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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Pasco schools open enrollment period begins Sunday

Pasco County families seeking to transfer their children to public schools other than the one they're assigned to can begin applying for open enrollment on Sunday.

The applications will be available online by clicking on a banner at the top of the district's main web page. Each child in a family must apply separately, and might not receive the same results.

Families already attending schools through choice do not have to reapply unless their address changed since the initial approval or they live outside Pasco County. Changes from one school level to the next also require new applications.

The district has not yet listed publicly the schools that are closed to choice because they are already above capacity. In the past, close to half the schools have been frozen.

Pasco's open enrollment application season runs through March 1. 

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Competition emerges in the Hillsborough teacher's union election

Jean Clements has led the Hillsborough teachers union since 2002. Thanks to the Gates-funded teacher evaluation system that she helped shape, the district is shielded from some state mandates.

Jean Clements has led the Hillsborough teachers union since 2002. Thanks to the Gates-funded teacher evaluation system that she helped shape, the district is shielded from some state mandates.

Jean Clements, who has served as the head of Hillsborough's teachers union for more years than MaryEllen Elia has been superintendent, has competition in the coming election.

Elementary teacher Amy Gabriel announced her candidacy in December for the election, which begins Feb. 15.

A 10-year employee of the district, Gabriel teachers fourth grade at Twin Lakes Elementary School. Clements taught special education and was a department head at Plant High School before she became a full-time union leader in 2002.

"I have a lot of experience in the classroom, and seeing how teachers deal with EET," Gabriel said, using the acronym for Empowering Effective Teachers, the Gates-funded evaluation and mentoring system.

She also took notice that last week Clements and executive director Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins spoke out publicly against the School Board's move to fire Elia. Gabriel said she wishes the union leaders had polled their members first. "I think it would have been helpful," she said.

Her website goes into a lot more detail.

In her conversation with Gradebook, Gabriel was not particularly critical of Clements but said her candidacy offers an alternative. …

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Name change to Florida's technical centers could lead to guns on campuses

Florida Rep. Greg Steube's legislation to extend concealed carry weapons permits to colleges and universities could have a side effect that has school districts on edge.

It might allow guns on campuses that serve large numbers of high school students.

Over the past few months, several districts including Hillsborough and Pasco have renamed their technical education centers (such as Marchman and Aparicio-Levy) as colleges. They serve adults and accept financial aid, but also regularly have high school students in attendance for career training courses such as air conditioning repair or cosmetology.

That change officially makes them colleges, which would subject them to the terms of Steube's bill, if ultimately adopted, Steube aide Anna Lee said. It's no different, she noted, than if someone were to carry a concealed weapon at a state college where a teenager is taking dual enrollment courses.

The bill is winding its way through committees, with strong support and opposition from the public. An identical Senate version has yet to be heard.

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Florida superintendents talk testing with Gov. Rick Scott

Nine superintendents met with Florida Gov. Rick Scott and education commissioner Pam Stewart on Wednesday to talk about testing.  Nothing really new was said. It was just presented to the governor in person.

Afterward, Florida Association of District School Superintendents leader Bill Montford sent its members a brief synopsis of their key points:

Superintendents Kurt Browning, Alberto Carvalho, MaryEllen Elia, Mike Grego, Barbara Jenkins, Joe Joyner, John Ruis, Malcolm Thomas, Tim Wyrosdick and I met with Governor Scott and Commissioner Stewart today to express our concerns about the critical challenges the school districts are facing this year in terms of administering assessments.  The Superintendents present agreed on the following five recommendations:

- Support the administration of the Florida Standards Assessments (FSA) this year and use the results as a baseline for measuring progress. The State’s accountability system relies on both learning gains as well as performance.  In the first year of FSA administration, there will be no learning gains and therefore will compromise its ability to drive accountability. …

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Florida education news: Superintendents, physical education, teacher pay and more

SUPERINTENDENT SEARCH: The Hillsborough School Board will talk about its next steps to replace MaryEllen Elia at a Tuesday meeting. • The Palm Beach School Board forges ahead with its superintendent search, the Sun-Sentinel reports. • Outgoing Volusia superintendent Margaret Smith defends herself against accusations of poor management, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

FUNDING: Gov. Rick Scott proposes more money for K-12 education, to be funded primarily by higher local property taxes.

