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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Another Toler runs for Hillsborough School Board

Randy Toler and Alicia Toler, far right, appeared in front of the school administration building during his last run for school board. With them are children Kellie, Kyle and Rainer

MARLENE SOKOL | Times

Randy Toler and Alicia Toler, far right, appeared in front of the school administration building during his last run for school board. With them are children Kellie, Kyle and Rainer

The newest candidate for Hillsborough County School Board has a last name name that might ring familiar: Alicia Toler is the wife of Randy Toler, a second-time candidate for the board.

Randy Toler, who finished sixth in an eight-way race in 2014 against incumbent April Griffin, is now running for the at-large seat held by Carol Kurdell. The election is in 2016.

Alicia Toler, who filed this week, is running in District 3 for a seat held by Cindy Stuart, who is running for her second four-year term.

Randy, 59, sells computer software. Alicia, 34, is a full-time parent to their three children, who attend three schools. They live in Seffner and this is not the first time they ran simultaneously. In 2001, when they lived in the Chicago area, he sought office as mayor of Aurora and she made a bid for alderman-at-large. Both were unsuccessful.

Alicia Toler could not be reached for comment in time for deadline. Randy Toler said both of them are interested in a number of issues, chiefly exceptional student education. Their youngest child has autism.

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Use caution in reading Florida test validity study, author says

Florida's testing validity study, released Tuesday, seemed to have something for everybody within its 186 pages.

"Independent review confirms Florida Standards Assessment is valid," the Department of Education declared, saying the results would be used for school grades and teacher evaluations.

"Superintendents stand firm behind their initial position that the results of the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) cannot fairly be used in teacher evaluations or to calculate A-F grades for public schools," the Florida Association of District School Superintendents asserted. "The report itself highlights and underscores the concerns of superintendents."

Andrew Wiley, senior pyschometrician for Alpine Testing Solutions, said the reviewers' intention was to "move people in the direction of using the entire report, and not just cherry picking information."

Within that report, Wiley said, the reviewers did find enough data to support using the test results at an aggregate level, such as school grades. However, he cautioned, many unknowns about the impacts to individual schools and students exist. That means more study would be appropriate, as the report suggests. …

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Multiple candidates vying to lead Catholic school system

The Diocese of St. Petersburg has identified six finalists to replace superintendent Alberto Vazquez-Matos, who left the Catholic school system this summer to become chief of staff for Jeff Eakins, the new superintendent of Hillsborough County Public Schools.

The candidates were to be interviewed in person last week and this week. However, Michael Tkacik, director of communications for the diocese, said applications are still being accepted. Tkacik would not disclose the candidates’ names or the salary range for the position, which he said is negotiable based on qualifications and experience. The candidates are “a myriad of people from Florida and around the country,” he said.

According to an online ad for the job, the diocese is looking for a candidate who is a practicing Catholic with a master’s degree in educational administration, at least five years’ experience in Catholic school administration and management and a sound understanding of school finances, as well as knowledge of federal and state funding sources. …

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Did Jeb's foundation get an early peek at the Florida testing validity study?

Amid the flurry of reactions to Florida's testing validity study came a press release from Jeb Bush's Foundation for Florida's Future.

While most reporters focused on the message, some activists in the testing reform world zeroed in on the date of the statement: Aug. 31. That's a day before the report became public.

With the foundation's close ties to Florida's education reform movement well known, the questions abounded. How did the foundation get the study before superintendents, lawmakers and the general public? Who handed it over?

Foundation spokeswoman Allison Aubuchon told the Gradebook that her group didn't get a preview of the much anticipated document.

"We asked if there was an embargoed copy," she said. "They made it clear everybody was going to get it at the same time." (That was about 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, when it went live on the governor's website.)

What about that date on the press release? Well, Aubuchon explained, the group drafted two statements on Monday evening -- one for each possible outcome of the evaluation -- and then posted the appropriate one after the report was made public. …

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Parent University is back in Hillsborough

Larry Plank tells parents about the Hillsborough County school district's Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics programs during a past Parent University session.

MARLENE SOKOL | Times

Larry Plank tells parents about the Hillsborough County school district's Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics programs during a past Parent University session.

Parent University is back in Hillsborough County.

Registration is ongoing for the first session, Sept. 12 at Gaither High School in northern Hillsborough.

The free seminars cover a choice of topics, from exceptional student education to high school graduation requirements. Some sessions are given in Spanish as well.

Childcare is free. Hillsborough County school district staff lead the sessions, along with representatives from law enforcement and other affiliated organizations.

The Alliance for Public Schools runs these seminars, which generally attract hundreds of participants including some repeat visitors.

