Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Education

Historic Moore-Mickens center set to reopen, serve children's needs

Pasco County's first school for African-American students, which operated as an education center until it closed two years ago, is poised to reopen as a community education and social center again, serving the low-income Dade City community where it sits.

The Moore-Mickens Education and Vocational Center — a nonprofit coalition of civic, community and faith-based leaders — is set to enter a 30-year agreement to lease the former school site, as is, on Martin Luther King Boulevard for $10 a year. The group aims to provide some of the programs that the school used to provide.

"We're going to offer voluntary prekindergarten there. That's going to be one of our initial programs," said group chairman Keith Babb, who also runs Second Chance Center for Boys, which works with at-risk young men who have been arrested. "The other thing we want to do as well is offer GED there. The third thing we'll initially begin with is providing for tutoring and after-school programs for low-performing students at the elementary and middle-school levels in Dade City."

They're also looking into setting up a food pantry at the site, partnering with Feeding America and other organizations.

"We want to provide some support to ensure (students) can focus on their education," Babb explained.

Dade City leaders, school alumni and other residents have long pushed to maintain the Moore-Mickens site, first pushing back against superintendent Kurt Browning's plans to shut down the campus and later working with the district after the decision was made. District leaders said they wanted to relocate the programs to other schools that could offer more programs, and also that renovating the Moore-Mickens buildings would be too costly. But they agreed to try to keep the school active in the community, with local support.

Babb said interest remained high to revive Moore-Mickens, but it took time to get all of the necessary funding, insurance, tax status and other requirements in line. He said four buildings on the campus — administration, media center, band room and kitchen — are immediately usable and will be the focus of the early efforts, which he expects to begin in August.

The next phase will be securing a historic preservation grant from the state to improve the rest of the site.

"One of the things the community wants is they don't want any buildings torn down," Babb said. "They want to restore some of those wings."

He said the grant depends on the group gaining access to and using the site. The lease came to the School Board on June 19.

"We're excited about it," Babb said. "We're just hoping for the best."

DISTRICT FINALS: With its district-created course final exams under fire, the Pasco County School District has begun looking at options.

The Student Progression Plan Committee, which met June 14, considered what it could to do improve the system, which many teachers and parents have criticized. Members spoke of improving the quality of the tests, making the material more accessible and clear to educators, and continuing to have the results count for student grades once the first two criteria are met.

Superintendent Kurt Browning, meanwhile, asked his colleagues statewide whether they had any different ideas.

Browning has repeatedly stated that he's open to doing away with district-created finals if the district could continue to meet state requirements to use student performance data in evaluating teachers.

His survey, run through the state superintendents' association, showed 13 of 40 responding districts do not use district-created finals. They included several that are comparable to Pasco, including Brevard, Lee, Martin and Osceola counties.

Brevard and Lee officials said they rely primarily on state test results. Martin County reported it depends on standards-based report cards in the elementary schools, and data from progress monitoring and state exams for other courses.

Osceola schools indicated they use a variety of information from programs throughout the year, including iReady, Achieve 3000 and Think Through Math, as well as curriculum-based assessments and teacher-made tests.

Browning has asked his assessment and accountability team to review the information. He said he intends to schedule a School Board workshop on district finals for July 18.

MANDATORY RECESS: Within a massive education conforming bill, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a requirement that every Florida public elementary school provide 20 minutes of daily recess.

That mandate does not include charter schools.

The Pasco school system must comply with the rule, and officials have begun hashing out how they want to see recess come into play. District spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said school principals will have flexibility to decide exactly how it will look, but, to help guide the conversation, the central office has sent out some suggestions.

The ideas come after several conversations with principals and others about different ways the schedule could look.

The four main possibilities in a memo to schools are:

Example 1: Students have lunch for 30 minutes, students are scheduled for 20 minutes of recess before or after lunch.

Example 2: Students have lunch for 30 minutes. Connect 20 minutes of recess with specials schedule to create planning time or PLC time for teacher teams. This requires someone, other than the teachers, to supervise recess.

Example 3: Shorten lunch to 20 or 25 minutes and send students outside for recess (allow individual students more time to eat, if they need more time).

Example 4: The 20 minutes of recess can be "free floating" decided on by teacher teams. For example, a team of teachers may decide to have recess at the end of the day, the last 20 minutes.

Unlike some other districts, Pasco is not discussing eliminating other programs, such as art or music, in order to fit in recess.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at (813) 909-4614 or [email protected] Follow @jeffsolochek.

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