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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida Bright Futures rules need some tightening, senator says

When Florida lawmakers created the Bright Futures scholarship in 1997, one goal was to provide the state's high school graduates more access to Florida universities. They set up the framework and funding, and the award program became wildly popular.

As time passed, though, it became clear that not all students had to do the same things to earn a scholarship, particularly in the area of community service.

"You have different definitions being drafted by different school districts," said state Sen. Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican and former Senate president.

The guidelines set forth in law allowed it to happen, said Lee, who also served in the Senate when the scholarship was established. They didn't set clear rules for volunteer hours, he explained, or a process for ensuring the hours were valid. …

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Florida education news: Gifted students, student-athlete eligibility, whistleblowers and more

BORED: Many central Florida gifted students lack adequate challenging courses, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

'FOLLOW THE COACH': The FHSAA proposes relaxing a key rule on student-athlete eligibility, the Florida Current reports.

WHISTLEBLOWER: The Broward school district reaches a $275,000 settlement with a former employee who helped expose corruption in the district facilities department, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

DRONES: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University presses for the federal government to place a drone testing site in Florida, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

COMING UP: Lee County schools face a year of critical elections while also dealing with standards, testing and other state concerns, the Fort Myers News-Press reports.

SURPRISE! A group of Broward elementary students get to meet President Obama on their White House tour, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

MIDDLE SCHOOL MATH: Florida needs to improve its middle school math instruction, FSU professor Paul Cottle writes in the Tallahassee Democrat.

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Florida has yet to spend much of its Race to the Top money

Florida leaders pushed hard more than three years ago to get a chunk of the federal Race to the Top grant aimed at education reforms. Lawmakers changed the state's model for teacher contracts and evaluations, and the State Board of Education adopted the Common Core standards, they were so enthusiastic to get the $700 million award.

But with a year left on the grant, Education Week reports, Florida has not yet spent nearly half the money: …

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Florida should better fund school construction and maintenance, leaders say

Over six years, local funding for Florida school construction and maintenance needs has fallen by $1.5 billion, from a high of $3.46 billion in 2007 to a projected $2.005 billion for the coming year.

One big difference is the amount that school districts could tax property owners for such projects. In 2007, the maximum rate was $2.00 per $1,000 of taxable value. A year later, the Legislature dropped the cap to 1.75 mills, and the following year it lowered the cap again to 1.5 mills. At the same time, property values steeply declined, and state funding for capital projects also shrank, with most of that money going to charter schools.

State education leaders are calling for a reversal, as growth returns in some areas and ignored repairs are taking their toll on several districts. …

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Florida education news: Testing, technology, teaching and more

SECOND CHANCE: Some Hillsborough teens who struggled with the FCAT turn to the ACT test to complete their diploma requirements.

GOING HIGH TECH: Miami-Dade schools play a role in the region's efforts to become a technology hub, the Miami Herald reports.

LEARNING LABS: Stetson University education students use the Volusia schools to hone their craft, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

WHAT'S IN A NAME? The Florida Times-Union provides biographies of eight people who had schools named after them, as the name of one school causes controversy for the community.

AIM HIGH: A Walton collegiate high school creates an atmosphere for student success, the Walton Sun reports.

HAVE A BALL: A Polk seventh-grade teacher replaces classroom chairs with yoga balls to help her students focus, the Ledger reports.

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Florida education news: College costs, school grades, dropouts and more

BIG ISSUES: Overcoming the achievement gap remains one of the Tampa Bay area's critical issues for the coming year, the Times editorializes.

TOO EXPENSIVE: A rising number of Floridians qualify for Pell Grants to help them pay for college, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

SCHOOL GRADES: Continually changing criteria for Florida school grades continue to strain the system's credibility, the Miami Herald reports.

DROPOUTS: A Florida lawmaker proposes increasing the mandatory education age to 18, WCTV-TV reports.

SAVING LIVES: A federal law supports Florida's efforts to put Epipens in schools, the Florida Times-Union reports.

NOT ENOUGH: Florida students who finish high school with a certificate of completion instead of a diploma find few opportunities, the Fort Myers News-Press reports.

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Florida education news: Scandal, tenure, hiring rules and more

LOOK BACK: The Hernando school district's financial management settles down after scandal in the office early in the year.

DO THE RIGHT THING: USF adopts a reasonable and moral policy on dealing with drug and alcohol use on campus, the Times editorializes.

TENURE: A jude's ruling makes it harder for faculty to get and keep tenure at Florida's colleges, the News Service of Florida reports.

MORE TOLERANCE: The Duval school district eases its hiring rules for applicants with criminal pasts, the Florida Times-Union reports.

COPING: Gulf Breeze High grapples with the death of two students in a car accident, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports.

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What were the toughest programs to crack in Pinellas in 2013?

Superintendent Mike Grego is making an aggressive push to expand educational programs in Pinellas County for the 2014/15 school year, with four new middle school programs and the possibility of two schools reopening as technology magnets.

The district application process opens again Jan. 8-17, so this seems like a good time to look at just how competitive it was to get into Pinellas County's most coveted schools in 2013. 

