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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Gov. Rick Scott talks education with Pasco GOP

passcott063012_228748c.jpegFlorida Gov. Rick Scott spent much of Friday in Pasco and Pinellas counties touring the aftermath of Tropical Storm Debby and signing bills. (Times photo, Erin Sullivan) He also took time to rally the Republican Party faithful at Pasco's annual Ronald Reagan Day Dinner. Scott left immediately after speaking to the crowd, so there was no time for a Q&A. So instead we share some of his message on education that he shared with the Pasco GOP.

Scott opened his remarks by praising Pasco Republicans for helping to elect conservatives like Will Weatherford, the incoming speaker of the Florida House. He urged them to continue their grassroots efforts to put more conservatives in office to help enact laws that families care about.

"What do you think families care about?" he said. "They want their children to get a great education. … They want to make sure they can get a job. And they don't want government to raise the cost of living."

He segued into the issue of teacher tenure.

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Florida education news: STEM, tuition, school prayer and more

ntp_stem070112a_228597c.jpegHOOKED ON MATH: Some Hillsborough schools work to get students to see math everywhere. (Times photo, Kathleen Flynn)  

PINCHED: Florida college students see tuition and other costs rising, and a sagging job market awaiting them when they're done. More from the Fort Myers News-Press

EDUCATION FIRST: Facing a bloody Civil War, Congress did more to financially support education than current political leaders will, the Times editorializes. 

NURTURING: The Palm Beach School Board invests nearly $500,000 more in its aerospace career academy despite flat enrollment over six years, the Sun-Sentinel reports. 

NEW DIGS: A new Flagler charter school looks to open in an airport hangar as time runs short to find a building, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports. 

JAILED: The former head of the Haines City High athletics booster club is jailed for not repaying $11,000 she stole from the group, the Ledger reports. 

MONKEY WRENCH: The acting superintendent of Monroe schools might not step down in time for the start date of the district's newly selected leader, the Keynoter reports.  …

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Curious about the candidates for Pinellas superintendent?

So were we. So we asked researchers at the Times to do a tiny bit of digging. (We'll do more when the field gets narrowed.)

About a dozen applicants have been superintendents, though most are from smaller, out-of-state districts. A few have run into controversy. We already wrote on the Gradebook about Irving Hamer's abrupt resignation from Memphis City Schools following a violation of that district's sexual harassment code. See that post here.

Jose Maldonado-Rivera was ousted a couple years ago from his job as a principal in Manhattan. The New York Times reported that Maldonado-Rivera took students on an unauthorized field trip, during which a student drowned, and then later was found to have used a school employee as a babysitter. He had a romantic relationship with the employee and lived with her. Now it appears that he may have taken a job at a charter school, according to this recent story in the New York Daily News.

Frank McClard, a former superintendent in Pennsylvania ran into trouble last year with separation of church and state. A Pittsburgh TV station reported that McClard held a before school prayer group, started prayers at mandatory teacher in-service days and posted religious messages on a school blog. See that story here.

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Pasco School Board to talk athletics on Tuesday

The Pasco School Board plans to discuss its athletics program during a workshop Tuesday. The issue won't likely be cutting sports, though. 

Even as the board looks for ways to balance its budget for the new fiscal year, which begins Sunday, the idea of scaling back middle and high school athletic teams continues to be a non-starter.

"I'm dead-set against it," board member Steve Luikart told the Gradebook. "Those are some of the best dropout prevention programs we have."

He suggested the $2.1 million the district spends on coaching supplements, transportation, officials, insurance, equipment and playoff costs is well worth it. "I think there's other places in the budget we need to look at for cuts," said Luikart, who has urged reductions in school transportation expenses.

One area that's a candidate for review is the district policy on student-athlete transfers. New state law that takes effect Sunday puts more responsibility on districts to set rules for where and when student-athletes can switch schools, then monitor compliance. There was lots of chatter in the county last fall when four Ridgewood High football players bolted for Fivay High and were allowed to play. …

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Health insurance battle continues in Pinellas

Employees of the Pinellas County School District still are in doubt about what kind of health insurance they're going to have - and it doesn't look like the unions and the district have made much progress in reaching a resolution.