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Florida education news: Student voices, validity study, cell phones and more

FAILURE FACTORIES: Children attending five persistently failing Pinellas elementary schools tell their stories.

VALIDITY STUDY: An independent review of Florida Standards Assessments finds problems with the testing and suggests limiting use of the results. More coverage from the Orlando Sentinel, Miami HeraldState Impact Florida, Associated Press, Panama City News Herald, Politico Florida, Ledger, Herald Tribune, Tallahassee Democrat

OVERHAUL: The Duval School Board seeks more time to review superintendent Nikolai Vitti's proposals to change several schools, the Florida Times-Union reports.

OFF AND OUT OF SIGHT: The Highlands school district bans student cell phone use on buses, School Transportation News reports.

YOU'RE IN THE MICKEY LOT: A Lake high school considers off-site student dropoffs with a shuttle to campus, the Daily Commercial reports.

SPECIAL EDUCATION: The Flagler School Board agrees to continue its program for adults with disabilities, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

SCHOOL BONDS: The administrator hired to oversee the Broward district's bonded construction program resigns as the effort gets under way, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

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Hillsborough board will get student voices

The yearly student forum at the Hillsborough County School Board generally attracts high-achieving high school students.

The yearly student forum at the Hillsborough County School Board generally attracts high-achieving high school students.

After a long and somewhat circular conversation, the Hillsborough County School Board agreed Tuesday to find a way to get student input at their meetings.

The details have yet to be worked out, and Superintendent Jeff Eakins said he'll present a plan at the board's Sept. 29 business meeting. That's the same meeting in which Eakins has promised a detailed report on the district's operational deficit, and how to stabilize the reserve fund.

The idea for nonvoting student members came from Cindy Stuart, who researched the concept as practiced in other communities. For the most part, student school board members are selected by high schools and do not vote.

At Tuesday's workshop in Hillsborough, however, members continued to ask questions about logisitics and duplication. Member Doretha Edgecomb said it would be hard to find someone who could represent 200,000 students in a district as large and diverse as Hillsborough. Melissa Snively and Carol Kurdell wondered how the move would mesh with the district's Citizen Advisory Committee, which has student members; and student government. …

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Financial disclosure policy faces a split vote in Hillsborough

NOTE: This post is a corrected version of Tuesday's report.

The mostly congenial Hillsborough County School Board took a trip Tuesday into territory that divided it sharply in years past: April Griffin's idea to require more financial disclosures from managers.

Griffin championed that idea when she was chairwoman. It was voted on twice before it passed 3-2 on Sept. 10, 2013. (Careful Gradebook readers might have noticed an earlier version of this post described a 3-3 vote earlier in the year, which did not carry the motion). Jim Porter, the board's attorney, said the board would first have to approve a policy and that's what the members discussed on Tuesday.

The proposed policy would require financial disclosures from these district officials who do not now have to file them: The chief of staff, deputy superintendent, chief of schools, all assistant superintendents, all officers and directors. Principals now file disclosures; as do purchasing, budget and procurement officers; and the superintendent. …

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New principal named for Pasco River Ridge High School

The Pasco County School Board rounded out its principal ranks on Tuesday, with the appointment of Toni Zetzsche as leader of River Ridge High School.

River Ridge unexpectedly needed a new principal after the abrupt resignation of Maria Swanson, who ran the school since 2009, amid allegations of an inappropriate relationship with an assistant principal.

Pat Reedy, a retired Pasco High principal, took the post on an interim basis, so River Ridge would have guidance as classes resumed. But he was not interested in the full-time job.

Four people applied for the position, with Zetzsche, an assistant principal at Hudson High, getting the nod. The board approved the recommendation Tuesday morning, and Zetzsche takes over River Ridge next week.

The move marked the third quick turnaround in school leadership in the district. Within the first two weeks of school, two other campuses -- West Zephyrhills and Woodland elementary schools -- also got new principals. 

No other principal vacancies currently exist.

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Two policies are good to go in Hillsborough

After a discussion that touched on internet trolls and unscrupulous coaches, the Hillsborough County School Board gave its unofficial approval to policies on social media and athletic recruitment.

Tuesday morning's workshop was just a discussion, and a vote won't happen until after a public hearing. More policies will be discussed in the afternoon, along with an idea to add nonvoting students to the school board.

The social media policies seeks to strike a compromise between the overall need to regulate student-teacher communications and the reality that exists when, for example, a teacher is supervising kids on a field trip.

