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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Relocated Pasco middle school copes with moldy portable classrooms

Pasco County's Bayonet Point Middle School, considered but never proven to be a "sick school" as many teachers there contracted cancer over the years, closed down this fall for a complete renovation. 

Most of the students relocated to Fivay High School for the duration of the project.

The move has generated a new set of concerns, though, as three of the five portable classrooms that students and teachers were supposed to use were deemed unusable just days before the start of classes. The culprit: Mold and poor air quality.

Teachers had to move their classes to the media center, gym and other available spaces away from the high school classes. The portables aren't expected to be ready for another another week.

"They've been creative with where they're putting them," area superintendent Todd Cluff said. "It's a pretty crowded campus."

Parents got a letter explaining the situation on Tuesday.

The problem cropped up over the summer break.

"We were pushing extremely hard over the summer to get the portables moved," maintenance director Mark Fox explained. "They got split apart during the move." …

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Pasco West Zephyrhills Elementary to get new principal

Two weeks after learning it would lose its principal, West Zephyrhills Elementary School has a new one.

Five people applied for the post, and Charlene Tidd, the school's assistant principal, came out on top.

She has been recommended to take over the job, which came vacant after Wendy Lane transferred to Woodland Elementary.

Tidd, a Zephyrhills resident, has worked for Pasco schools since 1989. Her appointment goes to the School Board on Tuesday, and she would begin that day.

The district still has one more principal post to fill, at River Ridge High School. 

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How likely is it for Florida to move to a national test model?

Much has been made in recent days about comments Florida senators Don Gaetz and John Legg have made regarding the "Seminole Solution" to state testing -- that is, a switch from state to national exams for accountability.

Lawmakers look to ditch state exams, Politico Florida reported. Key lawmakers like idea of dumping state exams, the Orlando Sentinel added.

Advocates of testing reform celebrated such sensibility.

Legg cautioned against raising expectations too high. He said his Education Committee will have hearings to explore what it would take to turn this proposal into reality. But nothing is likely to happen soon.

"We are in year two of a three year contract. It is highly improbable for us to make any transition" while the agreement is in place, Legg, a Pasco County Republican, told the Gradebook. "We don't want our teachers to do three different assessments in three years."

Once that contract with AIR expires, Legg said, any testing firm can bid for the business. Whichever company gets the next deal will have to provide exams that adhere to Florida's standards. The 1981 Debra P. v Turlington case requires nothing less, Legg noted. …

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Florida education news: Growth, tutoring, testing and more

OVERFLOW: Manatee School Board members discuss how to handle growth in areas where schools are near or at capacity, the Bradenton Herald reports.

EXTRA HELP: A nonprofit organization offers free tutoring to students in a dozen schools in Lake, Sumter and Marion counties, the Daily Commercial reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: A Duval charter school closes its doors amid financial problems and a poor graduation rate, the Florida Times-Union reports.

TESTING: Florida education commissioner Pam Stewart won't reveal her plans if a study deems the Florida Standards Assessments invalid, Politico Florida reports.

WHAT NOT TO WEAR: The Palm Beach School Board looks into a dress code for parent volunteers, the Palm Beach Post reports.

REROUTED: Palm Beach schools revamp their bus routes after nearly two weeks of transportation troubles, the Palm Beach Post reports.

LAWSUITS: A former Orange teacher sues the district claiming she was fired for her association with black people, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

ON THE TRAIL: Some Pensacola area high school students get to question Jeb Bush at a town hall, the Pensacola News-Journal reports. …

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Pinellas touts its career academies

Two days after the kickoff of a new school year, the Pinellas Education Foundation and officials from the Pinellas County school district Wednesday celebrated advances in the county’s career and technical education.

The three-pronged event held in Largo recognized five high schools as "academies of distinction," celebrated the school district’s partnership with Ford Motors’ Next Generation Learning, and focused on superintendent Michael Grego’s report on career and technical education.

“There’s been some bad press recently,” said foundation chairwoman Cathy Collins. “We all know because we’re intimately involved with the educational process that there is a lot of good going on and we are making material difference, and you will hear about that today.”

U.S. Rep. David Jolly, sporting a pair of crutches, spoke briefly. He joked that his injury was caused by wrestling House Speaker John Boehner and poked at his colleagues in Tallahassee, saying they made Washington, D.C., look functional. …

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Pasco area superintendent to take early retirement

Beth Brown's past 24 years working in Pasco County school have been, in her own word, "amazing."

But "the rest of my life beckons," Brown said.

So she has put in for early retirement, effective Oct. 1. She told superintendent Kurt Browning on Monday, letting Facebook friends know on Tuesday.

