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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida school administrators' group drops out of voucher lawsuit

In August 2014, the Florida Association of School Administrators joined with a group of education and civic groups to challenge Florida's 13-year-old corporate tax credit scholarship program.

Executive director Juhan Mixon announced Friday that it would no longer be party to the suit:

The Board of Directors of the Florida Association of School Administrators (FASA) has decided to withdraw from the lawsuit filed in the Leon Circuit Court regarding tax credit scholarships (vouchers). Following a full review of priorities, the Board made the decision to focus resources on FASA’s main objective – to ensure that the quality of administrative leadership within our schools continues to make Florida’s graduates competitive worldwide.

FASA members are dedicated to increasing student achievement and positively impacting teaching and learning. To accomplish this, the Association will continue to target professional development needs of administrators; to support teachers and students regarding digital conversion and technology in schools; and to advocate for administrators at all levels. …

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Florida House approves construction money for charter schools

Without a word of debate Friday, the Florida House approved a controversial proposal that could require school districts to share tens of millions of dollars in construction funds with rival charter schools.

The bill was one of four high-profile education proposals that won the support of the Republican-dominated House. The others would:

* Ease the penalties for schools that fail to comply with the Constitutionally-mandated limits on class size;

* Create a pilot program to give principals more control over hiring and budget decisions; and

* Encourage school districts to adopt mandatory school uniform policies for children in grades K-8 by offering incentive money.

All of the Democrats in attendance voted against the charter school bill (HB 7037). But none debated the measure on the floor.

Read more here.

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Pasco County schools to begin 2015-16 contract talks early

Pasco County school district leaders hope not to have another year when teachers and other school staff return to classes in the fall not knowing all the terms of their employment.

That in mind, they've scheduled to begin negotiations for 2015-16 in April.

"We're going to try to get it done much quicker," employee relations director Betsy Kuhn said. "We think by starting sooner, there is a chance when teachers come back in August, we could have it done."

This school year, bargaining took nearly half a year, as the sides disagreed over issues such as tobacco use, early retirement benefits and planning time. As frustrations rose, leaders from the district and United School Employees of Pasco sent dueling updates to workers, trying to explain their positions.

Ultimately, they reached a deal that included raises of about 3 percent, on average. Employees got the added pay in Feburary, about six months after they returned to work. …

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Zephyrhills High teachers defend student restroom restrictions

News that Pasco County's Zephyrhills High School would restrict student bathroom use during class time met instant resistance from parents this week. As the story went viral, superintendent Kurt Browning called for the school to change its approach.

His request prompted a pushback from teachers and staff, who emailed him to say how much they like the idea.

"I only have the safety and the best interest of every student here at ZHS in my practices and I honestly believe the new policy is for the safety of every student and staff," first year reading teacher Cynthia Ritz wrote.

Language arts teacher Natalie Probst wrote of her "total support" for the effort, which she contended had an immediate positive effect. …

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Florida education news: Soccer school, dress code, gifted classes and more

FOR FUTBOL: Families learn about a new soccer academy seeking to open in the Tampa area.

AIMING HIGH: Pasco-Hernando State College new president Tim Beard has big aspirations for the school.

TESTING: It's not all bad, columnist Dan DeWitt writes.

SPORTS: The Florida House presses forward with a bill to revamp high school athletics rules, the Sun-Sentinel reports. The Florida High Schools Athletic Association is in the crosshairs, the News Service of Florida reports.

DRESS CODE: A proposal to pay Florida school districts to adopt student uniforms heads to the House floor, the Capitol News Service reports.

ACHIEVEMENT GAP: Duval's lowest performing schools make gains but still lag behind others in the district, the Florida Times-Union reports.

TEACHER INSURANCE: Florida lawmakers move to provide liability insurance to public school teachers, the Naples Daily News reports.

GIFTED EDUCATION: The Escambia school district will reorganize its programs for gifted students, the Pensacola News-Journal reports. …

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Education commissioner's new advisory committee to meet Friday

Florida education commissioner Pam Stewart's new advisory panel, the Keep Florida Learning Committee, will have its inaugural meeting via conference call starting at 9 a.m. Friday.

