Saturday, November 18, 2017
Education

Hillsborough schools: The welcome mat is out for displaced students from Puerto Rico

RECOMMENDED READING


TAMPA — Students from Puerto Rico and other islands ravaged by recent hurricanes are welcome in Hillsborough County. It says so at the top of the district website, in Spanish.

And now it's a message that has been passed to the principals of the district's more than 240 schools, in writing last week and verbally at Tuesday's School Board meeting.

"They should be welcome in our schools and every effort should be made to enroll the students on the same day," superintendent Jeff Eakins said.

RELATED: Wave of Puerto Ricans fleeing Hurricane Maria devastation may shift Florida landscape

"We know these students have been through a tragedy and we want these students to feel welcome and safe in our schools."

But beyond that sentiment, a lot is unknown about how many children will arrive, where they will live and how their enrollment will affect the schools.

Hillsborough County has one of the state's largest concentrations of Puerto Rican residents, often considered second only to the Orlando area.

In terms of space and infrastructure, Hillsborough is well-equipped for an influx of students who, in many cases, will arrive speaking as much Spanish as English.

The district already is 35 percent Hispanic, with some schools between 75 and 90 percent Hispanic.

English for Speakers of Other Languages programs exist in nearly all the schools. And three in the Town 'N Country area, which is home to a large concentration of Puerto Rican families, have dual-language programs that teach students in English and Spanish simultaneously.

There also are approximately 27,000 empty seats in schools countywide, as many families are leaving the system each year to attend privately managed charter schools.

But there is no guarantee that the new students will find their way to the schools with empty seats.

Area superintendent Marcos Murillo, who left Puerto Rico at age 24 and has spent the last 10 days trying to help his own relatives get out, pointed out that in many cases, wealthier Hillsborough County families will host the families in their own homes.

No one can anyone say with certainty what the numbers will look like. "It could be hundreds, it could be thousands," Murillo said. "And they could come trickling in, little by little."

There also are questions about funding, and there was a tense exchange of words Tuesday as School Board member Lynn Gray referred to the future students as "refugees."

Chairwoman Cindy Stuart pointed out that the students will arrive as U.S. citizens.

And member Susan Valdes, who is Cuban-American but advocates publicly for all Hispanics, seized the opportunity to warn against any kind of prejudice or insensitivity that might occur.

"We all know it's a new day in this nation when it comes to race and ethnicity," she said.

She pointed out that Hillsborough has both an equity policy and an Office of Diversity. And she asked district leaders to consider that, in addition to future arrivals, the schools have many employees who struggle every day to make contact with their own relatives on the island.

"Yet they show up every day to work," she said.

THE GRADEBOOK: All education, all the time

On Monday, Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency to assist incoming evacuees who were displaced by Hurricane Maria.

School district leaders hope that action will lead to further steps, including a relaxation of the timetable the district now uses to count student enrollment for funding purposes.

Under the current system, students are not counted for funding purposes unless they are enrolled by Oct. 13.

While agreeing that Puerto Rican students must be welcomed with open arms, board member Melissa Snively said, "I don't want to be dinged" by not getting state funding to cover the cost.

 

Comments
Pasco school district proposes future changes to west-side elementary and middle school zones

Pasco school district proposes future changes to west-side elementary and middle school zones

Plans to erase the attendance boundaries for Ridgewood High School have grabbed all the attention.But the Pasco County school district also has proposed changes to west-side elementary and middle school zones for consideration this fall.They’re just ...
Published: 11/15/17
Updated: 11/16/17
At St. Petersburg High, alums push to complete private funding for home field improvements

At St. Petersburg High, alums push to complete private funding for home field improvements

ST. PETERSBURG — The athletic facilities at St. Petersburg High are just like Bob Carter remembers from 50 years ago.He recalls it all fondly: The concession stands, ticket booths and bathrooms are still the same. The track is still outdated asphalt,...
Published: 11/15/17
In union push at USF, adjunct professors strive for more respect and a living wage

In union push at USF, adjunct professors strive for more respect and a living wage

TAMPA — Robert Ryan cleaned out his office in May. He knew he was dying.He had kept driving to the University of South Florida even as he lost the use of his left arm. He had kept teaching English, even as tumors ravaged his mouth so that he could ha...
Published: 11/14/17
Updated: 11/17/17
Hillsborough Education Foundation, Yoobi team to surprise students

Hillsborough Education Foundation, Yoobi team to surprise students

The kids at Bing Elementary knew something special was about to happen when a six-foot white dog with a "target" over his right eye walked into the classroom.And they were right.On Tuesday (Nov. 14), volunteers and corporate supporters joined the Hil...
Published: 11/14/17
Updated: 11/16/17
New aviation programs at PHSC help propel students toward dreams

New aviation programs at PHSC help propel students toward dreams

DADE CITY — Dustin Snodgrass has a photograph of himself as a child in the pilot’s seat of a kid-size model airplane. Snodgrass, now 28, recently took a big step toward his goal of flying real aircraft with his first solo flight through a new profess...
Published: 11/14/17
Updated: 11/16/17
Hillsborough teachers show up in the hundreds to clamor for promised raises

Hillsborough teachers show up in the hundreds to clamor for promised raises

TAMPA — A weeks-long salary standoff between the Hillsborough County School District and its teachers hit an emotional peak Tuesday as hundreds of teachers and students turned out to ask the School Board for their promised raises."War has been declar...
Published: 11/14/17
Updated: 11/15/17
Romano: Sorry teachers, you simply can’t win this one

Romano: Sorry teachers, you simply can’t win this one

When it comes to your principles, there is no shame in putting up a fight.You can fight City Hall, and you can fight the power. According to the song, you can fight the law. You can even fight the good fight, whatever that means.But you cannot fight ...
Published: 11/14/17
Hillsborough teachers plan School Board protest today as tensions heat up over pay

Hillsborough teachers plan School Board protest today as tensions heat up over pay

Today is the last time the Hillsborough County School Board will gather before the Thanksgiving break, but the usual pre-holiday vibe may be muted in a district that has fallen on anxious times.Hundreds of teachers are expected to show up in protest ...
Published: 11/14/17
With $15 million donation to USF, top donors urge others to follow their lead

With $15 million donation to USF, top donors urge others to follow their lead

TAMPA — The university had already hit its $1 billion fundraising goal, and the college sweethearts had already cemented their spot as the top donors to their beloved alma mater.At a black tie gala at Amalie Arena on Saturday, though, philanthropic g...
Published: 11/10/17
Updated: 11/11/17
Teachers in Hillsborough decide that for a week they will ‘work the contract’

Teachers in Hillsborough decide that for a week they will ‘work the contract’

TAMPA — Teachers in Hillsborough County will "work the contract" for a week after Thanksgiving to illustrate their dissatisfaction with treatment from the school district.That means no late meetings or phone calls with parents and no grading papers a...
Published: 11/10/17