Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Common ground -- with one exception -- on Common Core

Hillsborough curriculum specialists crammed into a conference room to help the board understand the Florida Standards, aka Common Core.


Hillsborough curriculum specialists crammed into a conference room to help the board understand the Florida Standards, aka Common Core.

It's not hard to find an argument about Common Core.

Members of the Hillsborough County School Board, who held an informational workshop on the issue Tuesday, didn't even have to leave their conference table.

In the final moments of the session, member Stacy White announced, "I refuse to be a PR agent for Common Core."

Espousing the views of many fellow conservatives, White said, "I'm concerned about federal over-reach ... We should be driving this at the local level. When we lose that local control, we get a one-size-fits-all, all-or-nothing model that we have today."

Given that aspects of the Florida Standards, as the state calls its version, are still being debated in the legislature, he said, "I think we need for this to slow down to the greatest extent possible."

White, now finishing his four-year term on the board, is running for Hillsborough County Commission in the largely conservative east Hillsborough District 4. …

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Pasco school district changes rules for foreign exchange and travel programs

Pasco County schools have tightened up their rules for student travel abroad and foreign exchange programs, in light of a recent state Ethics Commission opinion criticizing the district's past practices.

New guidelines, circulated to all principals a week ago, make clear that only foreign exchange companies that have been fully vetted by the district may participate in the schools during the coming year. Further, firms seeking students for travel abroad are not allowed on school grounds to solicit students or teachers.

"The District School Board of Pasco County has policies and procedures in place to create partnerships with various organizations for services," teaching and learning director Vanessa Hilton wrote in her memo to principals. "We need to remain cognizant of who we allow onto our campuses and in front of our students."

The state has warned the district that a conflict of interest could arise if teachers directly recruit their own students to participate in travel tours that offer the teachers rewards for bringing in participants. Superintendent Kurt Browning sought the guidance after learning of the model that teachers have used in the past.

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Scott to schools: Great work creating private-sector jobs

Sure it's just a form letter. But Gov. Rick Scott's recent letter congratulating the Pasco County school district for being named one of the region's healthiest employers by the Tampa Bay Business Journal has raised a few eyebrows.

Why? The governor praised the tax-supported public school system for its efforts in creating private-sector jobs.

"You are to be commended for building a company that is recognizable within your community," Scott (or, presumably, his letter writer) wrote to the district that's headed by his former secretary of state. "Because entrepreneurship is the foundation of Florida's success, I am focused on making the Sunshine State the best place for businesses to grow so that entrepreneurs like you can succeed and continue adding private-sector jobs to Florida's economy."

Some might argue that, while the district does not create private-sector jobs, it has in recent years put some of its employees in line for such work. In dealing with state budget cuts and declining local tax revenue, the school district let go nearly 500 workers in 2011 (although many won new posts later), eliminated nearly 90 jobs in 2012 and about 100 positions in 2013. …

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Florida education news: Construction, opting out, teacher discipline and more

CONSTRUCTION FUNDING: Democrats say Florida's traditional schools are not given their fair share of state money for construction and maintenance needs.

TESTING: Escambia and Santa Rosa schools have trouble transitioning to computerized state testing, the Pensacola News-Journal reports. • A Fort Myers mom joins the growing opt-out movement for her son, the Fort Myers News-Press reports. • Bay officials are hopeful of better results as FCAT testing begins, the Panama City News Herald reports.

TEACHER DISCIPLINE: A St. Lucie teacher is dismissed for having a group of students attack another student who threatened her, WPTV reports. • The Okaloosa district moves to fire a high school vet tech instructor for endangering students by keeping an anaconda on campus, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports. • A Manatee middle school teacher faces criminal charges for allegedly inappropriately touching a female student, the Herald-Tribune reports.

SCHOOL CHOICE: More than three-quarters of Lee students seeking choice options get their first selection, the Naples Daily News reports. …

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Bus driver complaints continue in Hillsborough

School bus drivers at a town hall meeting in Apollo Beach


School bus drivers at a town hall meeting in Apollo Beach

More than 50 transportation employees of the Hillsborough County school district turned out Monday evening for a meeting in Apollo Beach that this time included four School Board members.

Candy Olson, whose district includes Apollo Beach, listened and acknowledged that the drivers have not always been served by innovations called for in a 2007 reorganization. And she said she regrets that the district didn't move sooner to buy buses.

