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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

A weekend interview with Hillsborough schools superintendent MaryEllen Elia

elia.jpgTo secure a waiver from federal No Child Left Behind requirements, Florida had to adjust its school grading formula. When the discussion on proposals arose, many concerns emerged about the way the state planned to treat students in special education programs, and those still learning English. The State Board of Education asked for a task force to investigate ways to include these students as the federal government desired, but also without hurting those students or the schools in the process. Hillsborough schools superintendent MaryEllen Elia was named to that task force. She spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about the recommendations that came forth.


I wanted to ask you about the task force on ESE and ELL. I wasn't clear as to whether the work was done yet.

No. I don't think the work is concluded. We received an e-mail from the commissioner ... They presented the materials to the State Board. Based on that he will be moving forward on recommendations. But there were three basic recommendations that hopefully they will think about. We spent a lot of time working on it. I hope that happens.

What are the three things?

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Florida education news: School speakers, hazing, tenure and more

imgres-1.jpegSPEAK UP: The Hillsborough School Board reviews its rules on who can speak to students in schools. 

WHO'S NEXT: Hopefuls start testing the waters as Hernando superintendent Bryan Blavatt prepares to retire.

IN THE SUNSHINE: FAMU trustees reverse course and direct their anti-hazing committee to meet in public.

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Tutoring programs set to survive Florida's NCLB waiver

When Florida won its No Child Left Behind waiver in February, school district officials looked ahead to the expected end of free, private tutoring that came with the federal program.

Then the state Legislature stepped in.

At the end of session, in a bill aimed at implementing Florida's waiver, lawmakers required school districts to spend 15 percent of their Title I funds to pay for the tutoring program in 2012-13. District officials have been complaining ever since.

They brought their concerns to USDOE officials at several national events over the past few weeks, and have been hoping for some resolution that has yet to arise. They had hoped to take the 20 percent of Title I funding that had been dedicated to tutoring programs by outside vendors and put it to other uses, primarily serving more low-income students and schools with added in-school services.

"If that money was in the hands of the schools, we could be doing a far better job of remediating or enriching those students with those funds," Elena Garcia, Title I supervisor for Pasco County schools, told the Gradebook.  …

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The workshop about speakers in Hillsborough


5:30. Just got back to the office. Believe it or not, no one is completely sure what the next step is. Gonzalez, the lawyer, needs to take a closer look at the document Olson drafted. At some point, either Elia or Olson will likely start the process of a public hearing. No one is happy. We will know more next week.

4:20 Here's where things stand, and forgive us if the legal points seem fuzzy... we're waiting for the  meeting to break up to get clarification.

But it's like this: …

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Pasco teachers, administration reach deal on evaluations

After months of negotiations, representatives from the United School Employees of Pasco and the school district administration arrived late Thursday at a tentative deal for the implementation of new state-mandated teacher evaluations.

"This was the big issue," said USEP lead negotiator Jim Ciadella.

Among the terms:

See the agreement attached below.

Contract talks are not yet complete, though. Disagreements remain on implementation of the district's furlough days. The district did not have an executed contract for teachers last year until late May. Read our full story here.

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School board will discuss outside visitors

olson.jpgWe're two hours away from the Hillsborough County School Board workshop on outside visitors.

At least that's how it's advertised. How to enforce the Jessica Lunsford Act, which is supposed to keep sex offenders and other dangerous types off school grounds. How to use volunteers from SERVE to screen classroom guests, tutors and chaperones.

Of course we all know the back-story.

Critics have lined up at four recent school board meetings to talk about the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which sent a speaker to a high school world history class. Some take issue with CAIR specifically; others fear Islamic influence in general.

At Tuesday's meeting, school board members did not respond at all to the 21 who spoke.

Conservative activists David Caton and Terry Kemple have not been that restrained this week. Caton offered a cash award to anyone who tips him off to another CAIR visit to the high school. Kemple, in an email, re-stated his belief that CAIR is as objectionable as an organization that defends pedophelia. …

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Should teacher evaluations be public?

Under Florida law, parents can get copies of teacher evaluations a year after they're complete. SB 736 added a wrinkle by requiring schools to inform parents if their children are assigned to teachers who have repeated evaluations of needs improvement or unsatisfactory.

Sponsors of the defeated "parent empowerment" act, which sought to make it even easier for parents to access these evaluations, argued that parents should have a right to know teachers' past performance and choose accordingly.

In Tennessee, the state Senate is taking a different direction.

The AP reports that the Tennessee Senate this week voted unanimously to seal teacher evaluations from public view.

"The principal would be much more honest if he knows it’s not going to go into the public record," sponsor Republican Sen. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville said after Thursday’s vote. "We’re all about teacher performance, and that’s what evaluations are, to improve a teacher to be the best that they can be."

Good idea?

