Make us your home page


Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Former Zephyrhills High principal suggests his compassion led to his undoing

Steve Van Gorden resigned his post as Zephyrhills High School principal in early November, amid allegations that he sexually harassed several staff members. He said at the time that he "made some mistakes" and " let my personal life jeopardize my judgment."

As Van Gorden struggled to maintain his public presence as a leader of the Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce, noontime Rotary Club and City Council (he's since resigned all three), he backpedaled to a degree. He claimed his side of the story wasn't fully told, and that some of the allegations against him - which he didn't challenge when resigning - were not entirely true.

Heading into the new year, Van Gorden has launched a new blog focusing on "out of the box thinking to lead in schools, communities, and business." One of the first items he tackles is his decision that killed his career. 

"I hired a lady that I dated. She was a single mom with two kids. She was bright and had the potential to move up the ranks quickly. I hired her because I wanted to help her family," he wrote in a post titled Drawing the lines in leadership. "THAT was the BIGGEST mistake in my life and my life has been impacted by that decision in every way." …

Full Story

Tony Bennett's Florida education priorities: Common Core and teacher evaluations

imgres.jpegIncoming Florida education commissioner Tony Bennett is well known for his strong views on education policy, including his strong support of school choice and vouchers, as well as his backing of the national Common Core standards that some say contributed to his election defeat in Indiana. Those views, however, won him his new Florida job. And he's been given instructions to make proper implementation a priority once he takes over.

Bennett explained his goals in an interview with the Gradebook, portions of which were published in a heavily edited version over the weekend. Here are some of his extended comments on priorities. Look for more from the interview later this week.

What do you plan to do once you get to Florida? Do you have marching orders from the board, or from the governor?

There were three issues, one of them I have already done. That is, get very acclimated with the governor's education agenda and be thinking about how I help advance that agenda. Specifically within that, the governor asked me to really focus on two things immediately. The first of those is implementation of the Common Core. That is of paramount importance. …

Full Story

Time to moderate? Florida sees pushback in its education endeavors, the big story of 2012

images.jpgForget the top 10 story list. In Florida education, take the longer look at Big One. 2012 was the year that the "reform" movement faced its first significant pushback after a more than a decade of ineffective complaining.

The story actually began in the waning days of 2011, when the Florida Board of Education adopted its first set of new FCAT passing scores in years, along with new school grading rules that affected special education students as well as children still learning English.

Civil rights activists, superintendents and even some south Florida Republican lawmakers, along with the state board's longest-serving member (a Jeb Bush appointee), criticized the changes, and called for reconsideration to take into account the people whom the reforms were affecting. The debate continued late into the year, as the state gave several special education centers F grades as district leaders challenged the methods and philosophy behind such a move. 

Jump forward into January 2012, and up came the introduction of the "parent trigger" bill that sparked one of the biggest controversies of the 2012 legislative session. Parent groups quickly denounced the measure, saying they didn't support it or request it, while outside organizations such as Michelle Rhee's Students First and the California-based Parent Revolution stepped up to back the Republican-sponsored legislation.

Full Story

Florida education news: Job shadowing, guns in schools, vouchers and more

sshouse020109_54947c.jpegJOB PROSPECTS: A Palm Beach business group and the school district create a job shadowing program for graduating seniors, the Palm Beach Post reports. (Times file photo)

MAKING MUSIC: The dean of the University of Miami music school is nominated for a Grammy Award, the Miami Herald reports.

LEVELING OFF: Southwest Florida universities see enrollment hold steady, giving them time to focus on programs rather than growth, the Fort Myers News-Press reports.

NEW LEADERSHIP: The new president of Florida Keys Community College takes the school in new directions, the Keynoter reports.

OUT OF WORK: A newly elected Duval School Board member loses her day job, the Florida Times-Union reports.

'LIFE IS COMBAT': Palm Beach Post columnist Jac Ver Steeg offers his satiric view of life in an armed elementary school.

ONE TEST: Voucher recipients should take the same accountability exams as their public school counterparts, the Orlando Sentinel editorializes.

Full Story

Coming up: Break continues, board meetings, Hernando superintendent search and more


Dec. 24-Jan. 4: Winter break, Pinellas, Pasco, Hillsborough, Hernando schools

Jan. 7: No classes, Pasco schools

Jan. 10: Hillsborough School Board, grievance hearing, 9 a.m. • Pinellas School Board, 10:30 a.m.  • Hernando Citizens Committee on Superintendent Search, time TBA

Week of Jan. 14: Legislative committee meetings

Jan. 15: Hillsborough School Board, 3 p.m. • Florida Board of Education, 8 a.m., Orlando

Jan. 16: Commission for Independent Education, 9 a.m., Howey in the Hills

Jan. 16-17: Florida Board of Governors, at University of Florida

Jan. 22: Hernando School Board, 7 p.m. • Pasco School Board, 6 p.m. 

