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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida education news: Opting out, guns on campus, furlough days and more

TESTING: A Brevard family of teachers discusses their decision to pull their children from state testing with Florida Today. (Video) • The author of a new book on testing talks about trends in Florida and nationally with State Impact Florida. • The Big Bend area legislative delegation includes changes to student testing as a key priority in the coming session, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

SAFETY: Florida lawmakers debate whether allowing guns on college campuses might deter future attacks, the Florida Times-Union reports.

STANDARDS: The move to Common Core has forced a change in the way teachers approach their job, the Palm Beach Post reports.

LABOR NEWS: Representatives for Santa Rosa teachers and the district battle over furlough days, the Pensacola News-Journal reports.

MATH CHALLENGE: The competitive math team at an Alachua high school targets area elementary and middle schools to get kids excited about math, the Gainesville Sun reports.

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Florida education news: Taxes, elected superintendents, test questions and more

TAXES: Hernando's School Board chairman says the board has a moral imperative to try again to secure an added local sales tax revenue for school improvements. • The Marion School Board puts together a citizen oversight committee to monitor spending of its new local property tax for education, the Ocala Star-Banner reports.

ELIA'S OUSTER: Frustration with Hillsborough superintendent MaryEllen Elia's operating style might have led to her undoing. • The Pensacola News-Journal looks into the pros and cons of electing vs. appointing superintendents.

NEW SCHOOLS: The Orange district announces plans for a new school in a neighborhood that lost its last community school decades ago, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

TESTING: Manatee teachers and administrators raise complaints about test questions provided by a state item bank for end-of-course exams tied to evaluations, the Bradenton Herald reports.

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Evaluations of Superintendent Elia tell some of the story

Shown: Board member Sally Harris, who voted yes for Elia's termination; Melissa Snively, who voted no; Susan Valdes, who voted yes; Doretha Edgecomb, who voted no; and board attorney Jim Porter

Shown: Board member Sally Harris, who voted yes for Elia's termination; Melissa Snively, who voted no; Susan Valdes, who voted yes; Doretha Edgecomb, who voted no; and board attorney Jim Porter

People are stunned by the Hillsborough County School Board's 4-3 vote this week to buy out the contract of Superintendent MaryEllen Elia. As they terminated her contract without cause, members have been careful not to disparage Elia publicly for fear of being sued.

So what is the back story? And why did newcomer Sally Harris vote to fire Elia?

Harris spoke to Tampa Bay Times columnist Sue Carlton, who gave this report.

The others have written volumes about Elia over the years in her annual evaluations.

Here are the full board comments for 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Here are some quick excerpts: …

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Florida education news: School choice, student discipline, superintendent ousters and more

SCHOOL CHOICE: Florida school districts offer more education options for families to compete with outside alternatives.

STUDENT VOICES: A Hillsborough committee focusing on minority student discipline finally listens to students about their views.

'OUR SYSTEM IS BROKEN': Hillsborough School Board member Sally Harris says she loves MaryEllen Elia, whom she called an icon, but voted to oust her because 'she forgot how to keep the communication open.' • The School Board now needs to define its way forward, the Times editorializes.

EARLY OUT: Volusia superintendent Margaret Smith, under fire from some board members, decides to retire two years earlier than planned, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

EDUCATION TALK: Jeb Bush will hold an education summit in Tallahassee, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

TESTING: Brevard school district leaders say parents and students have no venue to opt out of state tests, Florida Today reports.

NEW SCHOOLS: Lee district officials examine whether to put a new high school in Bonita Springs, the Naples Daily News reports.

CLEAN CAMPUS: Supporters defend a Miami high school accused of having poor conditions, the Miami Herald reports. …

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Olenick named to state Board of Education

Michael-OlenickGov. Rick Scott has appointed Michael Olenick to the state Board of Education.

Olenick, 62, is a former general counsel for the state Department of Education. He currently chairs the Florida Virtual School Board of Trustees.

"I know Michael shares our goal of making sure all of our students succeed in the classroom, and I am pleased to appoint him to the State Board of Education today," Scott said in a statement.

Olenick is vice president of corporate affairs and chief compliance officer of The Morganti Group, an international construction company. A graduate of Nova Southeastern School of Law, he previously served as assistant state attorney for Broward and St. Lucie counties, as well as Martin County attorney.

