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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

National charter school group focuses on Florida with new operator database

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers is working with the state of Florida to ensure that school districts and other organizations charged with approving charter schools have plenty of background information on the applicants.

NACSA announced Monday the launch of a charter operator tracker, still in development, that provides information about charter management groups and the schools they have operated, currently or in the past. The site, available to authorizers throughout the state, includes links to performance and financial reports among other data for review.

"If you hire someone to run your business, you want to know where they've been working and what kind of results they've had. If an organization has done charter school management work before or is doing it now in other places, authorizers should know where and how well they're doing it," William Haft, NACSA vice president, said in a release. "We are designing the Tracker to help school boards approve only quality options for the children and families in their districts." …

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Florida testing validity study should be done on time, contractor says

Alpine Testing Solutions, the firm conducting Florida's testing validity study, reports that its work should be completed by the Sept. 1 deadline that lawmakers set.

The group has received much of the documentation it requested, and conducted several interviews in gathering information to help reach findings. One area where Alpine has requested more specifics is that of test administration -- perhaps the area of greatest concern after a spring filled with computer testing problems.

"Based on the feedback from district assessment coordinators and staff, Alpine has requested additional information from FLDOE and AIR, specifically any quantitative data related to the administration issues that were reported," the reviewers wrote in their July status update. "The quantitative data will be used to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the number of students that were impacted by each issue as well as the degree of impact."

The group has not offered any findings at this time. It expects to include those with its final report, scheduled for delivery Aug. 28.

Read the July update for more details.

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Continued rains, flooding affect Pasco school programs

Flooding in western Pasco County has prompted the school district to relocate children in the PLACE summer programs at four elementary schools.

Children who normally attend Fox Hollow and Chasco elementary PLACE will be taken to Chasco Middle, those who go to Marlowe Elementary PLACE will be bused to Deer Park Elementary, and children at Anclote and Richey elementary schools will move to Cotee River Elementary. Gulf High School is also operating on a skeleton crew.

Flooded roads have prevented many employees from getting to the campuses.

District officials said they will continue to monitor situations and make adjustments if conditions worsen, making it more difficult for parents to get to schools to pick up their children. They plan to send out automated calls to affected families as necessary. 

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Florida education news: Bonuses, sales tax, vouchers and more

BONUSES: Collier officials weigh in on Florida's Best and Brightest teacher incentive, the Naples Daily News reports. More from the Tallahassee Democrat.

SALES TAX HOLIDAY: Manatee school leaders offer advice on school supply purchases, the Bradenton Herald reports.

SUPERINTENDENTS: A dispute involving a former Monroe superintendent has the current one facing problems with his board, the Keynoter reports.

LABOR NEWS: The national AFT plans to control the Orange County local teachers union for about a year, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

VOUCHERS: The Palm Beach Post has a Q&A on tax credit scholarships with Step Up for Students.

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Results vary, but bullying and lack of student respect remain problems at Hillsborough schools

The Hillsborough County school district has released school-by-school results of the past year's climate survey, allowing for comparisons from one school to another.

Giant caveat: This year, because students were so over-burdened with state testing, the district decided to give the survey to a sample of students and not all 207,000. Officials said they are confident the sample was large enough, especially for identifying districtwide trends. But responses came from only about 30 percent of the students.

Keep in mind, when viewing this list, that at some schools, answers came from as few as 20 percent of the students. You'll find the data here for elementary schools A-I, J-R and R-Y; and secondary schools A-M and N-Y.  …

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Florida education news: Homelessness, short-shorts, capital projects and more

HOMELESSNESS: Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton schools have more homeless students than many in the communities realize, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports. 

HISTORIC: The Seminole school district shuts down one of its oldest schools, My News 13 reports.

PRIORITIES: The Lake School Board says it puts half of its new revenue into classrooms, but one member has doubts, the Daily Commercial reports.

STYLE: Chubbies shorts become the rage in some Brevard high schools, Florida Today reports.

REPAIRS: Polk schools lack the funds to complete needed capital projects, the Ledger reports.

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Florida education news: School zones, STEM lessons, home schooling and more

REZONING: Hernando officials seek parent feedback on proposed attendance zone changes aimed at filling under-capacity schools.

STEM: Moffit Cancer Center and the Hillsborough Education Foundation partner to offer students more access to STEM career options.

TECHNOLOGY: A Brevard elementary gets 50 computers donated from the U.S. General Services Administration, Space Coast Daily reports.

HOME SCHOOLING: Readers react to reports that Duval schools are seeing an increase in home schoolers in the Florida Times-Union.

BY ASSOCIATION: Two Sarasota School Board members debate the merits of Florida's competing school board organizations, the Herald-Tribune reports.

SECURITY: Central Florida districts begin looking at new ways to get emergency information to parents, WKMG reports.

REPRESENTATION: The Lake School Board won't advance a proposal to move to single-member districts, the Daily Commercial reports. …

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Schools still can get digital classroom funding, Florida education commissioner says

Education commissioner Pam Stewart has repeated the Governor's Office contention that her department may release $60 million in classroom technology funding despite the governor's veto of a study lawmakers had attached to the money.

The governor's staff argued the veto simply deleted the connection between the analysis and the money. Stewart took the same position:

"In sum, section 7 of the implementing bill that amended s. 1011.62(12)(g) F.S., to require the Department to contract with a third-party entity to conduct an assessment of digital readiness, implemented the proviso language attached to Specific Appropriation 130 that was vetoed. Therefore, the portions of the implementing bill pertaining to this vetoed appropriation and proviso language are void. All of the remaining requirements that are not dependent on the independent digital readiness assessment remain in effect."