Brown praised Browning and his team as "fantastic," and said she would in some ways love to stay and continue the "right, good work" they are doing. Family commitments are rising, though, and she wants to be able to dedicate her time.

"For the next three months, I'm not going to do anything but have fun, enjoy family and friends," she said. "I have no plans to work for anybody."

If retirement gets boring, Brown added with a laugh, "I can always come back and do expulsion hearings for the district, or mentor new principals."

Under four superintendents, Brown, 56, has worked as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, middle schools supervisor, learning community executive director and area superintendent. She helped create the Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce and open John Long Middle School, among other things.

Her last day in the office will be Sept. 25.

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Florida Board of Education members want another look at class size rules

Discussing legislative priorities for the coming session, some Florida Board of Education members renewed their desire to see the 2002 class size amendment scaled back in its application.

Calling the law "foolish," board member Gary Chartrand said he would urge lawmakers to take steps to make it easier for schools to measure class size as a school-wide average rather than a classroom count. He suggested a measure to apply penalties at the school average level -- simiilar to a bill that did not make its way through the spring 2015 session.

"I've been talking about this since I came on the board four years ago," Chartrand said. "I want to make sure I'm vocal on my issue."

He said the board could add the idea to its legislative priority list, or deal with the item individually. Other board members said they would like more information.

"I want to be very clear, at this moment we are all in agreement that we'd like to hear more," chairwoman Marva Johnson said.

The board asked staff to bring more details to its next meeting in September. …

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Florida needs to refocus its approach to digital classrooms, Board of Education member says

Florida Board of Education vice chairman John Padget has not hidden his enthusiasm for giving school children more access to classroom technology and the classes that support it.

During a board meeting Wednesday, Padget called upon the Department of Education to revise its approach to digital classrooms, for which leaders have requested $20 million more in state funding.

The approach should break down into three categories, he suggested. First, there's the hardware needs that have been talked about for years. Next would come the infusion of technology into lessons.

"The time has come for category 3, coding and programming to create the programs we are going to need," Padget said. "That is where we are behind."

He noted that of 360,000 juniors and seniors in Florida high schools, just 925 passed an AP computer science exam last year. Meanwhile, Florida has more than 22,000 open computer science jobs.

There's not a direct pipeline from class to workplace, he acknowledged. But the state can encourage the move in that direction, Padget said, by supporting incentives for industry certificate programs in such disciplines, as well as teacher training for the areas. …

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Florida education news: Rainy day funds, cyber attacks, paychecks and more

FAILURE FACEOFF: Some Pinellas parents criticize the School Board over the fate of five struggling south St. Petersburg elementary schools, leaving board members to defend the district.

FINANCES: Hillsborough School Board members and administrators knew of the district's dwindling reserves long before discussing them publicly.

BACK TO SCHOOL: Just under 200,000 students return to classes in Hillsborough County.

COMMUNITY SCHOOLS: Leon County leaders explore the options of creating a community school, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

TESTING: There's still no information about the "cyber attack" on Florida's testing system during the spring, the AP reports. • Florida's ACT scores improve but continue to lag nationally, the Orlando Sentinel reports. • The "Seminole Solution" gains more support, News 13 reports.

AUDITS: A recent audit reveals record keeping problems in Miami-Dade school construction contracting, the Miami Herald reports. …

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Florida Board of Education to allow college four-year degrees again

High school graduates seeking less expensive higher education options will soon have more degree options within the Florida college system.

This week, the Florida Board of Education will consider approval of five new bachelor's degree programs:

o Tallahassee Community College - Bachelor of Science in Nursing
o Polk State College - Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education with a STEM focus; Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education
o Seminole State College - Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences
o Santa Fe College - Bachelor of Science in Information Systems Technology

These proposals mark the first time in more than a year that the board will act on four-year programs within the colleges. Lawmakers had placed a moratorium on new offerings in 2014, citing mission creep of the colleges into university territory.

Efforts to extend the ban did not succeed, however, opening the door to these new proposals. More are likely to follow. But lawmakers are expected to continue talking about how to distinguish colleges from universities into the future.

See the proposals here. The board meets at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

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Pasco County's back-to-school surprises, by the numbers

Pasco school district planners weren't too shocked to see the county's highest enrollment growth since 2007 when students returned to classes Monday.

Enrollment stood at 66,059, up 1,579 from the first day a year earlier. The last time the district saw that kind of boom was pre-recession. (In 2011, the district actually lost enrollment.) But this year, officials had anticipated a rise of about 1,400, anyway.

Within that overall number came some surprises. Among them:

• Gulf Middle School, which last year changed leadership and direction, grew by 102 students, while it was projected to decrease by 43.

