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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Roberto Martinez weighs in on Common Core

Thursday marks the final day to share your thoughts on the controversial Common Core State Standards.

The state Department of Education has been collecting emails and online comments since September, when Gov. Rick Scott called for more public feedback on the national benchmarks.

So far, the department has received almost 16,000 submissions, including a 74-page document from former state Board of Education member Roberto Martinez. (The file includes a 6-page letter and four attachments.)

Martinez, an attorney and parent, makes the case for the Common Core. He argues that students in Florida need more rigorous standards and higher expectations. "The CCSS are benchmarked to internationally competitive levels in English and math," he writes. "They are designed to ensure that our students are learning the best standards taught in the world today."

To leave your Common Core comment with the state Department of Education, visit

Download Martinez

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Students at Gulfport Elementary are first to get laptops

Third and fourth graders at Gulfport Elementary School received laptops last night, as part of a new initiative to eliminate the "digital divide" between students who have access to technology and those who don't.

Gulport is the first of 36 Title 1 schools to get the laptops, which are being paid for with federal money. Students and parents were invited to a training session where they received the laptops in silver and black backpacks and got a quick run-down on how to access the educational websites purchased by the district. The laptops also come equipped with Microsoft Office.

Superintendent Mike Grego, who was on hand for the start of the evening, told parents that he encourages siblings to use the computers as well. The idea is for students to play educational games outside of school - using some of the same sites they use in school - to extend learning beyond the school day.

"This is about fun at home, but it's also about serious academic learning," Grego said.

More than 100 parents, students, family members and siblings attended the event. Grego said they were hoping for 60 percent to 70 percent participation, but got close to 100 percent at Gulfport. …

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Pasco school board to Gov. Rick Scott: Keep the Common Core

For the past several months, Pasco County school district officials have made clear their support for the Common Core State Standards. Superintendent Kurt Browning has sent letters to Tallahassee leaders pushing the initiative. School Board members have repeated their backing at meetings and workshops.

With the public comment period on the standards ending, and education commissioner Pam Stewart expected to make recommendations for possible changes at the next State Board of Education meeting, the School Board wanted to take an official position.

So on Tuesday, the board will consider adopting a resolution supporting the standards. The measure, which board members requested, attacks many of the frequent criticisms -- Common Core is not a federal mandate, the document notes, nor is it a curriculum. 

"The CCSS create consistent learning goals for all students regardless of where they live or go to school, assuring parents that their children are learning the same rigorous academic standards as other students across Florida and across the country," the resolution states in one of its whereas clauses. …

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Retentions remain steady in Pasco County schools

For the past decade, Florida third graders have faced retention if they can't pass the FCAT reading exam or otherwise show reading mastery through one of a half dozen alternative exemptions.

The policy has been attacked, questioned, evaluated, applauded and mimicked. Michigan is the latest state to consider adopting the controversial concept.

How does it play out locally?

A new report from the Pasco school district indicates a steady stream of retained third graders, hovering at 9 percent to 10 percent annually over the past five years. The district says state rule is the reason:

"Retention of a student is a very serious step. According to research, students who are retained more than once are not likely to graduate from high school. Under most circumstances, a student may only be retained once at each school level (K-5; 6-8; 9-12). However, in the case of mandatory grade 3 retention, a student may be retained in elementary a second time if the student continues to perform below the state identified minimum levels." …

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Florida education news: Student ambassadors, counseling, dancing and more

REPRIMANDED: A USF professor gets an official scolding for comparing a priest to a toilet during a conference.

WELCOME: Hillsborough Eisenhower Middle School starts a student ambassador program.

WAIT FOR IT: The United School Employees of Pasco tells the district it won't jump into quick negotiations over tobacco-free schools.

MOVING ON: A Broward School Board member resigns to move to California. • Seminole School Board member Diane Bauer dies, reports.

ADDED LOAD: A new law requires Florida college advisers to meet with every student to review course selections, State Impact Florida reports.

STRICTLY BALLROOM: Some Broward schools use dance lessons as an anti-bullying strategy, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

UNSAFE: A circuit judge says Duval schools have too much violence to be a top-notch district, the Florida Times-Union reports.

COOL: A Sarasota elementary school revamps its computer lab for fun and functionality, the Herald-Tribune reports.