Full Story

Florida education news: Algebra, superheroes, raises and more

psc_yrbrowning12301_253737c.jpegCULTURE SHIFT: Recently elected superintendent Kurt Browning refashions the Pasco school district, with many watching to see how his ideas pan out.

RETIRING: Former Florida university system chancellor Charles Reed ends his tenure as California State University system leader with plans to return to Florida, the LA Times reports.

SHE'S BACK: A Palm Beach principal ousted during a bullying investigation resurfaces as the district's director of charter school operations, the Palm Beach Post reports.

BACK TO BASICS: Area college students and high school graduates help students at Lake Wales High better understand algebra, the Winter Haven News Chief reports.

SUPER SCIENCE: A Panama City science center teaches kids about science using superheroes as the focal point, the Panama City News Herald reports.

MESSY: Florida Keys Community College faculty complain that the school's cutback on custodial services is becoming noticeable, the Keynoter reports.

RAISES: The Leon school district expects to be able to offer pay hikes in the coming year, the Tallahassee Democrat reports. 

Full Story

Florida education news: Commissioner Tony Bennett, FAMU hazing, school grades and more

tony_253619a.jpegFLORIDA CHALLENGES: Incoming Florida education commissioner Tony Bennett shares his views on his work ahead to move the state's education reform efforts. (AP photo) 

MOVING ON: Florida education leaders hope to put a messy and controversial year behind them as they look to 2013, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER: A 62-year-old Naples woman finally completes her bachelor's degree 40 years after starting, the Naples Daily News reports.

NOT READY: A report shows that FAMU lacked the internal controls needed to deal with hazing, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

NO BIG DEAL: Florida's high school grades continue to reveal more about politics than education, the Palm Beach Post editorializes.

MAKE SCHOOLS SAFE: There are plenty of ways to improve school security by dealing with mental problems as they're discovered, Bob Sharpe of the Florida Council for Community Mental Health writes in the Sun-Sentinel

Full Story

Indiana's take on testing voucher recipients in private schools: An option for Florida?

Florida's move toward increased accountability for voucher recipients has taken incremental steps over the years.

The private schools receiving the students have agreed to offer a national norm-referenced test not the FCAT, to gauge performance. Early this year lawmakers passed a bill, now law, that would allow the private schools to opt into the state testing system. Most recently, Gov. Rick Scott has floated the idea of having all students who receive a tax credit scholarship take the same tests as their public school peers.

Asked his view on the issue, incoming Florida education commissioner Tony Bennett told the Gradebook he never had to contemplate testing of voucher students in Indiana when it adopted a broad ranging voucher program.

"In Indiana, if a private school takes one voucher student, every student in that school takes the state assessment so that school gets a letter grade based on the same calculation as everyone else," Bennett said. 

We wondered if Florida should do the same thing. Bennett responded: …

Full Story

Florida education news: Teacher appreciation, charter school policy, class size and more

b4s_freelunch122812_253542c.jpegMORE THAN A FREE LUNCH: Tampa area teachers appreciate the sentiment behind Tijuana Flats' Teacher Hero Day. (Times photo, James Borchuck)

BACK OFF: Hillsborough school district lawyers move for dismissal of a lawsuit alleging discrimination in the death of a special education student after a school bus ride.

CALMING PRESENCE: South Florida black educators seek ways to ensure that ethnic and racial tensions don't lead to school violence, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

NO ASSUMPTIONS: Duval superintendent Nikolai Vitti says charter school policy should be based on data and not ideology, the Florida Times-Union reports.

MISSED IT: Marion schools failed to meet Florida's class size mandate, the Ocala Star-Banner reports. • Alachua schools also did not comply with the mandate, the Gainesville Sun reports.

DIY: The Seminole school district offers residents a chance to try their hand at drawing new attendance boundaries with online software, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

FULL TIME PATROL: The Gainesville Police Department commits to adding an officer at 12 elementary schools in the city limits after winter break, the Gainesville Sun reports.

Full Story

Florida needs more paths to high school graduation, Sen. Legg says

Florida high school students already know which courses they need to pass to earn credits toward graduation.

But perhaps they need a few more options, suggests state Sen. John Legg, chairman of the Senate Education Policy Committee.

