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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Education commissioner Gerard Robinson resigns

This just in from the Florida Department of Education:

Tallahassee, Fla., July 31, 2012 – Florida Department of Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson submitted a letter of resignation today to Governor Rick Scott and State Board of Education Chair Kathleen Shanahan.

Commissioner Robinson has served as head of one of the country’s largest state school systems since August 2011. Under his leadership Florida’s school system has realized some major milestones, including raising achievement levels for the first time in a decade, obtaining a provisional flexibility waiver from the U.S. Department of Education from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – one of the first eleven states to receive notification, and earning national recognition for accomplishments from early childhood learning to the Florida College System.

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Hillsborough school board names new principals

The Hillsborough County School Board named these principals on Tuesday:

  • Sherri Black to Cork Elementary School,
  • Christine Hanjian to Woodbridge Elementary,
  • Daphne Fourqurean to Metropolitan Ministries Partnership School,
  • Danielle Shotwell to Eisenhower Middle School,
  • Sarah Jacobsen-Capps to Dunbar Elementary.
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Challenger Browning spends big in bid to upend incumbent Pasco superintendent Fiorentino

As the race for Pasco schools superintendent enters the home stretch, challenger Kurt Browning extended his fund raising lead over incumbent Heather Fiorentino while also vastly outspending Fiorentino in an attempt to reach voters.

"We've got to communicate," Browning told the Gradebook, stressing that it's tough to vie against a two-term sitting office holder. "You've got to get your message out."

In the July 7-20 reporting period, Browning raised another more than $18,000 in contributions, surpassing the $100,000 mark overall. Some of his notable backers included school choice and voucher advocate John Kirtley, former Pasco superintendent Tom Weightman, and retired charter school administrator Michael Rom. 

Browning also spent more than $40,000 during the period, including $20,000 for television advertising that now runs regularly on Bright House cable channels including Bay News 9 and the History Channel. The ad, featured on his Facebook page as well, was filmed in a local private school, Genesis Preparatory. …

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Amendment 8 is not about vouchers, school voucher group says

When Florida voters head to the ballot box in November, they'll be able to decide whether to end the state's longtime ban on using taxpayer funds to assist religious institutions.

Amendment 8, the effort to end the Blaine Amendment in Florida's constitution, has received much negative attention from the Florida Education Association. The FEA has argued that the initiative is an underhanded way to pave the path to funnel publicly funded vouchers to parochial schools.

That's just not the case, writes Jon East of Step Up for Students, the group that runs Florida's corporate tax credit scholarship program.

"Though parental choice advocates have previously pushed for changes to the no-aid clause, they were not involved last year in the legislative effort to put this issue on the ballot and are not raising money for the campaign," East writes. "This is not to suggest they oppose the amendment – most school choice advocates support the role of faith-based service providers – but it reflects the extent to which state and federal court decisions have minimized the relevance of this issue for school choice." …

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Will Hillsborough offer up its own resolution on testing?

As the Hillsborough board continues to discuss the issue of testing, chairwoman Candy Olson passed around this proposed resolution for discussion: The School Board recognizes the necessity and importance of testing: * For transparency and accountability to taxpayers; * For evaluation and diagnostics at many levels -- national, state, district and schools; and * Most important, for each individual teacher, to inform and improve instruction for each student. We believe each test should be measured in light of its value. Does it provide a level of utility commensurate with its cost in dollars, time and other resources? We, the School Board of Hillsborough County, take responsibility to ensure that the district, and each of its schools, use best practices in regard to testing, and that every test required by the district or the school provides a high level of usefulness. We ask our state legislators and the Department of Education to: 1. Stop making any changes to tests, requirements or scores, cut scores, and add no new high stakes tests for at least three years. We ask for recognition that reduced financial resources have reduced staff, that it takes time to "get it right,&q …Full Story

Hillsborough assessment officials say every test has a purpose

From the looks of things, educators have never met a test they don’t like.

Explaining the plethora of tests to Hillsborough County School Board members this morning, Samuel Whitten and other administration officials say there is a sound purpose for every kind of test.

In the younger grades, the formative “FAIR” tests guide teachers in their instruction and, in some cases, can be used to predict performance on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

In high school, tests drive decisions on which students to tutor, and in what subjects. End-of-course exams, which have been around since 1984, are a kind of “autopsy” that tells the district how well teachers did their jobs.

The PSAT is a good conversation starter for that student who is getting low grades but, according to the test, is smart enough to aim for college.

National tests such as the National Assessment of Education Progress’ Trial Urban District Assessment, well, they reinforce the district’s success (Hillsborough took top results this year).

And yes, there are a lot of Advanced Placement tests, because Hillsborough is a big AP district -- and with higher proficiency rates this year. …

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Furlough reimbursement remains unpaid for Pasco school employees

It's been three months since the Pasco school district announced it would repay employees for one of the two furlough days it imposed during the 2011-12 school year. Workers have yet to see a dime.

With the campaign for superintendent and School Board District 2 in full swing, some staffers have questioned whether the current office holders will hold true to their promise of reimbursement. Perhaps, one person suggested, the checks will appear just before the Aug. 14 election along with a note reminding everyone how the board and administration made partial repayment of the pay cut possible.

