Principals will be named for Bay Crest, Bing and Kenly elementary schools when the Hillsborough County School Board meets on March 18, after spring break.
The board will also vote on a replacement for Cathy Valdes, who ran the facilities department until she was promoted to deputy superintendent.
Member April Griffin has asked for a board discussion on transportation. And the agenda includes a discussion about the new requirement that senior staff file financial disclosure statements.Full Story
If it seems a lot of eyes are on transportation and exceptional student education in Hillsborough County, they are.
Bus driver trainers are alleging they're told to hide mistakes. Critics say the district did not do what it promised to make special-needs students safer.
While investigations are ongoing, Superintendent MaryEllen Elia told the School Board Friday her staff will issue a comprehensive report on both complex issues.
It will include:
* An interim report by School Bus Consultants, which was hired for $38,500 to assess the transportation department and get the district started in buying new buses.
* Results of the Office of Professional Standards' investigation into allegations by four trainers, who say they're asked not to document mistakes that could endanger children. They've raised other safety issues in the department as well.
* Feedback from eight bus driver focus group sessions that were scheduled this week and the week after Spring Break. …Full Story
Responding to questions from the School Board, Hillsborough superintendent MaryEllen Elia provided statistics on the eve of Spring Break that show students are getting more psychological services, support workers are being trained and disciplinary actions are becoming fewer.
First, psychological services: Elia's report says the ratio of psychologists to students was 1-to-1,222 in the 2007-2008 school year before the district adopted austerity measures to avoid teacher layoffs in the recession. Today it's 1-to-1,082 students. Behavior coaches, increased behavioral consultations and neuro-psychological assessments have been added, Elia wrote in a report distributed to the board on Friday.
Training for support employees is wide-ranging, with more than 4,000 courses completed since the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year. Dozens of courses include workplace English, resume and computer skills, diversity awareness, dealing with complaints, public speaking and two degree programs for paraprofessionals. …Full Story
The House and the Senate would agree on the proposed expansion of the school voucher program, were it not for one sticking point.
Senate President Don Gaetz is insisting that children who receive the private-school scholarships take the statewide assessments (or something similar). Gaetz also wants the private schools held accountable for the results.
But House leaders say that kind of testing provision is unnecessary. They point out that scholarship students are already required to take some form of standardized test, though the statewide assessment is not mandated.
This debate goes back to 2008, when Gaetz was sponsoring legislation to expand the voucher program. His original Senate bill would have encouraged participating private schools to have their scholarship students take the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests. But the House stripped the language out of its proposal, ultimately forcing the Senate to go along.
Flash forward to 2014. …Full Story
For $38,500, School Bus Consultants is supposed to take a look under the hood, so to speak, at the Hillsborough County school district's transportation department.
But just where they should look and who they can talk to are now up for debate.
There is talk, among some members of the School Board, that top brass in the department are leading the consultant around.
And there is concern, on the part of Superintendent MaryEllen Elia, that some board members are bending consultant Tom Platt's ear.
Enough, Elia is telling Platt and the board.
"Your report is to be prepared, and the information you determine to be necessary accumulated, based on the independent exercise of your professional judgment, without interference as to methods, process or substance," Elia wrote in a letter Thursday to Platt.
"You are not to take any information from, or speak to, any person because of an instruction, directive or demand by any District administrator, District employee or other representative of the District, the School Board or any individual member or members of the Board." …Full Story
Is Pinellas arresting too many children in schools?
That's the charge of Faith and Action for Strength Together, or FAST, a community group that will meet with Superintendent Mike Grego and school board meetings Monday evening.
Christina Chin, a staff member for FAST, says 500 people will attend the informal 7 p.m. summit at St. Catherine of Siena in Clearwater. FAST is a network of 38 congregations throughout Pinellas.
The Times has reported that Pinellas is taking a closer look at arrests in schools. In January, school staff met with the Pinellas sheriff and the heads of all the local police municipalities to consider lesser steps that can be taken before an arrest is made. About 20 percent of arrests on school grounds are for disruption, for example.
Read the full memo from FAST after the jump:
Florida education commissioner Pam Stewart recently had some tough words for critics of Florida's testing of students with profound disabilities. Her defense of the program, though, has yielded some equally tough responses.
Polk County teacher Will Austin, for one, penned a pointed letter to the commisisoner, questioning her philosophy.
"I found insulting your false dichotomy between those who want a new method of assessment on the one hand, and some fictitious group who want to return to pre-IDEA conditions for students like mine," wrote Austin, who teaches some of the students in the Florida Education Association's video on the issue. "Honestly, Ms. Stewart, who on Earth would advocate for that? Rather than sending out letters containing such melodrama, I ask you, please, to hear, listen to, and ultimately understand your teachers. It could make all the difference in the world for our state."
He challenged the notion that teachers are seeking to avoid responsibility. …Full Story
ETHICS QUESTION: A Hernando resident files an ethics complaint against School Board member John Sweeney over the handling of a grade change for Sweeney's son.
OOPS: Pasco finance officials discover the district has been paying a streetlight fee to the city of New Port Richey in error.
NEVERMIND: Charter Schools USA backs off its plan for a school at MacDill Air Force Base, for now.
SHOP AND SOLVE: Children at Hernando's Westside Elementary practice real-life math during a trip to Winn-Dixie.
NO CONFIDENCE: Florida should toss its VAM system and let schools devise evaluation models that more accurately reflect what happens in classrooms, the Times editorializes. • The evaluations are but one illustration of Florida lawmakers' attack on public education, the Ledger editorializes.
