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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

House Speaker Will Weatherford weighs in on high school football prayers

Let them pray together.

That's Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford's stance on public high school football coaches and their relationship with their players.

"I feel it's sad for a society like America that, as a culture, we decided in an extracurricular activity it's inappropriate for an adult to lead a prayer voluntarily with students who volunteer to pray with them," Weatherford told the Gradebook.

Last Friday, concerns over football coaches leading students in prayer led Pasco schools superintendent Kurt Browning to issue a memo reminding prinicipals and staff that such a practice is not allowed. Hernando principals got a similar message via phone call from their district office the same afternoon.

Their reminders came as the Tampa Bay Times prepared a story about gridiron prayer, which appeared later in the weekend.

Weatherford reacted by sending an email to Browning asking "what's the deal?" and stating his plans to see if law can't be changed to allow coaches to pray with their players. It's a thought that hasn't gained much traction in the Legislature before, and might not if Weatherford tries again.

Read about the latest developments here.

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Florida teachers should participate in next round of standards review, commissioner says

The calls and e-mails began streaming into the Florida Department of Education shortly after Gov. Rick Scott issued his executive order on testing and standards.

Will there be testing in 2014-15? Will the standards change this year? And so on.

Commissioner Pam Stewart quickly put out a memo following up on the order, telling teachers they should definitely speak up when the state holds its hearings on the new standards. "This provides the perfect opportunity for educators to share feedback on these standards that will only make them better," she wrote.

Stewart also noted her closeness to the governor's vision, writing, "Governor Scott and I continue to stand with you and educators across the state," harkening back to questions at her appointment of who she reports to. ("Ultimately this board is the boss ... and I am fully aware of that and understand that," she told the State Board of Education.)

She further called Scott's plan "comprehensive" and said the steps he outlined are "each necessary for our students to be ready for college and careers." Continue reading to see Stewart's full memo, which went to superintendents. …

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Pasco schools warned against using copyrighted material

Pasco County school district officials have begun paying closer attention to the video work that schools and students share on YouTube, such as high school morning news shows.

They've been impressed with the high quality. But they've also grown concerned at the use of popular music, such as Beatles tunes and the theme song to Spongebob Squarepants, without permission.

So on Friday the district told principals to remind their staff members of the importance of either paying for the copyrighted materials, or to steer clear. Instructional media-technology specialists got the memo, too, so they can stay on top of the issue at their schools.

"If we see a video posted by a school or department that includes copyrighted music, we will contact the principal or director and suggest that the music be changed or the video be removed from the Internet if the proper permissions have not been granted," Browning wrote. "Please let me know if we can help your school with any issues related to copyrighted music." …

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Florida education news: Texting, evaluations, video games and more

BE SMART: Tampa Bay area high schools plan to educate teens about Florida's new texting while driving ban.

EVALUATIONS: Former governor Charlie Crist gets it mostly right when he says teacher performance can be rated based on students they don't teach, Politifact Florida reports.

VIDEO VIOLENCE: An Orlando 9-year-old boy is sentenced to home confinement after bringing multiple weapons to school, saying he was copying a videogame character, WFTV reports.

EDUCATION MATTERS: Some Okaloosa teens talk about taking high school more seriously, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports.

VETERAN BENEFITS: Support grows for a bill that would give military veterans in-state tuition at Florida universities, the Ledger reports.

IT TAKES A VILLAGE: Flagler school officials look to community leaders to help the district improve, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

WHAT'S NEXT? FAMU holds a summit on the future for African-Americans, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

TIME TO GO: Alachua superintendent Dan Boyd prepares to leave his office for the last time, the Gainesville Sun reports.

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Florida education news: School prayer, charter schools, virtual degrees and more

SEPARATION: End zone prayers led by coaches prompts Hernando and Pasco superintendents to remind their staffs that employee-initiated prayer is not allowed in the public schools.

SEARCH AND RESCUE: Eckerd College students act as first responders on the water.

NOT SO BAD: U.S. schools aren't failing, though they do face the challenge of student poverty, columnist Robyn Blumner writes.

MAKING MONEY: Jonathan Hage turns Charter Schools USA into one of the fastest growing for-profit charter schools in the country, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

TESTING: Florida schools will continue to barrage students with tests regardless of which standards it chooses, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

TOWED AWAY: Several Broward teachers have their cars towed as they attend a district presentation, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

WHAT'S IN A GRADE? 76 central Florida schools had their state grades padded by State Board emergency action, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

MORE DEGREES: Indian River State College boosts its degree offerings after Florida Atlantic University dumps its St. Lucie campus, the Stuart News reports. …

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Florida education news: School improvement, gardening, carpooling and more

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: The Pinellas school district barely uses a five-year grant aimed at improving four struggling schools.

