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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

100 Pasco teachers win grants for creative instruction ideas

Every year, teachers end up spending money from their own pockets to support their classroom projects. The Pasco Education Foundation seeks to cushion the impact by offering grants to educators who make compelling arguments for how their needs would benefit student learning.

This year, the foundation has chosen 100 recipients for the awards. From the looks of the list, some schools are much more active in seeking the support than others.

The school with the most grants is Seven Springs Middle, with nine, followed by Deer Park, New River and West Zephyrhills elementary schools, with six each. 

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Pinellas grad rate increases even as school grades fall

When high school grades were released today, Pinellas wasn't able to maintain its all A's and B's status that it achieved for the first time last year.

Yet Pinellas boasted the largest hike in its graduation rate in the Tampa Bay region: 76.2 percent of students graduated, up 4.3 percentage points over 2013.

Regardless, no Pinellas high schools improved their grade this year as the state made it a more difficult feat.

Because 83 percent of high schools earned an A or a B in 2013, the grading scale was adjusted upward in accordance with board rules.

Dixie Hollins, Gibbs, Largo and Northeast high schools all fell to C grades. No Pinellas high schools earned a D or F (only 5 percent of high schools across the state did).

Several Pinellas high schools lost their A status, as Boca Ciega, Clearwater, Dunedin, Lakewood and St. Pete all dropped to B grades.

The remaining A schools were Osceola, Palm Harbor, Tarpon Springs, and East Lake.

Osceola is a fundamental high school; no neighborhood schools south of Ulmerton Road earned an A grade.

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Pasco high schools see grade improvements as state ratings emerge

Florida's high school grades are due out soon. But already, some of the information is making its way to the public eye.

Of Pasco's thirteen high schools, five earned A's, four received B's and four made C's. Two schools -- Land O'Lakes and Fivay -- had their grades rise one letter, while two -- Pasco and Gulf -- declined by one letter grade. The district also saw a jump in its graduation rate, from 75.9 percent a year ago to 79.4 percent in 2014. That's higher than the state rate of 76.1 percent.

The Department of Education is scheduled to release more details around 11 a.m. Stay tuned.

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Florida education news: Testing, charter schools, English-language learners and more

TESTING: The Pasco School Board opts for a letter to lawmakers to express its concerns over state accountability issues. • Senate President Andy Gardiner includes a testing review among his legislative session priorities.

REMOVED: Pasco Gulfside Elementary principal Chris Clayton is relieved of his post over alleged inappropriate behavior with an employee.

REJECTED: A proposed Manatee charter school for at-risk students loses its appeal to open, the Herald-Tribune reports.

SHOW THEM THE MONEY: The Palm Beach school district prepares to sue a closed charter school over nearly $400,000 in missing money, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

LEARNING ENGLISH: Like Florida, California struggles to find the best ways to help long-term English learners, the LA Times reports.

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Florida high school grades, grad rates due out Thursday

The Florida Department of Education has announced that it will release 2013-14 high school grades and graduation rates on Thursday morning.

Unlike elementary and middle school grades, which rely primarily on FCAT results, high school grades include additional data, such as participation and success in accelerated couses. That's why the marks come out so much later than the other ones, when the next academic year is already half over.

In some ways, these outcomes can be viewed as simple bragging rights, as the state has changed its grading formula from past years, with new tests and standards being factored in moving forward. Grades for 2014-15 won't even count for purposes of holding schools accountable for their performance.

The DOE plans to hold a media call at 11 a.m., which means the results will be posted on its website some time around then. We'll bring you information as it becomes available.

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Pasco Gulfside Elementary School to get a new principal

Last night we learned that Gulfside Elementary principal Chris Clayton had been removed from the school amid allegations of inappropriate interactions with a staff member.

Today, district officials tell the Gradebook that Clayton will not return to Gulfside, regardless of the outcome of an investigation into his behavior (details of which haven't been made public).