There was also an acknowledgement around the table that adults are struggling to keep up with all the forms of social media and communication that are used by kids. …

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Florida testing validity study results due this morning

After a short delay, Florida's long awaited testing validity study results are due out Tuesday morning.

The Florida Department of Education has scheduled a media conference call to discuss the outcome at 9:30 a.m.

The review, conducted by Alpine Testing Solutions and edCount LLC, came as a legislative mandate after students across the state experienced problems with logging in and completing their work several times in the testing window. The companies were hired for nearly $600,000 to look at six key aspects of the Florida Standards Assessments, including the alignment of questions to standards and, perhaps most relevant, the reliability of the administration.

State officials withheld test results during the study, and the outcome could mean that those scores are never released or used for consequences such as school grades, teacher evaluations and student retention.

Groups calling for testing reforms have expressed hope that the report will come with advice on how to use the results now and in the future. …

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Florida education news: Testing, dual enrollment, Confederate flags and more

TESTING: The Florida Board of Education chairwoman says Seminole County's proposal to use national instead of state tests won't work, the Orlando Sentinel reports. Meanwhile, Lake school district officials say they like the idea, the Sentinel reports. * State lawmakers repeat calls for damages and more if Florida's tests are deemed invalid, Politico Florida reports.

COLLEGE CREDITS: Dual enrollment booms in Miami-Dade schoools, NBC Miami reports.

FLAG FUSS: Controversy grows at a Lee high school where some students fly the Confederate flag on their vehicles, NBC 2 reports.

LAWSUITS: A Manatee parent and student sue the school district over alleged playground bullying, the Bradenton Herald reports.

MORE SERVICES: Brevard plans to transform one of its elementary schools into a "community school," Florida Today reports.

DRESS CODE: A Palm Beach mom's complaint launched the school district's consideration of clothing rules for school volunteers, the Palm Beach Post reports.

BUSING: Palm Beach school bus troubles continue for a second week, the Palm Beach Post reports. …

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Pasco charter school gets warning from district over calendars, contract

Classical Preparatory Academy, the charter school founded by powerful state Rep. Richard Corcoran's wife, Anne, has run afoul of the Pasco County school district with its plans to cancel three class days to hold parent-teacher conferences.

The idea, written into the school's 2015-16 calendar and distributed to parents, violates Classical Prep's contract with the School Board, district officials told Anne Corcoran in a letter sent late Friday.

The contract states that the charter school will have a calendar "consistent with" the district's. The traditional schools do not have those days off for conferences.

Corcoran told the Gradebook her school has long enough class days that it can meet state requirements for academic hours provided, even with the students off for those meetings. Lawmakers recently changed the law to allow for such an accounting of academic time.

But the statute doesn't do away with the contractual requirements, which refers to days, assistant superintendent Vanessa Hilton said. The contract says: …

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Pasco schools put off in effort to secure graduation site

2014 Wiregrass Ranch High graduation at the Sun Dome

Times file photo

2014 Wiregrass Ranch High graduation at the Sun Dome

Since at least 2006, most Pasco County high schools have used the USF Sun Dome for their graduation ceremonies. So district purchasing director Nicole Westmoreland didn't expect any problems securing the location for four days of commencements this coming June.

When Westmoreland delivered a signed contract and deposit last week, though, she got a big surprise: Hillsborough County schools, which haven't used the Dome in four or five years, had right of first refusal.

Hillsborough district officials have told parents and others they didn't plan to complete their graduation plans until late September or early October, though -- a time frame that Pasco leaders have deemed unacceptable. With Pasco's contract offer in hand, Westmoreland said, USF Sun Dome managers have indicated that Hillsborough will have to accelerate its decision making.

Hillsborough was given 72 "business hours," or nine business days, to respond to Pasco's "challenge." That sets the outcome for Sept. 8.

Tanya Arja, a spokeswoman for Hillsborough schools, said the district did not ask the Sun Dome to hold any dates. She said the Dome gave the district a graduation proposal, but the district did not request it.  …

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Teachers note improvement at Pasco's Zephyrhills High School

When Zephyrhills High School had problems, teachers there were among the first to let superintendent Kurt Browning know it.

Now that things have calmed down, with a new principal at the helm, the school's teacher union building representative figured Browning should hear that, too. So on the first day of classes, just after students headed home, Cat Burgess fired off a note to the superintendent.

She thanked him for listening and responding to the faculty's concerns.

"Today went off without much drama from the students concerning the ‘new' (old) rules being enforced. And the atmosphere of the school, staff and students, was fresh and energetic," Burgess wrote. "I know we made a lot of noise last year but the changes are for the better. Thank you again for all your support."

With any luck, that's the end of the story.

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