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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Pinellas reaches out to parents with new app

The Pinellas County School District has been trying a variety of methods to reach out to parents. 

District officials have increased marketing efforts to alert families about the variety of school choice options available to them. They sent direct mailers to families. They started parent "academies," or classes focused on specific topics of interest, such as new academic standards and how to create a learning environment at home.

They also recently released a parent engagement app for mobile devices. The app cost about $5,000 to develop and is meant to give families another way to connect. With the app, which is a free download, parents can connect to parent portal and see how their student is doing in school. They also can access games and information about the school district.

Find out more about the app here.

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Florida education news: new magnet, technology and feast

MAGNETIC: Parents can apply to Pasco County's new magnet school on Monday. 

TECHNOLOGY: Florida schools struggle to keep up with students when it comes to technology.

FEAST: Long-time kindergarten teacher hosts a special feast as retirement approaches.

SAINT: Cynthia Moore, an immediate past Hernando County School Board member, is near saintly, says a Times columnist.

CHOICE: Nearly a third of students in the Duval County School District chose to attend a school other than the one they were zoned for, reports the Florida Times-Union.

ENVIRO: An elementary school in Boyton Beach applies environmental lessons to its building, reports the Sun Sentinel. (Pay wall.)

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Happy Thanksgiving!


The Gradebook is taking today off. We wish everyone a happy holiday with family and friends. 

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Pinellas is closer to naming a communications director

Pinellas County Schools is expected to name a new communications director in December.

The job has been open since mid-August, when Donna Winchester left the school district to take a similar post at the University of Florida. The School Board agreed to downgrade the requirements for the position in September, apparently to attract a larger pool of candidates. Ron Ciranna, head of human resources, said the district received about 16 applicants for the position. Four candidates were interviewed in the first round, followed by three in the final round.

He expects superintendent Mike Grego to make a recommendation to fill the job at the Dec. 9 meeting. (That's the last board meeting of the year.)

Winchester had worked at the school district since 2009, after about a decade at the Times. She left to become the director of communications for UF, leading a couple major initiatives. 

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Former Pasco principal faces state sanctions

Former Connerton Elementary School principal Anna Falcone avoided major penalties from the Pasco School Board in 2013, when it was poised to fire her for insubordination.

She still faces possible disciplinary action from the Florida Education Practices Commission, though.

Education commissioner Pam Stewart recently found Falcone "guilty of personal conduct which seriously reduces effectiveness as an employee of the school board." Stewart referred the case to the EPC for review and sanctions that could range from a reprimand to permanent revocation of her state certification. See the charging document here.

Superintendent Kurt Browning recommended Falcone for dismissal after learning she had repeatedly attempted to get confidential employee climate survey information, even after warnings to stop. Falcone denied wrongdoing. Through negotiations, she reached a deal in which the district agreed not to try to have her certificate revoked or suspended.

The district did, however, submit its investigation findings to the state Department of Education, as required by law. It will be up to the EPC to decide how to proceed with Falcone.

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Florida education news: guns, sex ring and grade fixing

GUN DEBATE: The FSU shooting has revived a debate about whether guns should be allowed on campus. 

FRIENDSHIP: A high school club helps students with disabilities form friendships.

SEX RING: Teenagers were arrested for setting up a prostitution ring at Sarasota High School, according to the Herald-Tribune. More from WTSP.

GRADE FIXING: District officials say it was improper for Miramar High School to fix grades for football players, according to the Sun Sentinel. (Pay wall.)

SCIENCE PROBLEMS: Miami-Dade students solve problems with science and shoes, according to the Miami Herald.

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Discovery nights happening now until January in Pinellas

With the application period for special programs coming up in January, schools in Pinellas County have started holding "discovery nights" to give parents and students more information about magnet and fundamental schools. School tours also have started. 

The Pinellas County school system has more than 60 choice programs total for students in elementary, middle and high school. Not all of the programs are available to every student, of course. Some are limited by geography. Others have special entrance requirements. The district opened several new programs this year, including two technology magnet elementary schools and a middle school engineering program. It also has new programs slated to open for the 2015/16 school year. 

Parents and students who are interested in learning more about a particular program should schedule a school tour and attend a discovery night. 

Find more information about school programs and discovery nights here. …

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Apply for Pasco's first magnet school starting on Dec. 1

After lengthy preparations, the Pasco County school district is ready to begin receiving applications for its first magnet school, beginning on Dec. 1.

Sanders Memorial Elementary STEAM Magnet School, with a focus on science and technology, will open in August for children in kindergarten through fifth grade. It is built for 762 students.

Admission will be based on a lottery system, and not on a first-come, first-served basis. So it doesn't matter when a family submits its application, so long as it arrives by the Jan. 15 deadline. The applications will be accepted online only, and will be available on the district website.

Families living in the attendance zones for Oakstead and Connerton elementary schools will get added weight in the lottery, to help ease crowding at those campuses. Children of Sanders employees also will receive preference. …

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Florida education news: Campus life, school security, student calendar and more

CAMPUS LIFE: Eckerd College president Donald Eastman III takes some heat for suggesting that students abstain from casual sex and drink less alcohol as a way to stem sexual abuse.

SOLD: Corinthian Colleges has sold all its Florida campuses, the Tampa Bay Business Journal reports.

