Next steps logo

Florida schools roundup: Turnarounds, bonuses, choice, discipline and more

florida-roundup-logoTurnaround concerns: A battle is developing between state and local education officials over control of schools. The Department of Education has been actively intervening to turn around low-performing schools, sometimes requiring schools replace principals and teacher. That puts the state “on the verge of overstepping their authority,” says Bill Husfelt, Bay County superintendent. “Tallahassee talks about the federal government and the control they have, and then the state turns around and does the same thing to local institutions.” Politico Florida. Principals at three struggling Palm Beach County schools are getting more money and more authority to turn around their schools under a new state program that will measure whether cutting bureaucracy leads to better student performance. Sun-Sentinel.

Teacher bonuses: The governor and members of the Florida Senate and House have all signaled an interest in reworking the bonuses program for the state’s teachers. The current law gives up to $10,000 to teachers who are rated highly effective and scored in the top 20 percent on their SAT or ACT tests. The Florida Board of Education is pushing for a $43 million bonus program that would “support bonuses for new teachers who show great potential for and veteran teachers who have demonstrated the highest student academic growth among their peers.” News Service of Florida.

School choice: Parents in Palm Beach County have reversed a trend of choosing charter schools over the district’s public schools. Three years ago, charter schools added 4,100 students while public school enrollment declined by 700. This year, district schools have added 2,436 students, and charter schools just 330. Palm Beach Post.

Discipline disparity: Black students were suspended at three times the rate of white students during the 2015-2016 school year in Manatee County, according to the school district’s records. Black students make up about 14 percent of the district’s enrollment, but drew 33 percent of the out-of-school suspensions. Bradenton Herald.

School testing: The Florida Senate’s PreK-12 Appropriation Subcommittee will discuss testing cutbacks early this year, according to Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs. Gradebook. Hillsborough County high school students will see a cutback in the number of duplicative assessments test, school officials say. Last year the district cut back on elementary testing. Tampa Bay Times. The College Board will provide a streamlined process for disabled students to request special accommodations to take the SAT test. Palm Beach Post. Some south Florida third-graders and their parents are worried about the state’s upcoming standardized testing. In many Miami-Dade and Broward schools in low-income neighborhoods, as few as 5 to 20 percent of students pass the reading and writing tests required to move on to fourth grade. WPLG.

Paid for grades: More than 170 underachieving students in Pinellas County are taking part in a Get Paid for Grades program that gives them cash for higher grades and is paying for their tutors. The program was created by Monica Eaton-Cardone, a Clearwater business owner. “(Students) became more interested in investing in themselves because you’re showing them they have potential,” she says. Tampa Bay Times. A Palm Beach County art teacher is fined and placed on probation by the state for changing a student’s grade from an F to a B after the student’s parent donated $50 for classroom art supplies. Torrey Green changed the Don Estridge High Tech Middle School student’s grade two years ago. The state’s Education Practices Commission ruled that Green’s actions violated teacher conduct rules. Palm Beach Post.

Mediation request: Both sides in the 50-year-old Pinellas County desegregation case are considering asking a mediator to settle their dispute over the quality of education the district’s black students are getting. Tampa Bay Times.

Different standards: Accountability isn’t the only area where charter schools have an advantage over public schools, say school officials in Orange County. When it comes to building schools, charters do not have to meet the state’s standards for education facilities, says Scott Howat, chief communications officer. WFTV.

Open enrollment: The Lake County School Board will be voting soon on  the district’s open enrollment policy, which will allow students to attend any school that has a slot for them. Just 14 of the district’s 43 schools have openings, according to the district. Daily Commercial.

School recess: The Volusia County School Board will again tackle questions about how to have mandatory recess for elementary students without falling behind on academics. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Preventing dropouts: Manatee County school officials say their approach of offering eight paths to graduation is starting to pay off, with the district’s graduation rate now up to 83.5 percent, its highest level ever. Bradenton Herald.

