Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Brooksville middle school lands band instructor, keeping program alive

BROOKSVILLE - Parrott Middle School has a new band director.

After months of anticipation and worry that the program might fold, principal Brent Gaustad on Tuesday announced that he has hired former Central High band director Luke Cramer, who had been let go from Central after the band and chorus program dissolved because of low enrollment.

Numerous parents had expressed concern about he future of Parrott's program and the negative impact it would have on Hernando High's band if it ended.

Gaustad said he had a difficult time filling the position because he also needed the person to double as a math teacher. Cramer, who accepted the job last week, fit the bill.

For this year, Cramer will teach two band classes - beginning and advanced - consisting of about 60 students. He will teach three periods of math.

Gaustad hopes to eventually make the band position full time.

Click here to read the full story.

Full Story

Pinellas School Board offers support to expanding magnet offerings

With a few pointed questions, the Pinellas School Board on Tuesday indicated a willingness to add at least five new magnet schools to the system.

The move aims to expand student diversity at several schools that have become racially and economically identifiable.

Board members raised concerns about the types of programs being offered, as well as the way the offerings are presented to the general public. Some of them wanted to stop calling the magnets "school choice" programs, for example, instead referring to them as "district application programs."

Read the developing story here.

Full Story

Still no word on Florida's NCLB waiver extension request

When Florida first received its waiver from federal No Child Left Behind rules, it agreed to include the test scores of students still learning English when rating school performance.

Activists fought back, saying that inclusion of results from students who clearly still struggled with the language. In the past, those children's outcomes were not used in accountability measures until after they had at least two years' worth of learning in English.

The state's request to renew its NCLB waiver reflected a desire to return to that time frame. State lawmakers even changed the law to reflect the policy of waiting two years before counting those students' proficiency scores.

It's apparently not an easy issue for the feds: While other states have won their renewals, Florida has sat and waited.

"We have applied for an extension through the 2014-15 school year, but we have not received word on whether our request has been approved yet," spokeswoman Claudia Claussen told the Gradebook.

Florida's waiver expired on June 30.

Full Story

Florida education news: Charter schools, education funding, extended days and more

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Hillsborough district officials project a 15 percent increase in charter school enrollment, which could millions in funding away from traditional schools.

FINANCIAL WOES: The Walton school district continues to face added public pressure on its budget after past problems became known, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports. 

SCHOOL CHOICE: Marion's proposed open-enrollment policy would not take effect until 2015 and would not provide as many choices as parents might expect, the Ocala Star-Banner reports.

SUPPORT YOUR SCHOOL: North Bay residents ask leaders of their local elementary school to keep the IB program despite its drop from C to D in state grading, the Miami Herald reports.

LONGER DAYS: Bay teachers demand more information about a plan to have all schools provide an extra hour of daily instruction, the Panama City News Herald reports.

DUAL ENROLLMENT: Bethune-Cookman University seeks to offer courses to Volusia high school juniors and seniors, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

WHAT HAPPENED? The Lee School Board will investigate the situation that prompted a popular principal to abruptly resign, the Fort Myers News-Press reports. …

Full Story

Florida DOE officially launches its test item bank

The time has come for Florida teacher evaluations to include student testing data in the equation.

To this point, though, the state has not provided course assessments for many of the subjects that teachers instruct. Most school districts do not have their own tests, either.

To help ease the transition, the Florida Department of Education has launched a test item bank for districts preparing those additional end-of-course exams. It's more than a year later than originally projected, but department officials have repeatedly suggested that the state's time frame for moving into new testing was adequate.

Before receiving full access, districts will receive training on how to use the computerized system. They're being placed into three priority levels so the process can begin in August. Those are:

Priority 1: District needs access in July and August for a relatively small number (less than 20) of users so that they may access district-level assessment items and begin developing local assessments. District will need access for all district-level staff and all teachers prior to the beginning of the 2014-15 academic year. …

Full Story

Hillsborough joins nationwide pledge to close achievement gap

Hillsborough superintendent MaryEllen Elia, along with School Board members Doretha Edgecomb and Candy Olson, were among a group of educators in Washington D.C. Monday as President Obama announced a commitment to prepare African American and Hispanic male students for college and careers. Along with the Council of the Great City Schools, the White House also pledged to reduce the disproportionate number of minority students who drop out or are suspended.