PHYSICAL EDUCATION: Pasco P.E. teachers take a new approach to teaching kids about healthy lifestyles and fitness.

TOP TEACHER: Challenger K-8 second grade teacher Stacey Visceglie is Hernando County's 2015 teacher of the year.

TESTING: Some Florida parents will continue to opt out of state testing despite the commissioner's warning that it's not allowed, WFSU reports. • Florida lawmakers must reduce student testing, the Bradenton Herald editorializes. 

REMEDIAL EDUCATION: Florida's experiment with college-level remediation influences reforms nationwide, Inside Higher Ed reports. …

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Rick Scott hears superintendents' testing concerns

Gov. Rick Scott did more than just unveil his budget recommendations on Wednesday.

He met with nine superintendents and Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.

The meeting gave the superintendents a chance to express their concerns about the state's new tests.

The issues aren't new: The superintendents want to see a temporary freeze on school grades, elimination of end-of-course exams for each subject and grade, and a change in how the state ties teacher evaluations to test scores. Superintendents also expressed ongoing concerns about having the technology and training for computer-based testing.

Pinellas County schools Superintendent Mike Grego, who attended the meeting, said the group is concerned that a rushed implementation of the new tests could cause the state's accountability system to "implode."

Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat and CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, said he plans to draft a bill that would address some of the superintendents' concerns.

Montford expects the Senate to work "feverishly" to address the issues.

"If we're going to make any changes, they have to happen quickly," he said. …

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Hernando school district wins reaccreditation

AdvancED announced its reaccreditation of the Hernando County school district on Wednesday.

The decision came after a thorough review including interviews with more than 200 employees.

“This is a great school district,” lead evaluator David Gullatt said in a released statement. “We were able to identify several powerful practices in Hernando County that folks in other districts would certainly benefit from knowing more about.”

Hernando first received district accreditation in 2010.

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Pasco schools nurse named top in Florida

Kathy Browning, a nurse at Pasco's Lacoochee Elementary School, has been named 2015 Florida School Nurse of the Year by the Florida School Nurses Association.

Browning, the wife of superintendent Kurt Browning, has worked for the school district since 1992 except for a two-year break. 

She was nominated for the award by several administrators and a Lacoochee fifth grader, James Royal.

“Whenever I have a headache even if it’s small, if she can’t get in touch with someone at home who can help me, she stops whatever she’s doing no matter what it is to find me a ride home or to a doctor,” James wrote of Mrs. Browning.  He also wrote that she collects food and clothing for his family and helps him get into programs that will benefit his health and learning.

She will receive the award on Feb. 6 at a reception in Orlando.

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FLVS gets new board chair as past leader steps down

Michael Olenick, recently appointed to the Florida Board of Education, has stepped down as chairman of the Florida Virtual School board of trustees.

The trustees on Tuesday selected Lady Dhyana Ziegler to step into the leadership position. 

Ziegler, who has been the board's vice chair for four years, is the Garth C. Reeves Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair of Excellence in the School of Journalism and Graphic Communication at Florida A&M University. She previously held several administrative jobs at the university.  She was knighted as a Dame of Justice in England in 2008.

“FLVS is a crown jewel in virtual education, not only for the state of Florida, but the entire world, as we continue to expand our outreach and goals to deliver quality online education across the globe,” Ziegler said in a released statement. “I am proud of what FLVS has accomplished throughout the years and I only envision continued success. The best is yet to come.”

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Florida education news: Student voices, testing resolutions, African-American education and more

STUDENTS SPEAK: Hillsborough high school students get to meet with district leaders, and they discuss education rather than politics.

TESTING: The Pinellas School Board joins the crowd of districts clamoring for changes to Florida's testing and accountability system.

DISPARITIES: The Flagler school system has made strides in improving education for minority students, but still lags when it comes to discipline, Flagler Live reports.

LINES OF AUTHORITY: Duval School Board members question whether the Jacksonville City Council might be going too far with its plans for its inspector general, the Florida Times-Union reports.

TAXES: The Lee School Board moves toward asking voters to approve a half-percent sales tax for construction projects, the Fort Myers News-Press reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Charter Schools USA will expand and relocate its corporate headquarters, Area Development Online reports.

RELEASED: The Manatee School Board retroactively suspends an administrator to the end of his contract rather than firing him, the Bradenton Herald reports. …

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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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