Assistant principal Lane Morris will run the school until superintendent Kurt Browning and his team have had time to digest the situation and make some decisions.

Read the latest here.

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Community leader wants transparency in redevelopment talks that affect Tampa's urban schools

A 2013 assembly at historic Booker T. Washington Elementary School. While it's located in the middle of an attractive stadium site, school officials say such a move would draw opposition.

A 2013 assembly at historic Booker T. Washington Elementary School. While it's located in the middle of an attractive stadium site, school officials say such a move would draw opposition.

Leaders of Tampa's black community are concerned about speculation that one or more urban schools could be razed for a baseball stadium.

Pete Edwards, speaking on behalf of himself and others who are reluctant to come forward, called on the Hillsborough County school district to be transparent about conversations concerning Jefferson High School, LaVoy Exceptional Center, Roland Park K-8 School and, most recently, Booker T. Washington Elementary School.

Separately, redevelopment plans in the city have appeared to put Blake High, Stewart Middle and Just Elementary School in play.

"At the first board meeting in January I will probably ask the board to consider placing all the issues surrounding the City of Tampa and the previously mentioned schools as an agenda item for pubic discussion," Edwards wrote this week to Chris Farkas, the district's facilities chief.

Edwards also wrote to members of the School Board, asking them to take a public stand against tearing down the district's historic schools.

"Not one school board member or the administration has made any public comments standing up against this mayor," he wrote. "Three school areas and yet silence from the school system." …

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Hillsborough schools leader Elia named a finalist for national superintendent of the year

Hillsborough schools superintendent MaryEllen Elia soon could add another honor to her long list. Florida's 2015 superintendent of the year has been named one of four finalists for the national superintendent award.

The other finalists for the AASA recognition are Philip Lanoue of Clarke County, Ga.; Patrick Murphy of Arlington, Va.; and Patrice Pujol of Ascension Public Schools in Louisiana.

"On behalf of everyone working to improve student success and provide quality public education for our nation’s children, it is an honor to congratulate the finalists for the 2015 AASA National Superintendent of the Year,” AASA executive director Daniel A. Domenech said in a release. “These individuals are dedicated to ensuring that students in their school systems receive the best education possible."

Last year, another Florida superintendent -- Alberto Carvalho of Miami-Dade -- received the award.

Elia attributed her past acknowledgements to her hard working staff. This time was no different.

“I’m honored to be recognized by my peers, and I know this is a recognition of the hard work and tremendous results we’re seeing with our students here in Hillsborough County,’’ Elia said in a release. …

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Pasco School Board to send letter to lawmakers over testing concerns

LAND O'LAKES — The Pasco County School Board won't be sending a resolution to state leaders calling for a delay of the consequences associated with Florida's accountability testing.

Board members decided Tuesday night to write a letter detailing their concerns, instead.

"We do have the attention of our legislators now," said board member Alison Crumbley, who recently met with local lawmakers to talk about testing. "Maybe the resolution might not have the impact we are intending."

Read the rest of the story here. Find the draft of their letter, which still is going to be updated, on the district website.

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Florida voucher program should pass constitutional muster, former Justice Cantero says

Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero has taken up the cause of students who receive corporate tax credit scholarships to attend private schools. 

He contends that the lawsuit filed by the Florida Education Association and others against the program doesn't meet the same criteria that doomed "opportunity scholarships" in Bush v. Holmes.

Cantero made comments defending the current scholarship program at the national Hispanic Coalition for Reform and Educational Options conference. He said, in part:

While I disagreed with the result of Bush v. Holmes, fortunately that decision does not dictate that the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program is unconstitutional. A key reason is that a tax credit scholarship is legally distinct from a directly appropriated scholarship. First, the Blaine Amendment—on which the Court of Appeal relied, does not apply because the funds never make it into the State Treasury in the first place. The Blaine amendment says only that “no funds shall be taken from the Treasury.” In the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, they aren’t. …

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Florida education news: Jeb Bush, hiring freeze, computer failure and more

JEB BUSH: Florida's former governor says he's actively looking into a presidential run. His entrance into the race would bring K-12 education into the national debate, Education Week reports. But his policies and philosophies — especially Common Core — might hurt his chancesPolitico reports.

