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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Pinellas: new schools will have iPads on time

There were concerns last week, at a training for teachers at Pinellas's new technology schools, that the iPads students will learn on would not arrive by the start of the school year.

Kings Highway Elementary in Clearwater and Gulf Beaches Elementary in St. Pete Beach plan to utilize the iPads daily to teach students, who are expected to each receive a device.

Although the teachers' iPads were ready to go at the training session, the students' equipment hadn't been ordered yet, said Cody Piland, a project coordinator for the district. (As of this week, though, she's the media/curriculum specialist at Gulf Beaches.)

But Pinellas says there's no reason to worry. Through a spokeswoman, in an email, Associate Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Pam Moore said the iPads will arrive by the start of school in August.

"The order for the student iPads is all put together and is waiting for the monies to be placed in the cost centers as of July 1, and will be in schools in plenty of time for the students," Moore said.

She said it only took two weeks for the iPads for the teachers to arrive, once the order was placed. Of course, the order for students will be much more sizeable.

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New Hernando assistant superintendent expected to be named

BROOKSVILLE - The Hernando County School District will soon name a new assistant superintendent of academic services, a post that has been vacant since December.

The position is expected to be filled later this week and confirmed by School Board members July 29.

Twenty-four candidates applied for the position, with 14 meeting the qualifications. That number has been whittled down to five finalists, including one district employee, according to spokesman Eric Williams. All interviews have been finished.

Hernando curriculum supervisor Marcia Austin is the lone district employee to make the cut.

Two finalists came from Pasco County, including Edward "John" Abernathy, the principal of Wesley Chapel Elementary School in Wesley Chapel who has been with the Pasco school district since 1992. Fredric Mellin, a high school principal in Pasco, also made the finalist cut, but later withdrew.

The other candidates for the job are Keith Cox, a high school principal in St. Lucie County and a former assistant superintendent, and Wanda Grondin, a director with ITT Technical Institutes. …

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Florida education department releases calculator rules, more test info pending

Florida's new statewide testing and accountability slowly continue to come into shape, with a new website complete with sample test questions due out today, as set forth in commissioner Pam Stewart's May 2 timeline.

So far, the only new item to go live is a draft of the state's calculator and reference policy for math testing. The proposed rules say that children in third through sixth grades would not be able to use calculators in their state tests that replace the FCAT.

For the higher grades, an online calculator would be provided for specific questions attached to set standards, which have yet to be determined. Hand-held calculators would not be allowed.

The guidelines also state that reference sheets, such as conversion charts, would not be made available during the tests. If needed, the test will include formulas to help the students perform the tested standards. 

The details could change over time, Stewart notes in an introductory letter, and should not be used to guide classroom instruction. Rules already in place for end-of-course exams would not change. More details are expected.

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Principals appointed for two Pasco County middle schools

Two assistant principals have won the jobs leading their schools after the departures of their principals.

Joe Musselman, an assistant principal at Hudson Middle School since 2013, will take over that campus in the fall. He replaces Terry Holback, who was removed shortly after the end of classes amid much faculty complaining about her leadership. Musselman began his Pasco teaching career in 1998 at Anclote Elementary. He also has been a behavioral specialist and special education supervisor.

Susan Seibert, an assistant principal at Paul R. Smith Middle School since 2006, will replace Margaret Fackelman, who retired. Seibert began her teaching career in Pasco in 1991, becoming a technology specialist in 2001. She was promoted to Weightman Middle School assistant principal in 2005, and moved to Smith Middle when it opened.

Both appointments go to the School Board on Tuesday for official approval. They are to take effect on July 1.

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Florida education commissioner creates new accountability advisory committee

As Florida moves steadily toward a new testing and accountability system, education commissioner Pam Stewart wants to make sure the state gets things right to avoid criticisms that dogged the effort in the past few years.

To that end, Stewart has named a committee of 13 superintendents including those from Pinellas and Hillsborough counties to develop recommendations on the details of implementation. The full membership is Sandra Himmel, Citrus; Kamela Patton, Collier; Mark Rains, Dixie; Malcolm Thomas, Escambia; Wally Cox, Highlands (President of FADSS); MaryEllen Elia, Hillsborough; Susan Moxley, Lake; Alberto Carvalho, Miami-Dade; John Ruis, Nassau (President-Elect of FADSS); Barbara Jenkins, Orange; Mike Grego, Pinellas; Joe Joyner, St. Johns; Carlene Anderson, Walton.

