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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of April 24, 2016

Florida education news can't seem to leave the national spotlight. Marion County schools captured attention this week for its new transgender student bathroom rule, while the state's new open enrollment law got people talking about how easy school choice is becoming in the Sunshine State. Testing, turnarounds and teacher shortages, meanwhile, remained key issues for educators and officials to grapple with. Keep up with the latest every day on the Gradebook. …

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Pasco County school enrollment, including charters, expected to rise

When it meets Tuesday, the Pasco County School Board is scheduled to consider allowing several charter schools to expand their enrollment. If the growth is approved, Pasco's charter schools -- including one new one -- are on track to educate 4,111 children next year.

That's a 495-student increase from their current combined population.

Unlike Hillsborough County, though, the charters' increases are not pushing down the numbers in Pasco's traditional schools. Those are projected to see a 1,311-student rise in population, as well, across elementary, middle and high schools.

Even so, Pasco district officials continue to seek ways to attract children back into their classrooms. They're adding magnet programs at two middle schools in the fall, and have encouraged principals at other campuses to consider implementing attractors that might lure students in future years.  …

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Pasco School Board to rewrite athletic eligibility rules

Along with ending its athletics transfer review committee, the Pasco County school district is rewriting its student-athlete eligibility rules in light of newly adopted state law that makes it easier for teens to move and still play their sports.

The administration is asking the School Board to approve new language to the Code of Conduct reflecting the more laissez faire approach, which some critics have likened to free agency. If approved, the board would set new definitions for eligibility. The proposal reads:

"Eligible to participate" is defined as including participation in tryouts, off-season conditioning and workouts, in-season practices, and contests. It does not mean the student must be placed on a team. High school students will be "immediately eligible to participate" when first enrolling in school or transferring schools, with certain limiting conditions.

Even mid-season transfers would be able to play, so long as there's space on the team and the coach deems them skilled enough. 

A few restrictions would still apply. A student would not be allowed to participate in the same sport at two schools in the same year, unless they meet one of four exceptions. …

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Florida education news: Substitute teachers, arts, plagiarism and more

BUDGET WOES: A money shortage forces the Hernando school district to cut back on substitute teachers.

FOR THE ARTS: Pasco's Longleaf Elementary is named a Florida arts model school.

TESTING: Florida's annual student testing carries consequences and alternatives, WJHG reports.

SCHOOL SAFETY: Leesburg leaders seek solutions to violence at the local high school, the Daily Commercial reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: A Bay County charter school sues two of its administrators, the Panama City News Herald reports. 

SOUP'S ON: Culinary students at Marion's Dunnellon High prepare lunch for students and staff weekly as part of their training, the Ocala Star-Banner reports.

TIGHT SQUEEZE: Volusia schools feel the effects of rising enrollment, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports. • St. Johns district leaders brace for more school growth, the St. Augustine Record reports.

LABOR NEWS: The Orange County Classroom Teachers Association picks its new president, ending national control, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

WHOSE WORDS? Alachua's superintendent faces accusations of plagiarism over his book on improving education, the Gainesville Sun reports. …

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Hillsborough charter school enrollment, by the numbers

As the Tampa Bay Times reported earlier this year, middle schools in Hillsborough County are losing enrollment while the rest of the school district grows.

Some of the losses happened because a handful of schools were converted in recent years from elementary to K-8 schools. The newest are Sulphur Springs and Tinker at the MacDill Air Force Base. The Tinker situation left Monroe Middle School with roughly 400 students, virtually half empty.

Principals told us another reason was a catch-up program last summer that enabled over-age students to skip a year and start high school with their peers.

But the latest Student Migration Report from the district confirms that charter middle and K-8 schools are growing rapidly and attracting groups of sometimes 100 and more from a single school zone, In some cases, the numbers suggest they also erode diversity in the district schools the children leave behind.

First, some big numbers:

While 3,393 Hillsborough children are now in charter elementary schools, 2,311 are in charter middle schools. The second number is smaller, but middle schools serve only three grades while elementary schools serve six. …

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Who's getting suspended in Hillsborough

Chamberlain High School in North Tampa registered 121 out-of-school suspensions of more than five days, the highest number in the Hillsborough County School District this year.


Chamberlain High School in North Tampa registered 121 out-of-school suspensions of more than five days, the highest number in the Hillsborough County School District this year.

