Jeffrey S. Solochek, Times Staff Writer

Jeffrey S. Solochek

Jeffrey S. Solochek writes about schools and education for the Tampa Bay Times. Solochek has covered the school districts in Hernando, Hillsborough and Pasco counties since joining the Times in 2000. He also oversees The Gradebook education blog.

Phone: (813) 909-4614

Email: jsolochek@tampabay.com

Blog: The Gradebook

Twitter: @JeffSolochek

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  1. Take more time using testing results for evaluations, U.S. education secretary Duncan says

    Blog

    Saying that testing is "sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools," U.S. education secretary Arne Duncan today said his department would ease its rules on using test results in teacher evaluations.

    Tying ratings to scores has been part of the federal government's requirement for states to waive other mandates. Florida began doing so a couple of years ago.

    Duncan said it's time to step back and reassess:...

  2. Pasco district expands reading program for low performing elementary schools

    Blog

    Pasco County school district officials don't want to see any local elementary schools on the state's lowest performing 300 list for reading again next year.

    So after finding resources to add a state-mandated extra hour of instruction to the three on the list this year, the district expanded its efforts to its schools that landed between 300 and 400 in the recent calculation. The five additional schools -- Centennial, Calusa, Fox Hollow, Hudson and Sunray -- will get extra instructional technology to boost children's learning during the new academic year....

  3. Pasco school district travel spending under scrutiny

    K12

    After years of severe limits on out-of-county travel, Pasco school district administrators have again begun taking trips for recruiting, training and idea gathering.

    As the frequency of excursions and number of travelers increase, School Board members are asking pointed questions about whether the money and time are being wisely spent.

    "We're in the business of education. We need to save money," vice chairman Steve Luikart said. "If we're going to send people, send the fewest amount possible. Then share (the information)."...

  4. Gov. Rick Scott announces proposal to boost Florida education spending

    Blog

    Florida Gov. Rick Scott, facing a heated reelection battle in which his dedication to education has been challenged, this morning announced his plan to recommend "an increase in Florida’s per-pupil spending to the highest level in our state’s history." 

    "We already have the highest total spending in K-12 this year and gave every teacher the opportunity for a pay raise," Scott said in a release. "Because we were able to get Florida’s economy back on track, revenues are now projected to stay at a strong enough rate to support historic investments in education."...

  5. Florida education news: Grade changes, volunteer hours, test scores and more

    Blog

    IN THE DETAILS: An investigation report offers insight into a grade changing controversy involving Hernando School Board member John Sweeney.

    TENSIONS MOUNT: The Pasco school district reprimands teacher union president Kenny Blankenship over accusations of political speech at employee training....

  6. Pasco commission candidate holds superintendent's backing despite opposition to school impact fee hikes

    Blog

    In press releases and robocalls, Pasco County schools superintendent Kurt Browning has endorsed County Commission candidate Mike Moore, who is on the record as being opposed to tax and fee increases – including to the school impact fees which Browning and his administration have backed.

    The district has seen its enrollment grow lately after a few static years, and officials have planned new schools to cope with the increase. Revenue from higher impact fees on new construction could help pay for the construction....

  7. Pasco superintendent backs candidate who opposes school impact fee increases

    Blog

    In press releases and robocalls, Pasco County schools superintendent Kurt Browning has endorsed County Commission candidate Mike Moore, who is on the record as being opposed to tax and fee increases – including to the school impact fees which Browning and his administration have backed.

    The district has seen its enrollment grow lately after a few static years, and officials have planned new schools to cope with the increase. Revenue from higher impact fees on new construction could help pay for the construction....

  8. Pasco teacher union leader rebuked for political speech

    Teachers

    LAND O'LAKES — The Pasco County school district has rebuked United School Employees of Pasco leader Kenny Blankenship a second time this year for inappropriate behavior.

    This time, Blankenship stands accused of making a political speech at a bus driver training session — something he denies.

    Even so, he faces a ban from speaking at nonpublic district activities that are not spelled out in employee contracts....

    A Pasco bus driver complained about Kenny Blankenship.
  9. ELL test warning not the first for Florida

    Blog

    Florida officials could not have been too surprised at the U.S. Department of Education's recent warning that the state's stance on test scores for English-language learners would not withstand federal scrutiny.

    They have, in fact, heard it before....

  10. Pasco School Board member proposes easing student-athlete transfer rules

    Blog

    Pasco County School Board vice chairman Steve Luikart's push to revamp the board's student-athlete transfer policy has created a stir among district leaders, who are seeking more details as they head to a second workshop on the subject.

    "I got the sense there's more to the story," said chairwoman Alison Crumbley.

    Luikart pointed out that his concerns arose when approached by a mom who used to be one of his students when he worked at Ridgewood High. She wants her son, who has attended four high schools in four years, to play sports at Ridgewood. A district appeal committee, and then the superintendent's representative, denied the application....

  11. Florida education news: Testing, student-athletes, junk food and more

    Blog

    TESTING DISPUTE: Florida and the federal government disagree over the state's rules about when to count test scores of students still learning English.

    SMOOTHER START: The Pasco school district's new call center, paired with other improvements to the student transportation system, leads to fewer problems and complaints in the first days back to school....

  12. Pasco School Board member questions student-athlete transfer policy

    K12

    LAND O'LAKES — Pasco County's student-athlete transfer policy has come under fire from one of its own School Board members.

    Board Vice Chairman Steve Luikart blasted the year-old rule on Tuesday as unfair, inconsistent and punitive. Bolstered by the plight of one of his former students, whose children were denied the right to participate in sports at Ridgewood High, Luikart called on his colleagues to revamp the rules....

  13. Pasco school bus system on smoother course

    K12

    LAND O'LAKES — Elizabeth Ford had a problem.

    Her children got on the bus Monday morning heading to Centennial Elementary School, but when it came time to return home, their driver left them at the wrong place.

    In past years, when Ford has called the Pasco School District to complain about busing issues, she waited hours for a call back.

    "Now, I got immediate feedback," she said. "I didn't even need to wait for a call back."...

    Fox Hollow Elementary teacher Melissa Simpkins verifies which students belong on this bus Tuesday during dismissal. The Pasco School District has a new call center so parents can get information on bus comings and goings.
  14. Florida lawmakers take issue with USDOE position on English-language learners

    Blog

    In extending Florida's No Child Left Behind waiver, the U.S. Department of Education made clear its displeasure with one key action added by Florida lawmakers.

    The state's decision not to count test scores of English-language learners in school accountability ratings until the students had been in a U.S. school at least two years wasn't going to fly, assistant secretary Deborah Delisle informed education commissioner Pam Stewart....

  15. Florida and feds in a showdown over when to test students still learning English

    K12

    Federal education officials have decided Florida does not know best when it comes to school accountability and English-language learners.

    State legislators, supported by educators and advocates, changed the law in the spring to reflect that students still learning English should not be expected to immediately excel on Florida's annual tests. They gave the students two years in a U.S. school before counting their scores in school grades....