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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Coming up: State Board of Education, elections, Veterans Day and more

full.jpegOct. 2: Pasco School Board, 9:30 a.m. • Hernando School Board, 7 p.m. • State Advisory Board on Early Education and Care, 10 a.m., Tallahassee 

Oct. 8-12: FTE week

Oct. 8-9: State Board of Education, Valencia College 

Oct. 9: Hillsborough School Board, 3 p.m. • Pinellas School Board, 10:30 a.m.

Oct. 16: Pasco School Board, 6 p.m.

Oct. 19: No classes, Hillsborough and Pinellas schools

Oct. 22: No classes, Pasco schools

Oct. 23: Pinellas School Board, 5:30 p.m.

Nov. 5-6: State Board of Education, Palm Beach County 

Nov. 6: General election • Pasco School Board, 9:30 a.m.

Nov. 7-8: Board of Governors, New College, Sarasota 

Nov. 12: Veterans Day 

Nov. 13: Pinellas School Board, 10 a.m. • Hillsborough School Board, 3 p.m.

Nov. 20: Organization and swearing in, all school districts

Nov. 30: Deadline, education commissioner applications

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Florida education news: Class size, Bright Futures, middle school sports and more

pas_classa093012_241918c.jpegOVER THE LIMIT: Required to meet state class size rules, Pasco County schools move students and teachers in ways they'd rather not. (Times photo, Douglas Clifford)

BIG SHOES: Retiring Pasco Education Foundation executive director Chip Wichmanowski leaves the school district better than he found it, columnist Bill Stevens writes.

ONLINE DEBATE: Florida's school districts grapple with K12 Inc.'s applications for virtual charter schools, the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting reports.

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Florida education news: Hunger Games, school walkers, young principals and more

eaglegames_1_241902a.jpegMATH WITH A TWIST: Students at Pasco's Paul R. Smith Middle School get excited about math challenges when they're wrapped up in a Hunger Games-themed contest. (Times photo, Douglas Clifford)

STILL OPEN: The Brookridge subdivision keeps its gates open to Hernando school walkers while parents challenge its proposed closure. 

YOUTHFUL: More than 20 Hillsborough schools have principals still in their 30's.

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James Pepe wanted the last word

Given a disappointing evaluation, teacher James Pepe lashed out at the principal, his coworkers, even the custodial staff. Read what he wrote, taken from his personnel file. Pepe now faces charges that he tried to hire a hit man to murder a fellow teacher.

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Orange School Board member begins campaign for commissioner post

Rick Roach, a veteran educator and Orange School Board member since 1998, has contacted friends to let them know he will apply for Florida education commissioner. He also asked them to back his candidacy, if they agree with his views.

"I have long been concerned with the direction of education in our state and I have been a very vocal critic as many of you know. So, I have decided to either stop complaining or step up and do something about it," he wrote. "I feel I am highly qualified as my resume will attest, passionate about the job as my letter of application should show, and feel confident I could make a very positive difference for our children, the future leaders of Florida. Please read my letter of application and my resume. If you agree with me, it would help if you could write a letter of support." …

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Kurt Browning: Not superintendent-elect yet, but not acting too worried

As we've noted several times, former Florida secretary of state Kurt Browning delicately avoids calling himself Pasco County's superintendent-elect -- even as almost everyone around him treats him as if he's just waiting for the Nov. 20 swearing in.

But Browning, who still faces a write-in candidate in November, sure doesn't seem too worried. Consider this: In the final reporting period of his primary fight with incumbent Heather Fiorentino, Browning collected about $13,500 in campaign contributions and spent nearly $31,000 to defeat Fiorentino.

In the month that followed his primary victory, Browning brought in $558 -- that's one $500 contribution and a $58 refund from Bright House Networks.

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How much access to high schools is enough?

Republicans and Libertarians have been demanding face time with some Pasco Gulf High School students ever since learning that Democrats got in and pushed President Barack Obama's reelection message. The GOP won time to speak. The Libertarians got this e-mail from Gulf principal Kim Davis:

"Thank you for your email and your interest in addressing our students. I want to assure you that we are committed to providing a high quality, well-rounded education that is free of any bias to every student in our school.  It was not our intention to have any partisan speaker address students during instructional time, but rather to provide a non-partisan, informational voter registration drive. Unfortunately, the person that came in did not adhere to those guidelines.  …

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Florida education news: Hit man, voter registration, charter school funding and more

hitman.jpegOVER THE TOP: A Hillsborough high school social studies teacher tries to hire a hit man to kill one of his colleagues that he had been fighting with. (Image from video game)

DOUBLE DIP: Pinellas superintendent Mike Grego draws both a salary and a retirement pension from state funds.

MESS: A Pasco high school voter registration drive turns into a complicated political affair.