The Hillsborough County School District has kept a close watch this year on out-of-school suspensions, and they've shared some of that data with us. Any suspension of more than five days must be approved by an area superintendent.

These are the totals so far for the 2015-16 school year.

Chamberlain High School tops the list with 121 five-day-plus suspensions.

McLane Middle School came in second place with 88, and was one of just two middle schools to make the top 10. The other, Shields Middle School, reported 66 long suspensions.

The other seven near the top of the list: East Bay High (78); Spoto High (74); Hillsborough High (71); Armwood High (70); Wharton High (69); King High (60) and Middleton High School with 57. …

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'Will you accept the challenge to teach at my school?'

The Pasco County school district is tugging at heartstrings with cute kids as it launches an effort to attract top teachers to six high-needs schools.

It has posted to social media a video of children from the elementary schools -- Cox, Lacoochee, Hudson, Gulfside, Gulf Highlands and Pasco -- in which they ask educators to give them the help they want and need. 

"Please come to my school and help me achieve greatness," one little girl implores.

"I love my school and I love my teachers," a smiling boy declares.


The job fairs are next week Tuesday and Thursday. More details here.

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Fellowship staff are trained in Hillsborough County

Fifteen adult representatives of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes were trained Monday in the do's and don'ts of faith-based partnerships in the public schools.

Monday's workshop came in response to last week's relevation that David Gaskill, who worked part-time for the organization, was proselytizing regularly at five Hillsborough County high schools despite a lack of training and two criminal convictions on his record.

At the training, some -- but not all -- of the 15 were screened and cleared to return to the schools. The list is included in this letter from the district. The letter indicates that Gaskill was one of the 15. He was not cleared.

Participants were instructed in a variety of ways they can assist students.

As guests of the Christian organization "Huddle," they can attend meetings of students. But they cannot attend regularly. And, although the students are free to pray, the adults cannot lead or direct the prayer. Nor can anyone on staff at the school lead or encourage prayer.

Adults also can visit schools at the invitation of teachers and administrators. In those cases, they must make sure their activities and remarks are secular and neutral. …

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Florida education news: Spending, testing, school choice and more

BUDGETS: The Hillsborough school district imposes a spending freeze as the finance department prepares for the next fiscal year. • St. Johns district leaders focus on higher funding as a legislative priority, the St. Augustine Record reports.

SCHOOL CHOICE: St. Johns officials say Florida's new inter-district open enrollment law should not negatively affect district schools, the Ponte Vedra Recorder reports.

TESTING: Duval middle and high school students could soon be required to take the ACT, PSAT or SAT, depending on grade level, the Florida Times-Union reports.

LABOR NEWS: Mistakes in Manatee teacher pay leads some educators to question the role of their union and contract negotiations, the Bradenton Herald reports.

COMMUNICATION: Lee School Board members and superintendent answer questions at a parent forum, the Fort Myers News-Press reports.

EARLY LEARNING: Fewer Duval families will get subsidized child care because of changes to state policies, the Florida Times-Union reports.

NO THANKS: Girls at a Palm Beach high school reject suggestions to play anything less than their canceled tackle football game, the Palm Beach Post reports. …

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Florida Prepaid removes 529 contribution restrictions

The Florida Prepaid College Board has just made it a little easier to invest for future higher education needs.

It has removed the minimum contribution level for a Florida 529 Savings Plan. Beginning in May, a family member can open a 529 account at any amount, and without application fees. 

Families can contribute to a 529 account and use the initial amount plus accumulated growth tax-free on higher education expenses.

The board also is sponsoring a scholarship program along with the new rules, to bring attention to 529 accounts. Ten families can win $529 to be deposited into their Florida 529. Enter here.

"We look forward to awarding these scholarships, helping 10 Florida families get a strong start in the very important journey of saving for college," Foundation Board chairman Duane Ottenstroer said in a release. "Setting aside even a small amount each month in a Florida 529 Savings account can help students reduce or avoid student loan debt."

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Special job fair planned for Pasco County's low-performing schools

Pasco County School Board

Pasco County school district leaders want to ensure their lowest-performing schools, which often struggle to attract and retain top teachers, don't have that problem again for 2016-17.

They've scheduled two job fairs next week specifically for those schools, giving them a chance to lure teaching candidates without the added competition of campuses serving higher performing, generally more affluent students and communities.

