Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida education news: Concerts, campaigns, construction and more

FOR MR. T: Former band and orchestra students of Pinellas music teacher Chris Touchton give him a special concert for his 40th birthday.

EDUCATION WARS: Florida gubernatorial candidates Rick Scott and Charlie Crist each claim to be friendlier to education, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

TAKE A TOUR: Florida Polytechnic University opens it doors for orientation, Bay News 9 reports.

COSTLY CAMPAIGN: Candidates for one Okaloosa School Board seat raise tens of thousands of dollars, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports.

DECISIONS, DECISIONS: Okaloosa leaders argue over how to spend $3 million, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports.

OUTSIDE PERSPECTIVE: The Marion school district invites state school improvement experts to review its education practices, the Ocala Star-Banner reports.

WISHING AND HOPING: P.E. teachers at a Polk middle school want an indoor gym to teach their students, the Ledger reports.

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Florida education news: School grades, special ed, painting and more

SCHOOL GRADES: Forty-five Tampa area elementary schools must provide an added hour of daily reading instruction as part of Florida's lowest 300 in reading. • Twenty-two area schools see their school grades rise by two or more.

SPECIAL EDUCATION: The Broward school district uncovers weaknesses in its exceptional student education programs, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

DIY: Parent volunteers help repaint an Alachua middle school that otherwise couldn't afford the work, the Gainesville Sun reports.

MOVING AHEAD: The Walton school district gets a loaned finance specialist to help create its budget after its chief financial officer resigns, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports.

TEACHER OF THE YEAR: Florida's 2015 TOY shares her enthusiasm with the Ledger.

BACK ON TRACK: The Florida A&M law school will maintain its accreditation after facing warnings, the AP reports.

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307 Florida elementary schools face added hour of reading instruction

Along with school grades, the Florida Department of Education on Friday released what's being referred to as the Lowest 300 list. It includes 307 elementary schools (there were some ties) that have the lowest combined total of percentage points of kids passing and making gains on the FCAT reading exam.

Now they all must provide an added hour of daily reading instruction, which superintendents say they support but also have deemed an unfunded mandate. Districts have about a month to work out the details before classes resume.

One thing ties most of the schools together: They're almost entirely serving low-income children. All but six receive Title I federal funding, and 260 have 70 percent or more students qualified for free or reduced-price meals.

They're not all the state's F schools, though. The list includes one Palm Beach school (Pleasant City) that made an A, as well as nine that made B's and 69 with C's. 

Forty-five Tampa-area elementary schools are on the list. They are: …

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Florida school grades by the numbers

Florida Department of Education officials spoke this morning about the "good news" of this year's school grades, where the number of A's rose and so, too, did the number of F's. The state is in transition to a new grading formula, as well as new tests and new standards.

They said the transition period does not appear to be hurting schools too badly. Superintendents have called for a pause in accountability rules during the switchover.

Some interesting details in the data:

- 260 Florida elementary schools on the lowest performing 300 list for reading performance had free/reduced meal eligibility rates of 70% or more

- 41 Florida school districts increased their number of schools earning A grades this year.

- 116 Florida schools improved two or more letter grades, compared to 26 last year.

- 192 schools benefited from safety net, which kept grades from dropping more than one level in a year, compared to 552 last year.

- 195 more schools earned A's this year (962 total).

- 72 more schools earned F's this year (178 total). 

See the state's full report here.

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Florida school grades exclusive

The Florida Department of Education plans to formally release 2014 elementary and middle school grades later today. The Tampa Bay Times obtained a copy early.

Click here if you'd like to see where your school landed before the official document is published.

Department officials are scheduled to discuss the results with reporters at 11 a.m. Most schools are closed Fridays for summer hours, so we don't know how many school officials will be available to react.

Reached late Thursday, after the state sent results to districts, Pasco schools assistant superintendent Amelia Larson said the grades were about as she expected.  She noted that across Florida, A and B grades declined while D's and F's rose. UPDATE: The A's actually rose. The previous comment included high school marks from 2013, but high schools have not received 2014 grades yet so the comparison did not work.