The committee is scheduled to first meet in August, at which time it will begin discussions on school grading revisions. The specific subjects include:

- Establishing the calculation for learning gains

- Creating a process to measure learning gains in the baseline year (2014-15)

- Identifying the population of students to be used in the revised acceleration success measure (i.e., the denominator) …

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Florida education news: Tuition, discipline, vouchers and more

TUITION: Gov. Rick Scott should get credit for reducing the cost of Florida's prepaid tuition plan, Politifact Florida reports.

DISCIPLINE: A retired Hillsborough teacher files a complaint that leads to a federal investigation into how schools discipline black children.

IMPROVEMENT PLANS: Marion County should increase its standard of living to encourage higher academic performance, Ocala Star-Banner columnist Brad Rogers writes.

VOUCHERS: More children will be eligible for Florida's voucher program under a new law, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

FAMILY PLAN: A Manatee mom and her son earn GED's together, the Bradenton Herald reports.

LANGUAGES: The Polk school district recruits bilingual teachers to reach an increasingly diverse student body, the Ledger reports.

SCHOOL LEADERSHIP: Broward schools hope to better train principals by hiring principal supervisors, State Impact Florida reports.

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Florida education news: Charter schools, consent agendas, taxes and more

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Florida needs better charter school regulations to deal with bad actors, the Sun-Sentinel editorializes.

TOO MUCH INFORMATION: A packed consent agenda leads the Manatee School Board to act on incorrect material, raising questions about the process, the Bradenton Herald reports.

TAXES: Brevard's local tax referendum support hovers around 50 percent support, Florida Today reports.

SCHOOL BOARD RACES: Several educators join the hunt to serve on the Volusia School Board after a long absence of local teachers, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

TUITION: Broward College freezes tuition for the third straight year, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

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Florida education news: School renovations, corporal punishment, charter schools and more

TUMBLING DOWN: Demolition and reconstruction of Largo High School begins. More details here.

ANNUAL REVIEW: In her first superintendent job, Hernando's Lori Romano has taken on challenges with vigor.

COME TOGETHER: Two Hernando alternative centers will share a building to save money.

SPANKING: The Santa Rosa school district ends corporal punishment, WEAR-TV reports. More from the Northwest Florida Daily News

FSU SEARCH: Florida State University trustees say they want at least three finalists for president, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Poor oversight allows for shoddy operation of many south Florida charter schools, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

VOUCHERS: Florida must require schools accepting vouchers to better serve students with disabilities, the Sun-Sentinel editorializes.

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Pasco teachers seek to improve pay for teaching extra periods

Once upon a time, the Pasco County school district paid teachers an amount equaling 20 percent of their salaries if they would agree to teach a sixth class period daily. Teachers were okay with that.

During its budget crunch of 2010, though, the district ended that deal. Instead, it offered to pay teachers a flat rate, regardless of pay or experience, for that work. With money in short supply, and layoffs threatened, the teachers agreed.

Funding is more plentiful now. So the United School Employees of Pasco has asked for a return to the old ways. At negotiations this week, the USEP proposed reinstating the 0.2 pay rate for extra instruction. It also called for teachers who agree to substitute for others to receive $25 for each 50-minute period, with $15 for time beyond that.

If the substituting would last more than five days, their pay would go to 1.2 of their base pay for the duration of the time substituting. The district pays $55 to $75 a day for non-employee substitutes, but has struggled to fill all the positions.

Read the USEP proposal here. The district has not responded to the offer.

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Ratings agency notes Florida's increasing reliance on local funding for schools

Florida's share of public school funding has decreased in comparison to locally generated revenue for several years.

This year is no different. And at least one financial rating agency has taken note.

Fitch Ratings observed in a recent statement that 70 percent of the state's 2015 increase in per-student funding comes from local property taxes. While the state's share of funding remains the largest portion, that gap is shrinking.

Overall, the group suggests that the changes matter little to schools' fiscal picture, which still would require an added boost. " It will likely take years of more sizable funding growth to keep up with current cost pressures and restore downsized operations and reserves from past budget cuts," it states.

Read more here

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Florida education news: Government relations, education laws, teachers' rights and more

GETTING BETTER: The Pasco school district sees improved relations with other area governments.