AT ODDS: The Clay School Board files an ethics complaint against superintendent Charlie Van Zant, the Florida Times-Union reports. …

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Pinellas serving thousands of dinners to students

Pinellas County Schools is in the dinner business.

The school district is serving 2,000 to 3,000 hot dinners a day this year to students at low-income schools. That number is going to increase as more schools are phased in. Right now, there are about 18 elementary and middle schools. Fifteen more schools should be up and running by the first week of December, according to the school district.

The district hopes to have dinner programs at 60 to 65 schools by spring break. Schools must have a minimum of 50 percent of students on subsidized lunch in order to offer the dinners. Pinellas gets reimbursed by the federal government to provide the free dinners to students.

Pinellas already serves breakfast and lunch to students in need. The dinner program is new this year. 

Students get the hot meals by attending after-school programs. Their parents can come and eat with them if they pay for the meal. Students receive hot sandwiches, juice or fruit, a vegetable and milk. 

Sexton Elementary was the first school to get the program.

We'll have an update about the program in the Times later this week. Read the story from when it was first announced here.

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Nine apply to give new charter school local oversight

At its first meeting since May, University Prep's governing board took steps Wednesday toward providing local oversight of the new St. Pete charter school

Nine people applied to serve on the local advisory board that will help hire a new principal. Applicants include former Pinellas School Board member Glen Gilzean and voucher nonprofit Step Up For Students president Doug Tuthill. (The full list of applicants is after the jump.)

Before reviewing the nine applications, however, the governing board expressed confusion over how the board would function. It was unclear how many members to appoint, how long members should serve and whether members should hold offices.

The board appointed Tuthill, who spoke at the meeting, to a subcommittee to lay this groundwork. Craig Sher, the only Pinellas representative on the governing board, will also serve on the subcommittee along with University Prep founder and principal Cheri Shannon.

They settled on a few initial details: The local advisory group will have nine members, should form within the next 30 days, and have Tuthill as the interim president. The group should include school staff and parents, Governing Board Chairman Tom Rogers said. …

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Gaither, Westchase principals to be named

Marie Whelan

JACKIE LAWSON | Gaither High

Marie Whelan

Principals Marie Whelan at Gaither High School and Scott Weaver at Westchase Elementary School will be replaced at Tuesday's Hillsborough County School Board meeting. Whelan was promoted on Oct. 8 to administrator on special assignment in Empowering Effective Teachers and Weaver is now the principal of Martinez Middle School. The meeting begins at 9 a.m.

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Pasco School Board plans to revise Penny for Pasco job list

The Pasco County School Board is looking to stretch its Penny for Pasco revenue a bit farther than the projects it presented to voters in 2012.

The board plans to vote Tuesday to amend its resolutions for the money, to take $6 million from the 2004 tax and $12.8 million from the 2014 tax and put the amount toward a new elementary school in the Wiregrass Ranch area of Wesley Chapel.

No construction projects are supposed to be eliminated from the original list. District officials have budgeted in such a way, though, that extra funds should be available for the new school. The district aims to accelerate its construction plans because of increasing population growth and school crowding, an issue it hasn't faced for a couple of years.

To jump start the plans, the board also is set to approve bond sales not to exceed $135 million, based on anticipated revenue from the renewed Penny for Pasco. The sale date has not been set.

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Full-time subs no real substitute for teachers, agency rules

The Florida Public Employees Relations Committee has taken a dim view of Marion County's effort to hire full-time substitute teachers in place of permanent employees as a budget fix.

District officials proposed the plan to save money on pay and benefits. They hired some full-time subs last year, leading to the PERC complaint, and placed the item in their current year spending plan. At least one School Board member has fought the plan, and pushed for other spending cuts instead.

The Ocala Star-Banner reports that the PERC found the district's action illegal.

"The School District knew or should have known that re-titling of bargaining unit positions to remove work from the bargaining unit was not a legitimate exercise of its management rights and was unlawful," the ruling states.

It has ordered the district to end its practice. District officials told the Star-Banner they are contemplating next steps.

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Florida education news: Tobacco-free schools, superintendent search, early learning and more

NO SMOKING: The Pasco school district's health advisory committee recommends changing rules so all district buildings can become tobacco-free.