Early learning centers: The Duval County School District converts three of its elementary schools into early learning centers for preschoolers through second-graders. It’s a new approach to getting children reading at grade level sooner, by using a special curriculum and concentrating on developing classroom skills. Florida Times-Union.

School bus safety: Even though 8 of 10 school buses in Alachua and Marion counties have seat belts, and both counties require drivers and passengers to use them, officials say use is sporadic. Compliance is inconsistent because seats have high backs, blocking drivers’ views of students’ belts, and because drivers are trained to pay attention to their driving. Gainesville Sun.

Board member query: The state Commission on Ethics is investigating a claim that Hillsborough County School Board member Susan Valdes arranged for free child care for her grandchild at Leto High School. Tampa Bay Times.

Career academies: The explosive growth of career academies is helping train high school students for specific careers and is better preparing students for college as well, say Escambia County school officials. Pensacola News Journal.

Year in review: Teacher shortages and the ongoing courtroom battle between the state and the teachers union over tax credit scholarships were among the top Florida education stories in 2016. Sunshine State News. The Alachua County School District changed leadership, ended a standard uniform policy and saw a decline in flu vaccinations when it dropped the nasal-spray influenza vaccination in favor of shots. Gainesville Sun. Missing money and a superintendent seeking another job were among the top education stories in Monroe County. Keynoter. School grades and test scores improved in the Gulf County School District. Port St. Joe Star.

Religion and schools: Satan is at the center of two December controversies at Palm Beach County schools that are prompting discussions of First Amendment rights and religious freedom. The first was when a Boca Raton Middle School teacher put up a 10-foot Satanic pentagram in a free expression zone in a Boca Raton park. The second came when the Church of Satanology and Satanic Activism asked to put a promotional banner on a fence at Boca Raton High School. Palm Beach Post.

Dealing with dyslexia: A new program will change the way dyslexic students are taught in the Leon County School District. Tallahassee Democrat.

Two teachers’ stories: Xenia Boiko struggled through school because of epilepsy, and she wasn’t sure she’d ever graduate from high school. Now she’s about to become a teacher who wants to help students with special needs. Miami Herald. A first-year teacher in Hillsborough County had plans for everything he thought might happen in his kindergarten class at Witter Elementary School. Then school started, and Gerard Anthony now has a different take on things. Tampa Bay Times.

Superintendent’s tour: New Clay County Superintendent Addison Davis has been meeting with members of the community to explain his 100-day transition plan to turn the district into one of the state’s premier systems. Florida Times-Union.

Principal Q&A: Mosley High School’s new principal, Brian Bullock, talks about his plans and his mixed feelings about leaving his assistant principal’s job at Bay High School. Panama City News Herald.

Board member’s agenda: New Flagler County School Board member Maria Barbosa talks about mentoring, counseling and her goals. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Personnel changes: The chief officer of administration for the Palm Beach County School District resigns after just seven months. Sherri Davis, who evaluated district operations for efficiency, says she’s returning to Atlanta to be closer to her family. Palm Beach Post.

Job hunt: Andrei Ghelman, the secondary coordinator for the Collier County Schools District, is one of four candidates for the superintendent’s job in Knox County, Tenn. Knoxville News Sentinel.

District’s audit: The Monroe County School District receives a clean financial audit from the Florida State Auditor’s Office. Keynoter.

Crowdfunding for supplies: Treasure Coast teachers are increasingly turning to crowdfunding online sites to raise money for classroom materials. TCPalm.

Health clinic opens: The first health clinic for Brevard County School District employees opens in Viera. A second will open this spring at Central Middle School in West Melbourne, and a third next summer at Jackson Middle in Titusville. Florida Today.

Pons investigation: An investigation clears former Leon County Superintendent Jackie Pons of sexual harassment, but could offer no explanation why he met with two women in a Tallahassee woods. The investigation was launched after a packet of information with a narrative and photos was sent anonymously to the district. Tallahassee Democrat. WFSU.

School vandalized: Vandals cause more than $30,000 in damage over the holidays at Comstock Elementary School in Miami. Miami Herald.