Her assessment came in a letter to senators Don Gaetz and Bill Montford, who questioned the DOE's authority to distribute the money in light of the veto. …

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'We came for medals!' Team USA from Pasco wins Special Olympics soccer bronze

The Land O'Lakes High School unified soccer team, representing the USA, defeated China 2-1 on Friday to claim the bronze medal at the World Special Olympics in Los Angeles. Needless to say, the players were excited.

Andy Dunn, the district's videographer, was there.

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Pasco teachers, district closer to deal on evaluations

Pasco school district officials an evaluation system in which fewer teachers attain a "highly effective" rating. United School Employees of Pasco leaders aim to keep that score open to as many teachers as possible.

They expect to land somewhere in between.

Early in the week, the union took a step toward the district's position, acknowledging a teacher should have at least one "innovating" mark on an evaluation to be considered "highly effective." On Thursday, district negotiators edged slightly closer to the union view, cutting their proposal for the percentage of "innovating" elements to 40 percent (down from 60 percent) in 2015-16, and 50 percent the following year.

The district did not move from its call that student performance count as 35 percent of the overall evaluation, instead of 50 percent as in past years. The USEP had asked the district to see which level benefits most teachers before making that determination.

Before Thursday's session, the USEP issued a memo to members explaining its position. …

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Is there time for Florida teachers to retake the ACT and get a $10K bonus?

Florida's Best and Brightest teacher scholarship program continues to get attention -- much of it negative -- as teachers and organizations review all the ins and outs of how the bonus will work.

Among the many criticisms comes one that the offer of up to $10,000 provides a phony opportunity for educators who want to retake the gatekeeper SAT or ACT exams in order to qualify.

The state says "Teachers rated highly effective may retake the ACT or SAT in order to earn the scholarship; however, the requisite documentation that they have met the current 80th percentile ranking must be submitted to the district by the October 1 deadline."

Bob Schaeffer of FairTest is among many to point out that the next SAT testing date is Oct. 3 -- too late -- while the next ACT exam poses problems even though it comes Sept. 12. The ACT website advises that while scores are generally available online within two weeks after the test date (just under the wire), score reports are normally released three to eight weeks after the test. …

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Florida education news: Speech therapy, summer enrichment, athletic trainers and more

THERAPISTS NEEDED: The Pasco school district struggles to hire and retain qualified speech language pathologists.

BACK TO SCHOOL: Need info on the start of school in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando? Check out our back to school section.

ARNE'S WORLD: U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan visits Florida and talks with State Impact Florida about discipline, NCLB and more.

ABSENTEEISM: Manatee's plans to place graduation enhancement specialists in every Title I school wins praise nationally, the Bradenton Herald reports. More from the Herald-Tribune.

SUMMER HELP: A community program Breakthrough Miami offers summer enrichment to hundreds of low-income middle and high school students, the Miami Herald reports.

SPORTS INJURIES: Duval high schools aim to have certified athletic trainers on all campuses by 2020, the Florida Times-Union reports.

NEW SCHOOLS: Palm Beach reopens two rebuilt elementary schools, the Palm Beach Post reports.

FEWER RULES: Palm Beach superintendent Robert Avossa seeks charter district status from the state, the Palm Beach Post reports. …

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Hernando schools to get new public face

The Hernando County school district has plucked its new communications and public information director from neighboring Citrus County schools.

Karen Jordan, a program specialist for the Citrus district, is set to take over the public speaking function for Hernando the week after next. She replaces Eric Williams, who was promoted to deputy superintendent.

Williams moved to his new post earlier this summer. Patrick Keough has filled in as spokesman but is expected to hand back that role after Jordan's arrival.

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Pasco non-instructional employees take steps away from steps

The Pasco school district's non-instruction employee bargaining team did not conclude contract negotiations Wednesday, as hoped, during a daylong bargaining session.

United School Employees of Pasco lead negotiator Jim Ciadella said he felt positive about the talks, and that the sides were close enough to agreement to plan another meeting for Monday.

"Given another session or two, we can settle the contract," Ciadella said.

District employee relations director Betsy Kuhn agreed, calling Wednesday's session "very productive."

The primary sticking point for the group remained economic. The union counted the district's offer of 3 percent average raises by asking for a minimum of 3 percent for all the workers. That means employees scheduled to see more would still get the larger increases, while those who might get less would receive at least 3 percent.

All said, the union asked for 3.48 percent in added pay.

"We realize the budget is what it is," Ciadella said. "We hope the district can do a little bit better." …

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Pasco school district sticks with plans to sell Zephyrhills property to developer

Despite complaints from Zephyrhills residents, the Pasco County School Board is moving ahead with plans to sell a 15.5-acre park to a developer rather than the city government.

Some people held out hope that school district officials had changed their mind after they withdrew the $2.32 million contract from their July 28 agenda. To the contrary, district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe explained, the administration simply wanted to give board members more time to review the terms.

"They just worked out the details over the weekend," Cobbe said before the Tuesday session.

The item now appears on the board's Aug. 4 agenda. If approved, the contract calls for the buyer to build commercially on part of the land, most likely a gas station, after receiving needed city permits.

It also provides for the buyer to donate nearly 10 acres to the city for continued use as a public park. That property would revert back to the district if the donation does not go through within two years.

The future of the property, known as the Hercules site, has been in doubt since 2011, when the county goverment closed its swimming pool in the park. The district has discussed options since 2013.

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