“Hillsborough County Public Schools is committed to this pledge. We are working with our administrators and teachers to guarantee full opportunities for student success,” said Elia said. This year the district is using student success teams, consisting of administrators, counselors and special education staff, to assist with this effort.

 In “A Pledge by America’s Great City Schools,” each of the 60 urban school systems committed to carrying out 11 specific actions, which include:

•Ensuring that pre-school efforts better serve African-American and Hispanic males and their academic and social development;
•Adopting and implementing elementary and middle school efforts to increase “the pipeline” of African-American and Hispanic males who are on track to succeed in high school, and increasing the numbers participating in advanced placement, honors, and gifted and talented programs;
•Keeping data and establishing protocols to monitor the progress and intervene at the earliest warning signs of problems;
•Reducing the disproportionate number of African-American and Hispanic males who are absent, suspended, expelled, or placed inappropriately in special education classes; and
•Working to transform high schools with low graduation rates and striving to increase the numbers of African-American and Hispanic males and others who complete the FAFSA forms for college aid.

There is also a partnership to increase the number of African-American and Hispanic males participating and succeeding in Advanced Placement (AP) classes.

Full Story

Pasco schools will not change start times

School buses will roll at their usual times when classes resume in Pasco County on Aug. 18. None of the district's bell times will be changing, not even the three that the state is requiring add an hour of daily reading instruction.

"Everything is exactly the same," assistant superintendent Ray Gadd said.

Last year, the district switched the starting times for several schools, with the goal of maximizing the bus route efficiency. Parents at Deer Park Elementary fought the plan to move their children's bell time back an hour, and the administration backed off.

This time around, Gadd said, "the transportation department is telling us they're pretty efficient." In January, the district expects to have GPS trackers on every bus, he added, and that will help determine if any other route changes are necessary for the following year.

For now, though, parents should plan on sending their kids to school the same hours as last fall.

Full Story

Florida education news: Funding, standards, smoking and more

STUDENT FUNDING: Charlie Crist claims that per-student funding in Florida was higher during his term than under Rick Scott. Politifact Florida rates the statement Mostly True.

STANDARDS: State Impact Florida and Hechinger Report look back on a year of lessons learned while teachers prepare for the transition to Florida Standards.

TIGHT QUARTERS: A few University of Central Florida students are mistakenly assigned to closets and bathrooms at the university dorms, the Knight News reports.

KNOW THE RULES: Manatee students and parents might not get printed copies of the Code of Conduct the district expects them to read and follow, the Bradenton Herald reports.

NO SMOKING: The Escambia School Board bans tobacco use at all its properties, the Pensacola News-Journal reports.

Full Story

Florida education news: School Board races, Florida Standards, accountability and more

IN THE HUNT: Linda Lerner, the longest-serving Pinellas School Board member ever, faces her toughest opponent in Maureen Ahern, the wife of a state lawmaker.

STANDARDS: Hillsborough superintendent MaryEllen Elia tackles parent concerns during one of her public presentations on the new Florida Standards.

NO ACCOUNTABILITY: Recent legal activity highlights that Florida private schools accepting state taxpayer money don't follow the same requirements to account for their actions as public schools, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports. • The state needs to hold for-profit colleges more accountable for their use of taxpayer funds, the Sun-Sentinel editorializes.

CODE OF CONDUCT: The Santa Rosa School Board moves to eliminate corporal punishment and ease restrictions on student use of electronics in school, the Santa Rosa Press Gazette reports.

APPEARANCES MATTER: Brevard's superintendent gets a positive performance review but also warnings that his communication style and demeanor need improvement, Florida Today reports.

DON'T WAIT: Experts say parents need to pay attention to their children's education needs long before they reach kindergarten, the Orlando Sentinel reports. …

Full Story

Florida education news: Special education, pizza delivery, mentoring and more

SPECIAL EDUCATION: The Pinellas school district's special education reorganization goes awry.

DOMINO'S DELIVERS: The Manatee School Board prepares to expand a contract for pizza delivery to schools for celebrations, the Bradenton Herald reports.

UNJUST: A judge says a Broward teacher was inappropriately fired, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

VOUCHERS: Florida's new personal learning scholarships begin taking applications, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

LOVE OF LEARNING: Aspiring teachers spend their summer mentoring Sarasota elementary students, the Herald-Tribune reports. 

Full Story

Grego responds to criticism about Dunedin Elementary

Superintendent Mike Grego has taken some heat for his comments to a Times reporter who asked him about his decision to demote the principal of Dunedin Elementary. The Times editorial board Wednesday called it the "latest example" of Grego responding curtly when asked to explain his decisions.

