Florida schools roundup: Pledge waiver, testing, school reforms poll and more

florida-roundup-logoPledge problems: After some parents protested when their children brought home a waiver to opt out of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at school, the Leon County School District is removing the form from the student handbook. The district apologized for the confusion, and now will simply ask parents to sign a form confirming they have read the handbook, which describes the process to opt out of saying the Pledge. WTXL. WTVT. Tallahassee Democrat. WFSU. WCTV.

School testing: Scores on the most recent ACT tests show that many graduating seniors are unprepared for college-level classes. The average test score dipped from 21.0 to 20.8, and only 38 percent of students achieved the benchmark in at least three of the four core subjects tested – reading, English, math and science. In Florida, 81 percent of graduating students took the ACT, and the average score was 19.9. Associated Press. The Lee County School Board reluctantly passes a testing schedule for the school year. “Is it what we want? Probably not. Is it the best that staff said it could come up with, where it would be approved by the state? Yes, at this time,” said board member Jeanne Dozier. Fort Myers News-Press.

Defining participant: The act of participating in the Florida Standards Assessments testing is defined by the state as answering a single question, deputy education commissioner Juan Copa said this week in a court hearing over the state’s third-grade retention policies. Answering one question allows a school to count that student in the participation rate, which is important because schools must have a rate of 95 percent or lose money from the state. Copa also said the definition of participating may change from year to year. Gradebook. Both sides are awaiting a ruling by a Leon County judge on the retention case that is narrow in focus but could have a huge impact on the state’s accountability system. Orlando Sentinel.

Education poll: Support for charter schools, school testing and merit pay for teachers is rising among Americans, but declining for Common Core standards, school vouchers and teacher tenure, according to an annual survey by the journal Education Next. Orlando Sentinel. Politico.

Board member vs. district: A Marion County School Board member files a complaint with the state against the district, saying administrators are manipulating graduation data. Nancy Stacy says even though the county lags behind most districts in many testing categories, its graduation rate is above state average and the dropout rate is below state average. She is asking the state to investigate. Stacy is supporting the opponent of School Superintendent George Tomyn in Tuesday’s election. Ocala Star Banner.

School’s problems: When a 14-year-old girl reported being molested by a senior boy in 2014, officials at St. Andrew’s failed to report the act to police or child-welfare investigators, as required by state law. Palm Beach Post. The music teacher at the heart of the internal investigation at St. Andrew’s Academy in Boca Raton has been identified through a police report. Christopher W. Waite, 41, was the teacher who had “inappropriate relationships” with male students, including sleepovers in his apartment. He was not charged with a crime, and was fired in November. He is now an insurance agent in Palm Beach Gardens. Sun-Sentinel.

Health clinic: The Lee County School Board is considering creating a health clinic for district employees. The cost would be about $3.1 million, and the clinic is modeled on the Polk County School District’s. Fort Myers News-Press.

School sales taxes: No decision is made by the Polk County School Board on appealing a court decision that affirmed the county’s right to schedule a referendum on the renewal of an extra half-cent sales tax for schools. Board attorney Wes Bridges thinks the case can be successfully appealed, but needs board approval to do so. The county requires a sales tax initiative to be on the general election ballot. Board members think 2016 is too soon and 2018 is too late, and would like a special election. Lakeland Ledger. The five-year capital plan for the Manatee County School District looks bleak if voters don’t approve the half-cent increase in the sales tax in November, say school board members. Bradenton Herald.

School uniforms: Volusia County school officials report about 99 percent compliance with the district’s new uniform policies for students. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Teachers and materials: Increasingly, Florida teachers are turning to online crowdfunding sites to buy materials for their students. New Times Broward-Palm Beach.

School changes: Hudson Elementary School in Pasco County was an A school in 2003. But it’s been on a downhill slope since then, despite several attempts by the district to intervene. Now, coming off an F grade from the state, the school has remade itself once more. Most of the teachers are new and so is the curriculum. Behavior expectations were raised, and a school dress code initiated. Tampa Bay Times. New William T. Dwyer High School principal Joe Depasquale is emphasizing discipline to get the school back to an A grade from the state. Palm Beach Post.

Contract negotiations: Talks between the Pasco County School District and the teachers union begin today. The main point of contention is wages. The union wants the district to tap its reserves for higher raises. The district is unwilling to allow the reserves to drop below 5 percent, and is offering raises in the 2.7 percent range. Gradebook.

School enrollment: Manatee County has 650 more students this year than last year at the 10-day count, and 383 more than the district was expecting. Bradenton Herald.

Administrators honored: Rachad Wilson, principal at Endeavour Elementary Magnet, is named principal of the year for the Brevard County School District. The top assistant principal is Meara Trine of Jackson Middle. Florida TodaySpace Coast Daily.

New superintendent: Seven applicants are named semifinalists to succeed the retiring Joe Joyner as superintendent of the St. Johns County School District. The field will be narrowed Sept. 6, with a finalist selected Oct. 11. St. Augustine Record.

School lunches: Chef Rudy Poindexter, from the TV show Chopped, is spicing up lunches in Broward County high schools. WTVJ.

Stadium plans: The Bay County School Board approves the plans for the reconstruction of Tommy Oliver Stadium in Panama City. Panama City News Herald.

Suicide attempt: A boy at Fort Myers Middle Academy tries to kill himself at the school after being bullied. The boy was hospitalized for several days, and his mother has removed him from the school. WFTX.

Employee arrested: A paraprofessional at Sebring Middle School is arrested and accused of providing alcohol and cigarettes to a pair of 13-year-old students. Edrick Levon Williams, 25, is charged with two counts of interference with custody of a minor and two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Highlands Today.

Students arrested: Six students at East Lee County High School are arrested after a brawl during school Monday. Fort Myers News-Press.

Incident investigated: The State Department of Education is reportedly investigating an incident at South Fort Myers High School in May in which a female student reportedly had sex with multiple male students in a school bathroom right after school. WBBH.

Ex-teacher sentenced: A former Madison County High School teacher and band director is sentenced to 15 years in prison and 40 years of probation for sexual battery. Geoffrey Hill, 44, abused two students under the age of 18. WCTV.

Opinions on schools: Circle Christian School, in central Florida, is one of a growing number of public and private schools around the country that are adopting blended-learning models that integrate classroom instruction in a brick-and-mortar setting with “a la carte” coursework off-site. William Mattox, Orlando Sentinel. Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa rightly reversed a decision that required teacher collaboration meetings at the expense of planning time. Palm Beach Post. Not all critically important areas of student growth are measurable by current testing methods. Sometimes growth looks like optimism, courage, confidence and resilience. Delaine Wright, Pensacola News Journal. The learning cycle, dictated by the school calendar, is so fractured and disjointed that it’s difficult for even the best students to remember what they did from one month to the next, let alone over the summer. Richard DesChenes, Gainesville Sun. How is it possible that Florida’s 8th graders are so awful at math if our 4th graders are pretty good? Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: Seventh-graders at P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School in Gainesville learn about ecosystems by studying the creek that runs through the campus. Gainesville Sun. West Port High School senior Kaylin Kleckner is credited with turning the school’s Future Farmers of America chapter into one of the strongest in the state. Ocala Star Banner.

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BY NextSteps staff