BAD TRADE? Health advocates question a Florida bill that would allow high school students to drop a P.E. credit requirement if they take a technology course instead, the Orlando Sentinel reports. …Full Story
Sen. John Thrasher is aware of and slightly annoyed by the buzz surrounding the rumors that he is the front-runner to replace outgoing Florida State University President Eric Barron. He blames it on friends in Tallahassee who know his affinity for FSU, but says he is not behind the not-so-quiet campaign.
"I can't control what they're doing," Thrasher said today. "I can control what I'm doing." He says his focus is the legislative session, which began this week, and continuing to work to get Gov. Rick Scott re-elected as his campaign chairman.
Thrasher admits to caring deeply about FSU and trying hard to improve the school over his many years as a lawmaker and lobbyist. But the 70-year-old is not saying whether he wants to become FSU's next president, though many of his friends seem to think he will apply and is a shoo-in for the job.
In fact, Thrasher says he has not sought advice from anyone about the job or what it would mean for his Senate career. The St. Augustine Republican's current term runs through November, and he is up for re-election.
Read more on The Buzz.Full Story
The House Finance and Tax Subcommittee on Thursday gave its approval to the proposed expansion of the state school voucher program.
The bill will likely cruise through the House. But is a showdown with the Senate looming?
Senate President Don Gaetz has said the proposal won't pass in his chamber unless lawmakers require scholarship students to take the state tests.
The House proposal makes no mention of the assessments. And after Thursday's meeting, Subcommittee Chairman Ritch Workman said he had no intention of adding that language to the bill.
"I don't think it's necessary," Workman said.
Florida's opportunity scholarship program provides private-school scholarships to about 60,000 low-income students. The program is funded by businesses, which receive dollar-for-dollar corporate tax credits for their contributions.
Lawmakers are considering increasing the cap on tax credits by $30 million over each of the next four years. The move would accommodate an additional 50,000 children. …Full Story
Florida's population has been growing at a clip of 3.75 percent per year since 2010. So it's no real surprise that its public school enrollment also is on the rise.
A new Office of Economic and Demographic Research estimate shows that enrollment, at 2,698,800 in the most recent statewide count, is forecast to rise to 2,724,486 next academic year and to 2,736,530 by 2018-19.
But not all districts will see that rising tide.
Locally, Hillsborough and Pasco counties will see their numbers increase steadily. Hillsborough, already the nation's eighth largest district, is projected to have 205,418 students by 2019, up from its current 199,639. Only Miami-Dade and Broward have larger student populations.
Pinellas and Hernando counties, by contrast, are expected to see declines. Pinellas has been shrinking for years, and will generally keep with that trend except for a small single-year blip upward, the report indicates. Hernando, meanwhile, is estimated to slide from its current 21,796 to 20,463 over five years. …Full Story
Pop-Tarts could be an earlier winner in this year's legislative session.
The House Education Committee on Thursday gave its support to the so-called pop-tart bill, which would prevent children from being disciplined for playing with simulated weapons in school.
The bill offers special protection for "brandishing a partially consumed pastry or other food."
Why do Pop-Tarts get a shout out?
The bill was inspired (at least partly) by a Maryland boy who was suspended from school for chewing his Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun.
Rep. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican and the sponsor of the bill, said the proposal is needed because many Florida schools have zero-tolerance policies that can be overly punitive.
Baxley is hoping the measure allows teachers and school administrators to use common sense when disciplining children.
NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer attended the meeting Thursday, but did not testify.
After the vote, she said the bill would let kids be kids.
Hammer said the NRA was not "driving" the issue in the Legislature. …Full Story
Spanish-only college information nights begin today in Hillsborough County. Counselors will assist parents and students with information about preparing for college, applying to college, financial aid and scholarships
Tonight's session begins at 6:30 p.m. at Lennard High School. A Spanish-language sessions, also beginning at 6:30 p.m., will be held March 20 at Strawberry Crest High School; and at 9:30 a.m. at Wharton High School.
The principal of Pasco County's River Ridge Middle School will be moving to Gulf Middle School this spring, as the perennially struggling Gulf begins planning for its school improvement efforts. The school has earned a C and two D's in the last three years of state grading, after having regularly received A's and B's.
Jason Joens, who has led River Ridge since 2006, will replace Stan Trapp, who has been Gulf's principal since 2003. Even though Trapp's retirement is not official until the end of the school year, assistant superintendent Amelia Larson said, Joens will begin the transition immediately. He will spend at least one day a week at Gulf preparing for next year's accountability efforts, she said.
Retirements also mean new principals for Veterans Elementary in Wesley Chapel, and Marchman Technical Education Center in New Port Richey. …Full Story
BIG MONEY: Moneyed interests funnel cash and influence into efforts to expand Florida's voucher program.
'CRUSHED': Parents say a Pasco home schooler took their money and failed to provide their children meaningful education or a usable diploma.
ON HER OWN: Hillsborough School Board member April Griffin plans her own public hearings on the district's troubled transportation system.
LACKING: Florida education commissioner Pam Stewart takes the wrong stance on the testing of students with profound disabilities, columnist John Romano writes. • Polk parents and teachers play a key role in the fight against this testing, the Ledger reports.
CLOSER LOOK: The Lake school district considers hiring an outside auditor to determine how it incorrectly reported class size information to the state, the Orlando Sentinel reports.
NO OUTSIDE ASSIST: Brevard schools should not expect state lawmakers to change taxing rules to help solve the district's financial woes, Florida Today reports.
ACCUSED: Bradenton police open an investigation into a middle school P.E. teacher accused of inappropriately touching students, the Bradenton Herald reports. …Full Story