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Florida education news: Teaching tolerance, teacher pensions, military academy and more

hassan_216524a.jpegTEACHING TOLERANCE: The Hillsborough School Board has the opportunity to demonstrate that education trumps fear as it discusses its speaker policy, columnist Sue Carlton writes. (Times photo, Kathleen Flynn)

UNDECIDED: Gov. Rick Scott has not made up his mind whether to approve independence for USF Polytechnic. Scott also must decide how to deal with a bill that would reduce state contributions to public employee pension plans.

KEEPING UP WITH TEACHER: The Pensacola News-Journal looks at ways for parents to have a positive and beneficial relationship with their child's third-grade teacher.

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Teachers' pension case gets hearing date

The Florida Supreme Court has accepted jurisdiction in the appeal of the Florida Education Association's challenge to last year's legislative decision to force state workers to contribute to their pensions, the FEA reported on its web site

A hearing has been scheduled for 9 a.m. Sept. 5.

Earlier in March, Judge Jackie Fulford ruled the new law unconstitutional, and the First District Court of Appeal referred the case to the state Supreme Court as a matter of "great public importance." If Fulford's ruling stands, the state could have to pay back workers' contributions to their pensions, plus interest.

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Hillsborough board will discuss visitors on Friday

At a workshop Friday afternoon, the Hillsborough County School Board will discuss visitors to the schools. The agenda includes how to screen tutors, chaperones and other guests.

Although the agenda does not mention the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the board scheduled the workshop after complaints about a CAIR speaker at a high school.

The meeting is 2 to 5 p.m. at district headquarters, 901 E. Kennedy Blvd. It is open to the public, but no public comment is allowed and no vote will be taken.

A workshop also is scheduled Tuesday morning to discuss pay-for-play in school athletics.

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Gov. Scott weighs veto of USF Poly

The possibility of turning USF's Lakeland campus into an independent, stand-alone university stirred emotions and much political tooth gnashing throughout the winter legislative session.

Now the proposal has landed in Gov. Rick Scott's lap. And he's trying to figure out how to handle the hot potato.

"The question on one side is going to be, is this something that we can afford. Can we afford a 12th university when we know it's difficult," Scott said in a Times/Herald interview, citing multibllion-dollar budget deficits in his first two years in office. "The other side of it is that people in the Lakeland area think they're underserved. It's going to be something I believe in — science, technology, engineering and math — so that's a real positive. But there's lots of arguments."

Scott acknowledged that whatever he decides, one side won't be pleased.

"I have people on both sides, and they're calling," Scott said. "The people in the Tampa area are very much opposed to it and the people in the Lakeland area are generally very supportive of it. And the rest of the state's not that engaged in the debate."

Read the full story here.

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Pasco teacher contract negotiations near conclusion

The United School Employees of Pasco and the school district administration could wrap up months of contract talks this evening as they head back to the table with one key memorandum of understanding left to debate.

It's a big one, though.

The item up for review deals with teacher evaluations, and how they'll be used for everything from employment status to future reductions in force. The USEP has raised several concerns with the district's proposals over the past few months, leaving a deal unsettled despite early agreement on financial matters

The administration put forth a new recommended plan a week ago (attached below), but expects a counterproposal when the sides come together at 5:30 p.m. tonight. Last year, the sides did not reach agreement until May.

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Want to lead Gulf High School? Think fast

The Pasco school district took no time in advertising for a new Gulf High School principal in the wake of Steve Knobl's surprise resignation

Interested candidates have until April 11 to get their application in for the job, which carries a pay range of $75,017 to $114,143. Knobl was making $77,442.

The field might be limited, as the district states it wants applicants to either hold an equivalent administrative position within the county or be in the system's high school principal pool. Outside candidates still can be considered, though. Qualifying for the pool can happen at the same time as someone applies for the job.

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Parents? School? Or both?

Here's an interesting debate for you to contemplate.

Times columnist Bill Maxwell this week tackled a Pinellas civic group that wanted the school district to change its way of teaching black boys. He contended that it must be up to the parents, first and foremost, to ensure their children's success:

"FAST, although well intentioned and successful in some areas, needs to establish a take-no-excuses effort that focuses exclusively on involving black parents in their children's learning both at home and at school. Otherwise, everyone's time and resources are being squandered."

Former Times reporter Ron Matus, now writing for Step Up For Students, tackled Maxwell's position in separate blog post. Parents are important, he argued, but so, too, are schools.

Like many things in education, this isn’t a case of either-or. Instead of slamming parents, I think it would be more useful to talk more about key questions that don’t get asked enough:

• Why is it that some parents are not as involved as much as we’d like?

• What efforts are truly successful at getting them more involved?

• What should schools do while they’re waiting for parents to become more involved? …

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Florida education news: Twitter, school grades, online education and more

robot_216392a.jpegTWEETING: USF's underwater research robot is sending reports back to shore via Twitter. (USF photo)

LESS STRESS: Gulf High principal Steve Knobl quits his post for a job that will give him new challenges and more family time.

NO MORE: Sacred Heart Academy in Tampa will close after 81 years because of low enrollment.

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