The school district's first proposal would dramatically increase out-of-pocket costs for employees. Union representatives have argued that the district is deliberately trying to back the School Board into a corner. They also accused district officials of not providing information in a timely manner. (See that story here.)

Now it appears that the war of words continues.

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Board of Governors denies FGCU's tuition appeal

Nice try, Florida Gulf Coast University.

In a quick conference call Friday morning, and with a unanimous vote, members of a Florida Board of Governors appeals committee denied FGCU's request that its be allowed to increase tuition next year by the 14 percent it originally asked for -- instead leaving that hike amount at the 12 percent the board voted on last week.

It was the only university out of 11 to appeal the decision.

"I am hard pressed to overturn an action of a full board by an appeals committee when there isn't anything new being presented to us," said Board chairman Dean Colson.

FGCU President Wilson Bradshaw and university Board of Trustees chairwoman Robbie Roepstorff had told Colson and five other members of the state university governing board that even the extra revenue from the full requested hike wouldn't make up the budget cut the university is about to shoulder.

With a 14 percent increase, the university's current budget shortfall would total $215,000, Bradshaw said. That's in addition to the $3 million FGCU is about to be slashed as part of a $300 million cut across the system this upcoming fiscal year.  …

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Florida education news: FCAT violations, school taxes, the end of USF Poly and more

imgres.jpegDEFENSE: A Pasco alternative school teacher who faces unpaid suspension for FCAT proctoring violations explains her actions and suggests the state policies need some work

A WAY OUT: The Pasco school district offers any Connerton Elementary teachers who wish to leave the school a streamlined transfer process.

RESOLVED: The Brevard School Board joins the movement calling for less emphasis on the FCAT, Florida Today reports.

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Several vacancies remain in Pasco school administrative ranks

Big shifts of Pasco school principals and assistant principals last week didn't end the movements in the district's administrative ranks. 

The application deadline for four high school assistant principal positions -- Wesley Chapel, Hudson, Gulf and Ridgewood -- arrived Thursday, while the deadline for three elementary school assistant principal jobs -- Pasco, Woodland and Odessa -- comes Tuesday.

The jobs at Wesley Chapel and Gulf carry a salary range of $66,771 to $101,599. The pay range for Hudson and Ridgewood is $57,679 to $87,763. And the range at the three elementary schools is $60,563 to $92,152.

You can see the ads here. No other school-based administrative jobs are expected to come open after these are filled. There has been no decision yet on whether some vacant district-level jobs, such as director of communications and director of leadership development, will be advertised.

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Pinellas administrator among candidates for superintendent

A familiar face wants to be the next superintendent of Pinellas County Schools.

William Corbett, an area superintendent in Pinellas, has applied for the top job. He's been in his current role, overseeing Area 2 with 28 schools, since August 2011. Before that, he was principal of Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School for about six years. He includes letters of support from James Madden, deputy superintendent, and Michael Bessette, associate superintendent.

Deadline to apply for the position is Monday. A few other new applications have come in since our last update. They are:

William Miller: Miller has been executive director of the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators/Michigan Association of School Administrators since 2011. He was superintendent of the Washtenaw Intermediate School District in Michigan for about 12 years.

Jayne Risen Morgenthal: Risen Morgenthal has been director of a principal preparation program at Spalding University in Kentucky since 2010. She was superintendent of Elizabethtown Independent Public Schools in Kentucky for one year, 2008 to 2009. …

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Politics? Or poor performance? Bradford superintendent fires her opponent

Although the biggest Florida school districts appoint their superintendents, more than half of the districts still elect their chief executive. In some cases, barely a ripple occurs. In others, politics rages.

In tiny Bradford County, for instance, the current superintendent has decided to fire her election opponent and his wife from their school vice principal jobs. The Florida Times-Union reports today:

The superintendent of Bradford County Schools didn't renew the contracts of a man and his pregnant wife, both high school vice principals, after the husband filed to run against the superintendent.

Superintendent Beth Moore essentially fired Chad Farnsworth and his wife, Jennifer, from their jobs at Bradford County High after Farnsworth declared his ambition to unseat Moore.

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Teachers at Pasco's Connerton Elementary offered easy transfers out

Connerton Elementary School has seen its share of troubles in recent weeks. Some unhappy current and former parents and teachers have protested over the leadership at the school.

