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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

FSU trustees sign off on John Thrasher contract

Florida State University's Board of Trustees approved John Thrasher's contract today, including a $430,000 base salary.

Read more on The Buzz.


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Parent info sessions coming up in Pinellas

This is that time of year when we at the Gradebook start reminding you with annoying regularity about parent information sessions in the Pinellas County school system. Special programs, such as fundamental schools and magnets, are notoriously difficult to get into - and the application period is coming up in January - so here is your opportunity to get informed.

Three information sessions are scheduled in November:

6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Nov. 4, Boca Ciega High School, 924 58th St S, Gulfport

6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Nov. 6 at Countryside High, 3000 State Road 580, Clearwater

6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Nov. 10 at Pinellas Park High, 6305 118th Ave. N, Largo

There also are two information fairs in November to give families a chance to speak with school representatives. Those include:

6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Nov. 13, Gibbs High, 850 34th St S. St. Petersburg

9 a.m. to noon, Nov. 15, Pinellas Park High, 6305 118th Ave. N, Largo

Discovery nights, or open houses, also are coming up. Most are between mid-November and early January, just ahead of the application period. For more information, visit here.

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Florida education news: Grade retention, school grades, taxes and more

RETENTION: Pinellas elementary schools stop holding back struggling students in the youngest grades.

POLITICS AND STANDARDS: Anti-Common Core activists urge support of Gov. Rick Scott despite his limited moves to kill the standards.

ACCOUNTABILITY: Bay district leaders urge the state to skip school grading for a year, the Panama City News Herald reports.

TAXES: The Marion School Board asks voters to approve a local property tax to help support music, art, physical education and other underfunded areas, the Ocala Star-Banner reports. • Monroe voters will decide whether to extend a sales tax for school construction needs, the Keynoter reports. • A well-known television personality helps promote Orange County's school tax referendum, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

DOUBLING DOWN: Sarasota high schools begin offering longer, more intensive math instruction to students who have trouble mastering the state's new expectations, the Herald-Tribune reports.

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Florida education news: English language learners, charter schools, bus rides and more

ENGLISH-LANGUAGE LEARNERS: Activists push Florida leaders to create more fairness and accuracy in accountability for English-language learners. • First Coast Technical College offers more assistance to students still learning English, the St. Augustine Record reports.

CAMPAIGN FODDER: Hillsborough School Board candidate Terry Kemple tries to prove he's more conservative than his opponent Melissa Snivley.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Collier families have limited charter school options, the Naples Daily News reports. • Palm Beach charter schools have trouble maintaining a racial balance, the Palm Beach Post reports.

CHALLENGE: A Polk elementary school prepares students for advanced classwork with a new STEM program, the Ledger reports.

STUDENT BUSING: The Bay school district looks for ways to improve its student transportation system, the Panama City News Herald reports.

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On the School Board campaign trail in Hillsborough

With the elections just over two weeks away, school board primary candidates have been stating their preferences for those who made the runoff.

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Florida education news: Careers, charters, policies and more

CAREER PLANNING: Pinellas high school students gain access to a new program aimed at helping them focus their future.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: All but one applicant withdraw from consideration before the Sarasota School Board, the Herald-Tribune reports.

NEW RULES: The Manatee School Board begins updating all its rules and policies, the Bradenton Herald reports.

STOP AND WAIT: Brevard bus drivers call on other drivers to be more careful around stopped school buses, Florida Today reports.

UNPREPARED: Recent SAT scores suggest many Florida high school students aren't ready for college, the Florida Times-Union reports.

CLASS SIZE: Flagler and Volusia district officials say they've complied with state class size requirements this year, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

MISSING: The Lee school district can't find $99,000-worth of equipment, the Fort Myers News-Press reports.

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Former Zephyrhills High principal Van Gorden barred from teaching in Florida

Two years after resigning as Zephyrhills High School principal under a cloud of sexual harassment accusations, Steve Van Gorden has been banned from ever returning to any classroom or school in Florida.

The Florida Education Practices Commission on Friday released its formal order permanently revoking Van Gorden's teaching certificate, and further stating he may never seek another one.

The commission backed a recommendation by an administrative law judge, who found that Van Gorden — also a former city mayor and chamber of commerce leader — violated several sections of state law and rule with his actions. Van Gorden, who fought the charges, is currently selling real estate.

Read the EPC's order here.

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Hillsborough gets $7.5 million in anti-violence grants

Since early 2013 the White House has been making money available to reduce gun violence, and $7.5 million of it is on its way to Hillsborough County.

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Gov. Rick Scott calls on USDOE to hold hearing on ELL testing dispute

As promised, the state of Florida took its next step Friday in challenging the federal government's rejection of Florida's testing rules for English language learners.

Gov. Rick Scott sent a letter to U.S. education secretary Arne Duncan asking for a formal hearing before the Office of Administrative Law Judges over the federal position.

"Local decision making and control should always supersede the wisdom of federal bureaucrats when determining the best way to educate our children," Scott wrote. "This is especially true in Florida, where long-standing state policy is producing tremendous student success."

Florida lawmakers passed legislation in the spring saying that English language learner test results would not be included in state accountability measures until the students have had at least two years in a U.S. school. They have argued that student should have time to adapt to a new language before facing high stakes over content.

The federal government has argued that all students should count at all times.