SECURITY: Manatee school officials review the Attorney General's opinion that says the district may hire armed campus guards who are not law enforcement officers, the Bradenton Herald reports. • A Sarasota lawmaker tries again to pass legislation allowing some school employees to carry concealed weapons, the News Service of Florida reports.

STUDENT CALENDAR: The St. Johns school district grapples with setting its semesters and vacations in the face of a late Labor Day in 2015, the St. Augustine Record reports.

WRONGED: A former Palm Beach teacher receives back pay and damages after a judge found her district did not provide her proper support before firing her, the Sun-Sentinel reports. 

CLIMATE SURVEY: The Marion school district gets a state report detailing its disconnect with employees, the Ocala Star-Banner reports. …

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Shorecrest Prep names new head of middle school

Shorecrest Preparatory School has announced that the assistant head of its middle school will take the top spot in July following Jane Morelli Johnson's retirement.

Jonathan Davis, currently the assistant administrator, will become head of Shorecrest Middle School effective July 1. He has been in the assistant head position since 2006. Johnson is retiring at the end of this school year. Shorecrest's middle school has about 315 students enrolled in grades fifth through eight. There are about 32 faculty members. 

Mike Murphy, headmaster of the private school, said in a statement that Davis "embodies the perfect blend of personal and professional skills to support our middle school students, their parents, the faculty and the school. We look forward to seeing him take on the new role."

Davis has a bachelor's degree in history and a master's degree in teaching, both from Washington University in St. Louis. He started working at Shorecrest in 2003; he began as an eighth grade English teacher and soccer coach.

Shorecrest is a private college preparatory school in St. Petersburg with about 975 students total.

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Florida school districts may hire armed guards, AG office determines

The Hillsborough school district has had a security office with armed employees for years. When the Manatee school district sought to hire armed guards, too, red flags flew.

Critics pointed to Florida statute 790.115, which stated that people who are not law enforcement officers may not have weapons at schools. 

Manatee district lawyers turned to the Florida Attorney General's Office for guidance. (See the district's questions and concerns leading to the request here.) 

The AG's opinion, issued Friday, came back squarely on the district's side, stating: "Accordingly, it is my opinion that a school district may exercise its home rule authority to determine whether the use of armed security guards may be "in support of an approved school-sanctioned activity."" Read the full opinion here.

Board attorney Mitchell Teitelbaum called the opinion "extremely thorough and very decisive" in a letter to his board members, and said it would now be up to them to decide whether to hire a security firm as they had intended. He further noted that the AGO "is one of first impression and impacts this district as well as other school districts throughout the state on this very sensitive issue." …

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Florida education news: Charter schools, testing, free meals and more

CHARTER SCHOOLS: A rise in Florida charter school enrollment continues to concern school district officials.

TESTING: Florida's new state accountability test draws questions from parents, State Impact Florida reports. • The Brevard School Board pushes a petition calling for changes to state testing, Florida Today reports.

FREE FOOD: Volusia schools will expand their after-school meal program, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

EXTRA HELP: The St. Johns school district works to provide assistance to caregivers of homeless students, the St. Augustine Record reports.

GRAD RATES: Four Florida historically-black colleges seek ways to help more students graduate, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

WHISTLEBLOWER: A former Manatee school employee who claimed she was retaliated against after complaining about inappropriate behavior by a colleague (since verified) has reached a settlement with the district, the Bradenton Herald reports.

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Florida education news: Teacher discipline, evaluations, charter schools and more

TEACHER DISCIPLINE: The Hillsborough school district looks into whether to dismiss a teacher who has a checkered past but has so far kept his job.

EVALUATIONS: The Orange school district will not use students' state test results to judge teacher performance for two more years, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Florida districts get more authority to review charter applicants' past performance when determining whether to approve new schools, the Naples Daily News reports.

MISSING: The Palm Beach school district can't find more than $350,000 worth of inventory, the Palm Beach Post reports.

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Florida education news: Bullying, Common Core, middle schools and more

BULLYING: A new report says Florida schools don't adequately protect LGBT students, WGCU reports.

COMMON CORE: Former Florida governor Jeb Bush keeps fighting for the controversial standards, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

MIDDLE GRADES: Duval officials prepare to launch an overhaul of their middle schools, the Florida Times-Union reports.

SECURITY: The Florida attorney general says it's okay for the Manatee school district to hire armed guards, WTSP reports.

TESTING: Brevard parents circulate a petition calling for changes to the state's testing rules, Florida Today reports.

GROWTH: Enrollment unexpectedly surpasses 100,000 in Polk schools, the Ledger reports.

STUDENT TRANSPORTATION: Half of Lee school bus drivers have at least one traffic ticket, some many more, the Fort Myers News-Press reports.

SUPERVISION: An Orange high school teacher says she had no choice but to leave a disabled student behind during a fire drill, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

LABOR NEWS: Pensacola State College faculty vote no confidence in their campus president, the Pensacola News-Journal reports. …

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Let the legislation begin: Florida lawmakers file several education bills

The elections are over. The leadership is chosen.

With committee meetings just weeks away, Florida lawmakers have begun to put forth their proposals for another session. As in past years, several focus on education.

Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Jacksonville, hits on the high profile issue of testing with his SB 100, in which he aims to force school districts to do what many of them already are doing voluntarily -- scale back their assessment days. His proposal, though, is very specific:

"A school district may not schedule more than 10 school days in a school year to administer all local assessments and statewide, standardized assessments required under this section. If more than 10 school days are needed to administer such assessments, the school district must approve the number of additional days." …

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