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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida education news: Jeb Bush, band class, paddling and more

CORE POLITICS: Opposition to the Common Core fuels opposition to former Florida governor Jeb Bush's political aspirations, as many companies that make money off the standards are contributing to his education foundation.

CANCELLED: Citing low enrollment, Hernando Central High School axes its band, chorus and agriculture courses.

POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE: High schools all around the Tampa area conduct their graduation ceremonies. See the coverage here.

PADDLING: Suwannee County schools lead Florida in the use of corporal punishment, the Suwannee Democrat reports.

FUNDING LAWSUITS: Plaintiffs in Florida's school funding lawsuit ask to amend their complaint, the Orlando Sentinel reports. More from Redefined.

WRITING SCORES: Seminole schools explore why their fourth-grade FCAT writing scores took a nose dive, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

TEACHER DISCIPLINE: Four Broward teachers are disciplined by the state Education Practices Commission, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

MUSICAL CHAIRS: Duval shifts nearly one-fifth of its school principals, the Florida Times-Union reports. …

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No more kickball for Pasco schools superintendent

Courtesy of Pasco County School Board

No one can claim Pasco schools superintendent Kurt Browning doesn't like to have fun.

Invited to the Schrader Elementary School fifth grade vs. teachers kickball game, Browning quickly agreed to play -- shirtsleeves and all.

He joined the teacher team, which "dominated" the kids, getting on base and having a blast. Until that darned muscle pull, which left Browning hobbling around the district the rest of the week.

Now he's telling everyone he will "never play kickball again." But he's got time to heal and change his mind. The last day of school is Tuesday, leaving time for at least a couple more challenges. 


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Florida issues testing dates for 2014-15

Get out your calendars. With the FCAT over, its results being released and the school year ending, the Florida Department of Education has released its schedule for next year's testing.

The list includes retakes of existing tests, as well as newly adopted exams that have yet to be written. Almost every assessment will be computer-based, except for third- and fourth-grade English and math, and fifth- and eighth-grade science.

The bulk of testing will take place in March and April. Districts will continue to have some flexibility to set their actual test dates within the state windows. Commissioner Pam Stewart explained the thinking in a memo to superintendents:

"The following factors were taken into account when establishing the 2014–2015 schedule: 

• Due to this schedule’s late release, we realize that most of you have already scheduled your district’s 2015 spring break. We collected this information from districts and established large enough windows for districts to accommodate testing even if spring break falls within a testing window.  …

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Pasco Education Foundation leader resigns

Tom Avramis, executive director of the Pasco Education Foundation, has resigned his position after less than a year on the job. The foundation's directors had spent nearly eight months seeking a leader before settling on Avramis.

"I've decided to transition over into something else," said Avramis, who moved from California to take the post. "A year was enough to figure out I needed to transition into something else. I have a couple of options. I'm not sure which one yet."

Foundation board chairman Donna Prentice, who works for the Tampa Bay Times, said the decision came from Avramis alone. He will remain in an advisory capacity to the foundation through the summer, she said, but the staff will report directly to a subcommittee of the board.

"The foundation is moving forward," Prentice said. "We have an operating subcommittee that is working on the next steps." …

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Florida education news: Senior prank, yearbook errors, spelling bee and more

BANNED: A Nature Coast Technical High senior won't get to walk at graduation after using weed killer to draw a giant penis on the football field, where the ceremony is to be held.

GREEN MACHINE: A group of Hillsborough businesspeople proposes the district use propane-fueled buses to save money.

MESSED UP: The Winter Park High School yearbook contains so many errors that the principal is considering a reissue on DVD, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

SPELL 'KABARAGOYA': A Cape Coral teen makes it to the finals of the national spelling bee, finishing seventh and winning a social media following, the Naples Daily News reports.

RE-CENTRALIZATION: Okaloosa district officials reconsider their decentralized funding model after seeing inequities among the schools, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports.

LAND BANKING: The Marion School Board considers purchasing land for future construction, the Ocala Star-Banner reports.

