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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida education news: Germs, evaluations, home schooling and more

BE HEALTHY: Students at Highland Lakes Elementary School get a lesson in germs.

NOT WORKING: Many Florida teachers find their annual evaluations are still based on students they haven't taught, the Miami Herald reports.

HOME SCHOOLING: Florida's laws on home schooling attract many families but still cause confusion, WFSU reports.

DUMP IT: Thousands of dollars' worth of cafeteria food is spoiled when burglars ransack an Orange County school, the UPI reports.

HANDWRITING: Not all Jacksonville area schools teach cursive anymore, the Florida Times-Union reports.

MORE OFFICIALS: The Lee School Board seeks to add more members to its ranks, the Fort Myers News-Press reports.

ACCELERATION: Duval high schools look to expand their advanced course offerings, the Florida Times-Union reports.

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Home-school group takes stance in Florida mom's case

A Florida mother's child visitation court battle has become the Home School Legal Defense Association's latest cause.

The mom, Therese Cano, had been home-schooling her children and, according to the HSLDA, a court psychologist had found the kids were doing well academically. But a guardian ad litem for the children told the court she believed they would benefit from the socialization aspects of public schooling.

The judge then ordered the children into public schools, overruling a court order permitting the home schooling. The HSLDA quotes the judge as saying, "When are they going to socialize? Is homeschool going to continue through college and/or professional schooling? At which point are these children going to interact with other children, and isn’t that in their best interest?"

The organization finds the case a strong venue to highlight the positive aspects of home schooling.

“It is truly unfortunate that after decades of homeschooling parents are still fighting a battle against ignorance and ‘What about socialization?’ ” Jim Mason, HSLDA’s litigation counsel, said in a release. “We see this as an excellent opportunity to educate judges in Florida about homeschooling success.” …

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Clearwater High to get aerospace academy in January

With the opening of a new aviation academy, students at Clearwater High School soon will be able to graduate with a pilot's license - and a jump into the growing field of aviation and aerospace.

The Clearwater Aeronautical Space Academy, or CASA, will have a soft launch in January, with one class available to interested students. The first course will be on unmanned aircraft. A full schedule of classes will be available in the 2014/15 school year.

"We're really excited," said Principal Keith Mastorides.

The new academy fits into Clearwater High's wall-to-wall academy concept, which began last year. Mastorides describes the idea as a "new way of thinking" in which all students at the school take classes in career-themed areas, such as business and international studies, science and technology, fine arts, and sports and hospitality. 

Students are able to earn industry certifications, potentially giving them an edge in college or a path directly to work.

With the aviation and aerospace academy, students can take classes in engineering, space flight, piloting, aviation maintenance, and aeronautical science. Students, through dual-enrollment, can earn up to 30 college credits. …

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Florida education news: Career academies, charter schools, university rankings and more

AEROSPACE ACADEMY: Clearwater High prepares to open an aerospace career academy in conjunction with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

NEEDLE AND THREAD: Students at Cox Elementary School learn to sew.

STEPPING DOWN: The head of Academy Prep Center of St. Petersburg decides to leave.

SERVE A PURPOSE: A state senator proposes legislation that would require new charter schools to offer something different than traditional schools, the Florida Current reports.

BIG BUZZ: The University of Florida launches a campaign in support of its efforts to gain a top 10 national ranking, the Ocala Star Banner reports.

SUIT STANDS: A Monroe judge denies a motion to toss a lawsuit against the Monroe school district by a former administrator who claims she was improperly dismissed, the Keynoter reports.

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Happy Thanksgiving from the Gradebook

Happy Thanksgiving!

Our cheerful staff here at the Gradebook would like to wish you a happy, restful holiday. We will be taking the day off and hope that many of you are able to do the same.

For those interested in a little light reading on the history of Thanksgiving, here's a piece from Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post. who writes that much of what we know about the holiday is wrong. Here's something from the Buffalo News about the history of Thanksgiving foods.

And here's a Thanksgiving primer from National Geographic for kids.

Enjoy the holiday.

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Florida high on list of for-profit charter schools

Charter schools are increasingly part of the national education landscape, and Florida remains near the forefront of the movement.

