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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. Permanent pay raises key for future success, Pasco school officials argue


    With the Florida Legislature's committee meetings less than a month away, Pasco County school district leaders set forth the priorities they'll be pushing during the 2018 session.

    Improved pay for teachers and staff was high on the list.

    "I think we ought to be increasing teachers' salaries, and I think we need to do that with the state's help," superintendent Kurt Browning told the School Board on Tuesday....

    Pasco County superintendent Kurt Browning
  2. Florida education news: Irma makeup days, HB 7069, charter schools and more


    MAKEUP DAYS: Florida education commissioner Pam Stewart waives two of the required 180 days of instruction to help districts complete the academic year after missing several for Hurricane Irma. District leaders say they are reviewing their calendars to determine how to make up the rest of the time. They could add days back to the calendar, or adjust the daily schedule to add minutes. Some districts, such as Escambia and Santa Rosa, won't have to make changes at all, the Pensacola News-Journal reports. More from the Gainesville Sun, Fort Myers News-Press, Orlando Sentinel • Some Monroe County schools will remain closed for the foreseeable future, the Miami Herald reports. More from the Keynoter. • One Palm Beach County school cancels classes midday as power fails, the Palm Beach Post reports....

    Education Commissioner Pam Stewart
  3. Education commissioner Pam Stewart offers Florida schools two days for Irma


    Florida school districts that closed before, during and after Hurricane Irma received some slight relief Tuesday from the state Department of Education.

    Commissioner Pam Stewart advised superintendents that she would waive two days from the state requirement that districts hold 180 days of classes.

    Read her full letter for more details....

  4. Florida Supreme Court tosses Palm Beach case on charter school approvals


    With a simple two-sentence memo, the Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the state Board of Education's power to overturn school board denials of charter school applications.

    The court declined to accept juridsiction over the Palm Beach County School Board's case, which challenged the state's authority, and instead left intact the January ruling of the Fourth District Court of Appeal that affirmed the state's role....

  5. How are Florida school boards able to hold budget hearings tonight?


    Several Florida school boards, including Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties, have set their final budget public hearings and votes for after 5 p.m. Tuesday.

    They had been scheduled to act on Sept. 12. Hurricane Irma interfered.

    The quick turnaround did not allow school districts to provide what generally might be considered adequate public notice. How can that happen?

    In this case, Gov. Rick Scott anticipated the probable need to alter the plans, and made provisions for it in his Sept. 4 executive order regarding Irma. Scott granted the Department of Revenue executive director the authority to waive the timing requirements of state law with regard to the setting of non ad valorem tax rates....

  6. Florida education news: Free lunch, school routines, spending cuts and more


    FREE LUNCH: Hurricane Irma caused many families to go without income for a week. Many also lost power, and along with it the food in their refrigerators and freezers. Making matters worse, replacing it isn't so easy, as grocery stores have limited supplies. Hoping to ease the burden, the state has asked for and received permission for 48 counties including those in the Tampa Bay region to provide free meals to all students through October 20. If families will continue to need assistance after that date, they will have to apply....

  7. Time to get 'back to routine' as much as possible in Florida schools


    Principal Teresa Love greeted her Odessa Elementary staff back to work Monday with a smile and a cheerful "good morning," so everyone could get right into the business of the day.

    Students would soon return after six class days away, and Love wanted to get her Pasco County school -- which days earlier had housed 950 Hurricane Irma evacuees and their 125 pets -- back to learning as soon as possible....

    Odessa Elementary fifth grade teachers Jennifer James and Scott Ortolano review math lesson plans Monday for their students, who would arrive an hour later.
  8. Florida revises fall testing schedule for storm-impacted students


    Hurricane Irma might have interrupted student testing. But it won't put an end to it.

    The Florida Department of Education has posted a revised schedule for this month's end-of-course exam retakes in biology, civics, U.S. history, algebra I and geometry, allowing the assessments to begin Sept. 18 but extending the final date until a time to be set in the future. It did the same for the 10th grade language arts retake....

  9. Florida education news: Hurricane Irma, teacher evaluations, Baker Act and more


    AFTER THE STORM: Children and teachers across much of Florida return to school Monday after a week or more away because of Hurricane Irma. Getting back to normal will — and should — take some time, experts say. • Hillsborough school district officials are conducting a survey to help determine how to make up the lost time. Palm Beach County officials also are looking at makeup planning, the Palm Beach Post reports. • Marion County school employees helped guide their county's shelter operations, the Ocala Star-Banner reports. • Many Miami-Dade County schools face obstacles to reopening, the Miami Herald reports. • The severity of the storm might lead lawmakers to reconsider building standards for charter schools, WLRN reports. • Monroe County schools aggressively target Sept. 25 as their reopening date, the Keynoter reports....