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Millions come to Florida school districts for evaluation improvements

Several Florida school districts including Hillsborough County today won millions of dollars in a federal Teacher Incentive Fund grant  aimed at improving teacher pay and professional opportunities in high-poverty schools. The money also can go toward implementing improved teacher evaluations.

"Our best teachers and principals are invaluable leaders in changing life outcomes for students," U.S. education secretary Arne Duncan said in a release. "They are desperately needed in our struggling schools, and they deserve to be recognized, rewarded, and given the opportunity to have a greater influence on their colleagues, students, and in their communities."

Hillsborough will get $16.8 million in the first two years of the program. Its project description focuses on putting the district's new evaluation system in place: …

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Gov. Scott, State Board collaborating on commissioner search

From the Buzz:

Although the Florida Board of Education is ultimately tasked with finding the state’s new education commissioner, Gov. Rick Scott said he expects the person who gets the job to meet his approval as well.

“To have a successful relationship between the Board of Education and the governor means that they both have to be involved in picking a new commissioner,” Scott said. “And it’s got to be an individual that has the same beliefs that the Board of Education has and the governor has or otherwise it won’t work.”

Scott invited Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand to dinner at the governor’s mansion Wednesday night to talk about the search and other education issue. After dinner, Scott and Chartrand said they had common goals when it comes to selecting the next commissioner. More here. …

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What to do about high-spiked hair?

bilde.jpegA 17-year-old senior at Deland High was after the world record for tallest Liberty Spike Mohawk. His stood at 3.6 feet.

Principal Mitch Moyer sent Asher Stonesifer home with a referral. His offense? Extreme, disturbing appearance — specifically his hair — which he considered a violation of school district policy.

"I focused on the word extreme," Moyer told the Daytona Beach News-Journal, which also reported that the principal talked with the boy and his mom about a possible compromise if the teen cuts off about 5 inches.

Mom Rae Stonesifer told the News-Journal she supported her son's hairstyle choice, after checking the school dress code. "I thought, 'What harm does it do?' " she said. "It's only hair; it doesn't affect his grades."

But does it affect others' grades, because students might distractedly jabber about hair rather than calculus? Or at some point do teens just get used to their peers' appearances and just go about their business? Your thoughts?

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Florida education news: Commissioner search, charter schools, iPads and more

imgres.jpegTHEY LOVE PAM: Gov. Rick Scott and FEA president Andy Ford both say interim education commissioner Pam Stewart might be best for the job permanently. The State Board of Education was right to extend its search for the best applicants, the Times editorializes.

NO JUSTIFICATION: Pasco district officials recommend approval of K12 Inc.'s virtual charter application despite a state investigation into the company.

iLEARNING: Tampa's Academy of the Holy Names buys iPads for all its students in grades 3 through 12 to use in class.

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12-year-old Hernando student gives back to domestic violence center that helped her

Seventh-graders at Gulf Coast Academy in Spring Hill are required to do community service projects every year.

For 12-year-old Haley Greene, the project is personal.

She's raising money and supplies for the Dawn Center of Hernando County, a non-profit organization providing domestic and sexual violence services. It's one she and her mother turned to themselves.

For more on the story, click here.

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AG opinion: Teachers count in deciding how to spend recognition funds

The time is drawing near when Florida schools that scored well on the FCAT get to fight over how to spend their recognition funds from the state. They have the choice to put the money toward employee bonuses, school equipment and salaries for temporary additional staff.

More often than not, the school staff and advisory committees dole out the bonuses. Battles sometimes break out, though, over exactly how to distribute the funds, and to whom.

That in mind, Osceola's school district lawyer recently raised an interesting question for the Attorney General's Office to consider: If teachers as a group are bigger than all other employees at a school, can they participate in the vote how to use the recognition funds knowing they can decide who to include and exclude by sheer number?

Or, more formally, "If classroom teachers outnumber other school staff engaged in the joint determination with the school advisory council regarding the distribution and use of school recognition funds, may the school develop a procedure by which the position of the school staff is decided by a vote of all of the staff at the school, including the teachers?"

The AGO's opinion, in a word, is "yes": …

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Pinellas has three semifinalists for National Achievement Scholarship

Three students in Pinellas County Schools have been named semifinalists for the National Achievement Scholarship.

The students are: Jaila Johnson and Ike Okonkwo, both of St. Petersburg High, and Aubrey Wetzelberg, of Dunedin High, according to the school district. They were among 1,600 semifinalists announced today by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. Semifinalists compete for 800 awards, worth more than $2.5 million in scholarships. The program recognizes outstanding black high school students. (Read more about it here.)

Students who are eligible for the National Achievement Scholarship also can apply for the National Merit Scholarship program, which is open to all high school students. Both programs are considered prestigious.

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