The 11-member group will talk about its public role, covering such things as Sunshine Laws, before setting its guiding principles. Stewart already has made clear she expects that, at a minimum, the committee will review "further deregulation opportunities for the school system, reviewing the instructional material review processes used by school boards, identifying strategies to increase parental involvement in education, and reviewing the implementation of the Florida Standards and the Florida Standards Assessment."

Interested in keeping tabs on the members, who include lawmakers, school board members and school leaders in addition to two parents? The meeting will be webcast from the FLDOE website.

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What did Florida senators do about third grade retentions?

After lengthy, sometimes confusing debate Wednesday over Florida's testing and its consequences, the state Senate Appropriations Committee adopted a proposal that would change the rules relating to third-grade retention.

Reports quickly emerged that the state where likely presidential candidate Jeb Bush launched third-grade retentions based on reading test performance was about to suspend the practice. "If Florida lawmakers agree to the change, it would mark a major departure from a policy pushed into law by then-Gov. Jeb Bush who decried 'social promotion' when he campaigned for governor," the Associated Press wrote.

So what exactly did the Senate panel adopt? Its language refers to how test results will be used in the transition to new Florida Standards Assessments (see the TRANSITION section of the main bill, starting at line 493). The amendment reads: …

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Florida education news: Third-grade promotion, athletics, music teachers and more

TESTING: The Florida Senate Appropriations Committee tackles third grade promotion issues as it advances a testing reform bill with some key differences from the House version.

STUDENT ATHLETICS: High school athletics officials have strong reservations about a bill in the Florida House that would change oversight of high school sports.

ADVISORY PANEL: Pasco County resident Megan Hendricks says she wants to find ways to make people proud of public education again as she sits on the Keep Florida Learning committee.

JOINING FORCES: The Pasco school district plans to join a coalition of Central Florida school boards to help set regional priorities.

ARRESTED: A Manatee middle school student is arrested on charges of battery against a teacher, the Bradenton Herald reports.

POLITICS: A Collier School Board member raises concerns that teachers are using district email to promote political causes, the Naples Daily News reports.

SUPERINTENDENTS: The Palm Beach School Board has one week remaining to receive candidate applications for superintendent, the Palm Beach Post reports. …

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Florida Senate finds compromise on testing

Florida lawmakers may have found a middle ground on the controversial subject of student testing.

A Senate panel tweaked its testing bill Wednesday so that the results of this year’s Florida Standards Assessments would not be used to determine whether third-grade students can be promoted to the fourth grade, or high-school students can graduate until an independent review of the exam is conducted.

The amendment was intended to be a compromise between Republican lawmakers who have vowed not to retreat on school accountability, and the parents and educators who have asked for a pause while Florida transitions to new academic standards and assessments. Their outcry has only grown louder since the state botched the roll-out of the online writing exams earlier this month.

"We want to do two things," said Senate Rules Chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, who proposed the amendment. "We want to make sure students are being tested but not overtested, and whatever test instrument is used is reliable and valid." …

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Zephyrhills High imposes restroom restrictions, gets direction to change them

Hoping to curtail vandalism and class skipping, Zephyrhills High School leaders announced Tuesday that students would not be allowed to leave classrooms during the first and last 10 minutes of any period. During the rest of the period, they would need to have an administrator escort them -- including to the restroom. 

The outcry was immediate.

"Welcome to Zephyrhills High School were we are treated like elementary kids," one student tweeted.

Parent Myra Binnicker complained to superintendent Kurt Browning. "This policy is an abuse in itself," she wrote in an e-mail. "If my daughter is sitting there waiting and waiting, I am going to instruct her to get up and walk out. If she is punished for it, I will press the issue. She never gets in no trouble. She is a good student. There is zero reason she should be put in this position."