• Pine View Middle School, which began changing programs this year, decreased by 100 students, while it was expected to lose 38.

• Wiregrass High, the district's most crowded school now on a 10-period day, increased by 10 students, while it was projected to grow by 118.

Also of note, it was the district's elementary, high and charter schools that pushed this year's upward number, with growth of 672, 526 and 441 students, respectively. Middle schools actually shrank by seven students. …

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Florida education news: Broken promises, reassignments, state testing and more

FAILED: A leading civic group that once sued the Pinellas school district accuses the district of breaking promises to the county's black children.

REASSIGNED: About 100 east Tampa students who had been zoned to a struggling Brandon middle school are given seats in magnet schools closer to home.

OPENING REMARKS: Hillsborough superintendent Jeff Eakins touches on changes he wants to make as the new school year opens.

PREP TIME: Many Pasco students spent the summer preparing for classes to begin.

BACK TO SCHOOL: In Manatee (Bradenton Herald), Lake (Daily Commercial), Miami-Dade and Broward (Miami Herald), Duval (Florida Times-Union), Volusia (Daytona Beach News-Journal), Sarasota (Herald-Tribune)

CHARTER SCHOOLS: The Brevard School Board considers closing a local charter school over financial concerns, Florida Today reports.

TESTING: Two key lawmakers talk about moving Florida to a national standardized test, Politico Florida reports.

BUSING: Palm Beach schools still have bus route woes a week after classes resume, the Palm Beach Post reports.

LABOR NEWS: Santa Rosa teacher and district representatives again cannot reach a contract deal, the Pensacola News-Journal reports. …

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Florida Board of Education to consider small per-student increase in its budget request

Granted, it's just a first draft of Florida's eventual education budget for 2016-17.

But the Florida Board of Education gets attention by being the first out of the gates with its $20.2 billion spending proposal for the coming academic year. Already, its recommendations aren't winning much acclaim.

Members of the state's school finance officers group noted that the Legislative Budget proposal would provide a $104.33 increase, or 1.47 percent, in per student funding, and $50 million more, or 0.46 percent, in state revenue for schools. See page 130 of this summary report for key details.

"I expected better given Florida's slow, but steady, economic recovery and our state's dismal national ranking in funding per student (42nd based on 2013 U.S. Census)," Palm Beach chief operating officer Mike Burke wrote to colleagues. "It's apparent the Finance Council's recommendations were not embraced and carry little weight in the state budget process. Please share these concerns with whomever you deem appropriate." …

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Pasco superintendent favors Seminole's testing proposal for Florida

Pasco schools superintendent Kurt Browning said Monday he'd welcome a move to Seminole County's proposed solution to Florida's testing woes.

"Quite honestly, I like the 'Seminole Solution'," Browning said, while greeting students and parents entering Sanders Memorial Elementary for the first day of classes.

Whether a computer or paper-pencil option, the superintendent said, a switch to a nationally known and accepted test could provide a useful snapshot of how children, teachers and schools are performing, while also returning schools to their primary purpose.

"You're not taking up ... a huge amount of the testing window," Browning said of the one-day SAT exam. "If we could regain the classroom time and we could give the SAT at the end of the year, I think 90 percent of our testing problems would go away."

He has yet to propose a resolution for the School Board to consider.

Pasco suffered several days of delayed or interrupted computer testing during the spring Florida Standards Assessment administration. Noting that a validity study of the FSA is due at week's end, Browning remained wary of what the results would say and how the public will interpret them. …

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Florida education news: Evaluations, discipline, testing and more

LOOKING FORWARD: Pinellas school district leaders tell a skeptical crowd in St. Petersburg that the district is working to fix their area's perennially failing schools.

EVALUATIONS: Broward schools rate only 5 percent of teachers as "highly effective," compared to 43 percent in Palm Beach, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

DISCIPLINE: The Miami-Dade school district rolls out a new approach to student discipline, the Miami Herald reports.

ACHIEVEMENT GAPS: Florida does better than Massachusetts in educating minority students, the Boston Globe reports.

BACK TO SCHOOL: Sarasota and Manatee schools face a variety of issues as students return to classes, the Herald-Tribune reports.

TESTING: Santa Rosa district leaders expect to seek reimbursement for expenses related to spring testing problems, the Pensacola News-Journal reports. • A poll shows Americans think schools put too much emphasis on testing, the Washington Post reports. • Criticism and doubt mount as Florida prepares for the release of a testing validity study, Politico Florida reports.

SUCCESS: Southwest Florida school and community members explore what success in education means to them, the Fort Myers News-Press reports. …

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