Make us your home page


Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Hillsborough board to tackle policies on Tuesday

With the kids back in school and Erika a memory, the Hillsborough County School Board will spend much of Tuesday at policy workshops.

The 9 a.m. sesion will cover a variety of topics including how to allow teachers to use social media without violating student confidentiality, the right way to name a new school or gymnasium, and the recurring issue of athletic transfers. Hillsborough policy considers a student who moves after the start of high school to be a transfer student. That student is expected to wait a year before playing a team sport, but he or she can get an exception after demonstrating to a committee that the transfer was for a good reason. The approved list of reasons includes marriage, a parent's military deployment, a district-approved transfer for school choice or to comply with an individual educational plan (IEP), or a "full and complete move" by the student's family. The idea is to prevent coaches from recruiting the strongest players from other schools, and the committee's decision is final, according to the policy under consideration.  …

Full Story

FAMU recruitment event is this week at Blake High

High school juniors and seniors can find out about scholarships to Florida A&M University this week.

The university will hold a scholarship and recruitment program Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Blake High School, 1701 North Boulevard in Tampa.

Numerous levels of scholarship assistance are available.

To attend Thursday's program, RSVP at 850-599-8183.

Full Story

Tampa area schools will open Monday

School districts around the Tampa Bay region will open for classes on Monday as scheduled.

Spokeswomen for each of the districts announced the decision Sunday afternoon. Each noted the dissipation of Tropical Storm Erika, which no longer poses a threat to the area.

Families should have been alerted to the news via social media, robo calls and other announcements.

Full Story

ICYMI: Florida education roundup, week of Aug. 23

Times file photo

The past week in Florida education found Pinellas district officials defending against accusations of creating Failure Factories, state Board of Education members calling for changes to class size rules, and parents and students continuing to press the testing opt-out message. Here's our roundup of the highlights. For a steady stream of Florida education news, keep visiting Gradebook and our revamped Education home page. If you'd like to receive this roundup in your email 12 hours before it publishes, send an email to jsolochek@tampabay.com

Top of the Times

How likely is it for Florida to move to a national test model?, Jeffrey S. Solochek
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. …

Full Story

Eckerd College rates among the top 10 'most zen schools'

People have always known about the relaxed vibe at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, but now it's confirmed. Hercampus.com, which bills itself as “the No. 1 global community for college women,” has ranked Eckerd as one of the nation's 10 “most zen schools.” Eckerd drew the No. 9 spot.

The website takes note of Eckerd's “amazing waterfront location” and the way it “promotes student health through fitness classes like yoga, pilates and tai chi, plentiful annual wellness education events and a financial incentive for students and faculty who register for local fitness events – think 5Ks and triathlons.”

Folks at the small liberal arts college make no bones about its reputation, sometimes referring to the school as “Camp Eckerd.” Nowhere is that feel more evident than during commencement week, when many students rise to accept their degrees in bare feet and the school holds its annual pet graduation. …

Full Story

How do you reach across the generational divide and not fall flat?

As schools opened across Florida this week, I was struck by a certain moment at Greco Middle School in Hillsborough County. Eighth grade history teacher Ryan Lynn was trying to connect with his students -- trying to build that classroom community, create relationships (the “Fourth R” of education) the way so many teachers are trained to do in the opening days of the school year.

“You guys are in eighth grade now,” he told them. “You need to be on fleek.” Okay, I had to look it up. On fleek -- it means on point or perfect, plus something to do with eyebrows that I find difficult to define. Way to go, Mr. Lynn. You bravely reached across the generational divide to light a spark with your students. And they rewarded you with … a mixed reaction. Some students laughed. Others stared back stone-faced. One boy looked down and muttered, “Please don’t do that again.” (I have been there, sir) …

Full Story

Cows to graze Pasco school district land while waiting for future campus

Times file photo

The Pasco County School Board bought 20 acres on U.S. 41 at Sunterra Drive less than a year ago, in anticipation of another population boom in Land O'Lakes.

