An elementary school teacher called me a few days ago, distraught at the recent news that eight area schools face severe state intervention. Under Florida law, which aims to mold them into "turnaround" schools, the whole staff must go — or justify why they should be rehired. • Last week, Pinellas school superintendent Mike Grego announced that 11 more schools could face the same fate next year. The teacher on the other end of the line has worked in one of those schools for years. • She says she will cry on that bittersweet June day when the kids in her class move on to the next grade. They've been through a lot together this year, and she wants the best for them. • She says that the staff members band together, work their guts out every day and see progress, but not nearly enough to satisfy the state's accountability system. • More than 80 percent of the students in her school were born into families in poverty. Some of their parents are drug addicts, or they've been in and out of jail, or they are simply worn down. Some days, there are kids who doze off in class — not because they are lazy but because the adults in their homes have been partying all night. • After all that, the teacher says, it is insulting and degrading and deflating for the state to waltz in and talk about cleaning the place out. This teacher has a question: How would her replacement keep those kids awake any better than she does? • You know she's speaking the truth because you've heard it so often from so many other teachers. It shows through in the statistics. You see her point. • And yet, these schools — by reasonable measures — are falling short. It's not just state bureaucrats who say so. Too few of these students will go on to graduate from high school, let alone to successful careers. • It is hard to ignore the voices in education who understand the teacher's frustration but hear resignation and unwarranted hopelessness and excuses in her words. These are the voices who invented and nurtured the idea of turnaround schools. And they believe in the mantra that every child can learn — deserves and has a right to learn — and that schools should be up to the task no matter what kind of home a child comes from....
In less than an hour Monday with the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board, Gov. Rick Scott repeatedly stressed that his proposed $2,500 raise for all classroom teachers is one of his top priorities.
The governor offered recent indicators as bolstering his rationale: Florida’s No. 6 ranking in Education Week’s Quality Counts report card, its impressive showing in fourth-grade reading and its No. 1 ranking in teacher effectiveness by the National Council on Teacher Quality....
After 17 years of pushing, prodding and tweaking, reformers have thoroughly remade Florida's education system. Over time, in legislative sessions like the one that begins Tuesday, they erected a hulking infrastructure: a high-stakes test, the FCAT, to measure students' progress.
School grades, based on that test, to tell good schools from bad.
Teacher evaluations, based in part on the test....
Veteran state Sen. Don Gaetz is a former school board member and district superintendent from Okaloosa County, where he gained widespread recognition for elevating the profile of career technical education. He brings a passion for that subject to his new role as Senate president. In an hourlong interview with the Tampa Bay Times, he outlined how he and fellow lawmakers hope to change Florida's education system during the 2013 legislative session....
02/08/13 Special Topics
She was 6 years old and dreamed of being a princess. But her life was far from a fairy tale.
She spent mornings working as a groundskeeper at a Scientology youth camp in California, where she lived with 15 other children whose parents were away, toiling for the church.
At 7, she became the camp's "medical officer.'' Her job: visit the kids who were sick and treat them with vitamins or ointments. ...
01/23/13 Special Topics
TAMPA — A federal lawsuit filed Wednesday accuses the Church of Scientology of using fraudulent, deceptive and high-pressure practices to coax millions of dollars from its members.
Attorneys for the California couple who filed the 35-page complaint in Tampa said they have talked to dozens of former church members and several similar lawsuits are coming.
Plaintiffs Luis and Rocio Garcia of Irvine, Calif., name five Scientology corporations as defendants, including the church's main entity in Clearwater. The former church members say they gave Scientology more than $420,000 for the massive "Super Power" building in Clearwater that has never opened, church services they never received and humanitarian projects that never materialized....
01/17/13 Special Topics
On his way to a dinner party in Los Angeles, Marlon Brando cut his leg helping a stranded motorist. When the legendary actor arrived in pain, John Travolta offered to help him with a Scientology procedure known as an "assist."
"Well, John, if you have powers, then absolutely," said Brando, who let Travolta touch his leg.
