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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of Jan. 31, 2016

This week, we got a front row seat as Florida's superintendents sparred with powerful lawmakers over school construction funding. So far, the superintendents look to have the weaker hand. We met a teacher who got so fed up with "education by legislation" that she quit her job. And we braced ourselves for 2015 school grades, just less than year after students took their 2015 state tests. Out in the districts, school boards debated blue jeans, cell phones and recess, among so many other issues. Who says public education is boring? Keep up with it all on the Gradebook. And please keep your tips, questions and comments coming to …

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Florida Gifted Network worries funding might be threatened

A proposed new rule aimed at expanding access to gifted education in Florida has gifted advocates worried that funding for the program is in jeopardy.

Much of the rule, titled Special Instructional Programs for Students who are Gifted, focuses on how to get more children identified and placed into advanced instruction. Within the proposal, though, gifted education is referred to as a "support service" rather than as a "program."

And that has the Florida Gifted Network worried.

"Because Florida funds programs, it appears that a significant implication of the Rule change would be removal of gifted from the ESE Guaranteed Allocation, the funding mechanism for gifted education," FGN president Jennifer Martin told the Gradebook via email. "The Florida Gifted Network agrees with the intent of the proposed Rule and we support efforts to ensure equitable access to special instructional programs for the gifted for Florida's K-12 students. However, we disagree with the substantial re-wording of the Rule. We believe there are better ways to achieve the same result."

Parents have begun peppering the Florida Department of Education with questions about this change. …

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Former council member Bill Dudley to vie for Pinellas School Board

Former St. Petersburg City Council member Bill Dudley filed Friday to run for the District 1 seat on the Pinellas County School Board, becoming the third candidate to challenge three-term incumbent Janet Clark.

Dudley, who left the council after hitting the two-term limit, said he decided on the move in the fall and has since received encouragement from many in the community.

“I have been a public servant all of my adult life,” he said. “That's where my calling is, and I'm not done yet.”

Dudley, 71, worked for the Pinellas County school system for 37 years, almost all of it at Northeast High School. He coached wrestling, football and cross country and taught driver's education as well as American history and government.

He retired in 2006 and said moving to the School Board was a “natural progression” for him. He said he still spends two or three days a week at Northeast High, but as a volunteer.

He said the issues he would work on as a School Board member would include student attendance, early childhood education, the budget and teaching conditions. …

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Sample score reports unveiled for this year's FSAs

State education officials are letting teachers and parents know what the new, redesigned score reports will look like for this year's Florida Standards Assessments, which students will take this spring.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart first discussed the new score reports with the State Board of Education in early January, and her department rolled them out officially Friday afternoon so parents will know what to expect when they get their children's scores.

There's also a new website to help teachers, parents and students understand the information presented on the score reports.

Full details here.

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Rep. Fresen unconvinced by Florida superintendents on school construction costs

Florida House Education Appropriations chairman Rep. Erik Fresen on Friday responded with disdain to superintendents' recent criticism of his views on school construction spending.

Fresen had accused districts of grossly overspending state mandated costs per student station, an allegation that superintendents strongly denied. They argued the chairman blatantly misrepresented their activities, and suggested he was making districts look bad to justify a shift in capital improvement tax revenue.

On Friday, Fresen called the superintendents' assertions "inaccurate," and criticized them for spreading "incorrect information" rather than speaking to him directly with their concerns.

He defended his presentation and wrote that the superintendents did nothing to change his view that overspending was rampant.

"In the 10 years of data that I looked through," Fresen wrote, "some of the most egregious overages in construction costs were during the greatest recession, when construction costs and wages were at their lowest."

In fact, he stated, the school leaders' reaction convinced him to press forward with his plans.  …

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Florida education bills gain traction

You've heard about the major education legislation coursing through the Florida Legislature -- expanded school choice, athletic "free agency," teacher bonuses, recess and the like.

But what about some of the smaller measures? Where are they in the process?

Here's a brief look at some less publicized education bills making their way through the chambers. You'll note the Senate is moving more slowly than the House. Let us know if we missed any you're interested in.

SB 468, Computer Coding as a Foreign Language, is ready for second reading before the full Senate. Its House companion has not moved.

HB 835, Home Education, is before the full House on second reading. Its Senate companion has not moved.

