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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of Dec. 13, 2015



With Christmas right around the corner, what better time for Florida schools to get a refresher in student religious rights? It happened in Pasco County schools. Meanwhile, up in Santa Rosa County, parents and students battled over children's right to recite, or not recite, the Pledge of Allegiance every day. Three Sarasota teachers filed a complaint with the state over the new and controversial Best and Brightest teacher bonus, speaking out for the many educators who hate the program. The latest federal numbers showed Florida's graduation rate still among the bottom 10 nationally, despite an increase. And Sen. Bill Montford put into legislation what his superintendents association has long called for, a proposal to give all schools an "incomplete" in state grading for 2015. Isn't that enough in the days before winter break? Get the latest Florida education news daily at the Gradebook. And be sure to keep in touch, at

Top of the Times

Pasco school officials field complaints that students' religious rights were violated, Jeffrey S. Solochek
"As soon as she heard the assignment to discuss injustices, Northwest Elementary School fifth-grader Katie Lynch knew her topic. She would discuss how it wasn't right that her teacher wouldn't let her bring a Bible to school. But when the Pasco County 11-year-old approached the teacher with her idea, she got turned down flat."

Pinellas monitoring two charter schools after numerous parent complaints, Colleen Wright
"The Pinellas County School District is closely monitoring two charter schools that have amassed numerous parent complaints amid concerns about their academic performance and financial practices."

Hernando school superintendent named as finalist in Osceola, Dan DeWitt
"Complicating her ongoing contract negotiations, Hernando County school superintendent Lori Romano on Tuesday became one of three finalists to fill the same job in Osceola County. Romano, 43, is the only one of the finalists currently serving as a superintendent. She also was the only candidate chosen both by the district's personnel consultant and the four members of the board who participated."

Eakins: Hillsborough schools could save $10M by ditching 'peer evaluators' who help rate teachers, Marlene Sokol
"The Hillsborough County School Board voted Tuesday to spend $818,000 on an efficiency consultant - a day after superintendent Jeff Eakins estimated the district can save $10 million by moving away from peer evaluation of teachers. Instead, Eakins told teachers Monday evening at Riverview High School, ‘we would redirect peer evaluators back to other roles,' perhaps as teachers or hybrid roles that combine teaching and coaching."

Around the State

Crowd: Remove pledge signs in classes, Pensacola News-Journal, Thomas St. Myer
"Sophomore Haley Odom returned to Gulf Breeze High School about two weeks ago after breaking her right heel in July. When she walked into her first class, she noticed a sign that said students were not required to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Odom dismissed the sign as the action of one teacher. But when she walked into one classroom after another and spotted the same sign, she said she felt disgusted."

Strict rules for coaches battling pop culture's influence, Northwest Florida Daily News, Devin Golden
"Talk to people and most will agree on one thing - cussing is more prevalent now than 20 or 30 years ago. ‘It's far more accepted in society,' Crestview athletic director and football coach Tim Hatten said. ‘Now you can go to any restaurant and hear it in basic conversation.'"

District challenged over teacher rewards, Herald-Tribune, Shelby Webb
"Three Sarasota County School District employees have challenged a decision that they do not qualify for Florida's controversial new education rewards, under a program that grants bonuses for student performance on a standardized test."

‘Less than credible' threat fails to close down Miami-Dade, Broward schools, Miami Herald, Charles Rabin
"For the 700,000 students in Miami-Dade and Broward public schools, it was just another day in class. For school leaders, it was a day of decisions and vigilance. South Florida schools opened their doors Thursday morning despite threats - deemed ‘less than credible' - that had been sent in emails similar to ones sent to Los Angeles and New York earlier this week."

Reports of Note

Public high school 4-year adjusted cohort graduation rate, National Center for Education Statistics
BLOG POST: "The nation's high school graduation rate continued its slow, incremental rise in 2013-14, a new U.S. Department of Education report shows. And as has proven true historically, Florida's graduation rate remained below the national level and among the bottom 10 states."

