Florida schools roundup: Charter district plan, testing, recess and more

Charter district: The Jefferson County School District could become the state’s first all-charter schools district, if the Florida Board of Education agrees Thursday with the district’s school board vote to make the change. Jefferson has just two schools – elementary and middle/high school – with about 700 students. It’s struggled academically and financially in recent years, and the state board recently ordered it to either close the schools or turn them over to private operators. “(The school board) didn’t feel any other options would be approved by the state board, and I wasn’t willing to take the risk of going to the state board and walking away with it turned down. That just wasn’t what I thought was in our best interest,” says Jefferson Superintendent Marianne Arbulu. redefinEDWFSU.

School testing: State Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, files a bill requiring the state education commissioner to review the ACT and SAT national college entrance tests to see if they cover the content taught in Florida high school language arts and math classes. If the answer is yes, it could lead to the scrapping of the Florida Standards Assessments testing in favor of the national tests. Orlando Sentinel. Manatee County School Board members will vote Tuesday on a proposal to put a moratorium on all testing in county schools that is not required by the state. If it’s approved, Manatee would join Clay and Marion counties in eliminating or severely reducing the amount of district-administered tests. Bradenton Herald.

Recess fight: A mom’s group named Recess for All Florida Students is ratcheting up its lobbying for legislation that requires daily recess for all Florida elementary students. The proposals (S.B. 78 and H.B. 67) have wide support, but a key House member isn’t sure a statewide mandate is the proper way to get it done. Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, the education policy chairman, says he’s reluctant to puts limits on teachers’ flexibility in the classroom. Miami Herald. The moms behind the drive have had success with a couple of districts, but continue to push for the statewide rule. “Of course, we started this because of our kids, but is it fair for those moms who have worked alongside us all these years, and their kids still don’t have recess?” asks Angela Browning of Orlando, whose district has adopted a daily recess policy. Miami Herald.

Teacher honored: Tammy Jerkins, a math teacher at Leesburg High School, is named the Lake County School District’s teacher of the year. Daily Commercial.

Teacher contracts: A bill is filed in the Florida Senate that would bar school districts from altering one-year contracts for teachers. A couple dozen districts have negotiated deals with their teacher unions to guarantee a contract renewal for any teacher with a “highly effective” or “effective” evaluation. The bill filed by Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Pensacola, has a companion bill in the House, filed by Rep. Michael Grant, R-Port Charlotte. Gradebook.

Teacher shortage: The Orange County School District has added about 10,000 students in the past two years, while the number of students graduating from Florida colleges with education careers has dropped by 5,000 since 2006. That adds up to a teacher shortage in central Florida as well as around the state. This year school officials say they’re having the usual difficult time filling math and science teaching jobs, but are also struggling to find elementary school teachers. “In my 40 years in education, there’s never been a problem filling elementary slots,” said Richard Shirley, superintendent of Sumter County schools. Orlando Sentinel.

School name change: The Orange County School Board votes Tuesday to change the name of Robert E. Lee Middle School to College Park Middle School. A 2016 survey of parents, students and staffers showed 56 percent wanted to change the school’s name, and the school advisory council endorsed the name change as well. Orlando Sentinel.

Dealing with a hack: After learning that the personal information of its employees had been compromised, the Manatee County School District bought identity protection and credit monitoring for all employees and will be increasing its cybersecurity training. Bradenton Herald.

Retention options: The St. Johns County School District is adjusting its options to promote third-graders who don’t do well on the Florida Standards Assessments tests, to conform to new state standards. The school board votes on the policy change Tuesday. St. Augustine Record.

Open enrollment: Open enrollment begins for Sarasota County School District students and continues through March 20. School officials warn that space is limited and demand is high at some schools. There are spaces available in 23 elementary schools, eight middle schools and five high schools. But many of the elementary schools have openings only for kindergarten. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Personnel changes: Danel L. Brennan, principal at the highly rated Pasadena Fundamental Elementary School in Pinellas County, resigns as the district begins an investigation by the district’s Office of Professional Standards. The office looks into employee misconduct accusations and recommends disciplinary action. Tampa Bay Times.

Teaching endowment: A former phosphate executive leaves $100,000 to the United Way of Central Florida to create an endowment that benefits the organization’s Master Teacher Initiative. The program helps child-care teachers with free training and mentorship. Malcom Scott, 75, died in 2015. Lakeland Ledger.

