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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Husband of top Florida House aide lands plum Department of Education job

The husband of Florida House speaker Steve Crisafulli's chief aide was handed the top legal job at the state education department last week.

He filled a vacancy created five months ago by the same aide -- House Chief of Staff Kathy Mears --  when she hired away the education department’s lawyer.

DOE officials won’t say if the $120,000 general counsel job that went to Matthew Mears on Jan. 20 was advertised or if there were other candidates. Mears and House officials said they didn't advertise the general counsel position that was awarded to Matt Carson from the DOE, leaving the vacancy filled by Mears’ husband. But they did say it was a formal process in which one other attorney, Stuart Williams, was interviewed.

But Mears, who said she only learned about her husband applying for the DOE job in December, said she didn't know at the time she hired Carson that her husband would eventually apply for his old job.

Read more on the Buzz.


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Search committee recommends 12 candidates for PHSC president

An advisory panel has selected a dozen applicants for Pasco-Hernando State College trustees to interview as their potential next president.

The candidate receiving the most votes -- 20 of 23 -- was PHSC vice president Tim Beard, who has been with the school since 2007.

Other hopefuls receiving 10 or more votes were Richard Schrubb, former president, Minnesota West Community and Technical College; Steven Burrell, vice president at Georgia Southern University; Stanley Giannet, PHSC Porter Campus provost; and Flora Tydings, president, Athens Technical College, Ga.

Rounding out the group are: Rhonda Tracy senior vice president, West Virginia University Parkersburg; Patrick Schmitt, chancellor, West Valley-Mission Community College District; Darren Divine, vice president, College of Southern Nevada; Emery Alford, dean, Florida Southwest State College; Joseph Sarnovsky, executive vice president, Seminole State College; Tonjua Williams, senior vice president, St. Petersburg College; and Roberto Gutierrez, president, Klamath Community College.

"I don't want to not pick the right pick," search committee chairman and trustee Ed Blommel said, explaining the long list.  …

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Social media sites continue to assess Elia's firing

There are still a lot of raw feelings surrounding the termination on Jan. 20 of Hillsborough Superintendent MaryEllen Elia's contract.

This Facebook page popped up in the last day or so, raising questions about what was behind School Board member Sally Harris's swing vote.

In the days before the 4-3 vote was taken, supporters of Elia created this page. It is still active.

Anti-Elia sentiments have long been disseminated on this page, which has been around for at least two years.

Elia, meanwhile, is a few weeks away from hearing if she will be named national Superintendent of the Year. The board must decide what to do when Elia goes on vacation March 6, a status that will continue until she steps down on June 30. Word on an acting superintendent could come as soon as 2:45 p.m. today.

You'll find the latest developments here.

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Report roundup: Florida gets good marks for its pension, charter school policies

Two advocacy groups have issued reports giving Florida strong praise for its policies.

The National Center on Teacher Quality gave the state a B- grade for its teacher pension program, compared to a national average score of C-. The group noted that Florida is better than most states in that it gives teachers options of how to invest their money, and because it has a stable, well-funded system.

Teachers have complained that the state began taking 3 percent of their pay in 2011 to cover the costs of a pension that had once been free. The Florida Education Association and other unions sued over the provision but lost the case.

See more details on the NCTQ findings here.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools rated Florida's charter school laws eighth best in the nation, unchanged from a year ago. Minnesota remained the top-rated state. …

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Florida education commissioner says testing opt-out isn't an option

Thinking about opting out of Florida's annual state testing system? Think again.

In response to state senators' questions about the ins and outs of opt-out, education commissioner Pam Stewart wrote that students are required to take the tests and teachers could face disciplinary action if they actively encourage skipping the exams.

Only students with specific disabilities or medical needs listed in law may receive an exemption, Stewart wrote. She cited Florida Statutes, Chapter 1008.

As for local testing requirements, she added, exemptions are a local decision.

She went on to observe that assessments both have their value, in helping students, parents and teachers understand what the children have mastered and where they need extra instruction, and their consequences. State law, for instance, sets forth that certain end-of-course exams count toward high school graduation while also comprising 30 percent of a course grade, she noted.

