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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Former Charlotte School Board member takes helm at FSBA

Andrea Messina, the Florida School Boards Association's director of professional development since 2012, has taken over the organization's top spot as executive director. Her first day on the job was Wednesday.

Messina, a former three-term Charlotte School Board member, replaced longtime FSBA leader Wayne Blanton, who retired in the spring after four decades advocating for school boards. The FSBA board selected her during a recent meeting in Tampa.

"We were fortunate to consider several excellent candidates for this position," FSBA president Caroline Zucker said in a news release. "Andrea presented the best combination of experience and leadership to take the helm as Executive Director."

Messina is a former English teacher who worked in Charlotte and Orange counties, and a past member of the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council.

"I look forward to this new opportunity to work with school board members and school districts to build on FSBA's legacy of advocating for students and public education," Messina said in a release.

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10 Florida members of Congress call on Gov. Scott to dump this year's testing results

As this spring's Florida Standards Assessment results continue to trickle out, a group of Florida's congressional delegation on Wednesday asked Gov. Rick Scott to stop the process.

Contending the outcomes are tainted because of myriad computer problems during the testing period, the 10 members -- nine Democrats and one Republican -- have suggested that the scores cannot be dependable.

"Even if the statutorily mandated independent evaluation due in September deems test questions valid, serious questions remain about whether the disruptive testing conditions rendered this test an unreliable tool for assessing student learning," the group wrote. "Children across the state suffered through blank screens, crashed servers, and repeated log outs. We cannot reasonably expect our children to perform well under these circumstances."

Alpine Testing Solutions is in the middle of evaluating the validity of the FSA exams, with a deadline of Sept. 1 for its final report. …

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All quiet in the hunt for an open Pasco School Board seat

When Joanne Hurley first ran for Pasco School Board in 2008, she spent more than a year before ballot qualifying in the community getting to know people and, more importantly, making sure voters got to know her.

Her effort worked so well that she overcame two other civic leaders in the primary by such a large margin that she avoided a general election battle.

Now that Hurley is retiring in 2016 from her seat representing central Pasco County, she's baffled that there's been so little activity to replace her. Qualifying is less than a year off, and not one person has contacted her to ask advice or just discuss the job and the work it entails.

No one has pre-filed to seek the position.

Hurley suggested the time is now to get moving, for someone who desires to influence education policy in the county. It takes a while, after all, to achieve the public identification needed to run a successful campaign, she said.

"That is so important," Hurley said. "You can have a lot of money and you can have a lot of people backing you, but if you don't have that name recognition ... The voters, when they go into the booth, they are looking for someone they know." …

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Eakins speaks at 11 a.m.

Jeff Eakins is officially superintendent of the Hillsborough County Public Schools today, and he will speak at a news conference at 11 a.m.

We will live tweet the event, which can also be seen here.

Eakins, who became acting superintendent on March 6, has spent the last several months restructuring his cabinet and setting priorities that include a more student-centered culture and a higher graduation rate.

Stay with for full coverage.

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Florida education news: Per-student funding, wildflowers, adult education and more

FUNDING: Lake school officials are happy the district will get $12.5 million in added funding, but still note its per-student funding lags the state, the Daily Commercial reports.

TAXES: The St. Johns School Board unanimously agrees to seek a local sales tax for school capital projects, the Florida Times-Union reports.

PAY CUTS: School custodians expect to receive less pay as the Volusia district switches vendors, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: The retired founder of a troubled Sarasota charter school questions the school's direction under its current leadership, the Herald-Tribune reports.

GREEN THUMBS: Sixteen Broward and Palm Beach schools receive free wildflower seeds to help their student gardening lessons, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

MONEY MATTERS: Tampa area fifth graders learn financial skills at Enterprise Village, State Impact Florida reports.

ADULT EDUCATION: The Leon school district's adult education programs lose state funding, causing teacher layoffs and program reductions, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

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Are Florida teachers ready to seek a Best and Brightest scholarship?

Reaction to our story on Florida's new program to pay teachers more money based in part on their SAT or ACT scores came swiftly.

The Washington Post called the idea "kooky." The Herald-Tribune leaned toward "nonsense." Reader feedback proved highly critical, as well.

But that doesn't mean teachers are ready to turn down good money.

