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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Hillsborough board upholds teacher's firing

Hillsborough School Board members upheld the firing of middle school teacher Noel Patti on Thursday. They were told they had to under state law.

Hillsborough School Board members upheld the firing of middle school teacher Noel Patti on Thursday. They were told they had to under state law.

Noel Patti was a middle school teacher -- and then she wasn't.

Two consecutive unsatisfactory ratings took her out of the classroom at Madison Middle School in 2014. They were done under a system that gets some of its data from peer observations. Those are going away after this year, as the Hillsborough County school district makes more use of non-evaluative peer support.

But what's done is done and the law is the law. After two U's, you can't teach. And, although tenure law allows long-serving teachers like Patti, 48, to ask for a hearing before the School Board, state law also says the School Board cannot overturn the district's evaluation.

In other words, Patti brings her lawyer. The district brings its lawyers (there were at least three in Patti's hearing on Thursday). The board members take their seats at the dais.

But the teacher must still be fired.

Patti's day in court happened nearly two years after she was recommended for termination. Why the delay? The district was in court on a similar case involving teacher Mary Borne, who sued and lost, appealed and lost again.

But hers was a state court case. …

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District leaders are rushing pay proposal, union president says

District leaders haven't taken the time to properly vet a proposal to pay teachers in five failing schools up to $25,000 more, the president of Pinellas County's teachers union said Thursday.

Mike Gandolfo said that district administrators are rushing to get a proposal in front of the School Board on April 12. But changes in teacher pay need to be negotiated with the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association. That process hasn't occurred yet. 

"I must be doing it in my sleep because I don't recall any of that," he said.

According to district officials at a community forum Tuesday at Lakewood High, the proposal calls for paying teachers in Campbell Park, Fairmount Park, Lakewood, Maximo and Melrose between $20,000 to $25,000 more a year. Part of that money would be an increase in incentive pay, while much of it would come from working a longer school day. Teachers also would receive extra professional paid days.

Gandolfo, who said that he wasn't informed about two community forums held this week, said that he had concerns about the effect of a longer school day, both on children and teachers. …

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Pinellas is looking for turnaround principals

The Pinellas County School District is looking for successful turnaround principals to "lead a select number of schools" in the St. Petersburg area.

A job advertisement posted on the district's website says that the county is seeking "transformational" leaders and is "developing a pool of highly driven and successful elementary and middle school principals." No major principal changes have been announced yet this spring, although that often happens in May. District leaders have talked about developing a pool of high-quality teachers, too, to make it easier to fill vacancies in low-performing schools that struggle with teacher turnover.

The job advertisement is posted below. If you're interested in job opportunities at the school district, visit their website.


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Four west Pasco County schools to get new principals

The unexpected resignation of Lane Morris as Gulfside Elementary School's principal has set off a chain reaction of leadership changes in Pasco County's west side elementary schools.

Jeanne Krapfl, who has run Cypress Elementary since summer 2013, will take over at Gulfside. She had been Gulfside's assistant principal before transferring to Cypress.

Tracy Graziaplene, the principal at Hudson Elementary since summer 2013, will move into the top spot at Cypress. Graziaplene ran Northwest Elementary before taking over Hudson, which needed new leadership because of a retirement and also accountability requirements. Hudson still faces state accountability mandates because it has not shown much improvement in student performance on state assessments.

Dawn Scilex, principal of Fox Hollow Elementary since summer 2013, is headed to the principalship at Hudson. Scilex has taken Fox Hollow, which had seen its state grade drop from C to F over three years, back to a C in 2015. Her arrival at Hudson is part of a larger turnaround effort, of which details are still being worked out, district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said. …

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Florida education news: Grad rates, blue hair, stun guns and more

GRADUATION RATES: Students and educators from Pinellas and Hillsborough schools gather to discuss how to improve graduation rates.

BLUE 'DO: An Orange County middle schooler is threatened with suspension because she dyed her hair blue, News 6 reports.

ON THE TRAIL: A Duval School Board candidate drops out amid allegations of inappropriate text messages to former students, the Florida Times-Union reports.

STUNNING: A Duval substitute teacher is arrested for having a stun gun on campus and threatening to use it on students, the Florida Times-Union reports.

SCHOOL CHOICE: Palm Beach student applications for choice programs continue to grow, the Palm Beach Post reports.

TESTING: Florida's computerized writing exams experienced no major glitches, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

ON TRACK: Parents at an Orange County high school petition for repairs to the school's track and practice fields, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

EARLY EDUCATION: Pensacola leaders focus on the importance of learning before formal school, the Pensacola News-Journal reports. …

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Parents attended forum on struggling St. Pete schools

Pinellas school officials held a community forum at Lakewood High School last night, where they shared details of a proposed plan to transform the five struggling schools in south St. Petersburg.

