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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida graduation rate jumps to 74.5 percent, dropout rate steady

graduation_rate_chart.pngThe Florida Department of Education announced this afternoon that the four-year high school graduation rate for the class of 2012 is 74.5, and that the 3.9 oercentage point jump was the highest in nearly a decade.

African-American students had the biggest increases of all racial groups, although Hispanic students also saw significant gains, the news release said.

Meanwhile, the dropout rate for remained steady at 1.9 percent and has decreased a full percentage point over the past four years.

Gov. Rick Scott praised the good news Friday.

“Floridians want to know that they have access to high quality-education that prepares them for college and careers,” he said via the news release. “The increase in graduation rates speaks to the effort and commitment of students and educators and shows that our state is moving in the right direction.” 

For more information about high school graduation rates, click here.

Here is the full news release: …

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Pasco teachers union plans to appeal grievance decision, unless ...

Rebuffed in its efforts to reduce teacher workload, the United School Employees of Pasco has every intention of turning to the Pasco School Board for relief.

"We were disappointed" with former superintendent Heather Fiorentino's response, USEP negotiator Jim Ciadella told the Gradebook. "We are going to appeal it."

That is, unless new superintendent Kurt Browning has a different take on the teachers' complaints, Ciadella added. Even if the union takes its grievance to the board, he noted, Browning could intervene, eliminating the need to move to the next step.

Browning, who met with USEP leaders Tuesday evening, told the Gradebook that he's on their side. "I told them we are not on opposing teams," he said. "We are not enemies."

But before acting on things like eliminating testing and school meetings, Browning said he wants some time to learn all the facts in play and arrive at his own conclusions on what is feasible and allowable. He can't do much to change state and federal mandates, for instance, but district requirements are definitely on the table. …

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Despite teacher complaints, state readies report on new evaluation system

Not bowing to union pressure, the state is moving forward with publicizing the results of a new evaluation system for teachers that some school employees say is confusing and error-prone.

The Florida Department of Education says will release a preliminary status report on the 2011-2012 school year evaluations sometime next week. The report will including the statistics about how classroom teachers and other school employees scored. The ratings levels are: highly effective, effective, needs improvement, developing, or unsatisfactory.

Data will be available at state, district, and school levels, but not for individual employees. Only charter schools participating in the federal Race to the Top program will be included in the report.  are included in the 2011-12 data. This initial status report includes all information received from districts to date, representing the majority of district data.

Meanwhile, the Orlando Sentinel reports that teachers are complaining about the individual results they received and pointing out flaws in the review system.

From the Sentinel: …

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Do or die time for Florida commissioner search

Today's the deadline for anyone who's interested to apply for Florida's education commissioner job. So far, it hasn't drawn the big names that top officials had hoped to see.

The latest applicant, arriving late Thursday, was an assistant principal from Jefferson Elementary School in Monticello. (Jefferson County has just two schools.) A final list of candidates should be available late in the evening, or perhaps Monday, depending how quickly the search firm and Department of Education connect.

Barring the last-minute arrival of a superstar or two, what's the state to do? Extend the search again?

The State Board of Education already gave everyone two extra months to show their interest. Nothing happened. A year ago, the State Board extended its search for the same reasons. It wound up with a finalist pool that many considered lackluster, with the chosen candidate Gerard Robinson lasting just a year.

Does such a dearth of high quality candidates mean there's really no interest? In the state that Jeb Bush is traveling the country touting as a model of education reform? Is it the search firm? Is it Florida? Let's hear your thoughts, while we wait to see what happens next.

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Florida education news: Special education, open emails, civics lessons and more

b2s_protest113012_250178c.jpegSAFETY: Parents protest outside the Hillsborough Children's Board for better treatment of children with special education needs. (Times photo, Edmund Fountain) 

LACK OF CONTENT: Gov. Rick Scott's effort to make his e-mails more public falls short as he and his staff don't use e-mail much.

LABOR NEWS: The St. Lucie school district releases information about contract offers online as the sides head to impasse, the St. Lucie Tribune reports.

CITIZENSHIP: Students at Imagine School at West Melbourne use microsocieties to study civics, Florida Today reports.

GOING DOWN: The Palm Beach County Commission proposes a reduction in school impact fees, the Palm Beach Post reports.

PROGRESS: Supporters check out the site of the future Florida Polytechnic University for the first time, the Ledger reports.