Member April Griffin, meanwhile, said chairwoman Carol Kurdell was using "a scare tactic" when she suggested the district consider privatizing the transportation system. Some drivers are expected to protest the idea at the next 3 p.m. board meeting on April 29, and Griffin cautioned them to finish their work day. There will be time at the end of the meeting for their comments, she said.

Superintendent MaryEllen Elia has promised a comprehensive action plan that will pull together the work of a paid consultant, district-led focus groups and multiple investigations stemming from a January memo by four transportation trainers. …

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Randy Avent is Polytechnic's first president

From the News Service of Florida:

Randy Avent, associate vice president for research at North Carolina State University, was offered the position of president at Florida Polytechnic University, the state's newest university, on Monday.

Avent must still negotiate with the Lakeland-based school’s board of trustees on a contract that is expected to be between $310,750 and $550,000 a year. He must also be confirmed by the Florida Board of Governors.

A release from Florida Polytechnic noted that Avent is expected to begin this summer at the school, which legislators separated from the Tampa-based University of South Florida in 2012. The school, to be focused on science, technology, engineering and math, is scheduled to open in August with about 500 students.

Avent, who is also an associate provost at the Raleigh, N.C.-based school, was selected over finalist Robert McGrath, vice president of the Georgia Institute of Technology and director of the Georgia Tech Research Institute.

The two had been selected last week from a list that included more than 40 names gathered by a search firm.

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Pasco teachers file class-action grievance against district administration

Fresh off a complaint to the state over planning time and "professional learning communities," the United School Employees of Pasco has filed a class-action grievance regarding the same issues with the superintendent's office.

The charge is signed by 933 teachers district-wide, or just less than one-fifth of the instructional staff.

They allege that the district has violated their contractual rights in requiring "onerous and lengthy" PLC meetings interfere with planning time. The USEP claims that the meetings exceed 40 minutes agreed to in the contract, and that they adversely affect their ability to meet students' daily academic needs.

For relief, the union asks for an end to the current form of PLC meetings, and for compensation for work done outside the contractual school day, among other things. Read the grievance here.

Superintendent Kurt Browning has remained steadfast that the district has not violated its teacher contract with its professional learning communities. District spokeswoman Linda Cobbe added that Browning is looking into asking the USEP to focus on its complaint with the state, which is set for an April 28 hearing, or the grievance, which is similar.

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Amid high interest, Pinellas adds classroom at Gulf Beaches

Pinellas received so much interest in its newest elementary schools that officials have decided to create an additional kindergarten class at Gulf Beaches Elementary.

Both Gulf Beaches in St. Pete Beach and Kings Highway Elementary in Clearwater are reopening this fall as countywide tech magnets.

After last month's initial application period, both schools had wait lists for kindergarten. Bill Lawrence, director of student assignment, said it's typical for new schools to see the greatest number of applications at entry grades like kindergarten, sixth grade and ninth grade.

The schools are currently accepting applications for open seats in other grades, during the district's late application period. All students who applied for grades 1 - 5 in the initial period were invited to attend.

Pinellas expects to name the new principals this week.

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No hiring freeze for Pasco schools this year

At about this time last year, Pasco County schools implemented a hiring freeze in anticipation of eliminating jobs and transferring employees to new positions.

This year, things don't look as dim. Human resources director Christine Pejot has informed all principals and department heads that they're free to continue hiring temporary or mini-contract employees this spring as spots come open. They'll have to wait, though, to fill any expected vacancies for the coming school year.

"Anticipated vacancies for the 2014-2015 school year may not be advertised or filled at this time and will remain on hold until further notice, following the allocations/transfer process," Pejot said in her memo. "Later this month, our Office will be communicating detailed information regarding hiring procedures, along with an updated and more user-friendly hiring packet, in anticipation of the busy summer hiring season."

Pasco's decision stands in stark contrast to what's happening in Hernando County, where the district has frozen hiring for the second time this year. The Pasco district has several job openings listed on its website.

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Florida education news: Tuition, teacher pay, testing and more

IN-STATE TUITION: Critics of former governor Charlie Crist are right in saying Crist has flip-flopped on giving in-state tuition to some illegal immigrants, Politifact Florida reports.

TEACHER PAY: The Orange School Board chairman calls for better pay for veteran teachers, reports.

PROVING GROUNDS: Low performing Miami-Dade schools hope to see improved achievement with this year's FCAT, the Miami Herald reports.

ADVANCED PLACEMENT: Volusia and Flagler high schools aim for greater participation in Advanced Placement courses and tests after lagging the state rates, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

TEST-MAKING: The Collier school district struggles to create hundreds of local tests for the fall to use in evaluating teachers, the Naples Daily News reports. • A brief history of the FCAT from State Impact Florida.

