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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Hillsborough's Florida Standards lessons will be on CBS Sunday

Superintendent MaryEllen Elia, shown here in Ruskin, has been travelling around Hillsborough County to answer questions about Common Core and the Florida Standards. Her appearance at Grady Elementary School will be shown on a CBS News show Sunday.


Superintendent MaryEllen Elia, shown here in Ruskin, has been travelling around Hillsborough County to answer questions about Common Core and the Florida Standards. Her appearance at Grady Elementary School will be shown on a CBS News show Sunday.

It's known locally as Florida Standards. Elsewhere, it's still called Common Core, and it persists as a hot political topic.

On Sunday morning, CBS news will air a program on the movement that was filmed largely in Hillsborough County.

Scheduled tenatively to appear at 9 a.m., the show will include footage of a classroom at Rampello K-8 student and at a parent meeting at Grady Elementary School, one of many Superintendent MaryEllen Elia has held around the state.


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Pasco superintendent holds hearing over teacher planning

Pasco County schools superintendent Kurt Browning made one thing clear during his 90-minute hearing over teachers' complaint about planning time. He wanted to ensure that the district meets its contractual obligations.

"I want to be sure if contract language is there, that we're following the contract language," Browning said.

The United School Employees of Pasco contended that the district was falling short. Business representative Jim Ciadella said the contract sets aside 40 minutes for training in a collaborative environment, also referred to as a professional learning communities. Yet many schools demand more, he claimed.

"Many if not most schools chose, or were directed by the district, to use additional time for continued professional development," he said, stating that the longer sessions take away from teachers' independent planning and class preparations. …

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FSU foes point to John Thrasher's ties to Koch brothers

Set to run in Saturday's paper:

One of the latest lines of attack against state Sen. John Thrasher becoming Florida State University's next president: Tying him to the billionaire libertarian Koch brothers.

But Thrasher's ties to the political activists — whose name at FSU is especially radioactive since a controversial gift several years ago — are not as clear as some are suggesting.

Thrasher has accepted campaign donations from the Kochs and attended events with other conservatives that were sponsored in part by Koch dollars. But Thrasher's conservative politics have conflicted with Charles and David Koch's libertarianism.

"I have been saying I've never met them, I've never talked to them and I wouldn't recognize them if they walked into the room," Thrasher told the Times/Herald Thursday.

Thrasher's campaign received a $1,000 check in February from Koch Industries, the Kansas-based company that made the brothers billionaires. He received another $1,000 from the company in 2012.

Thrasher raised nearly $847,000 in total during those two campaign cycles.

Read more here.

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Pasco teachers, administration compromise on planning time

The battle over planning for Pasco County teachers took a twist Thursday, as the district teachers union and administration inked a deal increasing the amount of time teachers will have to prepare independently each week.

Concerned that required professional learning community meetings were eating into teachers' individual prep time, the United School Employees of Pasco proposed giving teachers 400 minutes of weekly planning rather than the current 250. All the extra time would have given teachers the ability to do things such as make copies and prepare their rooms, USEP officials said.

The district responded Thursday by offering 50 added minutes of individual time, without taking away from the district- and principal-assigned portions usually set aside for the PLC sessions. USEP officials agreed to the deal.

The agreement does not do away with the union's formal complaint over PLC requirements, though. The two sides will present their cases to superintendent Kurt Browning today. …

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Florida education news: Paddling, killer bees, driver education and more

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Four low performing Pinellas charter schools present improvement plans to the School Board. • The St. John's School Board finds several problems with a charter school application, the St. Augustine Record reports. • The Sarasota school district requires action plans from two Imagine charter schools with financial problems, the Herald-Tribune reports.

CAMPUS WEAPONS: The Pinellas school district has no business owning military assault rifles, the Times editorializes. • At least one new Manatee school guard who was supposed to be unarmed arrived to work with a stun gun, the Herald-Tribune reports.

PADDLING: Florida is among 19 states that still allow corporal punishment in school, the Washington Post Answer Sheet reports.