NEW DIRECTION: The Osceola School Board looks to put its contentious past behind it with two new members, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

UNHAPPY: College professors from across Florida gather to criticize plans to make it harder for them to get tenure, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

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Pay up for Duval School Board member

Every fall, the state revises the statutory salaries for Florida school board members. It's up to individual members to decide whether to take any raises coming their way or not.

More often than not, the board members nod to political realities -- particularly that they're not giving increases to their employees -- and they decline. Many set their salaries at the same amount they pay a brand new teacher.

In Duval County, at least one School Board member is acknowledging another reality, that times are tough for her, too.

“I’m going to accept it,” Duval board member Paula Wright told the Florida Times-Union. “I work hard and despite what people think, this isn’t a part-time job. I’ve actually lost money being on the board and so, I’m not different, when I go to the gas pump, it’s the same price for me.” 

Last year, Duval board members froze their pay at the level of a new teacher, or $37,300. This year, their state-recommended salary is $40,161. …

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Florida lawmaker proposes maintaining funding for students in adult courses

For two years, Florida school districts had to seek special action from state lawmakers to protect the millions of dollars they received to cover the costs of high school students making up credits through adult education programs.

The Legislature threatened to cut the funding, then issued temporary yearlong exemptions to the funding cut, which had been proposed as a budget balancing move. 

State Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, has filed legislation to permanently reinstate the funding. Miami-Dade and Pasco counties were among the largest users of the program, with Pasco serving more than 3,000 students through adult education "co-enrollment" in 2011. 

The bill would remove the "not" that prevented the funding, as well as the language creating exceptions for 2011-12 and 2012-13. Last year, Rep. Will Weatherford -- now House speaker -- backed efforts to keep the money flowing to districts. 

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Pasco teacher contract negotiations about to heat up

Teacher unions around the state have begun settling their contracts, many with raises. Palm Beach teachers are looking at $1,500 bumps. Pinellas teachers are getting about 1.5 percent. Even teachers in tiny Walton County are getting bonuses and step increases. 

Representatives for Pasco County teachers and the school district have yet to put any numbers on the table for debate. But that appears soon to change.

The School Board has scheduled an closed-door meeting for Tuesday, specifically to discuss contract talks. Jim Ciadella, lead negotiator for the United School Employees of Pasco, is expecting a bargaining session within a week or so. He told the Gradebook that the delay in talks, though frustrating, was deliberate.

"Quite frankly, we wanted to wait for Mr. Browning to take over," Ciadella said.

Kurt Browning took over as superintendent of schools on Nov. 20. USEP leaders are hoping that his comments about budget efficiencies and improving morale will translate into setting teacher pay increases as a priority. Though encouraged, they understand the talks won't be easy. …

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Florida education news: Field trips, parent involvement, graduation rates and more

her_gca112912a_249985c.jpegEXPERIENCES: Students at Gulf Coast Academy in Spring Hill learn about fencing, kayaking and other skills through field trips intended to broaden their knowledge. (Photo courtesy of Paulette Lash Ritchie)

REACHING OUT: Hernando schools expand their efforts to involve parents in learning with workshops and seminars. 

TOO POLITICAL: Pasco's elected superintendent position injects unneeded politics and fear into the school system, the Times editorializes. 

NEAR THE BOTTOM: Florida's graduation rate is among the worst in the nation, the Palm Beach Post reports.

COSTLY: Some Broward school construction projects could be more expensive that necessary because the department in charge has failed to make recommended changes in operations, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

MORE MONEY: Miami-Dade increases its pay scale for administrators, the Miami Herald reports.

SEARCHING: State College of Florida names a new interim president while searching for a full-time leader, the Bradenton Herald reports.

ARRESTED: A Brevard teacher faces child abuse charges for alleged actions against students with special needs, Florida Today reports. …

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Minnesota looks to dump graduation test requirement

Some Minnesota leaders are recommending that the state get rid of high school graduation exit exams -- even before their 2015 phase in date, the AP reports.

Supporters of exit exams like the idea of knowing that graduates have a proven set of skills. But opponents note that some students may be proficient even if they do not test well.

"What we were wrestling with was that the pendulum had swung too far from the judgment of that teacher, and too far toward a single assessment," said Democratic Rep. Carlos Mariani, incoming chairman of the House Education Policy Committee. "We're trying to find a more intelligent way to do it."

