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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida testing opt-out groups plan to keep heat on school districts

Florida lawmakers might have adopted new rules for student standardized testing. But parents and activists who advocate opting out while seeking to eliminate the high stakes attached to those tests still have many concerns and questions.

Many still feel the new law does not go far enough. It limits state and district testing to 5 percent of a student's time in school, for instance, but many school districts already fall well below that level. So does the measure actually provide for more testing?

This is the type of thing these people want answers to. So this week, they're planning to fill superitnendents' in boxes with queries.

Opt Out Orlando organizer Cindy Hamilton challenged supporters to take this approach over the weekend.

"A mission, should you choose to accept," she wrote on Opt-Out Facebook pages:  …

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Stuart wants another term in Hillsborough

Cindy Stuart is running for re-election for the Hillsborough County School Board

Cindy Stuart is running for re-election for the Hillsborough County School Board

Cindy Stuart has filed for another term representing north Hillsborough's District 3 on the School Board.

Stuart's seat is one of four up for grabs in the November 2016 election. So far there have been no filings from incumbents Carol Kurdell, Doretha Edgecomb or chairwoman Susan Valdes.

This would be the second term for Stuart, 48. 

She joins Tarance Delento LeNoir, a charter school teacher who is opposing Edgecomb in District 5; and Randy Toler, who is challenging Kurdell in countywide  District 7.


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Florida computerized testing down again

UPDATE: The Florida Department of Education told school districts they could resume testing at about 10:30 a.m. Victoria Ash, chief of the department assessment bureau, wrote: "As you are all quite aware, this morning, AIR experienced issues with the login server, which prevented Test Administrators from starting sessions and students being unable to sign into tests.  These issues have now been resolved.  Test Administrators may need to clear the cache and restart their browser before accessing the TA Interface to start sessions."

Some districts, including Miami-Dade, Broward and Leon, have already canceled testing for the day. Others planned to return to testing for an afternoon session.

Commissioner Pam Stewart told superintendents in an 11 a.m. call that AIR made a technical change to the testing platform over the weekend.

"It was not approved by the department. The change was not necessary to the administration of the Florida Standards Assessments," said Stewart, who called herself exasperated, frustrated, dismayed and angry. "This is unacceptable on the part of AIR. We will hold AIR accountable for the disruption they have caused the state." …

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Florida education news: Breakfast, math, cars and more

NUTRITION MATTERS: The Manatee school district begins offering free breakfast to all students, the Bradenton Herald reports.

SPECIAL EDUCATION: Agencies help adult students with special needs find employment in Miami-Dade as they age out of school programs, the Miami Herald reports.

STILL DON'T GET IT? The Palm Beach school district prepares videos to explain "Common Core math" to parents, the Palm Beach Post reports.

DRIVING LESSONS: Bay County students press to have driver education returned to local high schools, the Panama City News Herald reports.

ARTS: Broward College launches a new visual arts and design program, even as higher education focuses on STEM, State Impact Florida reports.

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Buffalo needs a superintendent too

In her next positions as a schools superintendent, MaryEllen Elia could wind up in Buffalo.

But, if that were to happen, she would face a School Board every bit as quarrelsome as the one that ousted her in Hillsborough on Jan. 20.

Press reports from Buffalo, where Elia was educated and began her career, mention her as a possible prospect. Elia put in a bid for the post in Palm Beach County but did not make it to the list of finalists. Hillsborough's board, meanwhile, is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a two-year contract for acting superintendent Jeff Eakins. That's expected to happen late in the 3 p.m. meeting, as the district is also naming 11 principals.

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Florida education news: Layoffs, vouchers, new math and more

LAYOFFS: Clay residents and teachers fight the elimination of 80 teaching jobs, the Florida Times-Union reports.

VOUCHERS: A growing number of Florida private schools rely on public vouchers to make ends meet, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

AUDITS: A review of Duval schools' records shows mistakes that could cost the district nearly $500,000, the Florida Times-Union reports.

NEW MATH: Palm Beach schools offer math lessons to parents, the Palm Beach Post reports.

SAFETY: Alachua officials debate funding for school resource officers, the Gainesville Sun reports.