NOT HIRING: The Alachua school district imposes a hiring freeze for the new year, the Gainesville Sun reports.

INTERNAL TENSIONS: A Manatee School Board member calls for an outside investigation into the district's professional standards investigator, the Bradenton Herald reports.

DEBT: The Brevard school district saves millions by restructuring its debt, Florida Today reports.

TECHNOLOGY: Palm Beach schools experience a computer network failure that hinders both students and staff, the Palm Beach Post reports.

RETAINED: The Lake School Board votes to keep superintendent Susan Moxley despite one member's efforts to seek someone else, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

SALARIES: The Broward school district plans to review the way it sets employee pay, the Sun-Sentinel reports. …

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Pasco Gulfside Elementary principal removed for investigation

Pasco Gulfside Elementary School principal Chris Clayton has been removed from his post, effective immediately, while the district investigates allegations of inappropriate interactions with a staff member.

Clayton, principal of the Holiday school since March 2003, is on paid administrative leave, district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said. Assistant principal Lane Morris will serve as acting principal until the matter is resolved, Cobbe said.

The unexpected move forced superintendent Kurt Browning to withdraw his recommendation that Morris take over the principal job at Quail Hollow Elementary School, which is scheduled to reopen in the fall after a major renovation. The superintendent did not want to completely disrupt Gulfside by removing both its administrators, Cobbe explained.

Area superintendent David Scanga told the School Board that they have plenty of time to fill the Quail Hollow position, which Morris was recommended to take in late March. 

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Pasco Bayonet Point Middle School to temporarily relocate next year

Bayonet Point Middle School undergoes a major construction overhaul next year. The students won't be attending the campus during that effort.

Instead, the children will attend either Fivay High School or Chasco Middle School for 2015-16, superintendent Kurt Browning announced Tuesday.

Students living in the Bayonet Point zone south of Fox Hollow Drive -- about 130 in all -- will go to Chasco. The 550 other children will relocate to the high school, where many of them would attend in later years.

"We will be moving Bayonet Point Middle School to the campus of Fivay High School," Browning said.

Officials had considered leaving the Bayonet Point classes in 35 portable classrooms behind Schrader Elementary School, which was recently rebuilt. But Browning said the district needs those portables in other locations, and moving the ones behind Schrader rather than leasing others will save thousands of dollars.

Fivay and Chasco both have space, he noted, because they are well under capacity.

The move will last only one year, and then "everything will be back to normal," Browning said.

He said the school will send letters home to parents on Wednesday, and hold a parent meeting in January. 

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Pasco School Board set to follow 'college' naming trend

In a move to reflect the adult educational services it provides, the Pasco School Board is set to rename the Marchman Technical Education Center as Pasco Technical College, Marchman Campus.

The change comes along with an articulation agreement with Pasco-Hernando State College, through which students can make the transition from career certification programs to an industrial management associate's degree. Those programs include commercial arts, culinary arts and electricity.

Pasco would be following in the footsteps of Hillsborough and Manatee counties, which already have made a similar name change. Superintendent Kurt Browning said the move has been in the planning stages for a long time, but was delayed to ensure that all the details were ironed out.

"While the name changes, the mission remains the same," principal Rob Aguis told the School Board in an explanatory memo.

The board is scheduled to consider the recommendation Tuesday evening.

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Santa can sign: A Pasco schools sign language project

Wesley Chapel High School sign language teacher Rhonda Leslie always looks for ways to give her students real-world activities to practice their skills. What's better than bringing joy to deaf children during the Christmas season?

The Pasco school district's crack videography department captures the spirit. Check it out.

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