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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

What qualifications should Florida's next education commissioner have?

Today was Florida education commissioner Gerard Robinson's last day on the job.

So what better time to float a job description for the person to replace him?

A proposed six-page list of characteristics, responsibilities and requirements appeared on the Department of Education website as part of the Board of Education's Tuesday agenda. It calls for a leader who:

The candidate would have at least a bachelor's degree, preferably a higher level degree. The salary range would be $195,416 to $283,310, based on experience and qualifications.

The Board of Education still must approve the description. If you have suggestions for other qualities, shoot them a note before then. Otherwise, the posted application deadline is Sept. 27.

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Once more on vouchers

A blog post last week about Florida's corporate tax credit scholarships drew a lot of comments on the Gradebook, with many of them saying that the report in question was comparing apples to oranges.

The researcher who wrote the report, David Figlio of Northwestern University, concluded that voucher students made similar academic gains in private schools as did students who were eligible for the program but remained in public schools. We reported that here. Well, that raised an obvious question - and I took all kinds of heat for not addressing it - how can you compare the voucher students, who mostly take the Stanford Achievement Test, with public school students, who take the FCAT? 

If you read the report, Figlio addresses that question:

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Policy revisions on tap for Pasco County schools

Since revamping its entire policy manual about two years ago, the Pasco School Board regularly has added updates, usually based upon law changes. Board members have had limited public conversations about the rules, and generally haven't changed the district's overall direction.

Still, the revisions give the board an opportunity to clarify matters that might have left room for interpretation in the past. On Tuesday, some of these up for consideration include:

You can see the proposals in the district agenda here.

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More on the contract for Pinellas teachers

We reported yesterday that the Pinellas County School District and the teachers union reached a tentative agreement on the 2011-12 contract after months of intense negotiations. Teachers are getting a step increase, which will range from $300 to $5,000 each, and are giving up early release Wednesday in the 2013/14 school year.

Union leaders said Thursday that more information would be going out to members soon. But here are a few points that we didn't have space to include in the story.

*Teachers also are going to get two "trade days," which can be used essentially as a day off when students aren't in class and teachers would otherwise have training. 

*To approve a waiver of contract at a school, there needs to be 66 percent approval by the staff, rather than 75 percent.

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What not to wear? Pasco high schools spell it out

dress-code.jpgPasco County schools haven't gone so far as to mandate uniforms for all students (unlike Flagler and some other counties).

But high school principals throughout the county have taken steps in the first two weeks of classes to make sure students know what's not allowed.

Administrators at Gulf High patrolled the dropoff lines outside the school, halting teens wearing inappropriate attire before they could even get inside the doors. Land O'Lakes High prepared a flyer with clear pictures and labels so kids would have no trouble understanding that, among other things, "All shirts MUST cover your entire shoulder, chest and stomach ... no tank tops, spaghetti straps or off the shoulder shirts."

The violations were plentiful, Land O'Lakes office staffers said, including lots of short-shorts, low-cut shirts and pajamas.

"We have worked hard to begin the year with very tight enforcement," Mitchell High principal Jim Michaels said. "We have not had a major problem but feel it is important to stress the rules and concentrate on why we are all here, to learn." …

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Florida education news: School technology, propane-powered buses, early release days and more

imgres.jpegTECH SPECIALISTS WANTED: Pasco County struggles to fill technology specialist jobs that are split between two elementary schools. (Times file photo)

DEAL: Pinellas teachers finally arrive at a settlement for their 2011-12 contract.

TRIAL RUN: The Hernando school district tests propane-powered school buses for potential cost savings. 

THE FLORIDA WAY: Former governor Jeb Bush touts Florida's education system as a model for a Romney administration.

AFRAID: Broward's new transportation director says he fears for his life as anger erupts over major changes he implemented, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

HALF DAYS: Manatee schools eliminate early release Wednesdays but doesn't completely get rid of half days, the Herald-Tribune reports.

RUNNING OUT: With its reserves nearly spent, the St. Lucie school district faces big budget cuts, the St. Lucie Tribune reports.

HOW MUCH? The Orange School Board debates how to split revenue generated by selling naming rights to school stadiums, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

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Volunteers: What type of background screening is necessary?

After selecting a new superintendent Tuesday, the Pinellas County School Board had a brief discussion about background checks for volunteers. Apparently, not everyone is following the district's policy, which requires that volunteers who are going to be unsupervised with children get a more rigorous screening - a Level II background check.

But board members had some concerns about when the tougher screening is required and how much it costs. Board chairwoman Robin Wikle said some parents might not be allowed to drive students on a field trip, for instance, without the tougher and more expensive screening. (Background checks can cost over $100 for the Level II.)

"We want parents on campus...but are we making it tough for them to do it," she asked.

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Learn more about new Pinellas health care options

Employees of the Pinellas County School District, take note. The school district has a bunch of information up on its web site to inform you about changes to its health insurance for 2013. 

If you recall, the unions and the school district clashed earlier this summer about a health insurance proposal that would have dramatically increased out-of-pocket costs for employees. The two sides then came up with a proposal that included three different options, giving employees a little more latitude. (See a previous blog post here.)

At Tuesday's board workshop, district staff said the change saved the district about $13 million.

Check here for information about the new plans and to see a schedule of informational meetings.