WHO WANTS TO BE SUPERINTENDENT? Alachua launches a national search for its next district leader, the Gainesville Sun reports.

EARLY EDUCATION: An advisory panel works on proposals to standardize licensing and staffing requirements for Florida's early learning programs, the Florida Current reports.

WORKING ON IT: Manatee district leaders prepare a new list of spending cuts after finding another budget shortfall, the Bradenton Herald reports. More from the Herald-Tribune.

BIG MONEY: Palm Beach School Board members want to reconsider $381,000-worth of lobbying contracts, the Palm Beach Post reports. (Subscription required)

SAFETY PRECAUTION: The Okaloosa school district plans to buy cameras for all its school buses, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports.

TOO FAR: About 18 Okaloosa high school students face criminal charges over vandalism acts committed before the "big game," the Northwest Florida Daily News reports. …

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Last chance to comment on Common Core

Florida's department of education will continue taking comments about the new Common Core State Standards until Thursday.

The state has received about 13,000 comments from the public so far. Comments have been collected via a website, email, and three public hearings held earlier this month. State education officials have said that the feedback could be used to "tweak" the standards, which were approved in 2010 and are in use in Florida's schools.

Common Core standards, which are more rigorous than Florida's previous standards, have been adopted by more than 40 states and the District of Columbia. The standards have become increasingly controversial, particularly with Gov. Rick Scott's tea party base. Scott called for the public hearings and public feedback.

All comments received by Thursday will be reviewed. An update will be given to the state Board of Education at its Nov. 19 meeting.

The standards spell out what students should know by grade level. Decisions about what students read and what textbooks are used are made at the local level.

To submit a comment, visit or email [email protected]

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University Prep's governing board to meet Wednesday

The governing board of University Preparatory Academy, Pinellas's newest charter school, is meeting tomorrow. The board is expected to review candidates for a local advisory board of community members.

The meeting is open to the public. Taking place at University Prep, the former site of Southside Fundamental Middle, it's scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. and end at 1 p.m.

University Prep has had a rough go since the school year started, using unauthorized buses and losing nearly 20 percent of its student body in opening weeks. Community members who helped garner support and recruit students for UPrep, including Go Davis, said they had been cut out of the school as soon as its charter was approved.

Cheri Shannon, the charter's founder, became the principal amid a time-crunch to get the school open. The local advisory board that was supposed to help choose the principal and deal with a variety of school issues was never created.

University Prep recently opened applications for the local board, and the charter's governing board - which was created to manage a network of schools - plans to review candidates at Wednesday's meeting.

The charter is also considering another location in Tampa.

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Kemple continues to monitor Islamists

Think Hillsborough School Board candidate Terry Kemple is too distracted by Common Core and sex education to worry about Islamic extremists?

Don't count on it.

This week he sent out an invitation to two November events in his Community Issues Council.

Read the descriptions here:

November 7, 2013 - Brandon - "The Persecuted Church"

You've probably heard reports from around the world about the Persecuted Church! Did you know that about 80% of the persecution comes from Islamists?
Patrick Carberry, Founder of Joshuacord and Mark Zajac, whose family escaped religious persecution when he was only 8 years old, will share with us where the persecution is coming from.
November 19, 2013 - Ruskin   &   November 21, 2013 - Plant City

"Benghazi, Egypt, and the Muslim Brotherhood" …

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Stewart to principals: Soldier on, you're great

Florida education commissioner Pam Stewart is reaching out to principals, encouraging them to maintain a positive outlook in the face of growing challenges.

"I know from my own experience as an elementary and high school principal that a productive, positive culture starts at the top," Stewart wrote in a letter to principals, in which she called them the nation's best.

She recognized the importance of the human element, combined with accountability, in reaching students and improving schools.

"When I became principal of Reddick-Collier Elementary school in Marion County, Florida had not established the school grading system. But when the first year grades were released, we were an “F” school," Stewart wrote. "Yet we had many talented teachers and supportive administrative staff who deeply cared about students. We had great human capital, but we weren’t skilled at how to use the data to improve student achievement.

"It would have been easy to become discouraged or overwhelmed with the obstacles facing our school. But instead we pushed through, just as many of Florida’s principals do every day." …

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