In its latest report on who runs charter schools, the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado-Boulder details how Florida was third in the nation in 2011-12 when it came to the number of for-profit education management operations running multiple schools within its borders. Examples include Charter Schools USA, based in Broward County; Academica, based in Miami-Dade; and Virginia-based Imagine Schools.

The state ranked second behind Michigan in the total number of charter schools run by EMO's, either for-profit or non-profit. Florida's number of students in EMO-run charters also was second in the nation.

Much of the growth, according to the NEPC, is tied to the rise of virtual charter schools. Lead author Gary Miron, a professor of evaluation, measurement and research at Western Michigan University, questioned the value of these schools in a press release delivering the report: …

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Pinellas looks to hire college students as tutors

With too few teachers taking after-school tutoring positions, the Pinellas County School District is looking to hire college students. 

College students must have 60 credit hours to be hired as tutors to work in before- and after-school tutoring programs and Saturday sessions. They will work with students on day-to-day academics and assist with enrichment programs. The school district also has used retired educators to fill tutoring positions this year.

The positions pay $20 an hour.

Interestingly, the school district might get more full-time teachers interested in the extended learning positions if they paid them their regular rate of pay. The current pay - $20 an hour - is a boost over previous years when such positions paid $13 or $15 an hour. But the teachers union has argued that teachers shouldn't be paid at a "discounted" rate for work that is essentially the same as what they do during the school day.

Given the demands during the day, many teachers aren't willing to work after school for less money. …

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Pasco officials consider week off for Thanksgiving 2014

Pasco school district leaders made clear that a weeklong Thanksgiving vacation in 2012 was a one-time thing, a morale booster at a time when the district couldn't afford raises. The fact that Veterans Day fell on a Sunday made the decision easier, because no one would have to debate whether to have classes on that day.

In 2014, Veterans Day falls on a Tuesday. That isn't stopping district officials from entertaining the notion of returning to a full week off for Thanksgiving, even though it would mean that students would go to school on the holiday honoring military vets in order to meet state semester attendance requirements.

Kevin Shibley, district executive director of administration, said he has explored several calendar configurations with a committee, which has also discussed the pros and cons of teaching kids about Veterans Day rather than having them sit at home on the holiday. He sent options to superintendent Kurt Browning, who expects to make a recommendation to the School Board by mid December. …

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Florida education news: Teacher transfers, hairdos, prepaid tuition and more

TRANSFER TIME: Teachers switching schools midyear prompt conversation about whether the Pasco school district should limit the time frame for transfers.

SCHOLARLY: Plant High's 2009 valedictorian is named a Rhodes scholar. • Broward teacher Luis Espinosa wins a Milken award for outstanding classroom work, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

DRESS CODE: An Orlando private Christian school gives an African-American student one week to cut her hair or leave, reports.

SCHOOL SAFETY: Two Leon schools increase law enforcement presence after facing threats, WCTV reports.

TOO COSTLY: Many Florida families say they're priced out of the state's prepaid tuition program, ABC Action News reports.

ON THE RIGHT PATH: Complaints about Broward's student busing system have decreased as district officials work to improve the service, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

FIRED: A Marion teacher is let go for misconduct in her treatment of a student with autism, the Ocala Star-Banner reports.

CAMPUS LIFE: Florida Polytechnic University trustees approve the school's first dormitory for when the campus opens, the Ledger reports. …

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USF president Judy Genshaft could get healthy bonus

A sizable performance bonus could be in the cards for University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft as she completes her 13th year in charge of the university.

Friday, the USF Board of Trustees Compensation Committee recommended Genshaft get a $122,500 performance stipend this year, according to USF officials. Per her contract, Genshaft is eligible for up to a $175,000 annual performance stipend. The fate of the remaining $52,500 will be decided by the board chair when the board considers the proposal at its regular meeting Dec. 5.

The committee reviewed goals the university met or didn't meet from July 2012 to June 2013. The report highlights the school's research gains, successful $621 million fundraising campaign and faculty awards among many other achievements. Shortcomings, according to the report, came from freshman retention and SAT scores at USF St. Petersburg, and post-doctoral appointees for the whole system. …

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Pinellas pays out more TIF money to teachers, administrators

Pinellas County Schools has paid another $275,000 to teachers and administrators at four middle schools as part of its teacher incentive fund grant. Recipients received payouts from $1,000 to $5,000, based on their professional evaluations.