Pasco County school district officials told the Gradebook that two teachers showed up at the central office in Land O'Lakes on Monday with their SAT score reports in hand, asking how they could sign up for the Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship.

Unprepared, the district didn't take the paperwork or any other information from the teachers, spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said. The human resources department then quickly began drafting information to send out to the staff, so they know how and when to apply.

The new provision, written into the recently adopted budget, says that teachers must submit their score reports to their districts no later than Oct. 1. The money would be delivered to the teachers no later than April 1. …

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Set Florida's test cut scores higher, Jeb Bush foundation says

With new tests in play, the Florida Department of Education plans to set the passing scores this fall, after a validity study is complete.

The Foundation for Excellence in Education, established by former governor Jeb Bush, wants the DOE to make those cut scores higher. That way, the group contends, Florida students will have a better idea of how they compare to national academic expectations.

"Across the country, states are in the process of reviewing their proficiency cut scores," CEO Patricia Levesque said in a release. "Florida leaders must raise their proficiency expectations if they hope to create an education system where every child masters the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful in the next grade - and most importantly - after high school."

On a new website, called Why Proficiency Matters, the organization shows that Florida often reports higher levels of student performance at top levels than does the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP. For instance, Florida FCAT scores showed that 60 percent of fourth graders were reading proficiently, compared to 39 percent according to NAEP results.

See the Florida data from the site here. …

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Florida education news: Military families, new laws, deputies and more

EXTRA FUNDING: Florida school districts with concentrations of military families gain added money for support services, WFSU reports.

NEW RULES: Florida's new budget and several laws affecting education take effect this week, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

SECURITY: Some Lee parents say they feel intimidated by an increase in deputies attending School Board meetings, NBC 2 reports.

LAWSUITS: A judge will soon decide whether to dismiss a suit against the Manatee school district brought by a former assistant superintendent, the Bradenton Herald reports.

HEALTH CARE: Marion district officials say increased funding will offset the rising cost of employee health benefits, the Ocala Star-Banner reports.

MIDDLE YEARS: A private Escambia day school will restructure its middle school program to provide more transition help to fifth graders, the Pensacola News-Journal reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Parents of a Sarasota charter school accuse its leaders of violating state law in firing the principal, the Herald-Tribune reports.

SALES TAX: The St. Johns School Board prepares to place a sales tax referendum before voters, the St. Augustine Record reports.

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Florida Department of Education releases school-by-school testing results

The percentage of students passing Florida's revised 10th-grade language arts and Algebra I year-end exams, announced with little fanfare Friday, should not have surprised anyone because of the Department of Education's "equipercentile linking" strategy. The percentage of students passing this year was linked to the percentage who passed last year.

The real interesting details come in the school results. That's where you can see where students are succeeding and where they're struggling.

And much like the third-grade outcomes, the percentage of passing students aligns with demographics, particularly at the high school level. Middle schoolers taking algebra, generally a high school course, tend to score well because they've been approved for the advanced material, while high schoolers offer a more mixed bag of skills.

Consider Hillsborough County schools as an example.

Hillsborough had a 69 percent passing rate on Algebra I, above the state rate and best in the Tampa region. All but three of its middle schools had passing rates exceeding 80 percent, with the others still above 70 percent. Fourteen of the middle schools had 95 percent or more students who passed. …

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Can Florida school districts access $60 million for technology?

As we reported this weekend, it remains an open question whether the Legislature's appropriation of $60 million for school technology needs will move ahead as intended. Here we take a closer look at the actual language behind the confusion.

Citing the need to ensure districts spend the money appropriately, lawmakers called for an analysis of district needs before districts get the money. The bill reads:

Prior to the distribution of the 2015-2016 Florida digital classrooms allocation funds, the department shall confirm that each district school superintendent has certified shall certify to the Commissioner of Education that the district school board has approved a comprehensive district digital classrooms plan that supports the fidelity of implementation of the Florida digital classrooms allocation; the district has participated in the digital readiness gap analysis assessment conducted pursuant to paragraph (g); and the district's digital classrooms plan reflects the district's commitment to prioritizing the use of 2015-2016 funds to address gaps identified through the digital readiness gap analysis assessment. …

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Florida education news: Vetoes, rezoning, remedial courses and more

VETOES: Florida senators say Gov. Rick Scott punished them for not fully supporting his school spending proposal.