Principal Andy Frelick, who imposed a similar rule in 2009 at Ridgewood High, explained his stance in a note to area superintendent Monica Ilse:

We have a really serious problem with kids in the halls during class.  Either they are skipping or the teachers are letting them out.   …

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Orlando third grader urges Florida lawmakers to pause testing consequences

A growing number of Florida school children are raising their voices in the state's testing debate, hoping to be heard in a discussion that so many people say is about them.

One Orlando third grader emailed several lawmakers, urging them to consider adopting an amendment that would halt test-based third-grade retention, high school graduation and school grading decisions until the test is validated.

Claire, whose mom asked that her last name not be used, pointed to problems in the sample test the state provided as an example of the problems that exist. Here's her email:

My name is Claire.  I'm in the 3rd Grade.  I don't have a big letter.  I just want to show you a question on my practice FSA.  I had a LOT to choose from because there's a LOT of problems with this test.

I think it's weird you haven't seen the real test.  I don't know anyone that buys anything without looking at it - especially how much you had to pay!  

Even though you can't see the real test you can still see the practice ones.  Have you taken any of the practice tests?  Have you even looked at them?  …

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Rep. Adkins revives Facebook testing debate

Floridians hoping to influence state House K-12 committee chairwoman Rep. Janet Adkins' views on testing via Facebook were disappointed when the Fernandina Beach Republican abruptly deleted a lengthy, detailed thread on the subject.

Adkins explained that she wanted to hear peoples' views. "Once the Facebook thread became a political conversation as opposed to authentic interaction with teachers and stakeholders I decided the thread was no longer fruitful and deleted it from my Facebook account," she said via e-mail.

Critics bashed Adkins, suggesting she had somehow killed a public record and contending she wasn't interested in the thoughts of those who disagree with her. Some even launched a Facebook page called The Janet Project, stating it was "dedicated to the posting and discussion of public communication censored from the social media of elected officials and public organizations." …

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Florida education news: Testing, sports, raises and more

TESTING: Lake County schools scrap several local end-of-course exams, following Orange and Seminole, the Daily Commercial reports. • Some Southwest Florida residents protest the way the state uses standardized testing, NBC 2 reports. More from the Naples Daily News. • About 1,400 Orange County students attend spring break camps to prepare for state tests, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS: Legislation in the Florida House looks to overhaul the governance of high school athletics, the Miami Herald reports. 

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Some Collier charter school leaders say they would like to keep the 5 percent administrative fee they pay to the school district, Fox 4 reports. • The Polk School Board plans to appeal a state-level approval of a new charter school, the Ledger reports.

MORE MEMBERS: A Manatee County commissioner calls the local School Board dysfunctional and suggests adding two at-large members, the Bradenton Herald reports.

SUPERINTENDENTS: The Indian River School Board offers its next superintendent choice a salary higher than the outgoing leader, the Vero Beach Press-Journal reports. …

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Never mind about those principal transfers

Maria Gsell will remain as principal of East Bay High School

Maria Gsell will remain as principal of East Bay High School

We reported, based on the March 3 Hillsborough County School Board agenda, that Maria Gsell would leave East Bay High School to become principal of Hillsborough High School.

But it didn't turn out that way.

Gsell will remain at East Bay, as community members hoped she would.

That leaves Hillsborough High looking for a principal.

The plan was for Johan von Ancken, Hillsborough's former principal, to move  to East Bay. Instead, Von Ancken was named administrator on special assignment. According to district spokesman Stephen Hegarty, the change was part of a domino effect as Denny Oest was promoted to assistant superintendent and Leslie Granich, also an administrator on special assignment, replaced Oest as director of leadership for secondary education.




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Florida education leaders raise more testing concerns

With two weeks of computerized writing tests in the rearview mirror, Florida's superintendents are taking a closer look at what went wrong -- and what it means.

They're more concerned than ever that the results will be tainted.

In a draft document circulating through district offices, the Florida Association for District School Superintendents raises six "serious concerns" that it wants state leaders to consider. The issues coincide with some of the validity questions discussed by national experts in the aftermath of students' widespread problems logging in and finishing the Florida Standards Assessment exam.

Here's a sample:

Issue 1:  Test Administrator and student logins timing out and receiving run-time errors. …

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