The federal grant is intended to build infrastructure around pay for performance systems and to provide incentives for good teachers and administrators to stay in difficult schools. Pinellas earned the grant in 2010 - promising improvements at Azalea, Bay Point, John Hopkins and Pinellas Park middle schools - but hadn't paid out much to teachers.

The Times wrote about that issue in September.

Pinellas had planned to pay out $1.2 million to teacher and administrators by now. But as of when the story was written, had paid out just $162,000 total. This is the second round of payouts.

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Florida education news: Behavior apps, paddling, chancellor

BEHAVIOR APP: Parents can monitor their child's behavior throughout the school day with an education app that allows teachers to instantly communicate, according to the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

CORPORAL PUNISHMENT: Parents and teachers don't always agree about the use of corporal punishment, which is still common in North Florida, the Florida Times-Union reports.

GOOD PICK: Marshall Criser III is the right choice to lead the state's university system, the Sun-Sentinel editorializes.

NEW MEMBER: The newest member of the Indian River County School Board is hitting the ground running, according to

STROKE: Flagler County superintendent had a stroke, but is recovering, according to the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

COMMON DELAY: Massachusetts and Louisiana have delayed implementation of the Common Core State Standards, according to the Washington Post.

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Florida education news: Parties, school closures, PARCC and more

TURN IT DOWN: A Tampa neighborhood complains about the loudness of some University of Tampa off-campus parties.

A BETTER WAY: A USF researcher advises the Brevard School Board on how to improve its school closure procedures if the district must do so again, Florida Today columnist Matt Reed writes.

PARCC PLANS: Massachusetts' move to slow its adoption of PARCC testing could have implications for Florida, the Sunshine State News reports.

BE SAFE: A Broward elementary school takes on a seat belt safety campaign after the death of two students, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

PARTY RIFT: A fight over a high school world history textbook creates divides within the Volusia Republican party, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

MORE ZIP CODES: Florida Gulf Coast University seeks a more diverse student body, the Fort Myers News-Press reports.

STILL LOOKING: Florida A&M University recharges its search for a new president, with two key names notably absent, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

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Florida education news: School choice, superintendent search, teacher raises and more

MORE CHOICES: Pinellas schools hope to attract more students with new magnet programs. • An advisory committee focuses on meeting student interests as it explores ways to offer more education options in Pasco schools.

BULLYING: The Hernando school district holds its first anti-bullying town hall meeting, which is lightly attended.

BACKGROUND NOISE: A spat over Common Core preceded Sally Bradshaw's abrupt departure from the Florida Board of Education, the Florida Times-Union reports.

QUICK SEARCH: The Flagler School Board kicks off its search for a new superintendent with a tight time line, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

DOUBLE DIPPING: The Alachua district re-examines its local deferred-retirement plan that allows employees to retire and return to work in the same position, the Gainesville Sun reports.

LIFE LESSONS: Some Manatee high school students use their hydroponics lessons to supply food to needy residents, the Bradenton Herald reports. • Students at Miami-Dade's Design Architecture Senior High design homes for the homeless, the Miami Herald reports. …

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Charter Schools USA to expand

Hillsborough schools superintendent MaryEllen Elia had concerns when she learned that Charter Schools USA was proposed to run a new charter school at MacDill Air Force Base.

She's not alone in raising red flags about the Broward County firm. Pasco School Board members hesitated to approve a charter tied to Charter Schools USA this year, as well.

Despite such reservations, Charter Schools USA keeps on growing. The company, run by an ally of former governor Jeb Bush, intends to hire 1,500 new employees in the next academic year, the South Florida Business Journal reports:

"The Fort Lauderdale-based company operates 58 charter schools in seven states, including 38 in Florida. It has nearly 50,000 students, up from 20,000 three years ago, and another 17,000 kids on the waiting lists to get into its schools, said President and CEO Jonathan K. Hage, who owns 97 percent of the company.

"That demand has led to its school construction boom, with 11 schools added in the past academic year. It hired 2,300 people to staff those new schools and teach at its growing schools, Hage said. …

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