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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Pasco school copes with bat droppings

Coach Pennye Garcia noticed the unbearable smell outside Sunlake High School's media center immediately upon her return to school in August.

Soon came the hoarseness and coughing. Before long she felt ill like never before. 

Within two weeks, the cause became clear: Bat guano.

Late last week, principal Steve Williams sent out the word that Sunlake's "bat situation," which numbered about 50-100 creatures at its height, was coming under control. 

"Now that the specific species of bat has been determined (Brazilian Free Tailed), we are honing our removal and relocation process," Williams wrote, noting the school had "no recent activity."

He added that no bats are being killed in the process, and looked for the silver lining, too: The school's science department turned the situation into a learning experience for students.

"Some of our science classes are working with another bat expert and the district office," he wrote. "The district is providing the materials for our students to learn about the bat ecosystem and to build proper habitats for them. The best locations for those habitats will be determined by the experts as they collaborate with our students." …

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Florida education news: Testing, school closures, American flags and more

TESTING: Florida education commissioner Pam Stewart says she has little authority to meet the testing-related requests that superintendents, school board members, parent groups and others are making.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: A group withdraws its application to open a charter school at MacDill Air Force Base.

SECRETS: The Brevard School Board declines to reveal which schools it might close if a tax referendum fails, Florida Today reports.

THERE OUGHT TO BE A LAW: A group of Brevard high school students wants the Legislature to require all government-purchased American flags be U.S.-made, Florida Today reports.

CLASSROOM COPIES: Some Duval parents raise concerns that their children aren't being provided assigned novels, the Florida Times-Union reports.

NEW LEADERSHIP: Two Duval schools get new principals six weeks into the academic year, the Florida Times-Union reports.

DIGITAL LEARNING: Bay schools increasingly use more classroom technology, learning as they go, the Panama City News Herald reports.

GROWTH: Volusia enrollment sees its biggest rise in years, causing some classroom crowding, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports. …

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Pasco school district lifts hiring freeze

Pasco County elementary schools are once again free to hire teachers.

The district imposed a hiring freeze at the start of the academic year, while watching to see how enrollment spread across the district. Officials did not want to add employees at campuses that needed them without making sure that under-enrolled schools did not need to lose positions. See how average daily membership at the schools looked after a month of classes here.

Now that the 20-day count has passed, the HR department gave principals the go-ahead to advertise and hire, unless given instructions otherwise on specific jobs. Several elementary schools, including Connerton, Hudson, Double Branch and Cypress, have listed positions available.

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Florida testing debate moves to State Board of Education

Hillsborough schools superintendent MaryEllen Elia brought mounting concerns over state tests to the Florida Board of Education on Monday, saying districts aren't ready to administer them.

She called for a one-year respite in state school grades. She said students also should be held harmless from the penalties attached to this year's results. And she proposed reducing the percentage of a teacher's evaluation that is tied directly to assessments.

Elia didn't question the need for testing. But she and other superintendents, she said, have "grave concerns" over the system in its current transition.

Board members, meeting for the first time since protests over testing intensified, did not respond to her directly. But commissioner Pam Stewart did suggest later that she wasn't worried about the state's move to a new model. It survived the switch from FCAT to FCAT 2.0, after all, she said. "I think we can, and will, get through these changes."

Read the rest of the story here.

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Report takes aim at Scott's education funding record

new report from the left-leaning American Bridge takes Republican governors to task for cutting education funding.

It includes a section on Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who slashed $1.3 billion from the education budget during his first year in office. 

Scott has since restored most of that funding and unveiled a plan to boost per-student spending to a record high level in 2015. But he continues to feel the heat from Democratic opponent Charlie Crist and progressive groups.

The American Bridge report frames education spending as a political issue that could hurt Scott.

"From Rick Scott and Scott Walker to Sam Brownback, Tom Corbett and more, Republican governors are getting slammed for slashing funds for schools, dealing a blow to their respective reelection bids, while prospective governors like Doug Ducey have promised to do the same," the organization wrote in the introduction. "Locked in tight races, these Tea Party governors are floundering to explain their draconian cuts to concerned constituents by twisting numbers and distorting their records."

The report also includes passages from Florida newspaper editorials.