The events come as part of the district's attempt to provide more supports and services for the neediest schools, after having determined that signing bonuses don't necessarily do the trick. The flyer states the mission clearly: The district wants "passionate, driven, goals-oriented highly-qualified teachers who want to change the lives of students in high needs schools."

Intrigued by the challenge? The job fairs are set for:

- 5:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Pasco Middle School, 13925 14th Street, Dade City

- 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Chasco Middle School, 7702 Ridge Road, Port Richey

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Pasco families might need to rethink 2017 spring break plans because of testing

Every year, the Pasco County School Board aims to adopt its future academic calendars early, to give parents time to plan their days off.

So the board approved its 2016-17 calendar back in November, with no comment or concern. But nearly six months later, it's having to revise the plan because of state testing schedules.

After the board set its spring break as March 18-27, 2017, the Florida Department of Education established a testing calendar that set March 27 as the first day of the third-grade language arts Florida Standards Assessment.

The department later alerted districts of "decreased flexibility with the scheduling of state standardized assessments for the 2016-2017 school year," Pasco officials noted. 

That means the Pasco Board will have to consider changing its spring break so students are in school on March 27, adding instead March 17 -- the Friday before the official vacation -- as a student day off and teacher planning day. The School Board is set to take up the amendment on Tuesday.

Any parents who already made plans for that day off will then have to adjust. …

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Florida education news: Principals, A-Plus funds, restroom rules and more

TURNAROUNDS: Pinellas superintendent Mike Grego replaces principals at three of his district's most low-performing schools.

PLAYOFFS: A state lawmaker says the FHSAA has not acted in good faith on high school playoffs in light of new law. 

FUNDING: The principal of an Alachua school receiving state recognition funds says he'd rather see the money go to general education, the Tallahassee Democrat reports. • Volusia district leaders want the state to create a funding system without cost differentials they say treats their district unfairly, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports. 

ZOO SCHOOL: The Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens plans to expand its educational offerings to students, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

GENDER ISSUES: Marion schools officially implements new restroom rules for transgender students despite complaints by the ACLU, the Ocala Star-Banner reports. More from WKMG. • The Brevard School Board narrowly agrees to revise its policies to add protections for LGBT individuals, Florida Today reports. …

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Principals of three 'Failure Factories' schools will transfer

Shadows line the walkway as students line up outside in the courtyard as they prepare to participate in a no referral party at Lakewood Elementary School in St. Petersburg.


Shadows line the walkway as students line up outside in the courtyard as they prepare to participate in a no referral party at Lakewood Elementary School in St. Petersburg.

Pinellas County Schools superintendent Mike Grego announced a hefty addition to the school board's agenda Tuesday evening: a change of leadership for the district's identified "turnaround" schools, including three of the lowest performing schools in the state.

Grego made a request to amend the agenda to include transfers for the following principals, which are effective July 1:

The district will also appoint Yvette McLean-Pilliner to assistant director of school leadership.

READ THE REPORT: how Pinellas leaders turned five once-average schools into Failure Factories

The district conducted a national search for turnaround principals that lasted three weeks and received about 100 applications for multiple positions. Deputy superintendent Bill Corbett said principals are reviewed every spring, and each principal was reviewed on a case-by-case basis. The search, he said, is still ongoing.

"This is the time of year we look at leadership and where people fit best," he said.

Corbett added that research shows that a turnaround process takes around three to five years. Grasso, Ovalle and Pollauf began their careers at their respective years ago three years ago. …

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Joe Negron: Rick Scott and I 'strongly aligned' on goals for Florida universities

After meeting for about a half hour with Republican Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday, incoming Florida Senate president Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said he and the governor seem to be in general agreement about their future goals for Florida's 12 public universities.

Enhancing the State University System -- and adding $1 billion in funding to it over two years -- is a priority for Negron as he's poised to take over the Senate in November. Last week, Negron and a handful of other senators toured all of the universities to learn about each institution's needs and goals.

"I updated the governor on some of the things that we learned during the university tour," Negron told reporters after the meeting at the Florida Capitol. "I think there’s a strong alignment of policy and budget goals, with my commitment to universities."

Scott's spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said Negron "requested a meeting to discuss his priorities." She had no comment on what they discussed, because the governor typically doesn't talk about private meetings.

But the universities have been on Scott's mind, also. …

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