WHISTLEBLOWERS: More details continue to emerge from the FBI investigation into Leon schools, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

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Florida education news: Superintendents, safety, dual enrollment and more

SUPERINTENDENTS: Jeff Eakins agrees to terms for a two-year contract as Hillsborough superintendent. * Brevard School Board members say they won't rush their superintendent search process, Florida Today reports. * A Palm Beach School Board member accuses colleagues of "racist thought" during their superintendent selection, the Palm Beach Post reports. The new superintendent announces his 90-day plan, the Sun-Sentinel reports. * Volusia's new superintendent steps into the middle of several heated battles with ease, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

SAFETY: The Okaloosa Sheriff's Office will increase patrols around schools for the remainder of the school year, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: An Alachua charter middle school must submit a recovery plan to the state after struggling financially, the Gainesville Sun reports. * A new Palm Beach charter school raises concerns as it builds on farmland, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

SAY WHAT? The Seminole school district will begin offering foreign language instruction to all elementary students, the Orlando Sentinel reports. …

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How do Hillsborough middle magnet schools work anyway?

As the Hillsborough County school district steps up its efforts to market magnet middle schools to children in East Tampa, the question might arise: How will they get in?

First: A lot of East Tampa students already attend the five middle schools in their community. Young, the science magnet, has 71 students who live in the 33605 zip code right around the school.

And no, we are told, they don't need high grades or musical talent to get in.

Middle magnet schools choose their students through what is known as a "randomized lottery."

It works like this, according to staff at the magnet office: Students apply for programs that might interest them. A computer program then weights their applications, based on a number of factors listed in this document. 

By law, they cannot include race. 

But the overall goals include achieving racial diversity, and that goal is written right into the proposals the district sometimes submits for federal grant funding.

The computer program seeks to select the largest possible variety of zip codes and income levels. One way of achieving economic diversity is to consider whether the student qualifies for free lunch. …

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Pinellas School Board to consider easing zero tolerance rules

With the change of one word, the Pinellas School Board could lessen the potential penalty for students who bring weapons to school without any intent to use them.

A proposed amendment to the district Code of Conduct would no longer require that students be suspended if they have a weapon but don't use or threaten to use them. It reads:

Any student who brings, possesses or exhibits a dangerous object at school, or to any school function, or on any school-sponsored transportation, without the use or threatened use in an offensive or defensive manner, is guilty of a serious breach of conduct and that student will may be suspended from school for ten (10) days and may be recommended for reassignment or expulsion.

Superintendent Mike Grego explained in a memo that this change would "provide more administrator discretion in administering discipline" in this section of rules. Students who use or threaten to use weapons would continue to face automatic suspension.

Florida lawmakers first moved to scale back zero tolerance laws about six years ago, but the press to further reform them has continued since. The Pinellas School Board will consider this proposed local change at its May 19 meeting.

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Pasco School Board aims to tackle absenteeism

Pasco school district leaders identified student absenteeism as a problem four years ago, when seven of 11 elementary feeder patters had more than half their students missing 10 or more days of classes.

Time passed, but the situation didn't change. In 2012-13, for instance, more than a third of high school students missed 20 or more days. The School Board again called for action in September.

More than half a year later, the district staff is ready to talk about possible answers.

"It's not a simple fix," student services director Melissa Musselwhite said. "Every layer we pull back, we identify another area we need to focus on."

So rather than trying a gimmicky response, such as having principals go to peoples' homes and offer to drive kids to class, the administration is proposing several steps aimed at improving attendance. These range from creating consistent definitions and expectations -- and following those, to collecting clear data that can drive decisions school by school. …

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Florida education news: School improvement, community colleges, superintendents and more

PAYING ATTENTION: Hillsborough's new superintendent plans to improve the education for east Tampa students who have been bused out of their neighborhoods.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Plato Academy plans to expand to its seventh site in Pinellas County.

GET STARTED: The Pasco school district received some good advice in a recent TNTP report and now should act upon it, the Times editorializes.

