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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


Blog: The Gradebook

Twitter: @JeffSolochek

  1. Judge's ruling is a blow to Florida's third-grade testing rules


    A key piece of Florida's education system took a major blow Friday as Leon County Judge Karen Gievers chastised the state over its rules for promoting third-graders into fourth grade.

    A group of parents from six counties, including Hernando and Pasco, challenged the state law that requires third-graders to pass a state reading test or be held back a year. They also alleged that officials weren't properly following the law anyway. ...

  2. Judge issues mixed ruling on Florida's third-grade retention law


    A Leon County circuit court judge has come down in favor of families challenging Florida's third-grade retention practices, ruling that school districts ignored the children's right to alternative forms of promotion and the state Department of Education allowed that to happen.

    In her order, Judge Karen Gievers highly criticized the Hernando County school district for its "illegal refusal" to allow students to have a portfolio option to demonstrate their reading abilities, as permitted in statute. Notably, she also included report cards "based on classroom work throughout the course of the school year" as an acceptable option....

  3. Pasco union, school district $3.2 million apart on teacher pay raises


    To no one's surprise, proposals in Pasco County's teacher contract talks Thursday looked much like the offers made for school-related employees a day earlier -- the sides opened far apart on terms....

  4. Florida education news: Mold, internships, gifted programs and more


    SICK SCHOOL: Officials investigate complaints of mold at Plato Academy charter school in Largo.

    REAL WORLD: Some Dunedin High students get job experiences through the school's internship program....

  5. Pasco school district, employee union offer salary counterproposals


    As anticipated, Pasco County's employee union and School Board offered differing visions of what they'd like to see in a pay package when they sat at the bargaining table Wednesday.

    During negotiations for school-related personnel, the United School Employees of Pasco presented a 4 percent raise request, urging the district to dip into its unrestricted reserves to bolster salaries....

  6. Florida tax credit scholarships hit record level


    Participation in Florida's tax credit scholarship program, which helps low-income students pay tuition at private schools, has surpassed 90,000 children for the first time, scholarship organization Step Up for Students announced Thursday.

    The partial total of 92,011 scholarships is up 17 percent from a year ago, and more than 550 percent from 2005. The state's new Gardiner education savings account also served 5,844 students with special needs. A second, smaller scholarship authorizer did not issue numbers....

  7. Florida education news: STEM lessons, Pledge of Allegiance, teacher pay and more


    HANDS ON: Pasco's Cotee River Elementary holds a student STEAM Olympics as part of the district's effort to step up science and math programs in Title I schools.

    CAMPUS CRIME: A student is arrested with a loaded gun at Pinellas' Lakewood High. * About 200 students at Volusia's Deland High are left without classrooms after vandals fill the rooms with glass shards, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports....

  8. Deadline set for venue arguments in Florida's third grade retention suit


    During Monday's daylong court hearing on Florida's third-grade retention laws, lawyers for the six sued school districts repeatedly complained that the case should have been heard locally and not in Leon County.

    As the proceedings progressed, the lawyers filed a complaint in the First District Court of Appeal, asking for a mandate that Judge Karen Gievers rule on their motion to dismiss the case based on their venue challenge....

  9. Pasco parents prepare for school rezonings


    News that several Pasco County schools could have new attendance boundaries next fall has perked up parents in several communities.

    As soccer fields and coffee shops, not to mention on social media, people have begun chatting about what might happen to their children if their neighborhoods are zoned into different schools....

  10. Florida education news: Turnarounds, court cases, classroom supplies and more


    TURNAROUNDS: Pasco's Hudson Elementary seeks the needed formula to overcome years of poor performance.

    IN THE COURTS: Florida Matters discusses key education issues in Florida's courtrooms. * Florida families are still waiting for a ruling in their challenge of the state's third-grade retention law, the Orlando Sentinel reports....

  11. It's time to talk money at Pasco school employee contract negotiations


    Pasco County school-related personnel and teachers head back to bargaining on Wednesday and Thursday, with salary and benefits the focus of conversation.

    Although the sides have yet to reach agreement on many non-financial issues, representatives from each told the Gradebook that they intend to bring pay proposals to the table. They're not expected to be close.

    The United School Employees of Pasco have made clear their desire to tap into the district's unreserved general fund balance to bolster wages, particularly of the district's lowest paid workers. The School Board has insisted on keeping its reserves at 5 percent, but USEP operations director Jim Ciadella asked the board to go lower, as permitted in law....

  12. How can an opt-out student be counted as participating in Florida state testing?


    Answer at least one question.

    That's what Florida deputy education commissioner Juan Copa told the court Monday during a lengthy hearing on the state's third-grade retention rules.

    "A student would have had to answer at least one question," Copa said, when discussing whether a student would be counted in a school's participation rate.

    It's the first time we've heard such a clear statement on participation from the Florida Department of Education, despite several requests for one. And it's a big deal for for families in the growing opt-out movement, which has opposed high stakes testing where the results are used for major decisions like promotion....

  13. After years of spiraling downward, will Hudson Elementary finally find success?


    HUDSON — Third grader Tristan Downing-Genirs stopped working on his first-day-of-school assignment, rose from his seat and headed toward a classroom supply shelf.

    The 8-year-old didn't make it far before teacher Holly Weber stopped him: "Tristan, when we get up from our chair, what do we do?"

    The boy spun around, slid his seat under the table and apologized. It was a small rule to forget, pushing in his chair, but one of many new things that F-rated Hudson Elementary had put in place as part of a major effort to improve its long-declining academic fortunes....

    Hudson Elementary fourth-grade teacher Sandra Rivera helps Landon Gerczak, left, Dominick Rasberry, right, and their classmates with a lesson last week Monday.
  14. Florida education news: School prayer, teacher experience, third-grade retention and more


    RELIGION IN SCHOOL: Hillsborough district officials remind school administrators that it's not okay to pray with students.

    TURNAROUNDS: Students in five low-performing Pinellas elementary schools were more likely to be taught by inexperienced teachers than were children at other schools....

  15. Who's eligible for Florida's Best and Brightest teacher bonus?


    Florida school districts are acting with caution in considering which educators can get a state Best and Brightest bonus, despite a recent ruling that teachers without classrooms are eligible.

    Some school districts decided after the ruling that all "instructional personnel" could qualify for the award. Best and Brightest, which has been controversial among educators, is reserved for teachers who have earned a "highly effective" evaluation and also scored in the top 20 percent on the SAT or ACT when they took it....