He will replace Ada Armas, a Miami-Dade physician who resigned from the education board to spend more time with her family. 

His term ends December 31, 2016.

The appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

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Scott prioritizes PLSA program in proposed budget

Gov. Rick Scott has released several key details of his proposed education budget, including his desire to boost the overall K-12 education budget to $19.75 billion.

His latest education-related recommendation: $5 million for the Personal Learning Scholarship Account program.

The new program provides scholarships worth $10,000 or more to children with profound special needs. The money can be applied toward private school tuition, tutoring, educational materials and therapy.

"Every individual should have the opportunity to get a great job and education regardless of the challenges they may face, and that is why we are making this funding a priority," Scott said in a statement.

Last week, Scott said he wanted to see $100 million set aside for charter-school construction and maintenance.

Will his budget prioritize other aspects of school choice? We'll see when he rolls out his entire proposal later this month.

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Appellate court rejects Florida Education Association challenge of teacher evaluation law

Florida's First District Court of Appeal has rejected the Florida Education Association's lawsuit claiming SB 736 -- the 2011 law changing teachers' contracts, pay and evaluations -- unconstitutionally violated their collective bargaining rights

"Appellants have not established that the legislature delegated core legislative authority to the Board of Education and intended to violate the separation of powers requirement of Article II, section 3 of the Florida Constitution," the court majority wrote in a decision issued Friday.

The case was initially dismissed in 2013. At the time, FEA lawyers said the initial court "misapprehended" the scope of the situation, and said they would appeal.

FEA president Andy Ford issued a statement Friday expressing disappointment in the latest setback.

"We still believe that many provisions of SB 736 are destructive to students, teachers and public schools and that the legislation is having a detrimental effect on our students," Ford said. "In the coming days, we’re going to examine the ruling and make a decision about whether to appeal this ruling to the Florida Supreme Court." …

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Pasco County schools get more substitute teachers as qualifications drop

Facing difficulties filling all its substitute teacher needs, the Pasco County school district has spent months reviewing ways to attract and retain more subs.

Its effort has begun working. At the start of the year, the district had 675 instructional and noninstructional substitutes on file. Now, it has 1,003, of which 872 are instructional.

To get there, the district didn't increase its pay, as some educators have suggested. It didn't hire an temporary employment firm, as other districts have done.

Instead, Pasco quietly reduced the qualifications needed to substitute. Instead of needing an associate's degree or 60 college credits, as nearby districts require, Pasco now will accept subs with a high school diploma. Officials changed the criteria in November.

"We're basically paying minimum wage for that position," human resources director Christine Pejot said, referring to the lowest level substitutes. Those with higher credentials are paid more. "I knew we were looking at increasing our pool size, and that was one way to do it." …

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Fired or not, MaryEllen Elia remains in the hunt for national Superintendent of the Year

MaryEllen Elia is on her way out as Hillsborough schools superintendent. She still could wind up being National Superintendent of the Year, regardless.

AASA: The School Superintendents Association issued a statement expressing dismay that the School Board had dismissed Elia without cause, and saying she deserves recognition as a finalist, perhaps more. Executive director Dan Domenech said:

“The superintendent’s job is one of the most difficult and demanding jobs in America. That’s one of the reasons why AASA was disappointed to learn, through media accounts, that MaryEllen Elia, one of the finalists for the 2015 National Superintendent of the Year, is being terminated, without cause, by her school board from her position as superintendent of Hillsborough County Public Schools in Tampa, Fla.

“Given her achievements as the leader of one of the nation’s largest school districts, it was not a surprise to us that she was honored as Florida's State Superintendent of the Year last year. She also won the Florida Excellence in Education Award. According to a news report, a state senator called her a ‘superintendent's superintendent.’ …

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Florida education news: Bright Futures, corporal punishment, textbooks and more

BRIGHT FUTURES: Florida Gov. Rick Scott proposes an expansion of the Bright Futures scholarship to help students pay for summer school courses.

GROWTH: Pasco school officials discuss the need to increase school impact fees.

CONTROL: The Pinellas school district proposes a $1 million program to help teachers with classroom management.

GOING STRONG: Gorrie Elementary in south Tampa celebrates its 125th anniversary.

HAND-OFF: Condoleezza Rice takes over Jeb Bush's Florida-based education foundation, ABC News reports.

PADDLING: A University of Florida study calls for the end of corporal punishment in Florida schools, the Independent Alligator reports.

