she loves her job as a board member. But seeing that she'll be 72 when her term expires, she said, she'll be ready for a new adventure.

So far, no candidates for the District 2 seat are announced.

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Florida education news: Funding, recess, writing tests and more

SCHOOL BOARDS: Hillsborough swears in its first all female School Board. • Veteran Pinellas board member Linda Lerner is named chairwoman.

FUNDING: New state House and Senate leaders say Gov. Scott's pledges of tax cuts and increased education funding do not add up, WESH reports. (VIDEO)

CAMPUS SECURITY: A school resource officer breaks up a fight at a Port Orange high school by tasing a student, News4Jax reports. • A Lee school security specialist with 22 previous arrests is suspended amid allegations of misconduct with a student, WINK reports.

RECESS: A parent sues the Manatee school district claiming it violated its own policy on providing recess, the Bradenton Herald reports.

LABOR NEWS: Miami-Dade teachers ratify a new contract proposal, the Miami Herald reports.

BOARD SALARIES: The Brevard School Board decreases its pay to keep it even with a first-year teacher, Florida Today reports.

DISCIPLINE: The principal of a Polk school that held a controversial "live shooter" drill is suspended pending an investigation into the matter, the Ledger reports. • A Bay teacher faces firing for making inappropriate comments with sexual innuendoes to students, the Panama City News Herald reports. …

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Pasco teachers, School Board take aim on Florida high-stakes testing

Dozens of Pasco County school teachers and support staff filled the School Board meeting Tuesday to encourage the board to move forward with plans to adopt an anti-testing resolution.

Teachers spoke about how they feel unprepared to get their students ready for the new Florida Standards Assessment, which they have little information about.

River Ridge Middle School math teacher Kerry Saddler, for instance, noted that she knows what standards she must teach in algebra, but she can't even tell students which ones they can use a calculator on. "Please take into consideration what is happening at our school level and how we are left in the dark and our students are not feeling the support," Saddler said.

Pasco High teacher Vance Scheer urged the board to take a strong stand against the high stakes associated with the FSA, as schools make the transition to the exams.

"We’re not ready. This is a train wreck and it’s going to hurt," Scheer said. …

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