A series of small housing developments in the area led officials to recommend banking the land, at a cost of $1.65 million, for a future elementary school. 

Since the purchase, the reopening of Sanders Memorial Elementary (5 miles to the south of the site) has eased the burden on Connerton Elementary (about 3 miles to the east of the site).

Now deputy superintendent Ray Gadd has advised School Board members that, "due to budget constraints and a slow-down in student growth, it is not anticipated that the elementary school will be developed here for several years."

So the administration has recommended the board lease out the land for agricultural purposes. The proposed contract, which goes to the board on Tuesday, would allow South Branch Ranch Inc. to use the land for livestock grazing and other agricultural purposes, without any permanent changes to the property.

The group would pay $400 a year. …

Full Story

Tampa area school districts wait on weather to make school closure announcements

Tropical Storm Erika tracking map, 11 a.m. Friday


Tropical Storm Erika tracking map, 11 a.m. Friday

As Tropical Storm Erika continues to waver along its path, it appears to take a more westward trajectory toward the Tampa Bay region.

Area school district officials have their eyes on the storm, but don't plan to decide whether to close schools until Erika's direction becomes more certain.

Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco district spokeswomen said that parents should not expect information until Sunday, unless the storm picks up pace and demands earlier attention.

"We're working with the emergency operations center and going to go with their direction," Hillsborough district spokeswoman Tanya Arja said. "By Sunday afternoon we will let parents know what is going on."

The Pinellas school district has posted a brief list of frequently asked questions for parents to refer to as they prepare for a possible storm. It makes clear that school closure remains "highly dependent upon the storm's forecast over the next 24-36 hours."

All districts plan to use multiple forms of communication, including social media, web sites, robo calls and public announcements to get the word out when a decision finally comes. …

Full Story

Florida testing validity study report to come next week

All of you waiting anxiously for Alpine Testing Solution's verdict on the Florida Standards Assessments validity will have to sweat it out a little longer. The firm, which had planned to submit its final report today (Friday), has requested and received a short extension.

"If we get it on Monday, then we'll make our announcement on Monday," Florida Department of Education spokeswoman Meghan Collins told the Gradebook. "They have until the 1st (of September) by law."

The study aims to examine six key areas of the state tests, including whether the questions aligned to Florida Standards and whether the administration was reliable. Reports of computer log-in problems, among other troubles, were widespread during the spring testing window, raising concerns across Florida about whether the results should be used for a variety of accountability measures. Those include teacher evaluations, school grades and student promotion, some of which have started to happen already. …

Full Story

Florida education news: T-shirts, testing, dress code and more

CHURCH AND STATE: Criticism rises as 2,000 Hillsborough teachers are given t-shirts advertising a local mega-church.

REMOVED: Hernando's school transportation director is pulled from duty while officials conduct an undisclosed investigation.

TESTING: Every day will have some testing occur in Miami-Dade schools, the Miami Herald reports.

DRESS CODE: The Palm Beach School Board considers telling school volunteers and staff how to dress, the Palm Beach Post reports.

NO SOLUTION: Efforts to fix Palm Beach's student busing problems fall flat, the Palm Beach Post reports.

INJURED: Sixteen Pensacola High students are hurt when a dump truck flips their school bus, the Pensacola News-Journal reports.

Full Story

Just a shirt?

Idlewild Baptist Church donated these spirit shirts at 21 schools. Teachers had the option of accepting and wearing them.

Idlewild Baptist Church donated these spirit shirts at 21 schools. Teachers had the option of accepting and wearing them.

You might read today's story about the Idlewild Baptist Church spirit shirt giveaway and say, it's just a shirt.

But sometimes it isn't.

A reader shared this green flyer that came home in a child's bookbag Thursday. At the family's request, we deleted the school name.

Are there more?

Call Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 if you are concerned.

Full Story

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." …

Full Story

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. 

Full Story

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. …

Full Story

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. …

Full Story