CAREER ACADEMIES: A growing number of central Florida high school students enroll in health care academies, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: The Duval School Board shuts down a charter school for lack of insurance, the Florida Times-Union reports.

TEXTBOOKS: Gov. Scott calls for a cut in college textbook taxes, the AP reports. …

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Community members urge Pasco school district to reverse course on Moore-Mickens center

For the second time in two years, Pasco schools superintendent Kurt Browning has announced plans to end classes at the county's first permanent school for African-American students, the Moore-Mickens Education Center. Browning gave in to community pressure and dropped the idea in 2013.

Some residents are hoping for a similar result this time.

"I believe the bus can turn around," Jesse McClendon of the Moore-Mickens Neighborhood Committee told the School Board this week.

McClendon reminded the board that the school sits in a low-income neighborhood, and offers poor people a path to improve their lot in life. He questioned whether the board would shutter a similar school serving a high-income neighborhood.

Moore-Mickens is treated "like a stepchild, always underfunded, underappreciated," he said. "I believe you are good people. I believe you are making a bad decision." …

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Clear expectations required for next Hillsborough superintendent, expert says

The Hillsborough County School Board's firing of long-time superintendent MaryEllen Elia raised the key question, What experienced leader would walk into the role knowing the divided nature of an apparently politically driven board?

Andres Antonio Alonso, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, said Elia's abrupt dismissal without cause came as a surprise to the world that knows the Hillsborough district as one focused on stability and innovation, not turbulence.

"It's a school community that people have watched over time with a sense that there are good things going on," said Alonso, a former Baltimore City Public Schools superintendent who now trains district leaders.

That reputation could attract applicants to lead the district. But at the same time, the politics leading to Elia's firing could dissuade some.

The School Board can overcome any potential anxiety, though, Alonso said. …

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Florida education news: Superintendent searches, vouchers, science fairs and more

WHAT'S NEXT? Observers discuss the Hillsborough school district's next steps in the aftermath of superintendent MaryEllen Elia's dismissal. • The Palm Beach School Board fast-tracks its superintendent search, noting that having Hillsborough on the hunt can't help, the Sun-Sentinel reports. • Marion superintendent George Tomyn announces his reelection plans, the Ocala Star-Banner reports.

LESSONS LEARNED: Four finalists for national Superintendent of the Year, including MaryEllen Elia, share their thoughts on success, the Washington Post reports.

BUSINESS PLANS: Pasco Weightman Middle School students learn real-world business skills in a new club.

BULLYING: Students at Hernando Springstead High School sign pledges to be nice to others during Celebrate Kindness Week.

EARLY RETIREMENT: The principal of a Miami high school decides to retire early amid allegations of deplorable campus conditions, NBC Miami reports. More from the Miami Herald.

VOUCHERS: A new report looks into why Florida private schools participate in the state's tax credit scholarship program, Education Week reports. …

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Gates Foundation on Hillsborough and Elia

Bill Gates at Jefferson High School

Bill Gates at Jefferson High School

Everybody is going on the record regarding the firing of Hillsborough County superintendent MaryEllen Elia.

So Gradebook reached out to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which committed $100 million to the district's Empowering Effective Teachers program.

Here is the response from Vicki Phillips, the foundation's director of education and college readiness:

"Over the last five years, as a result of continuing collaboration among the district, union and community, Hillsborough has developed one of the most innovative and comprehensive teacher development and support programs in the country. Superintendent Elia has been recognized in Florida and nationally for her leadership in these efforts. The foundation chose to invest in Hillsborough because of its active, engaged and caring community, including its teachers and administrators, and we remain committed to Hillsborough as long as its leaders, teachers and parents are committed to the work. As we've always said, ensuring there is an effective teacher in every classroom is a critical part of improving education for each and every student."



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Florida House panel approves guns on college campuses

The Florida House is moving quickly on a proposal to allow guns on college campuses.

The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee approved the measure (HB 4005) in a party-line vote Tuesday, making it the first bill to advance in the Florida House this year.

Still, it faces a significant hurdle in the Senate. Former Republican Sen. John Thrasher, who left the upper chamber in November to become the president of Florida State University, adamantly opposes the idea.

Thrasher's hesitancy "carries a lot of weight with a lot of senators," Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Don Gaetz said Wednesday.

Read more here


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