Scott criticized the state's position in late August, and said he would pursue all available legal options if the USDOE did not budge within a month. This is that legal action. …

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Miami pastor receives honor from FEA -- after slamming the union's lawsuit

The statewide teachers union on Friday will honor Bishop Victor T. Curry with its Human and Civil Rights Leadership Award.

That's the same Bishop Victor T. Curry who last month blasted the union's lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the school voucher program.

Members of the Florida Education Association's Human and Civil Rights Committee said they chose Curry, an influential religious leader in Miami who also has a popular radio show, for his "unwavering dedication to the less fortunate, the overlooked and the disenfranchised."

"His involvement in local, state, and even national issues, that affect civil rights of so many have made a difference in the advancement of people, not just of color, but of all races and gender background," United Teachers of Dade President Fedrick Ingram said in a statement. "Bishop Curry believes in and stands up for what is right and fair for all people."

Last month, Curry decried the FEA's efforts to end the school voucher program in a letter to The Miami Herald. …

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Principals wanted for Pasco County schools

The Pasco County school district is looking for three people to lead schools it plans to open next fall.

Each school is under construction, and superintendent Kurt Browning has said he wants principals in place to help guide hiring and academic choices.

First up is Sanders Elementary School, which is slated to become Pasco's first magnet school. The application period for that top job ends this afternoon. With families set to begin applying for spots in the school before the year ends, the goal is to have an administration and teaching staff on board this fall.

Plans for Shady Hills and Quail Hollow elementary schools, meanwhile, are more stretched out. Those schools were closed for major renovations, and their students and staffs were reassigned to other nearby campuses. No major curriculum changes are expected, so the district will wait until the spring to hire principals to oversee the reopenings.

On Tuesday, though, the School Board is set to add the positions back to the district employee allocations, along with other key jobs such as assistant principal, bookkeeper and plant manager. Keep an eye on the district employment page if you're in the market.

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New, cheaper Florida prepaid tuition plans now available

Florida's lower-cost prepaid tuition plans went on sale this week, along with refunds to families who paid higher amounts over the past several years.

The price reduction comes as a result of efforts in Tallahassee to keep the cost of attending university more affordable for families. Lawmakers altered rules that had allowed for automatic yearly tuition increases.

Now, the program offers options that are as much as 50 percent less than in the past. It even has a plan that charges just $43 a month. Through Dec. 31, the program also is waiving the application fee for new registrations.

“This year’s Open Enrollment period is unlike any we have seen in recent years, and we encourage families to take advantage of these historically low prices,” chairman Duane Ottenstroer said ina release. “The affordable prices and new plan options provide Florida families with more opportunities to save for their children’s education. This is truly the best time to start saving.”

Prepaid Plan options include:

2-Year Florida College Plan: Covers tuition and most fees for 60 credit hours at a Florida College. …

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Florida education news: Priorities, snacks, incentives and more

PRIORITIES: Pasco superintendent Kurt Browning says he will refocus his district more tightly on its core mission and vision.

MAKING PLANS: The Pinellas Education Foundation unveils a new career development program for high school students.

CLASS SIZE: The Pinellas school district shouldn't play games with Florida's class size law, the Times editorializes.

COLLEGE COSTS: Florida families have several choices when it comes to paying for college, each with its pros and cons, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

HEALTHY EATING: New school nutrition rules have small effect on club fund raisers in north Florida schools, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports.

INCENTIVES: A study shows Hillsborough Community College students who were paid cash were more likely to complete remedial math courses, State Impact Florida reports.

TOO MANY STUDENTS: Florida Gulf Coast University looks to slow its growth, the Naples Daily News reports.

FAREWELL MESSAGE: A retiring Palm Beach School Board member blasts Florida lawmakers for damaging public education, the Palm Beach Post reports. …

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Pasco contract talks canceled, raising questions about raises before winter break

Pasco County teachers might not be getting a bump in pay in time for the holidays this year.

Representatives from the district and United School Employees of Pasco agreed to cancel a bargaining session scheduled for Thursday evening, to provide more time to prepare.

USEP negotiator Jim Ciadella requested the delay, saying the district's "extensive" financial proposal required more review. At the same time, he told the district, the union also is getting ready for a grievance hearing before the School Board.

That effort involved a Wednesday sit-down with district administrators, who said they are trying to reach a settlement even after superintendent Kurt Browning rejected the USEP's complaint about planning time. All that takes time away from putting together a response to the district's pay and benefits package, though.

District employee relations director Betsy Kuhn supported moving the negotiations to Oct. 23. She said she didn't think missing one date would jeopardize the ability to reach a deal.

But she did suggest that delay could make it tough to get whatever raises ultimately get approved into employees' hands before the holidays. …

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Voucher group flexes political muscle


School voucher supporters said they would get involved in Florida statehouse races this year -- and they are deliving on that promise.

Some evidence: this new mailer from the Florida Federation for Children supporting state Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami.

The education-themed mailer gives Fresen an A+ in three subjects: approving a record-high education budget, lowering college tuition costs and creating "more options" for parents (i.e. voucher programs and charter schools).

The Florida Federation for Children is a political communications organization that supports school choice. Its chairman is Tampa venture capitalist John Kirtley, who helped craft Florida's original voucher legislation in 2001. (Kirtley also chairs Step Up for Students, the non-profit organization that runs the state's largest voucher program.) …

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