LIFE LESSONS: The principal of an Escambia middle school focuses his school on teaching students about values and belonging, the Pensacola News-Journal reports.

SHORTAGE: Duval schools need math and science teachers, the Florida Times-Union reports.

HOMELESSNESS: Bay schools enroll more than 800 homeless children, the Panama City News Herald reports.

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Florida education news: Arts, FCAT, online gradebooks and more

BUS SAFETY: Hillsborough's outgoing transportation supervisor says the district's buses are old and unreliable, the mechanics underqualified.

STEAM: Brevard schools add the arts to their science and math focus, Florida Today reports.

CONNECTIONS: Education outcomes appear closely connected to economic realities in Florida, Ocala Star-Banner editorial writer Brad Rogers writes.

FCAT: Some Polk educators are happy to see the FCAT go, the Ledger reports.

GRADES: Online gradebooks offer instant access but also added stress for students, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

TEXTBOOKS: School district leaders raise concerns about their ability to take over instructional materials adoption, the Gainesville Sun reports.

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Florida education news: Legislation, evaluations, testing and more

BUNCH OF BILLS: The Florida Legislature takes big steps on major education legislation. • Lawmakers should not force school districts to oversee textbook adoption, the Panama City News Herald editorializes. • Some major decisions await when the House and Senate return from their weeklong break, the Herald-Tribune reports.

COMMON SENSE: Pinellas schools seem to have found a more fair way to evaluate teacher performance than using VAM, the Times editorializes.

TESTING TIME: Some Tampa area families complain that FCAT testing overlaps with religious holidays. • Students prepare to take the FCAT one last time before the state replaces it, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

COME TO FLORIDA: The Pasco school district resumes out-of-state teacher recruiting after a five-year absence.

SCHOOL CLOSINGS: Hernando district officials explore shutting down some under-enrolled schools.

THE BIG DANCE: Cocoa High in Brevard tries to keep prom costs down so more students can afford to attend, Florida Today reports.

TEACHING TECHNOLOGY: A Boynton Beach middle school creates one of Florida's first "blended learning virtual" classrooms, the Sun-Sentinel reports. …

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Man who sued to desegregate Pinellas schools died

Charles Rutledge, who sued to desegregate Pinellas schools, died last month.

Rutledge and five other African-American families sued the Pinellas School Board in the federal case Leon W. Bradley Jr. vs. the Board of Public Instruction of Pinellas County.

Rutledge was 89 when he passed away on March. 21 after an illness. He was the last surviving plaintiff.

Andy Meacham, who writes obituaries for the Times, talked with Enrique Escarraz III, the lawyer who took over the case after James B. Sanderlin became a judge.

"It took some courage by the people who actually did that, because the attitude in the mid 1960s by the Southern white establishment toward black people was one of domination," Escarraz said. "There was a lot of violence toward blacks.

Read Andy's full story about Rutledge in today's paper or online here.

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Pinellas revises school arrests agreement

At Tuesday's school board workshop, Pinellas director of operations Michael Bessette is scheduled to present an updated agreement with area police precincts on student misconduct.

The goal of the plan, which has evolved over the last few months, is to cut down on the number of student arrests at schools by establishing what an arrestable offense is and what lesser options are available for disciplining students.

Bessette met with area police chiefs in January.

In March, a community group of churches called Faith and Action for Strength Together, or FAST, challenged Superintendent Mike Grego to do more with the collaborative agreement. They asked him to create a discipline matrix like that of Broward County, which lists every possible punishment for every possible infraction, down to the occurrence.

Grego said he "absolutely" would create such a matrix, to the applause of FAST. …

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Teachers at new Pinellas magnet schools get extra training

Pinellas has packed its Tuesday workshop agenda to the brim, so if you're invested in any issue from extended learning and algebra to the school system budget and student discipline, consider showing your face.

In the meantime, a quick thing caught the Gradebook's eye in documents about summer training: All teachers at Gulf Beaches and Kings Highway elementaries will receive special training over the summer.

As you may know, Gulf Beaches and Kings Highway were closed in 2009 but are reopening this fall as countywide magnet schools focused on technology. Principal candidates are currently being considered and could be announced next week.

Per workshop agenda documents, all teachers at the new schools will attend a "Technology Boot Camp" training session at Kings Highway in Clearwater. The date and time have yet to be set.

They'll of course receive lots of other professional development too, but this is the first glimpse of how Pinellas plans to train teachers for this new program.

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