SUPERINTENDENTS: Fulton Co. superintendent Robert Avossa takes the top job at Palm Beach schools, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. More from the Sun-Sentinel, Palm Beach Post. * A 15-member community panel will help pick Brevard's next superintendent, Florida Today reports.

TESTING: Collier district officials are initially pleased with the steps lawmakers have taken to change Florida testing law, the Naples Herald reports.

BACHELOR'S DEGREES: Sen. Joe Negron reaches a deal with community colleges on their focus, which he hopes to get into law, the Florida Times-Union reports. More from the Ledger.

BACK TO SCHOOL: Marion County joins the ranks of districts moving the first day of 2015-16 back a week as permitted by new law, the Ocala Star-Banner reports. …

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Eakins on new laws, school choice and filling Elia's shoes

Acting superintendent Jeff Eakins is a listener who is analyzing the causes for kids not graduating and hoping to make each school attractive.

Hillsborough County Public Schools

Acting superintendent Jeff Eakins is a listener who is analyzing the causes for kids not graduating and hoping to make each school attractive.

In addition to his remarks about progress at McLane Middle School, Hillsborough acting superintendent Jeff Eakins spoke with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board on a variety of topics. He described a study he did on the 26.5 percent of Hillsborough 12th graders who did not earn diplomas this past year. We look forward to reporting on his results in more detail. He also answered questions about the Legislature, his views on school choice and customer service, and what it's like to follow the high-profile MaryEllen Elia as a school district leader.

Here is some of what he said.

On the passage of House Bill 7069:

"Ultimately there were a lot of flexibilities given in that particular bill that we need to take advantage of."

He's glad schools can adopt earlier start dates, as secondary students in Hillsborough now take their midterm exams in January. "'Welcome to your winter break. And by the way, you'll be studying on your winter break.' With that flexibility we can now create a calendar that is more student friendly, teacher friendly and parent friendly, and get a clean break." …

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Florida lawmakers push for safer conditions for students who walk to school

We've been down this path before. 

Floridians complain about the unsafe conditions that some children must traverse when headed to and from school. They highlight tragic deaths that occurred while a youngster walked along a busy highway without sidewalks.

Lawmakers talk about the issue. Last year, they almost passed a bill changing the rules for identifying hazardous walking routes and providing added school buses.

This year, they're close again.

The House on Thursday unanimously approved a bill (HB 41) that would more strictly define the unsafe walking paths and have local governments fix them within a certain period of time. Until the issue is corrected, the school district would have to provide transporation to students who would have used it.

A companion bill (SB 154) is making its way through the Senate, with its last committee stop today. So far, no senators have opposed the measure.

With two weeks left in session, it's getting tight to win passage. But the initiative appears to have support all around, so this year might be the year. Stay tuned.

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What's happening on the Florida education budget front?

Not much, actually. 

The Florida House and Senate have different proposals on 2015-16 school spending, each of which differs slightly from what Gov. Rick Scott requested.

But discussions to reach consensus haven't begun. Ruth Melton from the Florida School Boards Association described it best in her daily update to members: …

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Florida education news: Guns, gardens, school start dates and more

GUNS IN SCHOOL: The Florida Senate Education Committee declines a vote on a bill to let teachers carry on campus, effectively killing the measure.

HOW'D YOU DO? Florida students and schools won't learn the results of their Florida Standards Assessments for months. * Osceola schools eliminate 35 local end-of-course exams, the Osceola News-Gazette reports. * The University of Florida sponsors a two-week algebra study challenge for Alachua ninth-graders, the Gainesville Sun reports.

NEW BLOOD: A dozen Hillsborough schools will get new principals.

GREEN THUMBS: Spring Hill Head Start students will learn how a garden grows.

BACK TO SCHOOL: The Lake school district surveys parents to determine whether to change its first day of school, the Orlando Sentinel reports. * The Manatee School Board moves its start date to Aug. 10, the earliest now allowed, the Bradenton Herald reports.

CROWDING: Some Miami-Dade parents and teachers accuse the district of violating the state class size amendment, NBC Miami reports.

ATHLETICS: Bills to overhaul the oversight of Florida high school sports gain traction in the Legislature, the Stuart News reports. …

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