Legg told the Gradebook that his committee will be looking into ways to add industry certification programs to the list of courses acceptable toward a diploma. The courses must meet the academic standards set forth by the state, just as any other acceptable credit-bearing class. But if a student can successfully complete an engineering-focused certificate program, for instance, that includes the same lessons as a regular physics course, why shouldn't it count, he said.

While reviewing the high school course structure, Legg said, the committee also intends to take a closer look at the value of the eleventh and twelfth grades. Many students already take advantage of dual enrollment in college for free, often replacing their upper-level high school courses, Legg noted. Many other students simply complain about being bored. …

Full Story

Florida education news: Race to the Top, robotics, Algebra I and more

MOVING ON: Collier schools plan to implement a new college and career preparation plan even after losing its bid for a Race to the Top-District grant, the Naples Daily News reports.  

MAKE IT WORK: Students at a Lee middle school take advantage of a grant to learn about underwater robotics, the Fort Myers News-Press reports.

ALTERNATE TEST: The Florida Department of Education considers setting a concordant score on the PERT exam for students to replace their Algebra I end-of-course exam, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

SAFETY FIRST: Palm Beach private schools add security in the wake of the recent Connecticut shooting, the Palm Beach Post reports. • The Alachua Sheriff's Office makes plans to maintain deputies patrolling elementary schools after winter break, the Gainesville Sun reports.

COSTLY: Volusia school district leaders add safety expenses to the mix as they discuss how to overcome an expected revenue shortfall in the wake of a failed tax referendum, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports. …

Full Story

How hard is it for Florida schools to meet class size rules?

Almost since the day in 2002 the Florida voters approved class size restrictions for public schools, superintendents and principals have criticized the law as inflexible and out-of-sync with daily realities in the schools. Students come and go, they have said, making it nearly impossible to keep student counts stable — particularly inside classrooms, rather than as schoolwide averages.

This year has proven no exception. After the October official counts, with time for districts to review their data for flaws, the Department of Education has reported that 31 of Florida's 67 school districts failed to meet the mandate of no more than 18 children in core courses prekindergarten through third grade, 22 in fourth through eighth grades and 25 in high schools.

Among large districts, Duval had the highest percentage of classes out of compliance, with 19.5 percent. That represented 2,438 students. Other larger districts that didn't meet the mark included Volusia (18 percent of classes), Manatee (18 percent) and Broward (12 percent). Miami-Dade also failed to fully comply, with 4 percent of its classes over, representing 1,754 students. …

Full Story

Florida education news: Medical school, Common Core, guidance counselors and more

imgres.jpegTREATING HEART DISEASE: USF's new Heart Institute aims to become a leader in the field by analyzing patient genetics.

COMMON CORE: Florida teachers say the state's new academic standards will give them a wider latitude to teach as they see fit, so long as their students attain the goals, the AP reports.

TOUGH WORK: Sarasota school guidance counselors see their jobs get harder as they face more mandates and the district cuts their positions, the Herald-Tribune reports.

MOVE NOW: The Collier school district defends its right to transfer teachers involuntarily as one teacher fights the move, the Naples Daily News reports. 

GETTING BETTER: A Lee County first year teacher starts to feel more comfortable in the classroom as the year moves on, the Fort Myers News-Press reports.

ENRICHMENT: An Okaloosa elementary school adds an arts and science academy for third through fifth graders, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports.

JOB ON THE LINE: The Broward superintendent has recommended firing a teacher who was arrested for cocaine possession, the Sun-Sentinel reports. • A Palm Beach principal is reprimanded for a DUI, the Palm Beach Post reports.

Full Story

Merry Christmas!


Have a wonderful Christmas with family and friends. We'll be back soon.

(Times photo, Kathleen Flynn)

Full Story

Is Florida spending its migrant education funds properly?

Leaders of several Florida civil rights and non-profit organizations including LULAC, the NAACP and the United Chinese Association are demanding that Gov. Rick Scott prove that the state is following all the federal rules and guidelines for supporting migrant education.

They want to make sure that Florida, which has more than 50,000 children eligible for the program, isn't in the same boat as Indiana — where newly appointed education commissioner Tony Bennett comes from — and that it won't ever be,

Earlier this fall, the U.S. Department of Education reported that Indiana had failed to draw down any of its federal funds to support migrant students. 

"Floridians expect the Florida Department of Education to comply with all the requirements, deadlines, and guidelines for expenditure of education dollars," the group wrote in its Dec. 21 letter, attached below. "Florida cannot afford to underutilize these ear-marked and available funds."

Stay tuned to see if an answer comes.

Full Story