Results also make a difference in students gaining access to advanced class work, scholarships and, in some instances, grade promotion. …

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Florida education news: Budget surplus, recognition funds, superintendents and more

FUNDING: The Florida Legislature anticipates a $1 billion surplus with plans to boost education funding, the Bradenton Herald reports.

ANNUAL REVIEW: Duval superintendent Nikolai Vitti gives himself a strong self-evaluation, the Florida Times-Union reports.

SURPLUS PROPERTY: Brevard School Board members ponder a proposal to build apartments at the site of an unused school, Florida Today reports.

SUPERINTENDENT SEARCHES: The Palm Beach School Board looks into whether outgoing superintendent E. Wayne Gent violated his contract by failing to reveal his application to another district, the Palm Beach Post reports. • Volusia superintendent Margaret Smith tells top staff she will resign Tuesday, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

RECOGNITION: Marion County schools receive more state recognition funding than in the past, the Ocala Star-Banner reports.

STATE LEADERSHIP: An Alachua County deputy superintendent is named Florida's new K-12 chancellor, the Gainesville Sun reports.

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Next we will hear from Hillsborough's students

In all the excitement Tuesday night, the Hillsborough County School Board forgot to vote on the consent agenda.

So they've called a meeting 2:45 p.m. this Tuesday to do just that.

At 3 p.m., they will have their yearly student forum. Conceived by former board member Cecile Essrig, the forum gathers three students from each of the district's high schools and career centers. Typically they are student government leaders and other top students.

In a typical year they ask questions about testing, how the grade point average is calculated, why some neighborhoods aren't on the bus routes, and so forth. Invariably, somebody asks about the school food.

That's in a typical year. And this year is anything but.

We will live-tweet.

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Several local educators seek Pasco-Hernando State College presidency

Pasco-Hernando State College is looking for a new president to replace Katherine Johnson, who retires in June after 11 years with the school.

A search committee plans to whittle down a list of qualified applicants when it meets Tuesday, so trustees have a manageable group of candidates to evaluate.

Among the group of 24 potential finalists are a few locally notable names. They are:

Stan Giannet, provost, PHSC Porter campus at Wiregrass Ranch

Kenneth Ray, Jr., vice president of student services, Hillsborough Community College

Tonjua Williams, senior vice president for student services, St. Petersburg College

Kevin Gordon, provost, St. Petersburg College Downtown campus

The selection committee is set to meet Tuesday at 1 p.m. to review resumes. The goal is to have a new president in place by the end of June.

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Florida education commissioner names new K-12 chancellor from Alachua County

Florida education commissioner Pam Stewart has named Hershel Lyons, deputy superintendent of Alachua County schools, as the state's new K-12 chancellor.

Lyons replaces Stewart, who held the job before becoming commissioner and continued to do the work in the interim.

The news came from the Governor's Office rather than the Department of Education.

Lyons started working in Alachua schools as a teacher aide and coach at Gainesville High School before being promoted to a variety of leadership positions, including Assistant Principal of Santa Fe and Buchholz High Schools; Principal of Oak View Middle School and Principal of Newberry High School. During the last decade, he served in administrative roles at the district level, and as an Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources from 2005 until he was appointed to his current position in October 2013.

“I have been honored to work with Florida students throughout my career because I believe that, with the right guidance, every child has boundless potential," Lyons said in a released statement. "I am humbled by Commissioner Stewart's appointment, and I look forward to continuing to serve the people of Florida in this new role."

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Pasco County school district is hiring bus drivers

The Pasco County school district is hiring bus drivers for $12 an hour.

That's nearly $4 per hour more than it pays many substitute teachers.

Traditionally, the district has had more than enough drivers to suit its needs. But added programs and schools coming in the fall have prompted the transportation department to begin looking for more people to fill those seats. 

In addition to posting ads on websites, the district also will be putting up banners in front of schools that see a lot of traffic. The biggest need will be in central Pasco, which will add new routes to take students to the Sanders Elementary magnet school and also see the reopening of Shady Hills and Quail Hollow elementary schools.

Interested? Call the transportation department at 813-794-1862, 727-774-1862 or 352-524-1862.

