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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Genshaft: No layoffs for USF Poly employees until at least July 2013

 After saying last week that she wasn’t sure the University of South Florida would be able to keep all the employees from USF Polytechnic past this summer, USF President Judy Genshaft now vows there will be no layoffs for at least a year beyond that point.

Genshaft delivered the message Monday flanked by Florida Rep. Seth McKeel, who helped craft the bill that creates the state’s 12th university, effective July 1. McKeel, R-Lakeland, said he wanted to clarify the situation after hearing about Genshaft’s message last week.

Starting on that date, USF Poly will have to give the new university all its resources, while USF gets $10 million to allow existing students to finish their degrees in Lakeland with USF Poly faculty. Though Genshaft previously said USF Poly’s payroll was closer to $18 million, McKeel pointed out at a news conference Monday that the Florida Poly legislation includes language that requires the new university to cover any additional costs incurred by USF during the teach-out.

Genshaft said any staff that aren’t needed as USF Poly starts closing down, such as those in the admissions office, for instance, would be welcomed at the main USF Tampa campus. …

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Pasco Gulf High School gets new principal

Kim Davis, currently an assistant principal at Anclote High School, will become the new leader of Gulf High School, according to the school's Twitter account.

The Gulf position came open when Steve Knobl resigned earlier this spring. Knobl said he wanted to spend more time with his family, and the principal job had become too time consuming. He now is a dean at Rasmussen College in New Port Richey.

Davis was an assistant principal at Sunlake High, and before that she was a district science supervisor. She joined the district in 1998. Her appointment goes to the School Board on Tuesday. Only one other candidate applied for the position. Assistant principal Gwen Gideon has been serving as acting principal, but did not seek the permanent job.

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Pasco superintendent seeks added input before moving on textbook recommendation

Hit with criticism over her handling of a new elementary school social studies textbook selection, Pasco County schools superintendent Heather Fiorentino will seek another round of teacher input before bringing her recommendation to the School Board.

Fiorentino took heat over the weekend for proposing adoption of a book that did not win consensus approval of the teacher committee that reviewed the top contenders for district purchase. School Board members and election rivals frowned upon the administration's asking educators to take time looking at materials only to have their opinions ignored.

That never was the intent, Fiorentino spokeswoman Summer Romagnoli told the Gradebook. Rather, the superintendent simply had been hearing commentary from both sides of the selection debate, and she came down with a recommendation she thought would best meet student and district needs. …

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Pasco elementary school teachers seek workload reduction

Pasco elementary school teachers are saying they want relief from some of the busy-work that keeps them from their primary task of preparing and executing strong lessons for students.

They've lost some of their class-time preparation time because now they're expected to spend 100 percent of each period "engaged" with students, Deer Park Elementary teacher Kelly Main noted. No longer can they teach a group lesson, check understanding, move to smaller groups but also leave some time to tackle the paperwork, grades, parent phone calls and other things that come with the job.

Paperwork has "quadrupled," meanwhile, Main said, as data collection remains the rage. Then there's the "quiet understanding" that what doesn't get done at school will get done at home, off the clock.

"I don't know how much the students benefit, because the teachers are spread so thin," she said.

Bill Miller, one of her Deer Park colleagues, added that elementary teachers lose planning time simply by escorting their children to and from the "specials" of art, music and P.E. Teachers are told they must also check their mailboxes and e-mails during that time, and respond promptly.  …

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USF Sun Dome renovations complete

It took 126 miles of electric wire, 25 miles of fiber optic cable and nearly 200 tons of steel. On Tuesday, renovations to the University of South Florida Sun Dome will finally be unveiled on Tuesday.

Updates include modernization of the arena's 10,000 seats, a new scoreboard, new concessions, restrooms and an office building and face lifts to entryways. All the building's sound, broadcasting and lighting systems were updated, too. In the process, the construction firm, Skanska, removed and recycled over 10 million pounds of debris. 

“In addition to once again being a first-class facility for USF sporting events, the Sun Dome will now be a desirable location for Tampa Bay-area concerts and conventions,” said Darryl Salustro, Skanska project executive, in a news release. “We’re excited the project took less than a year to complete and was done on time.”

The first event in the renovated facility will be USF graduation ceremonies on Friday. 

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Gov. Rick Scott signs school acceleration bill into law

Without commentary, Gov. Rick Scott has signed into law a measure aimed at requiring schools to provide more options for high-performing students and their parents.  

The law now requires districts to provide clear options for whole-grade promotion (including midyear), subject-matter acceleration, and early and accelerated graduation. Districts must revise their student progression plans to delineate exactly how parents may access such programs. Principals also are granted more authority to make decisions about how to implement acceleration models, and to grant students entry into the programs.

"It says we need to look at students on an individual basis and see what type of education is appropriate for them," said state Rep. John Legg, R-New Port Richey, who pushed to have legislation on this matter for the past few years. His motivation, he said, was the question of "what are we doing for our brighter kids?"

"And don't accept the song and dance," he said. "Make schools show how they do it. Let the child soar. Don't shackle them in a class that is average." …

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Florida education news: Video games, school improvement grants, high school sports and more

ut8dt.st_.jpegPLAY THE GAME: Miami-Dade launches a new magnet school based on video game technology, the Miami Herald reports. (Miami Herald photo)

MAKING STRIDES: Some of Florida's lowest performing schools are able to add new supports for students using federal School Improvement Grants, the Orlando Sentinel reports. 

FREE AGENTS? New Florida state law makes it easier for high school athletes to transfer schools, Bright House Sports Network reports.