IN THE AIR TONIGHT: Phil Collins joins the band of a Miami-Dade private school for a special performance, the Miami Herald reports. …

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More about that pitch to sell propane school buses in Hillsborough

There's a lot more to the pitch to sell 350 propane buses to the Hillsborough County school district.

The details are here.

The School Board expects to vote on a different proposal June 10.

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Pasco's Hudson Middle School to get new principal

Just days after putting Terry Holback on his reappointments list as principal of Hudson Middle School, Pasco schools superintendent Kurt Browning has decided to go a different direction.

Browning on Thursday announced that he would remove Holback as principal, and reassign her to an assistant principal post at Seven Springs Middle. He made his move as several Hudson Middle teachers sent several emails criticizing Holback, who had been under fire from the faculty since she took over the school.

The superintendent defended Holback in email responses to teachers.

Even so, district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said, "The superintendent wanted a change in leadership at Hudson Middle School."

The change takes effect July 1. The Hudson principalship has not been filled and will be advertised.

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No investigations into FCAT writing scores scheduled

Concerns over lower-than-expected fourth grade FCAT writing scores continue to resonate in Pasco County schools, with teachers and parents reaching out to superintendent Kurt Browning to share their discontent.

Browning has forwarded several of their e-mails to Florida education commissioner Pam Stewart, to make sure she sees what the district is seeing. Most of the comments focus on results that don't jibe with students' writing performance throughout the year.

So far, though, the Florida Department of Education is not taking a hard look for errors in the scoring system. Noting that scores fluctuated across the state, with some districts excelling and others falling flat, officials said the working theory is that some systems adjusted better to the change from a narrative to an expository essay than others.

"We have heard from far fewer counties than usual after the FCAT," FLDOE spokesman Joe Follick said.

There's been talk about the big declines among some schools and counties, Follick said, but the focus has gone to how to better prepare for the next changes in writing assessment rather than finding fault in the FCAT outcome.

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Florida League of Women Voters blasts charter school movement

Following a year of research, the Florida League of Women Voters issued a report this week that's highly critical of the state's charter school movement. Education "reform" critics, such as historian Diane Ravitch and AFT president Randi Weingarten, have begun passing around the document, calling it a "bombshell."

In it, the League observes that Florida charters have a 20 percent closure rate because of financial problems or poor academic performance. Charter proponents have seen this as a good thing, as it weeds out the bad actors, and argue that the same should occur for traditional public schools. The League isn't convinced.

The report notes that many state officials with power over charter schools also have vested interests in charters, including lawmakers Rep. Erik Fresen and Sen. John Legg. These political leaders have acknowledged their ties, but argued they have no legal conflict of interest.

The League also suggests that some charters run by for-profit management firms screen students and then drop those who are not successful. Leaders of the McKeel charter schools in Lakeland told the Ledger in 2010 that they could dismiss students who did not meet academic requirements. …

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Florida education news: FCAT scores, student rights, misused funds and more

BIGGER PICTURE: A closer look at Pinellas elementary schools' overall static FCAT scores shows wide variation among individual campuses. The district has no time to waste in helping the schools that have languished at the bottom of the results for years, the Times editorializes.

WRITING LESSONS: Kindergartners at Hernando's Challenger K-8 show off what they've learned after a year learning to write.

STUDENT RIGHTS: Some Duval schools face an investigation into allegations that they violated the rights of students with disabilities, the Florida Times-Union reports.

AUDIT: A new audit of Manatee schools reveals misused funds, the Bradenton Herald reports.

WOWED: A Broward student impresses President Obama with his sandless sandbags science project, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

JOB LOSSES: About 300 support jobs could be eliminated in Duval's latest budget plan, the Florida Times-Union reports.

STICK AROUND: A Marion high school senior wins a new car for perfect attendance, the Ocala Star-Banner reports. …

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Former Pasco teacher's certificate yanked

Former Pasco County Spanish teacher Angelica Cruikshank no longer can teach in the state of Florida.

The state Education Practices Commission permanently revoked Cruikshank's teaching certificate in its April meeting. School district officials informed the School Board late last week.