  10. After the hurricane: Time to 'focus on the good things' at school


    Maritere Garcia has spent a lot of time thinking about the day her kindergartners return to Wiregrass Elementary School in Wesley Chapel.

    She knows the youngsters have experienced potentially traumatic times during and after Hurricane Irma. She saw photos of some sleeping in closets, knows that they might not have power at home, or worse.

    "I can't wait to be back to normal," Garcia said....

    Principal Steve Williams, foreground, takes a selfie with the staff and faculty of Wiregrass Elementary in Pasco County. The group gathered on campus Friday to prepare the school for Monday's reopening. Kindergarten teacher Maritere Garcia said that, after Hurricane Irma, she wants to help her students get back to normal. "I'll be ready to talk about ways we can help and focus on the good things," she said.

  11. Pasco County charter school gets back to classes


    While most Pasco County students have to wait until Monday to start classes, those attending one charter school got back to business on Thursday.

    Classical Preparatory School in Shady Hills had little damage to its facilities, principal Ben Davis said, and its faculty was available and ready to go. So it reopened in an effort to get back to normal as soon as possible.

    "After walking the school buildings, communicating with our staff as to their status, and connecting with some of our families, we felt that opening on Thursday was the best decision," Davis said in an email to the Gradebook. "About 75% or so of our students were in attendance today (all but one member of our staff were present), and parents seemed to really appreciate the opportunity to return to a normal routine!"...

    Classical Preparatory School opened in 2014. It added a new building and some high school grade levels this year.
  12. Gradebook podcast: Resuming school after Irma - another expert's advice


    Some private and charter schools returned to classes from Hurricane Irma this week already. Most public school districts are preparing to get back to business on Monday, with teachers assessing their classrooms today. But just as preparing the classroom space isn't something that can happen overnight, neither is resuming the regular classroom routine. It takes a delicate touch, with keen awareness that many people from the youngest student to the most senior employee might have been traumatized by the storm. Today, LSU psychologist Joy Osofsky speaks with reporter Jeff Solochek about some ways to approach the return. Osofsky was central in the post-Katrina efforts to address children's trauma through schools and other community institutions, and closely tracked Irma as it moved through Florida. Please also listen to our recent podcast on the same subject with mental health professional Patti Ezell. And visit the LSU School of Medicine website for the Terrorism and Disaster Coalition for Child and Family Resilience for additional resources....

    Schools have a delicate path to follow as they return to routine after a week off for Hurricane Irma.
  13. Florida education news: Best and Brightest, HB 7069, hurricane shelters and more


    SUE YOU: The Florida Education Associations files suit in federal court challenging the state's Best and Brightest teacher bonus system, claiming it discriminates against teachers of a certain age and race. "I hope they win," Leon County superintendent Rocky Hanna tells the Tallahassee Democrat. • The Pinellas County gets a recommendation to join the growing lawsuit against HB 7069....

    The FEA sues over the state's Best and Brightest teacher bonus, awarded in part because of SAT or ACT scores, and not for things such as being named teacher of the year, as Rob Patterson was in Pasco County.
  14. FEA files lawsuit challenging Florida's Best and Brightest teacher bonus


    Florida's Best and Brightest teacher bonus, based in part on educators' long-ago SAT scores, has had critics from its inception in 2015.

    Not the least among them was the Florida Education Association, which filed a federal complaint against the program shortly after its implementation....

    Florida teachers like Sally Henderson used to look to National Board certification to bolster their credentials and pay. The state did away with that program, and replaced it with a more ridiculed Best and Brightest bonus.
  15. Florida lawmaker proposes higher threshold for off-cycle tax referenda


    With revenue stagnant, and a new requirement to share local capital resources with charter schools, Florida school districts are increasingly talking about asking voters to impose higher sales taxes on themselves to help pay for school construction and maintenance needs.

    The Okaloosa County School Board agreed this week to hold a referendum in May. Hillsborough and Pasco County board members are considering their options, too....

    Hernando County voters approved a local sales tax for schools in an off-year election.