Coyote sightings: Coyotes have been spotted near Hiland Park Elementary School in Bay County. Panama City News Herald.

Teacher reassigned: A language arts teacher at Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School in Miami is reassigned pending an investigation into a video that was posted online. In it, Elton Lewis makes several vulgar sexual remarks of what he wanted for Christmas. WPLG.

Opinions on schools: How are we, as a state, working to unleash vital creativity among students in our arts education? Nancy Turrell, TCPalm. The Lake County School District’s graduation rate doesn’t include students who found alternative paths to success. Superintendent Susan Moxley, Orlando Sentinel. The Duval County School District has made tremendous strides in having students graduate on time. Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, Florida Times-Union. Manatee County teachers and administrators are working harder at educating students to ensure a greater measure of life success than dropouts achieve. And more students are achieving the goal of earning a diploma. Bradenton Herald. The Indian River County School Board and its staff must share in the blame for problems with the self-insurance fund for employee health care. Laurence Reisman, TCPalm. What makes Collier County’s graduation rates truly remarkable is how they stand out from the rest of the country: They are not only higher overall, they have also risen more rapidly in recent years. Maria Jimenez-Lara, Naples Daily News. Magnet programs have allowed us to continue to fail our families in east Gainesville by hiding the truth about our schools. Eric Torres, Gainesville Sun. We are fortunate that our school boards and superintendents, along with the leadership at the College of Central Florida, are investing in education for skilled careers. Rusty Skinner, Ocala Star Banner. There has been a steady decrease in obesity and overweight in children in Seminole County elementary schools. Orlando Sentinel. Reducing the burden of standardized testing would give Florida school districts the flexibility to do offer beneficial recess policies. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The survival of the lecture method – despite many volumes of research accumulated over decades saying it should be abandoned for active learning techniques – provides an example of resistance to change in education. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: Mark McCombs has a contract to bring robotics into every Duval County middle school, and his goal is to create 300 teams of students working on robotics. Florida Times-Union. The Edible Peace Patch program has expanded to six elementary schools in St. Petersburg. Under the program, gardens are put in at schools to provide fresh fruits and vegetables for low-income students. Students in the veterinary science program at Felix Varela Senior High School in Miami are training dogs to give them a better chance at being adopted. Miami Herald. Flagler Palm Coast High School students are planning a fair in February to let families know what social services are available for students in Volusia and Flagler counties. Daytona Beach News-Journal. A 13-year-old musical prodigy, Biana Pinchuk of West Palm Beach, starts a program to visit inner-city schools and teach students about classical music. WPEC. Seabreeze High School in Daytona Beach builds a granite marker in honor of Staff Sgt. Anthony Davis, a 1999 graduate who was killed in 2009 in Iraq. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The Santa Rosa School District is going digital with 30,000 free copies of Microsoft Office 365 received in a partnership with the company. Pensacola News Journal. Entrepreneurs Josh McClelland and Ashley Drummonds speak to Booker Middle School students about the link between good nutrition and educational success. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Mission Possible Initiative, which moved into Orlando this year, provides mentors to help students from low-income families see and take advantage of opportunities. Orlando Sentinel. A joint venture between Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Trinity Catholic High School provides aviation career choices for students. Ocala Star Banner. A group of female Lake Brantley High School computer science students march in the Florida Citrus Parade to show that coding isn’t just for boys or geeks. Orlando Sentinel. Elementary school students learn about the environment at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s winter camp. Naples Daily News. Professional musicians offer Miami area students free music lessons as a way to pay back their own mentors. Miami Herald. Emerald Coast Middle School receives a donation of nine pieces of gym and workout equipment from Grayton Beach Fitness. Northwest Florida Daily News. Take Stock in Children has helped more than 300 Seminole County students pay for college since it began 20 years ago. Orlando Sentinel. Thirty-five of Manatee County’s poorest students are getting help through the Take Stock in Children of Manatee County program. Bradenton Herald. Genny Dilan, a sophomore at Pine View School, sings for the pope in St. Peter’s Basilica. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Avatar photo

BY NextSteps staff