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Fresh or frozen? Florida farmers enter fray over school fruits and veggies

images_1.jpgFrom the Sun-Sentinel:

WASHINGTON -- With a special school-snack program caught in the middle, Florida growers have plunged into a food fight in Congress that pits promoters of fresh fruit and vegetables against producers of canned, dried and frozen foods.

The fresh-versus-frozen lobbying tussle centers on a tiny but popular federal program – known as the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program -- that provides free extra snacks to schools in low-income neighborhoods. But it raises a larger nutritional debate as well as a clash between economic interests.

Are fresh fruit and veggies grown in Florida's sunshine a better choice than something cheaper that's frozen, dried or preserved in a can?

Florida growers, who want to sell more and more goods to the school market, are urging Congress to keep the snack program fresh.

Read the full story here. Which do you think students would consume more of? Fresh or frozen?

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Pasco students to talk education at the RNC

dayspring.jpgIf all goes as planned, a group of Pasco County charter school students will get about five minutes Thursday night on the national stage to share their (filmed) views about the future of education.

They're scheduled to appear via video at the Republican National Convention at about 8 p.m.

RNC staffers recently spent hours after classes at Dayspring Academy for Education and the Arts, asking students questions such as what a quality education and school choice mean to them, and what they hope to do in the future, co-founder state Rep. John Legg told the Gradebook. 

The film of their thoughts is slated to air just before former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who wrote the foreward for nominee Mitt Romney's education white paper, takes the stage for his remarks.

Legg said the students were really excited to be part of the event, although everyone tried to temper that enthusiasm with the knowledge that even a slight schedule hiccup could sideline the video. If it's on, you can see it best either on television on C-SPAN, which doesn't have commercials, or on the YouTube live stream of the convention.

[Photo courtesy of Dayspring Academy]

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Superintendent transition begins in Pasco school district

images.jpgThere's still the formality of the general election pitting Republican nominee Kurt Browning against write-in candidate Kathy Lambert.

But with Browning, who soundly defeated incumbent Heather Fiorentino in the August primary, widely expected to sweep into office, the effort to begin acquainting him with district operations has begun.

Browning, who has said he will not campaign actively for the general, met with Fiorentino behind closed doors for about an hour last week. He said they had a genial conversation, and discussed how to make a seamless move from her term into his. Now, department directors are preparing reports to give Browning details about how they do business.

Browning has pledged to make a thorough review of district operations, with an eye toward effectiveness and efficiency. After that work is done, he said, he will decide whether to restructure divisions, keep or replace personnel and other possible actions. Already there's been some speculation as to what might come, as Browning spent much of his campaign relying on a Florida Association of District School Superintendents report that advocated change in substance and style. …

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Florida education news: Marching band, charter school, bus stop safety and more

ntp_band083112_237414d.jpegWELCOME BACK: Jesuit High School resurrects its marching band after nearly a decade of dormancy. (Times photo, Carolina Hidalgo) 

GAP: The Tampa area rates poorly in the education level of residents compared to regional job demands.

CLOSE ONE: State College of Florida president Lars Hafner narrowly survives a trustee vote of no confidence, the Bradenton Herald reports.

GET REAL: Broward School Board members and bus drivers criticize the superintendent's conspiracy theory that the union is sabotaging the district's transportation system, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

SHUT DOWN: The Broward school district forces a failing charter school to close, and its teachers lose their last month's pay, the Miami Herald reports.

ORGANIZED: Lee parents prepare their facts and arguments as they gird for a debate over bus stop safety, the Fort Myers News-Press reports.

DISCRIMINATION? Two former Lee teachers sue the school district saying they were discriminated against for being Jehovah's Witnesses, the Naples Daily News reports.

CONTROLS: FAMU's interim president looks internally to see what changes are needed to improve the school's operations, the Orlando Sentinel reports. …

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Pasco eSchool gets one application for top post

When the Pasco school district advertised for a new eSchool principal, officials wouldn't commit to the idea that current administrator JoAnne Glenn, who's listed as an assistant principal, would necessarily get the job.

They said they'd review all the applications in search of the "right person."

They have one choice: Glenn. She's the only person who applied for the position, and the ad is now closed. 

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Video: Mike Grego defends his integrity a week before quitting Osceola superintendency

Wondering about Mike Grego's passion and commitment to public education as he enters contract negotiations to become Pinellas County's next superintendent? Check out this February 2011 video in which Grego pointedly defends his integrity and his staff from accusations by an Osceola School Board member.

Grego quit days later, and went on to become interim K-12 chancellor of the Florida Department of Education. The School Board member in question lost her reelection bid two weeks ago.

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It's smooth sailing to south Tampa schools

With less-than-expected out-of-town traffic at the Republican National Convention, there's been no problem getting kids to and from the south Tampa schools, officials report.

Security officers continue to ride buses to and from Harbor Island, as they did last week. At Gorrie Elementary, Wilson Middle and Plant High School kids have gotten to school and arrived at home on schedule.

Well, most of the time.

A replacement bus was late Wednesday morning leaving Plant to pick up Wilson students. The problem had nothing to do with the convention; the driver was having difficulty operating the bus. ParentLink calls went out and the kids arrived just 15 minutes past the start of class.

If you haven't done so already, parents at these three schools are advised to follow them on Twitter. Or consult the district's RNC web page.

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