Superintendent Heather Fiorentino acknowledged calling the Connerton team a "dysfunctional family" during a recent School Board meeting. She transferred assistant principal Wendy Carswell out, and brought in new AP Claudia Steinacker, in an effort to create a new climate and culture at the school.

Now she's giving any teachers who want to leave the school the opportunity to do so with a streamlined process to transfer into any openings they're qualified to hold. Employee relations director Kevin Shibley sent a letter to all the school's teachers letting them know about the option. "We are committed to improving the culture at Connerton, and would love for you to be a part of this effort; however, we recognize that some employees may prefer to transfer to a different school," he wrote.

See the story here. Read on for Shibley's letter to teachers.

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FCAT is "worthless" to children, Palm Beach board chairman says

The Palm Beach School Board was first in Florida to join to surging movement against over-reliance on standardized testing to judge students, teachers, schools and districts.

Board chairman Frank Barbieri writes in a piece for the Palm Beach Post that it's not testing that the board opposes, but the FCAT system that strays from his notion of a sensible accountability program. He writes, in part:

"Ironically, this all-powerful FCAT is worthless to the child. Neither the student nor the teacher sees the results to determine where they need to improve. We spend millions on this test and all its trappings, materials, software, hardware, instruction to personnel, additional security staff, and new computers. We’ve lost sight of the children and their needs. We depleted the life force of creativity out of children. For some, a nurturing school is their only hope at a solid future. We’re systematically destroying that by irrationally centering our schools and curriculum around testing." …

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Florida education news: FCAT violations, summer school, Gay-Straight Alliance and more

nal_clayton062712_228379c.jpegNEXT PAGE: Yvonne C. Reed-Clayton, an icon in Pinellas County education circles, retires after 50 years. (Times file photo)

PROCTORING PROBLEMS: A Pasco alternative school teacher faces unpaid suspension for recording activities in the room where she was administering the FCAT to two misbehaving students.

ON BOARD: The Marion School Board adopts its own slightly altered version of the resolution urging less reliance on testing, the Ocala Star-Banner reports. 

MARKET SHARE: The Broward school district prepares to open its own charter schools, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

REASSIGNED: Leaders in Miami-Dade's mental health and crisis management department are removed amid an investigation into overuse of the Baker Act against students, the Miami Herald reports.

KEEPING UP: Many northeast Florida parents whose children have special needs keep their kids in school over the summer so they don't lose their learning, the Florida Times-Union reports.

VIOLATION? The State Attorney's Office in Fort Myers begins investigating alleged Sunshine Law violations by three Martin School Board members, the Stuart News reports. …

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USF Poly interim leader is stepping down

David Touchton, the Lakeland CPA who was tapped to lead the University of South Florida Polytechnic campus after the removal of the embattled former chancellor, is stepping down.

The move comes as USF is preparing to relinquish its control of the campus and begin a "teach-out" for the students who remain there -- as soon as a Board of Trustees is appointed to run the new independent Florida Polytechnic University.

In a memo sent to Touchton Monday, USF President Judy Genshaft thanked him for his "extraordinary work in guiding USF's campus in Lakeland through the past six months."

Touchton's last day, Genshaft wrote, will be Saturday. Taking his place in overseeing the academic transition will be Kathleen Moore, USF's associate vice president in charge of strategic initiatives, including accreditation.

"I personally want to thank you for a difficult job well done," Genshaft wrote to Touchton.

Difficult, indeed.  …

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Has Florida's academic performance improved?

With the drumbeat growing louder to scale back Florida's testing and accountability program, some critics have begun challenging whether the state's education initiatives have had any positive effects.

The Southern Regional Education Board, created more than 50 years ago to promote educational growth in the region, has issued a new paper stating that Florida has made much progress in the past decade. Among the highlights:

“These gains are an important step forward and confirm that many of the policies Florida has adopted are making a difference,” SREB president Dave Spence said in a release. “Education has been a top priority for SREB states. The challenge ahead is to focus on what we know works to improve public education.”

Of course, not all is perfect. The SREB also details Florida's declining SAT scores, low eighth-grade math standards, and slightly widening graduation rate gap between whites and Hispanics, among other areas needing added attention.

Read the paper here. Does the SREB make a convincing case that Florida's system has done at least some good?

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