Not surprisingly, fundamental schools still were among the most popular - and the toughest to get into. (Grego has said, however, that he doesn't plan to create more fundamental schools. He'd rather expand or introduce other programs.)

At Bay Vista Fundamental Elementary, 1,313 students applied, but only 179 were invited to enroll. At Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle, 1,126 applied, but 226 were invited. At Osceola Fundamental High, 1,310 students applied, but 593 were invited.

The Center for Gifted Studies also was popular at Thurgood Marshall. There were 459 applications and 143 invitations. …

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Year in Review: Bennett, Common Core, new faces and more

2013 was another big year in education for Florida.

The state lost yet another education commissioner in seemingly record time, with Tony Bennett first defending himself against charges that he helped change a school grade in Indiana for political reasons and then abruptly resigning. Pam Stewart, no stranger to the job, was once again tapped to lead the state Department of Education. 

Before his departure, Bennett supported continuing to pad the state's school grades to prevent dramatic drops. The state Board of Education approved the move, but not all board members were happy

Then there was the controversy about the new Common Core State Standards. Even though Florida had adopted the new standards in 2010 and most schools were already using them or preparing for them, Gov. Rick Scott decided to take a step back in September. He called for public feedback about the standards and had three public hearings held. One was in Tampa.

So far, state officials haven't made any move to abandon the standards, although the state left PARCC.

The state board also lost two of its long-time members, Kathleen Shanahan and Sally Bradshaw.  …

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Florida education news: Romano, first F and more

SIX MONTHS: Lori Romano hasn't been afraid to make quick changes in her first six months as Hernando County Schools superintendent.

FIRST F: Hernando County Schools had its first F school this year.

PRESIDENTIAL SEARCH: The FAMU presidential search committee is to meet in Orlando, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

BOYCOTT: Florida International University has become the latest college to oppose a boycott of Israel, the Miami Herald reports.

DOGGY PREP: Students are interacting with dogs for puppy therapy before exams, the Naples Daily News reports. (Subscriber only)

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Clearwater High teacher accused fellow teacher of assault

A math teacher at Clearwater High School filed suit against another teacher this month, claiming he assaulted her in the school's cafeteria.

According to the Dec. 2 complaint, 65-year-old Elizabeth Metropolis was sitting in the cafeteria one day when Clay Burkey, a 51-year-old fine arts instructor, “placed his hands on top of [her] head and temples squeezing and pushing down utilizing his body weight."

Metropolis says the incident happened in 2011. In the suit, she seeks a trial and $15,000 in damages, saying she suffered "bodily injury, "pain and suffering" and much more. See the full complaint here.

The attorney for Metropolis - Eduardo Latour of Latour & Associates in Tarpon Springs - could not be reached when a reporter called his law firm on Thursday, asking whether the case was still active. (Per Pinellas court records, it appears to be.)

Instead, the reporter was transferred to a woman named Connie who said the question was "tacky." Connie declined to comment further and declined to give her last name. "I'm the only Connie here," she said. "That's all you need to know."

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Florida education news: Competition, technology and more

COMPETITION: Pinellas County Schools looks for opportunities to expand academic programs to compete with charter and private schools. 

SMART MOVE: Academy of Holy Names in Tampa makes an investment in technology for classrooms.

TABLETS: Electronics are popular with children, even toddlers, and that has some experts worried, the Miami Herald reports.

VOLUNTEER: A senior volunteer has been recognized for working with students, the Sun Sentinel reports. 

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Merry Christmas from the Gradebook


The Gradebook wishes you a happy holiday with your families. We will be taking the day off.

Check back tomorrow for our usual education round up and blog items. 

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Florida education news: Al Lawson, standards, retaliation and more

PRESIDENTIAL: As expected, former state legislator Al Lawson has joined the ranks of candidates seeking the presidency at FAMU.

TOUGH STANDARDS: Some worry that the Common Core State Standards will be tougher for English language learners, the Sun-Sentinel reports

RETALIATION: An opponent to a new campus for Palm Beach State College claims he's being cited for noise violations in retaliation, the Palm Beach Post reports. (Subscriber content.)

PRINCIPALS: Broward County Schools has both a principal and an assistant principal in the running for principal of the year and assistant principal of the year, the Miami Herald reports. 

SCHOOL SHOP: A Lake County school has a shop on its campus where social workers can shop for students, the Orlando Sentinel reports. 

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Al Lawson joins 43 other FAMU president hopefuls

As he promised, former state legislator Al Lawson has applied for the Florida A&M University presidency. He joins a crowded field with 43 others who want the job, including many who applied before the search was suspended in March. And there could be even more by the time the Board of Trustees starts reviewing candidates on Jan. 6. 

Here is the field of candidates in alphabetical order. We put an asterisk by those who were listed as candidates in March, meaning the rest applied since the search resumed last month.

The Board of Trustees hopes to select a winner at its Jan. 9 meeting. Meanwhile, alumni continue to campaign in favor of allowing interim President Larry Robinson to stay on the job.

Here is a list of all 44 candidates in alphabetical order:


Tony Atwater: Former president at Norfolk State University. He was fired abruptly by the school's board in August following news of delayed financial audits and academic issues at the nursing school.

Desa Allen Ballard: Attorney and an adjunct professor at University of South Carolina School of Law. …

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