Making connections: Students’ lack of engagement and personalization and social conditions are contributing to the crisis in education, says Brevard County School Superintendent Desmond Blackburn. He says schools need to do a better job of connecting with students to engage them and meet their social and emotional needs. Florida Today.

School bus driver shortage: Volusia County schools officials are struggling to cover bus routes due to a shortage of drivers. Low pay and unconventional hours make recruiting reliable employees difficult, say union and school officials. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

School calendars: School calendars for the 2017-2018 year are set for three Treasure County districts. Indian River and St. Lucie counties start Aug. 14, and Martin County on Aug. 15. The final day for schools in Indian River and Martin counties is May 24, and in St. Lucie County it’s May 31. TCPalm.

Cleaning contract: The Volusia County School Board will consider giving its cleaning service a raise of about 1.8 percent, or $200,000. District officials say they are happy with the job GCA Education Services is doing in both cleaning and groundskeeping. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Drive-by shooting: Three Carol City High School freshmen are hurt in a drive-by shooting near Carol City Middle School a few blocks away. Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, said: “Our spirits, our souls are certainly bruised today. Within seven hours, two shootings three ninth grade students shot.” Earlier, a private school bus was fired on by someone with a pellet gun, shattering windows but injuring no one. WTVJ. WPLG.

Teacher shooting: Heron Creek Middle School social studies teacher Holly Fisher, 46, shot her husband and then shot and killed herself Saturday, according to North Port police. Jason Fisher, also 46, is in stable condition with wounds to his hand and chest. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Weapons at school: Guns were confiscated from the trucks of two seniors at the Providence School in Jacksonville. The students were not arrested, and officials at the private school had no comment on what punishment the students received. Florida Times-Union.

Another joins lawsuit: Another former wrestler at Clearwater Catholic High School has filed a suit claiming abuse by the school’s ex-coach, Scott Stern. The first suit against the school and coach was filed in September. Both suits allege Stern disciplined them by making them strip, assume sexual positions and be hit with a ruler. Tampa Bay Times.

Playground discovery: A kindergarten student at St. Lucie Elementary School is found chewing on a used condom during recess on the playground. Police say it’s not the first time something similar has been discovered on the playground. TCPalm.

Opinions on schools: When families are immersed with support and fully engaged, parent support groups build strong relationships that can help lead to long-term and lasting benefits for the children and parents. Reggie Dogan, Pensacola News Journal. Educator Thelma Dudley is one of the unsung heroes whose story is worth sharing during Black History Month. Val Demings, Orlando Sentinel. “I can do it by myself” is a familiar maxim of the preschool years, which makes it a great time to help our little tykes develop both confidence and competence. Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Todd Bowden will become the Sarasota County school superintendent under a lingering cloud of controversy, which won’t go away, and with little room for error. Tom Tryon, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. After 39 years as an employee of the Sarasota County schools, I will leave very proud of what our students, parents and community members have accomplished together during my time with the district and very grateful for the opportunity to have served nine years as superintendent. Lori White, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The next Alachua County school superintendent will need to be a superhero, based on all of the characteristics being sought by the community. Gainesville Sun. Technology is key to educational success. State Rep. David Santiago, Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Student enrichment: Representatives from Google and Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami, talk to students at W.R. Thomas Middle School in Miami about safe ways to use social media and the Internet. Miami Herald. Students from L.C. Swain Middle School in Greenacres take a two-day bus tour of four colleges to “try to plant the seed,” according to Superintendent Robert Avossa. Palm Beach Post. Students from the Benjamin School in North Palm Beach appear before the Palm Beach County Commission to make a pitch to outlaw, or at least regulate, plastic shopping bags to help the environment. Palm Beach Post. Four Duval County schools hold an “Instant Decision Day,” a speed-dating like program at which students meet with representatives from 16 colleges and sometimes get scholarship offer on the spot. Florida Times-Union. Tropical Isles Elementary School in North Fort Myers builds a multisensory room for children with special needs, autism or in need of a calm environment. Fort Myers News-Press. Three Flagler Palm Coast High School students are campaigning to raise the age that people can buy tobacco products from 18 to 21. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

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BY NextSteps staff