LAYOFFS: The Rick Scott campaign has it Mostly False in accusing Charlie Crist of responsibility for 3,000 teacher layoffs, Politifact Florida reports.

NEW RULES: Several new education-related laws take effect in Florida next week, the News Service of Florida reports.

CALLED OFF: The Florida Department of Education ends an investigation into Manatee school district finances, Bay News 9 reports.

50 DAYS: Florida Polytechnic University prepares for its grand opening with students in less than two months, the Ledger reports.

DUE PROCESS: The Broward school district examines how it treats employees it is disciplining or terminating, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

TAXES: The Brevard School Board approves language for a local sales tax referendum but still lacks a project list, Florida Today reports.

BUSING: Flagler students attending schools through choice programs might lose their district transportation, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

NEW SCHOOL: Residents of an Orlando community look forward to a new neighborhood school but have many unanswered questions, the Orlando Sentinel reports. …

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Hernando School Board considers changes to high school absence policy

The Hernando County School District is considering a handful of changes for next school year that aim to curb the number of absences among high school students.
The changes, which were discussed in Tuesday's School Board workshop, still require board approval at a later date.

Under the proposed changes, students would be required to maintain a 90 percent attendance rate per class period throughout the school year, according to the district's 2014-15 high school handbook procedures manual. If students fails to maintain that 90 percent threshold, they run the risk of losing a host of privileges, including parking, homecoming, grad night and prom.

Only unexcused absences will be factored into the calculation; excused absences don't count.

Also, any students with unexcused absences who don't have 90 percent attendance in the semester will receive a maximum grade of 70 percent for all make-up work, according to the new policy.

The district is also considering altering its excused absence policy. …

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Plans are revealed for new Largo High School

Courtesy Harvard Jolly

Largo High School is all set to be demolished this Friday, meaning students will now be educated in highly-concentrated shark tanks. Gradebook kids, of course. The architects building the new Largo High unveiled their plans this week at the school board workshop.

"It has a collegiate feel," said Jeffrey Cobble, president of Harvard Jolly, a St. Petersburg-based firm.

Drivers will enter the new Largo High at a traffic light on Missouri Avenue. The front entrance to the school will be more visible to a new visitor than in the past, Cobble said.

The new Largo High will unfold at a diagonal to the streets surrounding it (see photos), with a walkway leading into a secure student courtyard flanked by two-story classroom buildings. Rounding out the courtyard is the gym, media center and cafeteria, forming a "student union," in Cobble's words.

The student union and the courtyard provide dedicated space for students, although they can be observed through windows and glass elements of the building, which also appears to be concrete with a brick veneer. …

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More dollars for Summer Bridge in Pinellas

Summer Bridge kicked off with more than 11,000 kids, Superintendent Mike Grego said this week, well beyond the 6,630 who showed up for the first week last year.

Surely much of the credit can go to advanced planning. Last year, district staff had just three or four months to pull together the six-week, academic summer camp for Pinellas students in an effort to curb the summer learning loss that can set already struggling students back.

But with a baseline year behind Pinellas, and a full year to promote and build the program, enrollment is up.

The Juvenile Welfare Board also played a role, according to an email from staff. The JWB provides before- and after-care as well as daycare on Friday (when there is no Summer Bridge), and ponied up $2 million last summer.

This summer, the JWB is adding another $175,000, which they say will help serve an additional 250 children. …

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Pinellas PTA board returns for second year

All eight of the elected Parent-Teacher Association executive board members won re-election in Pinellas this spring, and President Michelle Alfred says this is the year of action.

"You have a learn year, a do year, and a train year," Alfred told Gradebook on Thursday. (PTA board members can serve up to three one-year terms.)

Alfred said the Pinellas PTA plans to focus on building diversity in local chapters and on the county PTA's own board. The PTA treasurer, Harold Copeland, is the one man on the county executive board. Alfred said she is encouraging local chapters to get more men and people of color involved in their organizations.

The PTA will also keep pushing the Florida Legislature to pass the Family Engagement Act. Locally, they'll hold the 2014 Candidates Forum on July 31 for those running for school board.

Five of the Pinellas School Board's seven members are up for election this year, some facing multiple challenges. Long-serving member Linda Lerner is facing her most serious competition in memory, Maureen Ahern, wife of state Rep. Larry Ahern, R-St. Petersburg. And Robin Wikle is stepping down, leaving several high-profile north county candidates to fight for her seat. …

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