Notably, Antonio Burt, director of school leadership, said teachers could make up to $25,000 more next year under a plan to extend the school day, increase merit pay and add professional development days.

Bay News 9 wrote a piece about the meeting, saying there were "zero parents" in attendance. Their reporting led people to to disparage the families of students for a seeming lack of involvement, particularly on Bay News 9's Facebook page. We at Gradebook want to add some context.

First of all, there were several concerned parents and grandparents at the forum. They identified themselves when they raised their hands to ask questions. One Melrose grandmother talked about waiting for 40 minutes for someone to take her to visit her son's class. …

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Site selected for new Pasco elementary school

The Pasco County school district has two distinct growth areas along the State Road 54 corridor -- Wesley Chapel and Trinity/Odessa.

Its new elementary school in Wesley Chapel, Wiregrass Elementary, is well under construction and set to open in the fall. And now the school district has a site for its next elementary in the Trinity/Odessa area.

The School Board is set to accept the conveyance of 18 acres in the Bexley Ranch subdivision, just north of where Ballantrae Boulevard ends, when it meets Tuesday. The district would acquire the property for impact fee credits at 115% of the Pasco County Property Appraiser's value.

It's part of a development agreement for the residential community, which is slated to eventually have more tha 11,000 single family units and 1,100 multi-family units. And it would be the first of several school sites needed to accommodate all that growth.

The initial project is known as Elementary B for now, and it would take families from the new homes as well as ease crowding at nearby Odessa and Oakstead elementary schools. The district anticipates opening Elementary B for the 2017-18 academic year.

See the board documents for more details.

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Pasco school district scales back sale of Zephyrhills park site

Zephyrhills residents who wanted to save Hercules Park from development could gain some satisfaction after all.

Pasco school district plans to sell the largely wooded 15.5-acre parcel at U.S. 301 and County Road 54 to a developer have changed. An amended sale contract going to the School Board on Tuesday indicates that the buyer, GH&G Florida, now only wants to own only the 2-acre corner of the site at the intersection, where it is expected to build a Wawa or similar gas station.

The rest of the property "would stay with the district," superintendent Kurt Browning said, at least until other plans can be made.

The document going to the School Board states "remaining acreage will be addressed at a future Board meeting and will include a proposal to develop a park in the city of Zephyrhills."

Signals that the $2.3 million original deal was faltering arose in December, as GH&G had not made its payments for the land to the district and was balking at the price. City officials have wanted to purchase much of the site, which hasn't been used since 2012, but so far have been stymied in their efforts.

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Florida appeals court to hear arguments in Tax Credit Scholarship suit

From the News Service of Florida:

A state appeals court will hear arguments May 10 in a lawsuit led by the Florida Education Association challenging the state's Tax Credit Scholarship Program.

The 1st District Court of Appeal last week set the hearing date after Leon County Circuit Judge George Reynolds tossed out the lawsuit in May 2015 because he ruled the plaintiffs did not have legal "standing."

The voucher-like Tax Credit Scholarship program provides tax credits to companies that donate money to non-profit entities that help pay for low-income children to attend private schools.

In a brief filed in August with the appeals court, the plaintiffs argued they have standing to challenge the constitutionality of the program.

"Appellants (the plaintiffs) pled specific injuries resulting from the scholarship program, asserting that the diversion of tax revenues to send students to private schools in Florida intentionally and necessarily results in significant reduced funding to Florida's public schools to the detriment of the students, teachers, and others associated with the schools represented in this lawsuit,'' the brief said. …

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Florida education news: Charter schools, combat pay, union dues and more

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Incoming Florida House speaker Richard Corcoran targets "big, for-profit" charter schools that "squeeze out their competition."

COMBAT PAY: Teachers at five consistently struggling Pinellas schools could be paid up to $25,000 more next year.

LABOR NEWS: Teacher unions win a major case in the U.S. Supreme Court that challenged their ability to collect fees from non-members, the NY Times reports. 

TESTING: A Volusia teacher sends her students a note reminding them their test results don't measure their worth, WFTV reports.

SCHOOL RULES: The Volusia School Board approves mandatory student uniforms and relaxes its sports participation rules, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

STARS AND BARS: The Indian River School Board says it will consider banning the Confederate flag at district properties after meeting with NAACP officials, TCPalm reports.

SCHOOL SITES: Residents of northeast Miami-Dade urge their School Board member to take a firm stance on the proposed location of a new school, the Miami Herald reports.

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Stowers Elementary rezoning passes unanimously in Hillsborough

Stowers Elementary School in FishHawk Ranch is at 110 percent capacity. A rezoning adopted Tuesday will remove some students, but -- critics say -- not enough to keep up with growth.