SUE YOU: A Hillsborough teacher accused of exposing students to pornography sues to get his job back. • A former Flagler schools worker sues the district claiming a hostile work environment, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

DO THE RIGHT THING: Students at John Hopkins Middle discuss anti-bullying strategies.

GREEN THUMBS: Summerfield Elementary uses a teaching garden for lessons about science and nutrition.

DIGGING IN: Pinellas superintendent Mike Grego should keep at the hard work of eliminating the district's achievement gap, the Times editorializes.

RIDE SHARING: A Palm Beach school encourages parents to carpool to reduce long dropoff and pickup lines, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

MYOB: A Naples mom complains when a school sends home a letter calling her daugher overweight, WFTX reports.

MORE CHOICES: Broward plans to create four elementary school magnets for the coming year, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

OUTTA HERE: A Walton teacher resigns after parents question arrests in her background, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports. …

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A new push for financial literacy courses

Should students statewide be required to take a semester-long course in financial literacy?

The Florida Bankers Association, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and the Florida Council on Economic Education think so -- and they hope state lawmakers will agree.

The groups held a press conference Friday to build support for a so-called "money course."

"Our economy depends on the ability of young Floridians to responsibly manage and grow their money into adulthood," said Mike Bell, of the Florida Council on Economic Education. "Requiring the money course to be taught as a half-credit course in high school will keep Florida competitive and grow our economy."

Earlier this year, Florida lawmakers passed legislation requiring public high schools to teach financial literacy principles in their economics courses. The bill, SB 1076, also required state education officials to consider creating a separate, one-half credit course dedicated entirely to the topic.

Experts, including state Education Commissioner Pam Stewart and Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg, got together to discuss the idea in August. The state Department of Education is currently drafting recommendations. …

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Pasco schools superintendent cautions coaches not to pray with players

Just hours before Friday night football was to kick off, Pasco County schools superintendent Kurt Browning today sent principals a pointed reminder that district employees -- such as coaches -- are not permitted to participate in religious activities with their students while performing their official duties.

In recent weeks, there have been several instances where coaches have led prayer with their teams.

"Students can initiate and lead prayers during any non-instructional time that you normally allow students to engage in nonreligious activities," Browning wrote. "Adults may not initiate or lead prayers when acting in their official school district capacity, but are free to pray or worship privately or silently. We want students to be able to exercise their faith at appropriate times and places, but we don’t want anyone to feel coerced into participating or to feel ostracized if they choose not to participate."

Browning attached federal guidelines and School Board policy (see #8800) as references.

The Tampa Bay Times will have more on the role of prayer in high school football this weekend. Read below for Browning's full memo. …

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UF online institute launches in January with 7 degree options

The board overseeing state universities signed off on the University of Florida’s plan to launch its online institute in January.

Called UF Online, the new center will initially have seven bachelor’s degree programs, all earned via the Web. Five of the programs will be based on the college’s existing 2+2 program, which required students to attend classes in person for two years (usually at a state college) then finish their degrees online. 

They are: 



The final two programs were added to UF Online because they are among the university’s most popular majors: biology and psychology. School officials said it will have the same admission standards and academic quality as the brick-and-mortar university.

The online institute is a priority of House Speaker Will Weatherford, and it was awarded to UF by virtue of its status as the state’s highest-ranking public university. The Board of Governors signed off on the school’s presentation during a conference call meeting this morning.

Senate Bill 1076 outlined how the center should operate, including the requirement that Florida students earning degrees through UF Online pay no more than 75 percent of the tuition charged for in-person courses. …

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Pasco County School Board plans Common Core workshop

Never mind the political squabbles going on in Tallahassee.

The Pasco County school district is moving full bore ahead with its Common Core State Standards implementation. On Tuesday, the staff will conduct a workshop for School Board members to get updates and added information about the facts behind the standards.

Don't expect any vocal opposition.

"We completely support the Common Core," assistant superintendent Amelia Larson told the Gradebook.

School Board chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong said she had heard only positive feedback from teachers and staff, and she looked forward to receiving details from the administration to share with people who raise questions.

"Until we hear differently from the state, we are obligated to go full steam ahead with the Common Core standards," Armstrong said.