The school, as the Times reported, jumped to a C this year, up from an F. But Grego already had declared Dunedin Elementary a turnaround school, demoted principal Kathleen Brickley to assistant principal, and replaced 17 teachers. When asked Tuesday about the situation, Grego reacted angrily and told the reporter to "stop writing." During the exchange, he said, "The day that I have to justify every blasted move in our district . . . You can take over if you like." 

Grego apologized to the reporter for his reaction later that day. But in an email to a community member Thursday, in which the School Board and the Times were included, Grego said that his comments were taken out of context. 

His email reads:

"Thank you for your letter regarding staffing changes at Dunedin Elementary School. …

Full Story

Weird Al's 'Word Crimes' takes up where Schoolhouse Rock left off

Leave it to Weird Al Yankovic to turn last year's summer blockbuster into a catchy lesson on grammar.

'Word Crimes,' a parody on Robin Thicke's 'Blurred Lines,' easily could become an English teacher's introductory video to engage (yes, there's the buzz word) students in the often mundane world of spelling, punctuation and usage. Yes, they're still required.

It's the modern-day version of the Schoolhouse Rock videos so many of us learned from as kids. (Who will ever forget that adverbs end with -ly after watching Lolly get his adverbs?)

Enough said. Enjoy Weird Al.

And then, just for kicks, here's some Schoolhouse Rock, too.

Full Story

Florida education news: AP tests, teacher attrition, substitute teachers and more

LIFE LESSON: Pinellas superintendent Mike Grego must learn to contain his temper and improve his communication skills, the Times editorializes.

TESTING: Hernando students show slight improvements in their Advanced Placement exam results. Hernando Eastside Elementary shows dramatic gains in improving from F to C.

TURNAROUND: Pasco Gulf Middle's new principal makes big plans to improve the school's performance.

CHURN: Teacher attrition costs Florida millions, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

HIGH TECH: Central Florida schools adopt new technology as the state moves to more digital instruction, My Fox Orlando reports.

SCHOOL CLOSING: The Manatee school district ends its contract for a high school for at-risk teens, the Bradenton Herald reports.

CONTROLS: Walton district officials seek financial safeguards after unexpected troubles, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports.

SCHOOL CHOICE: The Marion School Board approves open enrollment for all children, the Ocala Star-Banner reports.

SUBSTITUTES: The Bay school district relaxes its criteria to become a substitute teacher, the Panama City News Herald reports. …

Full Story

Florida lawmakers quietly change third-grade retention law

As the Florida Education Association noted in its latest lawsuit, SB 850 did more than expand the state's school voucher system.

It also changed the rules for Florida's controversial and oft-copied third-grade retention rules, first promulgated by Jeb Bush. The rule, which as Politico noted is losing steam in other states, requires third graders to pass the state reading exam or repeat the grade until they can demonstrate the ability to move ahead.

The law always included exemptions, such as a performance portfolio, an alternate test score and consideration of disabilities and English proficiency. Now, the Legislature has added another way out: Previous third grade retention.

SB 850 added this language to the good cause exemptions:

"Students who have received intensive reading intervention for 2 or more years but still demonstrate a deficiency in reading and who were previously retained in kindergarten, grade 1, grade 2, or grade 3 for a total of 2 years. A student may not be retained more than once in grade 3."

Full Story

Low grades prompt administrative changes at several Hernando schools

BROOKSVILLE - Hernando County School District superintendent Lori Romano has announced administrative changes throughout the district after several schools earned low marks in the latest round of state-issued school grades.

Romano said her decisions were made after reviewing school grade data in an attempt to match individual strengths with the greatest needs.

Spring Hill Elementary School assistant principal Nancy Johnson will move to Pine Grove Elementary to replace Heather Urban, who resigned Tuesday. Both schools earned D grades for the 2013-14 school year, though Pine Grove's overall score was lower, narrowly missing an F.

Westside Elementary School's assistant principal, Joyce Lewis, will take over for Johnson at Spring Hill.

Westside, another D school, would have earned an F for the past year if not for the state's "safety net" rule, which prevents schools from dropping multiple grade levels from year to year. Replacing Lewis at Westside will be Chocachatti Elementary assistant principal Cari O'Rourke. Chocachatti, one of the district's magnet schools, earned an A. …

Full Story