"During this time of transition, it is very difficult to keep the grades stable," Larson said. "To say the grades predict what is going on day to day during this time of transition is a stretch." …

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Florida education news: School grades, charter schools, college credits and more

SCHOOL GRADES: Tampa area schools get mixed results — some up, some down — in the final year of school grades based on FCAT results.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: A new Pasco County charter school prepares to open in the fall without any corporate involvement.

REINSTATED: A Hillsborough teacher is removed from a suspension list after proving he has proper credentials to teach students with limited English skills.

WORTHLESS: Students of the closing Everest University find many of their credits will not transfer to other schools, Florida Today reports.

GETTING THERE: Manatee superintendent Rick Mills says the troubled district is making strides to "greatness," the Bradenton Herald reports.

NAME CHANGE: Broward's three technical centers call themselves colleges in hopes of attracting more students, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

WINDFALLS: The Santa Rosa school district sees its meager reserves rebound thanks to unexpected revenue coming in, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports.

TOP TEACHER: A Polk elementary teacher is named Florida's Teacher of the Year, the Ledger reports. …

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Florida school grades due out Friday

The Florida Department of Education has announced it will release elementary and middle school grades on Friday.

Most school districts are closed Fridays during the summer, so much of the response will likely be delayed. Some district officials called the department urging them to wait until Monday, but the DOE declined. Instead, it told districts to expect their results at 7 p.m. today, after working hours.

This year's grades are the last to be based on the FCAT and the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards in English/language arts and math. They continue to carry the requirements associated with the state's old accountability model that came under much criticism and scrutiny. Some superintendents have said they have no intention of making major changes to low-performing schools, knowing that they were tested on old standards and graded with a system that won't be the same next year.

The state has waived accountability requirements for next year, when the new standards, tests and grading model are officially put in place. Stay tuned for the details as we get them.

UPDATE: See how Tampa area schools fared in our breaking story.

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Pinellas teachers can expect a small boost in pay

Here's some good news for teachers in Pinellas County.

Teachers will see a slight increase - about $300 - in their pay this year because the county's property values have gone up, which affects the special property tax used to supplement the teacher pay schedule. The projected supplement for the 2014/15 school year is $3,216, or about $294 more than last year. The difference in pay should be seen either this month, for 11.5- and 12-month employees, or in August for 10-month employees.

This is the second year in a row that property values have gone up. Last year, the increase in the supplement was quite small, just $70 more per teacher.

Voters approved a tax referendum for the first time in 2004, then again in 2008 and 2012. About 80 percent of the revenue generated goes to the teacher salary schedule. The other 20 percent supports the arts, music and reading in Pinellas County Schools. The property tax won't go before voters again until 2017. 

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Pasco teacher contract negotiations canceled for the day

Representatives for the United School Employees of Pasco and the district administration had planned to return to the bargaining table Thursday afternoon to discuss terms of the teachers' contract for the coming year.

That session will not happen.

USEP lead negotiator Jim Ciadella said he did not have adequate time to get feedback on the district's proposals from Tuesday's meeting, or to prepare for another round of talks. So he requested the delay.

District officials had planned to bring another set of requests to the union for consideration. Employee relations director Betsy Kuhn said the district would postpone its offers to the next meeting, which is now scheduled for Tuesday. Stay tuned.

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Tony Bennett gone but not forgotten in Florida

Tony Bennett resigned as Florida education commissioner just shy of a year ago, to defend his reputation amid accusations of school-grade fixing and ethics violations in Indiana.

Bennett this week agreed to pay a fine to settle the ethics charges related to using his Indiana state office for campaign work, the AP reports, while being cleared on the grades-related matter.

His departure and defense have not stopped Bennett from keeping his hand in the education game, even in Florida. For a while, he worked for ACT as it attempted to market its Common Core-related tests to the state.

More recently, he's reached out to a handful of district leaders, suggesting they consider one of his clients. Bennett has started a consulting firm, Education Reform Strategies, and he emailed Pasco superintendent Kurt Browning to recommend classroom technology company digedu.