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Florida Board of Education approves rules for newest voucher program

With almost no discussion, the Florida Board of Education on Monday approved new rules governing the state's newest voucher program.

The Personal Learning Scholarship Account, established in the most recent legislative session, faced a legal challenge as recently as a week ago. But a circuit court judge cleared the path to giving the education money to children with disabilities, allowing the model to move forward.

The department is wasting no time. Administrator Adam Miller told the State Board that more than 3,000 families had already applied, and the first 650 scholarships were set to be distributed "in the next couple of days."

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Florida education news: Rick Scott's letters, K-8 schools, free food and more

JOB? OR POLITICS? Questions arise about the letters with political messages supporting Gov. Rick Scott sent out to Florida students, teachers and families, the Miami Herald reports.

STAY WELL: A Florida group will provide flu vaccinations to 200,000 school students, Florida Today reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Some lawmakers say Florida charter school law needs revision, the Naples Daily News reports.

VIRTUAL LEARNING: Flagler and Volusia high schools turn to blended learning models to help students meet the state's online credit requirement, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

SCHOOL STRUCTURE: The Palm Beach school district looks to K-8 schools to bring students back to undercapacity campuses, the Palm Beach Post reports.

DIGITAL INSTRUCTION: A Marion private school abandons printed textbooks in favor of tablets and cloud-based materials, the Ocala Star-Banner reports.

EAT UP: Alachua cafeteria managers notice an increase in students eating school meals after their schools begin providing free food to everyone regardless of income, the Gainesville Sun reports.

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Florida education news: Social media, dance lessons, reading time and more

PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT: Some Hillsborough parents turn to social media shaming after they fail to get desired results from school officials.

DANCE FEVER: A Johns Hopkins Middle School dance teacher finds his meaning in helping students.

EXTRA READING: An Apopka elementary school works to make its extra hour of reading instruction matter for its low performing students, PBS Newshour reports.

TESTING: Political scientists differ on whether Florida's growing anti-testing fervor will net any results, Florida Today reports.

MIDDLE SCHOOLS: The Duval school district looks for ways to make meaningful improvements to its middle schools, the Florida Times-Union reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Some Lee charter school applicants have connections to other charters that failed, the Naples Daily News reports.

INSPIRED: A group of Palm Beach students read the novel 'A Painted House' at school and decide to help paint a needy person's house together, the Palm Beach Post reports.

CONSTRUCTION: Leon school officials expect an outside report on allegations of improprieties in district construction practices by late October, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

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Florida education news: Charter schools, immigrant students, teacher discipline and more

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Proponents for a charter school at MacDill AFB might ask the Hillsborough School Board not to hear their application.

PRESIDENT SEARCH: Florida State University spent more than $160,000 on a search that ended just as most people expected, raising questions about the expense.

RICK SCOTT'S RECORD: Gov. Rick Scott has done more to harm Florida public education than to help it, the Times editorializes.

TESTING: The push against high-stakes testing in Florida gains momentum, causing some leading lawmakers to take a closer look, the Miami Herald reports.

MIGRANTS: Florida schools face the challenge of serving a growning number of Central and South American immigrant children, PBS Newshour reports.

SPECIAL NEEDS: A Miami-Dade family sues the school district two years after their son with autism died unattended in the back of a school bus, the Miami Herald reports.

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Graduating without a diploma: Preventive measures in Hillsborough

Students who walk across the stage at the Florida State Fairgrounds without a true diploma do so for a variety of reasons.

But the most common, by far, is a sub-par score on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

That's what the Hillsborough County school district told board members in a memo this week. Member Susan Valdes, in particular, has been asking what can be done about the so-called "certificates of completion," which mean a student earned enough credits to graduate but fell short of earning a diploma.

In her own research last year, Valdes found that some students did not know about alternatives to the FCAT.

The memo from the district tells a different story.

First, the numbers: of more than 800 graduates who received certificates of completion, 750 did not pass the FCAT and also did not take a test that could substitute for the FCAT -- most commonly, the ACT or the SAT.

Sixty-six did not get the minimum 2.0 grade point average. Thirteen were in an accelerated 18-credit graduation program, but did not pass the FCAT. And five both did not pass the FCAT and did not earn a 2.0 GPA.

Did these students know their rights? …

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School for homeless children will get new building

Plans are under way to move the Metropolitan Ministries Partnership School in Hillsborough from rented space into its own building next August.