EDUCATION MATTERS: Palm Beach superintendent Robert Avossa says education is key to attaining the American Dream, the Palm Beach Post reports.

ENROLLMENT: Bay parents slowly make the choice for a new elementary school despite anger over being rezoned, the Panama City News Herald reports.

REMEDIAL WORK: Students who enter Florida community colleges needing remedial work increasingly are not taking the courses, the Pensacola News-Journal reports.

REAL LIFE: Students at an Alachua high school get hands-on training to become veterinary assistants, the Gainesville Sun reports.

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Florida education news: Teacher pay, budget woes, plagiarism and more

TEACHER PAY: Florida lawmakers add $44 million to the budget to give teachers bonuses based on their SAT or ACT scores.

SALES TAX: The St. Johns County Commission has no authority to block a school district sales tax referendum, the St. Augustine Record reports.

BUDGETS: The Manatee school district continues to struggle financially despite increased funding because of growth, the Bradenton Herald reports.

SUMMER SCHOOL: Manatee Title I elementary schools offer summer programs for all students for the first time, the Bradenton Herald reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: A Collier charter school comes under fire over student diversity, the Naples Daily News reports. • Charter school quality in Volusia and Flagler counties runs the gamut, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

SURVEY SAYS: A Florida Today survey suggests teacher morale is the Brevard school district's most pressing concern.

WORD FOR WORD: A Palm Beach principal's graduation speech would not pass the district's plagiarism test, the Palm Beach Post reports.

LOVE OF TEACHING: A teacher at Sarasota's Pine View School for the Gifted retires after 45 years there, the Herald-Tribune reports. …

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Florida education news: Classroom technology, special education, charter schools and more

SCHOOL TECHNOLOGY: Gov. Rick Scott's veto of a $3 million school technology study might jeopardize plans for $60 million in digital classroom funding.

SPECIAL EDUCATION: Florida parents question whether the state properly accounts for the use of federal ESE funds, WTSP reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: The town of Cutler Bay explores opening a charter school, the Miami Herald reports.

CHOICES: A new faith-based private school will open to provide more education options to poor families in Miami's Overtown, the Miami Herald reports.

DEAL: The Volusia school district and city of New Smyrna Beach agree to jointly pay for needed athletic field repairs, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

SUMMER SCHOOL: Sarasota's Title I elementary schools offer programs over break to stave off learning losses, the Herald-Tribune reports.

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One in eight Florida charter schools facing deficits, audit shows

A recently released state audit shows that 76 of 615 Florida charter schools ended 2013-14 with a financial deficit, while 31 charters had material weaknesses with their internal financial controls.

Broward County had the highest prevalence of troubled charters, with 25 percent. But it's not the only district with struggling schools.

The audit listed six of 43 charters (14 percent) in Hillsborough as running deficits at the end of the year, along with four of 22 charters (18 percent) in Pinellas and one of seven (14 percent) in Pasco. Some of the listed schools, including Florida Autism Center of Excellence in Pasco and Imagine Middle School of St. Petersburg, have since closed. Others worked to improve their status. 

Still, the audit highlights the tenuous nature of some charter schools -- something the Florida Board of Education sought to address this week by requiring charter applicants to disclose their past interactions with other charter schools, including their financial and academic history. Board members said they do not want someone who failed at one location to change a corporate name and resurface to claim more taxpayer dollars. …

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Florida releases more testing results

Florida school districts received another round of state test results on Friday, even as an independent contractor reviews the validity of the exams.

The state Department of Education publicly released the passing rates for two tests that stand as graduation requirements -- Algebra I and 10th-grade language arts -- along with individual student information to schools, so they can inform students whether they need to take the assessments again.

Statewide, 67 percent of students passed the Algebra I end-of-course exam. Commissioner Pam Stewart recently told the State Board of Education that passing rates were especially strong in the middle grades, where students in the course are generally advanced and recommended for it. Among local districts, Hernando had a 68 percent passing rate, Hillsborough 69 percent, Pasco 68 percent and Pinellas 56 percent.

State law says the exam should count as 30 percent of a student's course grade, but the DOE has waived that requirement this year because of the validity test and the lateness of the results. …

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