Florida is moving away from the FCAT as a graduation requirement, but is implementing several mandated end-of-course exam passage for students to earn diplomas. A handful of other states also are considering getting rid of high school exit exams, with some looking to ACT or SAT results as a possible replacement. Are end-of-course exams better than single test requirements? Should students have options other than written tests? Should passing grades suffice? What do you think?

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John Legg snags key education leadership spot in Florida Senate

The Florida Senate has just two committees dedicated to education issues, and one of them will be run by a familiar face.

Freshman state Sen. John Legg, R-Pasco County, announced Wednesday that he has been named the chairman of the K-20 Education Policy Committee. He also will serve on the K-20 Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

Legg was chairman of the House K-12 Education Committee two years ago, before becoming speaker pro tempore for 2011-12. He runs a charter school in New Port Richey, and has sponsored several high-profile education bills including the state's move to end-of-course exams from the FCAT. Lately, he has been visiting area high school career academies looking for ideas to improve school-to-work connections and to make junior- and senior-level course work more relevant and challenging to students.  …

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Florida education commissioner application deadline nears

Just three days remain in the extended application period for Florida's education commissioner job, and the top candidates that State Board of Education members said they've been looking for have yet to join the search.

The most notable wish list candidate would be Tony Bennett, who recently lost his reelection bid as Indiana superintendent of public instruction. Bennett, who's a reformer tied to Jeb Bush's education foundation, told the Redefined blog that he's "thinking about it and praying about it."

Interim commissioner Pam Stewart, who's found support among state leaders including university system chancellor Frank Brogan and Florida Education Association president Andy Ford, hasn't committed her interest to the full-time post, either.

Meanwhile, three more candidates have added their names to the list of about 50 hopefuls, most of whom don't fit the criteria that the SBOE has set forth. The latest group includes the director of programs for disruptive youth in a Pennsylvania district, an anti-bullying motivational speaker and the supervisor of testing and child nutrition in an Alabama district. …

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Fear of repercussions: The report on Pasco's superintendent election campaign

Four months after requesting it, the Pasco County School Board this week received a report on whether members of the district administrative staff attempted to pressure employees to support superintendent Heather Fiorentino's reelection bid. 

The report, by Tampa lawyer Tom Gonzalez, cleared Fiorentino of wrongdoing. But he stated that the efforts on her behalf by some on her staff created an impression that not backing Fiorentino was a risky venture.

"There clearly were political activities that were closely related to work, even if they did not occur on district property or during working hours. The active involvement of district-level employees and the amount of effort these administrators apparently gave to the activities contributed to the perception that others would be expected to participate as well."

Superintendent Kurt Browning, who defeated Fiorentino in the August Republican primary, said the report was "clear that there was a culture of fear and intimidation," and that he intended to repair that culture. At the same time, he said, it did not appear that any staff member did anything clearly wrong that would force his hand in making employment decisions. …

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Florida education news: Pasco superintendent's election, value-added evaluations, MOOCs and more

imgres.jpegCAMPAIGN CHAOS: A report by Tampa lawyer Tom Gonzalez reveals a Pasco school district administration filled with concern of retribution if employees did not back superintendent Heather Fiorentino's reelection bid.

FAMILIAR FACES: Pasco superintendent Kurt Browning brings two popular former district administrators back into the district as assistant superintendents, and promotes a highly regarded principal.

SELFISH: Former Zephyrhills High principal Steve Van Gorden needs to step away from public life rather than try to defend himself from the accusations that led to his school resignation, the Times editorializes.

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They're back -- old faces to return to Pasco school administration

Pasco County schools superintendent Kurt Browning is bringing two familiar faces back to the school district in high level posts.

He has recommended the appointment of Ray Gadd as assistant superintendent for operations, and Amelia Van Name Larson as assistant superintendent for student achievement.

Gadd held a similar job under former superintendent Heather Fiorentino until Fiorentino did not renew his contract in June 2009. Van Name Larson was a district curriculum supervisor, overseeing the district's implementation of Response to Intervention programs, until she resigned rather than accept a transfer to an elementary school assistant principal post.

Gadd, who led Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services since his departure, said he looked forward to returning to the district.

"I love the school system. I loved the people I worked with. I want to come back and help Kurt make the transition," he said. Gadd heaped praise upon the department directors who will report to him, calling them "top notch professionals," and said he was "ecstatic" to work with them again. …

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