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Coming up: No school, exams, board meetings and more

full.jpgApril 30: No classes, Pinellas schools

May 1: Hernando School Board, 7 p.m. • Pasco School Board, 9:30 a.m.

May 3: Board of Governors, conference call • Education Practices Commission, 9 a.m., Orlando

May 4: Education Practices Commission, 9 a.m., Orlando

May 7-18: Advanced Placement exams

May 8: Hillsborough School Board, 3 p.m.

May 9-10: State Board of Education, Tampa Airport Marriott

May 15: Pasco School Board, 6 p.m. • Hernando School Board, 7 p.m.

May 24: Pasco School Board, employee hearing, 8:30 a.m.

May 28: Memorial Day, schools closed

June 5: Last day of classes, Pasco schools

June 6: Last day of classes, Hernando schools

June 7: Last day of classes, Pinellas schools

June 8: Last day of classes, Hillsborough schools

June 20-21: Board of Governors, University of Central Florida

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Middleton robotics team racks up world championship win

b4s_robotics112611b_200861c.jpgMiddleton High School continues to excel in Robotics, with a world championship win last week.

Middleton's Masquerade team was part of the Edison division that won two out of three matches in the First Tech Robitics' world championship in St. Louis, Mo.

The event drew teams from China, India, Romania, the Netherlands, Canda, Mexico, South Korea, Australia and Saudia Arabia.

They competed for two days before moving into semifinals and then a Super Bowl.

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Florida education news: Teacher workload, school budget cuts, university leadership and more

imgres.jpegSEEKING SOLUTIONS: Pasco elementary schools look for ways to scale back the teacher workload, something teachers say can't come fast enough. 

STILL CUTTING: Local school districts and other governments, facing another year of slashing millions from their budgets, ponder what to cut. • Lee School Board members want to start budgeting from scratch instead of building upon past years' plans, the Naples Daily News reports. • Polk officials look to refocus millions in spending into classroom instruction, the Ledger reports.

UNIFYING VISION NEEDED: Critics of Florida's state university system say the system needs more centralized authority, the Ledger reports. University leaders wonder how to proceed now that the governor has vetoed a bill that would let them increase tuition as needed, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

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A weekend interview with Florida education commissioner Gerard Robinson

robinson.jpgFlorida education commissioner Gerard Robinson visited St. Petersburg this past week to attend meetings about digital learning. While in town, he met with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board to talk about education issues facing the state. What follows are excerpts from the hour-long session.


Does Florida spend enough on schools?

Enough compared to what?

Enough compared to what the opportunity is.

Someone will say the reason Massachusetts and Connecticut are doing better than our students are, particularly in Massachusetts, is because they spend more money. There are a couple of things to consider. Those are states that are strong union states. So they are already doing things with contractual obligations that we don't have here as a right to work state. No. 2, there is more state involvement, there is a lot more state influence on how ways you should use money in ways you wouldn't find in the southern states. No. 3, when you look at the cost of living and how they are able to tax certain industries - Florida's is tourism, up there it's manufacturing. So how we tax industry is very different. So someone saying once we actually have the same per pupil funding as Connecticut and Massachusetts, then we'll be on par, that's apples to oranges. Now I'll be the first one to tell you, money matters. … What matters more is how you invest it, how you spend it. Just because you have more money in no way means better results. You can look at Newark public schools and see a very different piece than what you see here.

So what are the opportunities for better investment of the money that Florida is spending already?

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Florida education news: Rick Scott vetoes, school prayer, bullying and more

imgres.jpegVETOED: Gov. Rick Scott nixes funding for a math program that has been helping Pinellas middle school students. The governor also rejects a bill that would allow UF and FSU to set unlimited tuition increases.

STALLED: Hernando teacher contract talks hit a wall over disagreement about two holidays

SPEAKING UP: A Hillsborough mom seeks to have more of a say over the services her disabled daughter receives from the school system.

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Scott vetoes tuition "preeminence" bill

After saying for months he does not believe in tuition increases, Gov. Rick Scott stuck to his word Friday and vetoed a bill that would have allowed unlimited tuition hikes at top universities.

It comes at a tense time for the state university system, with schools bracing for a state budget cut of $300 million. Even the 15 percent tuition hikes that universities are currently allowed to ask for don’t come close to filling the gap.

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Controversy swirls over selection of social studies books for Pasco elementary schools

A storm is brewing in the Pasco school district over the normally noncontroversial matter of textbook adoption.

After spending several months reviewing options for new elementary social studies materials, a committee that included dozens of Pasco County teachers supported the books by a publishing group called TCI.

Superintendent Heather Fiorentino and her staff overruled the recommendation — a first, according to many insiders — to back the committee's second-place choice by textbook giant McGraw-Hill. That firm was represented by a former district employee who is dating assistant superintendent for elementary schools David Scanga.

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Hillsborough to feds: We need Title 1 money to meet goals under EET

This is not likely to generate controversy, but the Hillsborough County School District is seeking a federal waiver and, in doing so, needs to invite public comment.

Here's the deal:

Federal law limits how much Title 1 anti-poverty money can be spent on hiring and rewarding teachers, as the program is intended to supplement and not replace core educational spending. That cap is set at 5 percent.

The district, meanwhile, is finishing year two of Empowering Effective Teachers, the Gates-funded initiative that matches up with other priorities of the federal government.

As district officials try to get the most highly qualified teachers into the schools that are most in need of improvement, a process that could involve different rates of pay, they say they'll need flexibility in that 5 per-cent cap.

"Thirty-seven of the schools included in this project have a poverty rate of above 90 percent," superintendent MaryEllen Elia wrote in her waiver request. …

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