HB 1003, Contracts for Retired Teachers, is on second reading in the House. Its Senate companion has made it through one committee.

HB 7021, Reading Instruction, is on second reading in the House. Its Senate companion has made it through on committee.

HB 4013, Blended Learning, is on second reading in the House. Its Senate companion has not moved.

HB 249, Culinary Education, is before the House on second reading. Its Senate companion has not moved. …

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Florida education news: Research class, property taxes, recess moms and more

NEW APPROACH: Pasco County sixth graders learn research skills as their district drops a mandatory reading course.

FUNDING: Hernando School Board members discuss seeking a local property tax increase to support school technology.

LANGUAGES: Florida lawmakers press ahead with a proposal to count computer coding as a foreign language, Reuters reports.

RECESS MOMS: Orange County mom Angela Browning spearheads a grassroots effort to require elementary school recess, Education Week reports.

ASSISTANCE: Students at a Bay middle school help run a campus food pantry for needy schoolmates, the Panama City News Herald reports.

EVALUATIONS: Some observers question the results of Duval's teacher evaluations showing no "unsatisfactory" teachers, the Florida Times-Union reports.

TESTING: Think-tankers debate whether a proposal to give students and schools testing options is part of the larger educational choice movement, Politico Florida reports.

NEVER MIND: A Volusia School Board member retracts a statement calling teachers "hateful," the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports. …

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Pasco Mitchell High School gets a new principal

In what has become a general practice, Pasco superintendent Kurt Browning has promoted a school's assistant principal to take the top job after the principal's departure.

Jessica Schultz, an assistant at Mitchell High since 2006, accepted the post Thursday afternoon. She will replace Jim Michaels, who recently retired.

Schultz was one of nearly a dozen candidates to run the school in Trinity, coming out ahead of some current and former principals. Unlike the previous administration, Browning has tended to prefer internal applicants to run schools, unless he's cleaning house.

Schultz began her teaching career in 2000 at Hillsborough Wharton High School, where she was 2006 teacher of the year. She also taught at Benito Middle School and Hillsborough Online before joining Mitchell.

She has master's degrees from the University of South Florida and Brigham Young University. Her appointment remains subject to School Board approval.

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Chicken pox cases on the rise at Pinellas elementary school

The number of chicken pox cases at a Clearwater elementary school has risen from eight to 14 students, according to the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County. 

Following an outbreak at the school, health officials last month sent a letter to parents of 18 unvaccinated Plumb Elementary asking their children to stay home for at least 21 days  — the time it takes for symptoms to begin showing — or until they receive their first dose of the chicken pox vaccine. Out of the group, one student was exempted from the vaccine for a medical reason; the others were religious reasons. At that time, at least one of the eight sick children was vaccinated.

Health department spokeswoman Maggie Hall said a representative from the epidemiology department visited the school Wednesday morning to give faculty and staff a presentation on the virus and how to properly wash your hands, since the virus is carried through person-to-person contact. Plumb, located at 1920 Lakeview Road, has an enrollment of 770 students.

"We'd love to see it stop and see kids fully vaccinated," she said.  …

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Public invited to Melrose Elementary site discussion

The Pinellas County school district has invited the public to give feedback and discuss the future of Melrose Elementary's site in St. Petersburg.

The district-sponsored meeting will be held at Gibbs High School's auditorium on Monday at 6 p.m. District associate superintendent for operational services Clint Herbic will present information about the needs of the school, one of the oldest and most troubled schools in the county. Information will be given out to parents at Melrose's 3:15 p.m. dismissal.

At their January workshop, the Pinellas County School Board wasn't too keen on moving the school to a location in the Warehouse Arts District, an option previously discussed by St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and district superintendent Mike Grego.

Melrose, built in 1962 on 5.9 acres at 1752 13th Ave. S, is due for a $4.5 million renovation over the next 10 years that includes roof maintenance, new windows and replacing the heat and air conditioning system.

The board concluded that workshop meeting by directing district staff to look into a former women's center site located on Melrose’s property for more space as well as create a rendering of what a rebuilt school would look like.

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UF researchers are working in Melrose Elementary

University of Florida researchers are working with students at Melrose Elementary as part of a small pilot reading program.

Researchers started working last month with 30 students who have struggled the most with reading. They were invited by superintendent Mike Grego after he saw some positive results that researchers had working with about 20 students from Campbell Park Elementary who were participating off-site at a St. Petersburg church.