"I hope all is well in Pasco County. Please know how much I valued your leadership, support, and kindness during my brief tenure in Florida," Bennett wrote. "Since leaving my role in Florida, I started a consulting practice and moved back to Southern Indiana. That is why I am reaching out to you." …

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Florida education news: Credentials, summer meals, testing and more

CREDENTIALS: Six veteran Hillsborough teachers face dismissal for failure to obtain certification in teaching students with limited English skills.

SUMMER MEALS: The Pasco school district expands its traveling lunch bus program to reach needy children during the long break.

ACCUSATIONS: Pasco-Hernando State College faces a whistleblower complaint about its law enforcement academy.

SETTLED: Former Florida education commissioner Tony Bennett pays a fine but is cleared of formal ethics violations in Indiana, the AP reports.

TESTING TROUBLE: A Collier teacher is suspended for helping her students on tests, the Naples Daily News reports.

FINANCES: Walton's chief finance officer retires as the district deals with declining reserves, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports.

SENTENCED: A former Miami-Dade cafeteria worker gets seven years for stealing students' personal data to commit income tax fraud, the Miami Herald reports.

RESTRAINTS: The Orange school district again leads Florida in the number of times students with disabilities were restrained, the Orlando Sentinel reports. …

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Teams will target at-risk students in Hillsborough

Hillsborough County school officials are re-thinking the relationship between counselors and students who are at risk of failing or dropping out.

Rather than taking a passive approach, the district this year will establish teams of social workers, psychologists and guidance counselors.

Superintendent MaryEllen Elia is calling these "success programs" that will establish collective ownership of that segment of the student population who sometimes fall through the cracks.

The "dropout prevention specialist" will be renamed a "success coach" to get rid of the negative connotation.

Then the teams will target kids, systematically, who most likely need their help.

'We're now looking at multiple factors that put a kid at risk," Elia said Wednesday. These include attendance rates, discipline, grades, and whether the students have taken advantage of opportunities to get help.

The teams will get list of students who need attention, according to this data. Then they'll be asked to track the students and get involved before they fall farther behind.

It makes sense, she said, because "the kids that are at risk don't run into the guildance counselors office to talk to them."

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Bus behavior in Hillsborough will be addressed on several fronts

Student behavior -- and lack of a cohesive way to deal with it -- was one of the biggest problems cited by bus drivers in the public meetings.

Addressing the Tampa Bay Times editorial board on Wednesday, Superintendent MaryEllen Elia said she is addressing that problem on several fronts.

She discussed the issue at a principals' meeting this week.

She's fine-tuning bus driver training, so drivers know the correct way to report student misbehavior on the bus. They'll also get more training in behavior management.

And letters will go out to parents, warning them of the consequences when their children act up on the bus. These include losing bus privileges for awhile. "But the child will still be required to come to school."

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Florida's Teacher of the Year to be named Thursday

Florida's 2015 Teacher of the Year will be announced Thursday in a ceremony at the Hard Rock in Orlando.

Of the Tampa Bay area, only Pinellas County has a teacher in the running for the honor. Kevin Ford, a music teacher and band director at Tarpon Springs High, is among the five finalists. Other finalists are from Flagler, Indian River, Polk and St. Johns counties.

The winner is selected based on their teaching ability, subject area knowledge, professional development. teaching philosophy and school and community service. They also must "show a superior capacity to inspire a love of learning in students of all backgrounds," according to the state. The winner is chosen from more than 189,000 school teachers by a selection committee. The committee includes teachers, principals, parents and the business community.

The gala is scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Hard Rock Live at Universal Studios Orlando.

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Summer Bridge cost is higher than expected

The cost for this year's Summer Bridge program has come in higher than expected. 

Pinellas County school superintendent Mike Grego estimated a $2.4 million price tag for the six-week summer session. District officials now have put that figure at $3.2 million, a little higher than the first year's $3.1 million cost. The program attracted many more students in its second year than its first, and most of the program's costs are the salary and benefits of the teachers. Some supplies also were purchased, although the district was able to reuse many of the instructional materials they bought last year.

The program was designed to curb summer learning losses, particularly among struggling students. The district targeted 10,000 to 12,000 students in the first year and had about 6,600 register. (Not all those showed up.) This year, the district had more than 13,000 students register, with about 10,000 students actually showing up.

See our story about this year's Summer Bridge here.

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