Pinellas County Schools Report Card, Southern Poverty Law Center
"Nearly 70% of Florida school districts use suspension less than Pinellas County. Defiance/insubordination is the most frequent cause of suspension."

Survey Highlights American Teacher Demand for Bigger Role in Ed Tech Decision-Making, TES Global
"The survey found that the majority of teachers (63 percent) believe they should be the primary decision maker for what technology enters their classroom, but only 38 percent are currently consulted during the process.  Respondents assert that teacher buy-in is not a major factor in ed tech purchasing decisions."

YouthTruth Findings Show Room for Improvement in Teachers' Knowledge of Subjects They Teach, YouthTruth with NCTQ
"High school teachers may not be getting sufficient opportunities and training to learn the very subjects they are teaching - and students are taking notice - according to new findings from YouthTruth Student Survey and a new analysis on education colleges conducted by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ)."

Other Views

Pay no attention to this school shooting, Herald-Tribune columnist Tom Lyons
"It is odd which school shootings do and don't become big news. Some, it seems, are no cause for alarm. Last week, as fans were leaving a local high school girls' basketball game, a dozen or so shots were fired. At least one bullet ripped through a car while a woman and her son and a young nephew were about to drive away. But no one was hit, so it was barely news at all, it seems, though no suspects have been arrested and it seems that, for days, one suspect continued to attend Bradenton's Southeast High School where the shooting took place."

Florida Superintendent Unilaterally Suspends Constitution, Declares Jeff Gray Illegal for School Bus Reports, Photography is Not a Crime
"PINAC Reporter Jeff Gray conducted a weeklong school bus safety investigation in his hometown of St. Augustine, Florida. His public records research revealed school bus drivers lying about mandatory pre-trip safety inspections, which he recorded them skipping. Now, St. Johns Sheriff's are threatening to arrest Gray, and illegally demanding he stop recording their actions on a regular basis as you can see in the video below."

Show local share of school funding, Herald-Tribune editorial
"When Gov. Rick Scott touts a proposed $476 million increase for public education in his ‘Florida First' budget, he really means that it's a ‘Local First' proposition. Some members of his own party in the Legislature want to make that point crystal clear. It's about time."

Recently Filed

HB 1003, Employment After Retirement of School District Personnel, by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan
"Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a district school board may reemploy a retiree as instructional personnel, as defined in s. 1012.01(2)(a), under a 1-year probationary contract, as defined in s. 1012.335(1). If the retiree successfully completes the probationary contract, the district school board may reemploy the retiree under an annual contract as defined in s. 1012.335(1)."

SB 1172, Alternative High School Graduation Requirements, by Sen. Bill Montford
"(a) Beginning with students entering grade 9 in the 2015-2016 school year, a student who meets the qualifications of this subsection may be eligible for an alternative pathway to a standard high school diploma. (b) To be eligible for an alternative pathway to a standard high school diploma, a student must not have passed the grade 10 ELA assessment or the statewide, standardized Algebra I EOC assessment."

SB 1124, Education Accountability, by Sen. Bill Montford
"For the 2014-2015 school year, each school shall receive an "I" or "Incomplete" as a school grade or school improvement rating. However, the components listed in sub-subparagraphs (3)(b)1.a.-d. and i. and subparagraph (3)(b)2., if applicable, shall be calculated and reported."

SB 1162, Certified School Counselors, by Sen. Nancy Detert
"Each elementary school, middle school, and high school in this state must have at least one full-time certified school counselor."

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

With schools closed and the Legislature on break, we don't expect much education news during the coming two weeks. So we plan to take a brief hiatus on this weekly report. If something big happens, we'll be sure to let you know. But otherwise, we'll be relaxing in anticipation of the next news cycle. It's coming soon -- the State Board of Education is set to adopt FSA cut scores and school grade rules on Jan. 6, and the Legislature reconvenes the week of Jan. 12. Enjoy the holidays.

[Last modified: Friday, December 18, 2015 2:08pm]


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