As first reported by POLITICO today, the researchers are now seeking state funding to expand their pilot program.  …

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Pasco testing schedule under scrutiny

A constant complaint during testing in Pasco County schools has been that teachers struggle to maintain their courses because students rotate in and out to take their exams.

That criticism baffled superintendent Kurt Browning, who couldn't fathom why all students in a class would not be testing at the same time.

Kids coming and going "certainly is going to be a problem for a teacher," Browning said.

It wasn't until this week, though, that he learned the reason why this is happening. And the superintendent is not happy with the explanation.

"Some schools pull kids by alphabetical order," Browning said his research and accountability director told him. "No wonder we have all this disruption in the classrooms."

The phenomenon occurs largely at high schools, he said, and "it makes no sense to me." Schools need to be able to manage themselves with little district administration interference, he added, but this might be an area that needs to be governed from on high.

"We are looking into it," Browning said. "The scheduling piece is the part that I have questions about."

State testing resumes at the end of February. The goal is to have the situation addressed before then.

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What's in a name? Pasco school district considers options for new elementary school

When building new schools, the Pasco school district holds off on giving them names until construction nears completion. As a placeholder, it uses letters.

Now it's preparing to name Elementary W, in Wesley Chapel near John Long Middle School.

Officials have asked for suggestions, and they've started pouring in. We thought we'd share some of the ones that stood out.

On the serious side, proposals have included Wendell Krinn Elementary, for the recently deceased longtime principal; Godwin Elementary, after the family of late 19th century postmasters in the area; and Susan Jordan Elementary, after an Indiana principal who died pushing children out of the way of an oncoming bus.

Some went for a lighter mood, suggesting, for instance, that the W be replaced with "Wonderful." "What child would not want to go there?" the resident wrote, adding, "If that is not accepted my second choice would be Love Elementary."

And there were some that, well, just missed the point. Wrote one proposer: "Too many syllables in the letter 'W'. May be difficult for younger children to pronounce. Have you considered 'Q'?"

Got anything better?

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Florida education news: Resignation, block schedules, school nurses and more

'I AM RESIGNING': A veteran Pasco County teacher says she can no longer take the micromanagement and stress of her classroom job.

IN THE RACE: Two candidates file for Hernando School Board District 4.

HONORED: Zephyrhills High School's cafeteria manager is recognized as a national School Nutrition Hero.

SCHEDULING: The Martin school district considers adopting block scheduling for middle schools as a cost saving measure, the Stuart News reports.

HEALTHY SCHOOLS: The Bay Health Department partners with the school district to place nurses in every school for the first time, the Panama City News Herald reports.

CONSTRUCTION FUNDS: Palm Beach School Board members say they want to join a county sales tax referendum, the Palm Beach Post reports.

HAND IT OVER: An assistant state attorney tells the Escambia school district it can confiscate and search student cell phones, the Pensacola News-Journal reports.

LEADERSHIP: An internal investigation reveals divisions within the Polk district administration, the Ledger reports.

TESTING: A Sarasota mom protests state testing requirements for students with special needs, the Herald-Tribune reports. …

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Two more candidates enter race for Pinellas School Board

Pinellas County School Board Member Janet Clark during a School Board meeting at the School Administration Building, 301 Fourth Street SW in Largo. (08/25/15).


Pinellas County School Board Member Janet Clark during a School Board meeting at the School Administration Building, 301 Fourth Street SW in Largo. (08/25/15).

A retired Pinellas County elementary school teacher and an adjunct St. Petersburg College professor have entered the race for the upcoming Pinellas County School Board election.

Joanne Lentino, a former Gulfport Elementary first grade teacher who turns 67 on Saturday, and Matt Stewart, a 35-year-old deputy director for Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections and adjunct ethics professor at SPC, are vying for incumbent Janet Clark’s at-large District 1 seat.

Clark, who has been on the board since 2004, has not filed her paperwork for reelection yet but said the other two candidates have prompted her to file as soon as this week or next week.

"Fundraising is one of my least favorite things," she said. "I always try to put that off."

She said she is seeking a fourth term because "things are going well."

"The board is working so well together with Dr. Grego," Clark said. "I don’t see the need for a change right now." …

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