According to a recent report to the School Board, the new school will open on land owned by the large charity just north of downtown Tampa.

The school now serves 90 students in five rented classrooms in a nearby YMCA.

The new two-story building will have eight classrooms, music and art rooms, a media and reading room with a computer and testing lab, a play yard, a gym and dining rooms for students and teachers. An estimated 152 students will attend.

Metropolitan Ministries is paying for the building, according to the district.

The project began in 1998 as a charter school children from homeless families who lived at the shelter. After serving more than 1,000 students in its first decade, the school came under district control in 2009.

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Pasco teachers union asks for time to consider grievance options

As expected, Pasco schools superintendent Kurt Browning rejected a class-action teacher grievance contending that the administration was abusing teacher planning time.

Rather than file an immediate appeal, the United School Employees of Pasco has asked for extra time to decide its next step. The USEP also has filed a formal complaint with the state Public Employees Relations Commission over the issue, but it has been inactive while the union pursued its local action.

USEP negotiator Jim Ciadella told the district he wants to consult with other leaders and members before announcing any plans.

"I would request the abeyance through the end of business of October 10, 2014," he wrote to Browning.

The district has already advised the union that it considers the grievance "untimely," because several months passed between the time the USEP approached officials with their original concerns and the date of the formal filing. At the same time, though, employee relations director Betsy Kuhn noted that the district has not stood in the way of the hearings so far, because the ultimate goal is to reach a resolution if possible.

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Pasco school district considers new logo

Pasco County School Board

New administration. New strategic plan. New school choices.

Why not a new look, too?

The Pasco County school district administration is considering which new logo it wants to use. The third one has gotten the most votes on the district's Facebook page.

Now officials are discussing whether that one is viable. They have concerns over whether it will look acceptable in black and white, or when reduced in size.

But the district does plan to get rid of the "P" with the stick figure reaching for the stars.

"We'll have a new vision, mission and strategies," spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said. "So it's a good time to rebrand."

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Florida education news: Grading periods, active learning, parent involvement and more

GRADING PERIODS: Pinellas students and teachers give a mixed review to the district's return to quarters.

KIDS IN CHARGE: Pasco's Chester Taylor Elementary moves to an active learner model to give students more choices in their schooling

PARENT INVOLVEMENT: The Hernando school district offers seminars on helping children succeed in its new Parent Academy.

PLANNING TIME: Pasco superintendent Kurt Browning rejects a union grievance regarding joint teacher planning.

STUDENT-ATHLETES: Escambia's new student-athlete transfer policy receives positive initial reactions, the Pensacola News-Journal reports.

LABOR NEWS: Manatee schools offer a 2 percent raise to all support staff, the Bradenton Herald reports.

PUBLIC MEETINGS: A nonprofit sues the Manatee School Board, claiming the board's process to hire a security firm violated the Sunshine Law, the Bradenton Herald reports. More from the Herald-Tribune.

LET THEM PLAY: Lake parents protest to have recess returned to their children's elementary school, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

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Charter school backer: We're waiting for the MacDill commander's word

Col. Daniel Tulley, took over recently as base commander at MacDill Air Force Base. Unlike his predecessor, Col. Scott DeThomas, Tulley has not taken a public position on plans for a base charter school.

Col. Daniel Tulley, took over recently as base commander at MacDill Air Force Base. Unlike his predecessor, Col. Scott DeThomas, Tulley has not taken a public position on plans for a base charter school.

In their recommendation against the MacDill Charter Academy application, Hillsborough officials wrote that they don't even know if the new base commander wants a charter school. They're right, said Stephen Mitchell, chairman and president of the local charter group. Mitchell said Thursday that Col. Daniel Tulley is reviewing Superintendent MaryEllen Elia's proposal to expand Tinker Elementary School, which is on the base, to add six modular classrooms in August. That would allow the school to serve grades 6 through 8. Is there enough demand for both an expanded Tinker and a privately managed charter school? "You can have both," Mitchell said. "But it's the colonel's decision." Tulley has not discussed the issue with the Tampa Bay Times. The School Board will vote Tuesday on Superintendent MaryEllen Elia's proposal to turn down the charter application for a K-8 school on the base. Full Story