TESTING: Lee School Board members will ask colleagues at the Greater Florida Consortium of School Boards to consider the opt-out concept, the Fort Myers News-Press reports. • The Palm Beach School Board adopts a resolution urging change in Florida's testing system, the Palm Beach Post reports. • Alachua educators prepare about 600 end-of-course exams to help evaluate teachers, the Gainesville Sun reports. …

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Communications director requirements downgraded

Well, that didn't take long.

Donna Winchester, director of strategic communications, left the Pinellas County School District last month for a new job at the University of Florida. District officials now are proposing a downgrade in the requirements to fill her position.

The job currently requires a master's degree in communications, journalism or public relations and 10 years of experience. If the School Board signs off Tuesday on the proposed change, job candidates would only need a bachelor's degree and five years of experience. None of the major functions of the job would change, however, and preferred qualifications would include a master's degree.

Board members discussed the change at a recent workshop. The idea was to broaden the applicant pool for the job. It hasn't been posted yet. 

Winchester had worked at the school district since 2009, after about a decade at the Times. She left the school district to become the director of communications for UF, leading a couple major initiatives. 

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Teachers get 2.5 percent pay bump in Pinellas

Teachers in Pinellas County Schools will see another bump in pay this year.

The school district reached a tentative agreement with its employee unions, including the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, to provide employees with an average 2.5 percent pay raise. That follows last year's average 5.6 percent bump.

The raise doesn't include the increase in referendum dollars that occurred with this year's improvement in property values. Teachers will get nearly $300 more each. All raises are subject to ratification by the unions as well as a vote by the Pinellas County School Board.

District employees not represented by unions - such as administrators - will also see a 2.5 percent pay bump. All pay raises will be retroactive to July. Employees will be alerted about when they can expect to see the extra money. 

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Florida Virtual School may sue over naming trademarks

The Florida Supreme Court has ruled that Florida Virtual School can sue Florida Virtual Academy over its name.

"We hold that the Florida Virtual School’s statutory authority to 'acquire, enjoy, use, and dispose of . . . trademarks and any licenses and other rights or interests thereunder or therein,' and the designation of its board of trustees as a 'body corporate with all the powers of a body corporate and such authority as is needed for the proper operation and improvement of the Florida Virtual School,' necessarily includes the authority to file an action to protect those trademarks," the Court stated in a ruling issued Thursday.

The question arose after Florida Virtual School sued Florida Virtual Academy in 2011, alleging trademark infringement. That case made it to a U.S. appellate court, which ruled last year that Florida had conflicting laws on the matter. …

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Voucher supporters seek backing from Pasco School Board

Crystal Kryder had a simple message for the Pasco County School Board: Support vouchers.

Students come to First Christian Academy in New Port Richey for many reasons, the mother of three told the board, and not all can afford the cost. Step Up For Students, the organization that oversees the state's corporate tax credit scholarships, makes it happen for nearly half of the school's students, she said.

Kryder spoke of the school's recent salutatorian, who she said grew academically and socially in the school with a voucher. "This wouldn’t have been possible for her to do without the Step Up program," she said, urging the School Board to throw its weight behind vouchers.

And she was not alone. Another voucher proponent from a Dade City Christian school also asked the board to back vouchers, calling the system "wonderful." A few others in the audience nodded in support but did not speak. …

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About those alternatives to the Hillsborough ticket sale calls...

Much as people might complain about those automated phone calls, in this case selling tickets on behalf of the Hillsborough County school district, the options aren't always popular either.

Gradebook heard from Susan Whitaker, the mother of a high school student and a recent high school graduate, who did not like the suggestion of using paper flyers instead.

"Flyers? That's so 20th century," she wrote. "I am grateful for your (the school district's) use of the automated phone system and completely disagree that the District should use flyers to notify parents of events and activities.  I haven’t received a flyer from school since my kids were in elementary school and I checked their backpacks every day.  And the thought of printing a flyer for every child in the Hillsborough County school system (what, the 5th or 6th largest district in the country?) makes the tree-hugger and tax-payer in me cringe.  What a waste of resources!  Personally I would prefer to have the choice of receiving an automated phone message or an e-mail or a text.  But until the school district has those options in place, automated calls are just fine." …

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More fallout from Florida's FAIR test suspension

When Florida suspended its FAIR exam for kindergarten through second grade, high-stakes testing opponents cheered the change as a step toward a deescalation of the state's attachment to assessments.