Gov. Rick Scott has called for public hearings over the next month to review the standards and see if any changes are needed. Florida Rep. Debbie Mayfield has filed legislation to delay implementation, although Senate leaders have signaled such a bill won't have much chance in their chamber. …

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Lawmakers file two bills Florida high school students might like

It's not often that lawmakers write legislation that focuses on the lifestyles of teenagers. They're tackling a couple of those issues this year.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Okaloosa Co., has filed a bill (HB 67) that would prevent Florida high schools from beginning classes before 8 a.m. His proposal comes just weeks after U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan suggested that teens could learn more if schools started later in the day.

“There’s overwhelming science suggesting students at the high school level simply cannot learn at a certain point of the morning,” Gaetz told the Northwest Florida Daily News. “I remember those days, I just don’t remember those classes.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Palm Beach Co., has his eye on protecting Floridians from the dumb things they might put on their social media accounts, as many teens are apt to do. He's filed a bill (SB 198) that would bar employers from requiring employees or job applicants to provide access to their Facebook, Twitter and other feeds in order to vet them before making a hiring decision. …

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Florida education news: Dress code, magnet schools, virtual school and more

FASHION DON'T: Some parents complain about the way some Pasco schools punish students who violate the district dress code.

FOOD AND CLOTHING: Hernando Westside Elementary runs a food pantry and clothes closet for students in need.

ENOUGH ALREADY: The Hillsborough School Board needs to stop bickering and start leading, columnist Sue Carlton writes.

SCHOOL CHOICE: Miami-Dade and Broward school districts get millions in a federal grant to expand their magnet school options, the Miami Herald reports.

HIGH TECH: Colleges in the Daytona Beach area upgrade their classroom technology, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

WHAT'S IN A NAME? An Orlando activist suggests renaming a high school after Roberto Clemente could help with morale, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

COMMON CORE: Opponents of the new standards rally behind a bill in the Florida Legislature to delay implementation, the Herald-Tribune reports.

VIRTUAL EDUCATION: The Board of Governors moves ahead its plan to launch an online university program, State Impact Florida reports.

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Should Florida hit the pause button on testing?

State Rep. Karen Castor Dentel, a Maitland Democrat and veteran teacher, weighed in on the Common Core controversy Thursday, calling for Florida to hit the pause button on testing while transitioning to the new benchmarks.

"We don't have to test that year," Castor Dentel said. "We can pause."

State education officials must choose (or develop) new tests to accompany the new Common Core State Standards. Florida had planned to use exams being created by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC. But Gov. Rick Scott ordered the state to withdraw from the multi-state consortium, citing concerns about federal intrusion.

Castor Dentel said she welcomed Scott's decision because the PARCC tests would have required too many days of testing. But she questioned whether Florida could create new tests before the 2014-15 school year.

"I would be suspect of any test they tried to create to make that deadline," she said.  …

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Tough school needs new principal

He was one of the original Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He went on to a career in the Hillsborough County Public Schools, heading up the athletics departments in several high schools before taking the top job at McLane Middle School in 2009.

Now Franklin Oliver is retiring, and McLane needs a new principal.

McLane, which is celebrated for its robotics program, draws from some of Tampa's toughest neighborhoods. Students living south of Hillsborough Avenue and just east of Interstate-275 are bussed to Brandon to attend McLane, as most middle schools in east Tampa are magnets.

The school showed some low scores on an extensive teachers' survey this past spring, the first of its kind. Eight percent agreed with the statement, "Students at this school follow rules of conduct." Fewer than 30 percent felt parents are influential decision makers, or that teachers have an appropriate level of influence. Slightly more than half - 52 - found the school a good place to work and learn. The response rate was 61 percent.

Before Oliver became McLane's principal, he was assistant principal at King, Freedom, Blake and Chamberlain.

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Midtown and Beyond exhibit opens Friday

Melrose Elementary, John Hopkins Middle and Lakewood High will present their annual photo exhibit, starting tomorrow in St. Petersburg.

Through Our Eyes: Midtown and Beyond, a photo exhibit, will have its opening night reception with students between 5 p.m. and 8 .m. Friday at Studio@620. The address is 620 1st Ave. S., St. Petersburg. Admission is free. The public is welcome.

Each of the three schools has a magnet program, The Center for Journalism and Multimedia Studies, in which students put out newspapers, take photos and create videos.

The annual exhibit is a chance to showcase some of that work. 

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