The Board fired Cruikshank in September 2012, amid allegations that she snooped into students' Facebook pages and retaliated against some of the teens, whom she believed made disparaging remarks about her. Then-superintendent Heather Fiorentino recommended the dismissal, which Cruikshank appealed to the board. After a lengthy public hearing, including testy testimony by the teacher and statements by one parent that Cruikshank bullied his daughter, board members said they were unconvinced that Cruikshank was acting in students' interest, as she claimed.

She has not been in a classroom since February 2012, when the complaints against her first surfaced.

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Turanchik will pitch propane school buses in Hillsborough

The Hillsborough County school district is weeks, at the very least, from upgrading its transportation system. When we last left the School Board, members were awaiting a five-year plan and a bus purchase proposal from Superintendent MaryEllen Elia.

But that timetable isn't working for Ed Turanchik.

The attorney and former Hillsborough County Commissioner, who now represents a Blue Bird school bus distributor, announced a news conference Thursday at 10 a.m. to present what he calls "an unsolicited proposal" to provide the district with 350 buses.

The backstory:

Hillsborough was preparing to enter a financing agreement so it could buy buses from Thomas Built, the second of the state's three permitted manufacturers, nearly a year ago. The plan came up for a board vote on July 30. But Turanchik made board members aware of price differences between Thomas Built, which district staff wanted to name as Hillsborough's brand; and Blue Bird.

It was all downhill from there.

The board asked staff for a better proposal. Staff came back on Aug. 13 with a plan to buy 28 Blue Bird buses. The board found that proposal was flawed as well.  …

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Pasco school employees pressure superintendent over appointments

Even though it hasn't been approved, the list of Pasco County school administrative appointments has generated some hue and cry among the staffs at two district schools. One group doesn't want a change, while another is demanding one.

The first version of the list, which was withdrawn from consideration, called for the transfer of Gulf Trace Elementary School assistant principal Any Haskedakes to a like post at Anclote Elementary. That news prompted several staffers to write letters to superintendent Kurt Browning, asking him to cancel the move.

"Continuity and consistency is essential for growth for both students and staff. Here at Gulf Trace we will be embarking on our eighth year with our fourth Assistant Principal. I don’t know what else to say but I am hurt as a person," counselor Ronna Henniger wrote. …

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Two more Pasco principals announce their retirements

When he pulled the item off the School Board agenda last week, Pasco schools superintendent Kurt Browning said he wanted to make sure his administrative reappointments were complete before seeking a vote. He said he expected more changes would come.

Now it's clear why.

On the agenda for the board's June 3 meeting, three principals' names appear on the retirement list. Only one, that of Centennial Elementary School's Cindy Harper, was expected.

Margaret Fackelman of Smith Middle School, and Yvonne Reins of Cox Elementary School, both will leave the district in July. Fackelman has been with the district for 30 years, while Reins has worked in Pasco for eight years after moving here from the southwest. Fackelman gained note recently for creating an in-school online instruction program for students, which the district has begun replicating on other campuses. Reins helped turn around Cox Elementary, which had struggled for years, and was recently honored statewide for her work.

The jobs have not yet been advertised. But Browning has put the administrative reappointments on the June 3 agenda, too. Stay tuned.

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Florida education news: Biometrics, cell phones, taxes and more

BANNED: A new law banning Florida schools from collecting student fingerprints and other biometrics kills the Pinellas district's time-saving lunch line identification program.

CELL PHONES: The Broward School Board tinkers with a proposal to stop parents from using cell phones while driving on school campuses, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

EQUITY: Community and education leaders seek ways to bring more equity to Osceola schools, Around Osceola reports.

MAKE IT CLEAR: Brevard School Board officials aim to write a tax referendum ballot with language that's easy for voters to understand, Florida Today reports.

STOP HARASSMENT: A Broward middle school student begins a HOPE (Helping Overcome Problems Effectively) club after her uncle's suicide, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

ONE MORE YEAR: The Manatee School Board agrees to extend superintendent Rick Mills' contract by one year, not the two he requested, the Bradenton Herald reports.

DISCIPLINE: A dismissed Okaloosa special education aide asks the School Board to reconsider its policies for handling out-of-control students, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports. …

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