That's not the plan, though.

The checks are due out on Aug. 17, district spokeswoman Summer Romagnoli, with every eligible employee set to get one. Note the word eligible.

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Florida education news: Charter school closing, candidate pledge, for-profit colleges and more

FLOP: The Hillsborough School Board shutters the AT Jones charter school in Tampa over financial troubles. 

PLEDGE: A conservative political group urges Hillsborough School Board candidates to sign a pledge agreeing to give parents control whether their children hear speakers from "controversial" organizations.

ON TAP: The Duval School Board will consider joining the call for reduced emphasis on high-stakes testing in Florida, the Florida Times-Union reports.

MUSICAL CHAIRS: The Collier school district shifts principals among nine schools in hopes of improving academic performance, the Naples Daily News reports.

MONEY FIRST: For-profit colleges put profits above performance according to a new federal report, the AP reports.

PROVE IT: The Brevard school district stiffens its proof of residency requirements for school registration, Florida Today reports.

SAT SUPPORT: The Palm Beach school district will pay $430,000 to have all students in the Class of 2014 take the SAT, the Palm Beach Post reports.

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Contract negotiations under way for Pasco school employees

It took the Pasco school district and the United School Employees of Pasco nearly the entire 2011-12 school year to resolve their contract negotiations. Issues involving teacher evaluations proved the major sticking point.

With the 2012-13 school year barely underway, the sides quietly have returned to the table to begin negotiations for contract renewal.

"We haven't started with economics," USEP president Lynne Webb told the Gradebook. "We are starting with successor language for teacher evaluations."

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Politifact rates Robinson's claim on FCAT instructional time 'False'

Florida Department of Education commissioner Gerard Robinson on June 15 wrote, "The FCAT neither drives the curriculum nor narrows the educational experience of Florida students. These assessments average two to three per student per school year and account for less than 1 percent of the instructional time provided during the year. It is worth noting that local school boards require students to take many more assessments than those required by the state."

Our colleagues at Politifact Florida rate that claim "False." See the complete story here.

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Investigation into Pasco superintendent begins today

Pasco School Board officials meet today with former Hillsborough School Board attorney Tom Gonzalez to get the ball rolling on an investigation into whether Pasco superintendent Heather Fiorentino attempted to coerce her staff into supporting her reelection bid. Fiorentino has vociferously denied any such accusations and said the review is politically motivated.

School Board members, several of whom support Fiorentino's chief opponent Kurt Browning, proposed this outside review earlier in July after former district principal Barbara Munz, also a Browning backer, made public allegations that her friends had been pressured by Fiorentino and her staff to actively support the campaign.

They approved the investigation, and its $175 per hour price tag, at their July 24 meeting.

Board attorney Dennis Alfonso told the Gradebook that the investigation aims to depoliticize the allegations by putting it in the hands of an outsider who has no vested interests in the outcome. Alfonso said he recommended the move based on more than just comments by Munz, and added that there are no specific allegations of any criminal activity by the superintendent or anyone else. …

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PTA posts video of Pinellas School Board candidate forum

The Pinellas County Council of PTAs has posted video of the District 1 At-Large and District 7 forum from Thursday night, conveniently broken down by question. Check out the video here.

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Staff, students at Mavericks Charter in Largo get word of TB investigation

In case you missed this: The Pinellas County Health Department is investigating a report of active tuberculosis in a Mavericks High Charter School employee. Staff and parents of students enrolled at the 423-pupil Largo campus were notified about the situation in letters that were sent out starting on Wednesday. A total of 100 people believed to have been in direct contact with the patient are being notified in letters that went out on Friday that they should be tested. Full story here.

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Florida education news: Budget cuts, teacher hires, college remediation and more

cutting-money.jpgDEEP CUTS: Hernando schools face major program reductions as the district slashes its budget by millions.

NOW HIRING: A year after major layoffs, the Broward school district is hiring new teachers again, the Miami Herald reports.

SCIENCE SHORTAGE: Tougher standards to become a Florida science teacher may make it more difficult for districts to find quality instructors, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

THREATENED: A Martin district administrator claims her job is on the line because she refused to help in the superintendent's reelection campaign, the Stuart News reports.

DO IT AGAIN: Florida's college remediation costs run in the millions, the Palm Beach Post reports.

ON THE LIST: Monroe's new superintendent faces a threat from a district administrator who says he won't work without an extra paycheck, the Keynoter reports.

WHAT TO WEAR: Manatee elementary schools embrace student uniforms, but secondary schools aren't so welcoming of the idea, the Bradenton Herald reports.

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From the Pinellas school board candidate forum

For those of you who missed it, we'll be posting the video to last night's Pinellas County School Board candidate forum as soon as it's available. There also will be another story in the St. Pete Times neighborhood section. But here's a sampling of what took place:

Candidates were asked a series of "lightning round" questions in which they could only give a yes or no answer. The questions and answers for each district are as follows:

1. Do you believe that Pinellas County Schools have put enough emphasis on combating bullying and escalating school violence?

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