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Florida education news: Opting out, guns on campus, furlough days and more

TESTING: A Brevard family of teachers discusses their decision to pull their children from state testing with Florida Today. (Video) • The author of a new book on testing talks about trends in Florida and nationally with State Impact Florida. • The Big Bend area legislative delegation includes changes to student testing as a key priority in the coming session, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

SAFETY: Florida lawmakers debate whether allowing guns on college campuses might deter future attacks, the Florida Times-Union reports.

STANDARDS: The move to Common Core has forced a change in the way teachers approach their job, the Palm Beach Post reports.

LABOR NEWS: Representatives for Santa Rosa teachers and the district battle over furlough days, the Pensacola News-Journal reports.

MATH CHALLENGE: The competitive math team at an Alachua high school targets area elementary and middle schools to get kids excited about math, the Gainesville Sun reports.

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Florida education news: Taxes, elected superintendents, test questions and more

TAXES: Hernando's School Board chairman says the board has a moral imperative to try again to secure an added local sales tax revenue for school improvements. • The Marion School Board puts together a citizen oversight committee to monitor spending of its new local property tax for education, the Ocala Star-Banner reports.

ELIA'S OUSTER: Frustration with Hillsborough superintendent MaryEllen Elia's operating style might have led to her undoing. • The Pensacola News-Journal looks into the pros and cons of electing vs. appointing superintendents.

NEW SCHOOLS: The Orange district announces plans for a new school in a neighborhood that lost its last community school decades ago, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

TESTING: Manatee teachers and administrators raise complaints about test questions provided by a state item bank for end-of-course exams tied to evaluations, the Bradenton Herald reports.

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Evaluations of Superintendent Elia tell some of the story

Shown: Board member Sally Harris, who voted yes for Elia's termination; Melissa Snively, who voted no; Susan Valdes, who voted yes; Doretha Edgecomb, who voted no; and board attorney Jim Porter

Shown: Board member Sally Harris, who voted yes for Elia's termination; Melissa Snively, who voted no; Susan Valdes, who voted yes; Doretha Edgecomb, who voted no; and board attorney Jim Porter

People are stunned by the Hillsborough County School Board's 4-3 vote this week to buy out the contract of Superintendent MaryEllen Elia. As they terminated her contract without cause, members have been careful not to disparage Elia publicly for fear of being sued.

So what is the back story? And why did newcomer Sally Harris vote to fire Elia?

Harris spoke to Tampa Bay Times columnist Sue Carlton, who gave this report.

The others have written volumes about Elia over the years in her annual evaluations.

Here are the full board comments for 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Here are some quick excerpts: …

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Florida education news: School choice, student discipline, superintendent ousters and more

SCHOOL CHOICE: Florida school districts offer more education options for families to compete with outside alternatives.

STUDENT VOICES: A Hillsborough committee focusing on minority student discipline finally listens to students about their views.

'OUR SYSTEM IS BROKEN': Hillsborough School Board member Sally Harris says she loves MaryEllen Elia, whom she called an icon, but voted to oust her because 'she forgot how to keep the communication open.' • The School Board now needs to define its way forward, the Times editorializes.

EARLY OUT: Volusia superintendent Margaret Smith, under fire from some board members, decides to retire two years earlier than planned, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

EDUCATION TALK: Jeb Bush will hold an education summit in Tallahassee, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

TESTING: Brevard school district leaders say parents and students have no venue to opt out of state tests, Florida Today reports.

NEW SCHOOLS: Lee district officials examine whether to put a new high school in Bonita Springs, the Naples Daily News reports.

CLEAN CAMPUS: Supporters defend a Miami high school accused of having poor conditions, the Miami Herald reports. …

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Olenick named to state Board of Education

Michael-OlenickGov. Rick Scott has appointed Michael Olenick to the state Board of Education.

Olenick, 62, is a former general counsel for the state Department of Education. He currently chairs the Florida Virtual School Board of Trustees.

"I know Michael shares our goal of making sure all of our students succeed in the classroom, and I am pleased to appoint him to the State Board of Education today," Scott said in a statement.

Olenick is vice president of corporate affairs and chief compliance officer of The Morganti Group, an international construction company. A graduate of Nova Southeastern School of Law, he previously served as assistant state attorney for Broward and St. Lucie counties, as well as Martin County attorney.

He will replace Ada Armas, a Miami-Dade physician who resigned from the education board to spend more time with her family. 

His term ends December 31, 2016.

The appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

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