The two celebrities closed their eyes for 10 minutes. Then Brando, not a Scientologist, opened his and said, "That really helped. I actually feel different."...
01/13/13 Special Topics
Was John Brousseau for real — a runaway?
Or was he a double agent, sent by the Church of Scientology to infiltrate the enemy?
Church whistle-blower Marty Rathbun was wary when Brousseau unexpectedly emailed him on April 22, 2010, saying he had fled Scientology's big base outside Los Angeles. Brousseau needed a place to lie low.
"I got nobody out here,'' he wrote.
He had read Rathbun's scalding online criticisms of Scientology leader David Miscavige. Brousseau's e-mail said he wanted to help "depower'' Miscavige....
You know who you are.
Your child is fast approaching a fork in the road — headed for kindergarten or middle school or high school. Or maybe just a new school.
Welcome to the 17th annual edition of School Search, where we aim to help Pinellas parents fulfill one of their most important duties: choosing a school for their child.
The section is built around the 2013-14 application period for magnet, fundamental and career programs in Pinellas public schools. But our listings also reflect the reality that Florida parents have an expanding array of choices beyond traditional public schools. ...
"There was a time when getting a decent education for your kids was pretty straightforward," writes author and journalist Peg Tyre in her thought-provoking book, The Good School: How Smart Parents Get Their Kids the Education They Deserve.
"That era is gone," she concludes. "Long gone."
Tyre, who focuses on education, argues that the shift in the U.S. economy away from manufacturing jobs has made it more important than ever for today's students to do better and go further in school. Her book is a call for parents to be more engaged and thoughtful — and to ask a lot more questions — as they search for their child's school....
FBI's Scientology investigation: Balancing the First Amendment with charges of abuse and forced labor
01/12/13 Special Topics
John Brousseau hadn't been seen for hours, not at the afternoon muster and not at the dinner break. That's when they got concerned.
At 6 a.m. he had driven his black Ford Excursion out of the Church of Scientology's huge compound east of Los Angeles, guards at the gate waving as usual.
A 32-year member of the church's religious order, the Sea Org, and a master craftsman, Brousseau often did special jobs for Scientology's leader, David Miscavige. He could come and go from the church's International Base with a freedom other workers didn't enjoy. But now it was approaching 7:30 p.m. And he wasn't back....
The 2012-13 academic year is not even half over, but it's already time for many Pinellas families to start thinking about where their kids will go to school in the fall.
The application period begins Wednesday for students hoping to get into a public school magnet, fundamental or career program next year. The deadline for applications is Jan. 23.
The application process does not apply to students who plan to attend their zoned school in 2013-14. Students already registered with the district will automatically receive notices about zoned school assignments. New zoned school students, including incoming kindergarteners, can register beginning March 5....
11/30/12 Special Topics
In a quiet end to a colorful and revealing case, two private investigators have ended their Texas lawsuit against the Church of Scientology and its leader, David Miscavige.
The investigators alleged in the suit that Miscavige breached a secret handshake agreement made at his direction in 1989. They said the church had promised to retain them their entire careers, starting with a surveillance operation on former church officer Patrick D. Broeker....
Scientology critics allege church tried to influence Pinellas legal community in Lisa McPherson case11/19/12 Special Topics
Scientology critics allege in recently filed court papers that the church hired local lawyers to schmooze Pinellas judges and gave gifts to a prominent attorney trying to gain influence during the legal saga that followed the 1995 death of Scientologist Lisa McPherson.
High-profile defector Marty Rathbun says in a 57-page sworn statement that Scientology provided Super Bowl tickets to the lawyer for former Pinellas Medical Examiner Joan Wood, whose surprise decision to change her ruling in the cause of McPherson's death torpedoed the state's criminal case against the church....
09/29/12 Special Topics
SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Nearly 25 years ago, the Church of Scientology hired two former California cops to do a job.
Spy on Patrick D. Broeker.
Church officials painted Broeker as an errand boy for the late Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. They said he had made off with $1.8 million and a cache of critically important Hubbard records.
Follow Broeker, they said. Watch him every minute. Report back frequently....