Stowers Elementary School in FishHawk Ranch is at 110 percent capacity. A rezoning adopted Tuesday will remove some students, but -- critics say -- not enough to keep up with growth.

Faced with a number of imperfect options at Stowers Elementary School, the Hillsborough County School Board approved a compromise Tuesday that essentially takes a wait-and-see attitude on crowding at the suburban school. 

Under the new plan - the second drawn up in recent months, which can be seen on this map - just under 160 Stowers students will be moved to Bevis and Pinecrest elementary schools after this school year. Incoming fifth graders can remain at Stowers if their parents can provide transportation.

A prior plan, which can be seen on this map, would have sent another 368 to Boyette Springs Elementary.

A final document, with updated enrollment statistics, was presented Tuesday to the board.

Parents - including some who selected their homes based on proximity to A-rated Stowers - mobilized in support and opposition to both plans.

Leaving the Boyette Springs group in Stowers risks the school, now at more than 110 percent capacity, will remain crowded. District officials expect some students will enter Boyette Springs voluntarily because of a gifted program that will soon open there. But they don't know how many will, and the program has strict entrance requirements. …

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A new top cop for the Hillsborough school district

Johnny Bush, shown here at Robinson High School's 2013 graduation, is the new head of the Office of Professional Standards for the Hillsborough school district.


Johnny Bush, shown here at Robinson High School's 2013 graduation, is the new head of the Office of Professional Standards for the Hillsborough school district.

Johnny Bush is leaving the principal post at Robinson High School to replace long-serving Linda Kipley as head of the Hillsborough County school district's Office of Professional Standards.

OPS, as Kipley's department is called, oversees investigations into employee misconduct. The staff also oversees contractor screening under the Jessica Lunsford Act.

Kipley, 65, has worked for the school district since 1980.

Bush, 53, joined the district in 1997 as a teacher at Brandon High School. He's been Robinson's principal since 2012.

The board also approved these assistant principal appointments: Troy  Vasaturo, a former peer mentor evaluator, to McLane Middle School; Denise Howard, former teacher leader at Robles Elementary, to Cleveland Elementary; and Tracy Crothers, former district resource teacher, to Miles Elementary.

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What's expected of teachers at Pasco's struggling schools?

Going into the next academic year, four Pasco County schools face increased scrutiny in Florida's accountability system.

Teachers there want to know how their performance will be judged. So far, though, their representatives have not been able to get clear direction.

"We do not have any clarification yet," said Jim Ciadella, United School Employees of Pasco director of operations and services. "We've asked for that. What are going to be the criteria to be deemed successful for those schools, which are going to be more highly monitored?"

Ciadella has sent several requests to the district administration, in which he noted the question has been in play for weeks. "I will only emphasize what most of you must know, people are already concerned and even angry over not knowing what additional monitoring will be involved next year at these schools," he wrote.

Employee relations director Betsy Kuhn answered that no decisions had been made, but that conversations were ongoing. Some ideas could emerge soon, though. …

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Education Commissioner Pam Stewart has finished cancer treatment

Pam Stewart in 2013

Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

Pam Stewart in 2013

From The Buzz:

Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says she has completed chemotherapy treatment in her fight against breast cancer.

Stewart announced her diagnosis in December and has since spoken very little about it publicly.

But the topic came up during the Board of Education's brief conference call this morning, when Chairwoman Marva Johnson congratulated Stewart for "ringing the bell" -- a tradition that signals the end of a cancer patient's chemo treatment.

Stewart said she rang the bell so hard it broke.

Stewart has been the state's education commissioner since 2013, the fifth person to hold the position under Republican Gov. Rick Scott. She's a former state chancellor of K-12 schools and a former teacher and administrator in in St. Johns and Marion counties.

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Florida education news: Administration, uniforms, cheating and more

OVERHAUL: Hillsborough's superintendent asks 13 top district administrators to reapply for their jobs as he reconsiders their qualifications.

FUNDING: A lawsuit challenging the adequacy of Florida's education funding continues, WCTV reports.

SCHOOL RULES: The Volusia School Board prepares to vote on mandatory student uniforms in the face of heavy opposition, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports. The board also will decide whether to relax rules on athletic eligibility, WOFL reports.

TESTING: Florida education officials aim to avoid computerized testing troubles this spring, the Ocala Star-Banner reports. • Speakers at a Polk panel discussion talk about the pros and cons of testing, the Ledger reports.

READING: Miami-Dade Hispanic students outperform their peers nationally on NAEP reading tests, the Miami Herald reports.

LABOR NEWS: The fight over Broward teacher pay heads to a special magistrate, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

TEACHER DISCIPLINE: A Broward teacher and former football coach is fined for attempting to pay a student to take a college entry exam for a star player, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

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