Since then, though, the Florida Department of Education has moved to tamp down any such notion. The decision to cut the reading test had nothing to do with growing complaints about how Florida relies on test results too heavily, spokesman Joe Follick told reporters. 

It was all about the app, he said. The DOE changed the test's technology over the summer, he noted, and it simply didn't work properly. Superintendents and assessment coordinators let the department know, and officials decided to pull the plug. Simple as that.

That action, in fact, showed just how much high stakes testing still affects what happens in both schools and preschools. One prekindergarten provider contacted the Gradebook to point out that, without FAIR results, her school could suffer because it won't get a state rating that some parents use when selecting pre-k programs for their four-year-olds. …

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Florida education news: Assault rifles, end of course exams, financial aid and more

ARMED AND READY: The Pinellas school district police department gets 28 M-16 assault rifles from the military, just in case.

BUDGETING: The Hernando School Board adopts a new budget with a lowered tax rate.

FINANCIAL AID: Florida's universities say they need $45 million to offset changes to the Bright Futures scholarship program.

TESTING: Palm Beach schools prepare for hundreds of new end of course exams to help evaluate teachers, the Sun-Sentinel reports. Broward schools, too, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

DISMISSED: The state ethics commission dismisses complaints against a Clay School Board member and the board attorney, the Florida Times-Union reports.

VOUCHERS: Duval Republican Party leaders support a resolution deploring a lawsuit that challenges Florida's school voucher program, WJCT reports.

ACCOUNTABILITY: The Palm Beach School Board calls on the state to slow its transition to new tests, the Palm Beach Post reports.

COMMUNICATIONS: Lee home-schooling parents question a school district letter that suggested their children must take a state test that's not required, the Fort Myers News-Press reports. …

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Jeff Atwater says FAU bid shouldn't affect re-election efforts

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater met with the Times' editorial board today and talked about achievement during his first term office as he runs for re-election. He touched on effects of no-fault auto insurance reform, new policies that allow his office to monitor state contracts and even the environment.

Atwater also explained the story behind his decision to apply for the presidency at Florida Atlantic University and why he believes voters should elect him to a second term without wondering if he is still looking for greener pastures elsewhere.

Read more on The Buzz.

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Florida PTA calls for changes to state's school accountability system

The Florida PTA has called upon the state Department of Education to reconsider its approach to school accountability amid the heated debate over the role of testing in public education.

Just after noon Wednesday, the group released recommendations it said would make the system more fair and viable. They were:

- Allow for proper field-testing and test development in areas with similar demographics to Florida's diverse demographics;

- Suspend the issuance of school letter grades until performance data has been deemed reliable;

- Allow additional testing and calculation flexibility to students with disabilities and students who speak limited English;

- Consider using multiple years of a new exam as a baseline for generating school grades and teacher evaluations.

To date, the state has not agreed to most of these ideas, although it has tried to win flexibility for testing of English learners and students with disabilities from the federal government. The State Board of Education meets later this month in Tallahassee, where testing issues are likely to arise given recent statewide discussion over opting out and problems with the FAIR test. …

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Meet the four finalists in FSU's presidential search

A report in today's paper gives insight into the four finalists for FSU president:

Most of the attention surrounding the search for Florida State University's next president has been on state Sen. John Thrasher. But he is just one of four finalists, and the only who has never worked in higher education.

The FSU board of trustees is expected to make a final selection Tuesday, though that could change because one of the finalists, Michael Martin, had to postpone his interview after having emergency surgery for a detached retina.

Click here and you'll find more about all four finalists -- including former provost Michele Wheatly and university vice president Richard Marchase -- and why they want the job, gleaned from resumes and cover letters they submitted.

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