Florida schools roundup: Teacher bonuses, shootings aftermath and more

Teacher bonuses: More than 163,500 Florida teachers qualify for bonuses under the state’s Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program, according to Florida Department of Education data. The bonuses range from $800 to $7,200. More than 9,000 will get the top awards. They qualify by being rated highly effective and scoring in the top 20 percent when they took the ACT or SAT. Also receiving bonuses of $4,000 or $5,000 are 638 principals. The state will spend almost $215 million on the bonuses, which will be paid by April 1. The bonus program was created in 2015 but has been controversial, and the Legislature is considering bills this year to amend it. Orlando Sentinel.

More on Nikolas Cruz: Suspected school shooter Nikolas Cruz would plead guilty to killing 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland to avoid the death penalty, according to his lawyer. Sun-Sentinel. The FBI apologizes for not following up a tip in January that Cruz may have been planning a school shooting. Miami Herald. Associated Press. The Florida Department of Children and Families investigated Cruz after he made threatening posts on social media, but determined he was a low risk to harm himself or others. Sun-SentinelMiami Herald. Cruz was regularly in trouble for cussing, insulting people and disrupting classes when he attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, according to his disciplinary file. Sun-Sentinel. The couple who took Cruz into their home after his mother died say, “We had this monster living under our roof and we didn’t know. We didn’t see this side of him.” A longtime friend also called Cruz “lonely and ostracized.” Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald.

Other developments: Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie says the district is proposing to tear down Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Legislators agree. Runcie also says the school will remain closed through at least Wednesday. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. A hospital spokesperson says the last critically injured victim of the shooting is improving. Sun-Sentinel. Stoneman Douglas principal Ty Thompson posts an emotional video message for the community. Sun-Sentinel. These are the heroes of the massacre. Miami Herald. CNN. More than nine out of 10 U.S. public schools now hold regular active shooter drills. Vox. An expert on school security warns officials to avoid “knee-jerk” reactions to improving security, and lists several things districts can do now to lead to safer schools. New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Profiles of the victims: Meadow Pollack. Sun-SentinelMiami Herald. Peter Wang. Sun-Sentinel. Martin Duque. Sun-SentinelMiami Herald. Jaime Guttenberg. Sun-Sentinel. Cara Loughran. Sun-SentinelMiami Herald. Scott Beigel. Sun-Sentinel. Luke Hoyer. Sun-SentinelMiami Herald. Joaquin Oliver. Sun-SentinelMiami Herald. Nicholas Dworet. Sun-Sentinel. Alyssa Alhadeff. Sun-Sentinel. Alex Schachter. Sun-Sentinel. Alaina Petty. Sun-Sentinel. Chris Hixon. Sun-Sentinel. Helena Ramsay. Sun-Sentinel. Carmen Schentrup. Sun-Sentinel. Aaron Feis. Sun-Sentinel. Gina Montalto. Sun-Sentinel.

Political responses: President Donald Trump will hold a “listening session” with Florida high school students this week. Tampa Bay Times. Sunday, some survivors of the massacre criticize Trump for suggesting the FBI failed to act on a tip about Cruz because the agency is “spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.” Sun-SentinelMiami Herald. In Tallahassee, Republican legislators are calling for a school violence task force while Democrats want hearings on gun safety legislation. Politico Florida. An emotional crowd calls for gun control at a rally Saturday in Fort Lauderdale. Sun-Sentinel. Teens who survived the shooting are organizing a march to Washington, D.C., on March 24 to call for stricter gun control legislation. Sun-SentinelTime. A national school walkout day is planned March 14, for 17 minutes, to protest the shootings. Miami HeraldPalm Beach Post. U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says schools have the option of arming teachers, and thinks it “needs to be part of the broader, more robust conversation about how can we avoid these things in the future.” Independent. The shootings may push state legislators to make more money available for the Safe Schools program. The money set aside for school safety has been unchanged for the past seven years. TCPalm. Tuesday, a Florida Senate committee will consider a bill that would allow designated people to carry concealed weapons on school grounds. News Service of Florida. What are Florida legislators saying should be done to combat mass shootings? Miami Herald.

ESSA extension: Florida has gotten another reprieve from submitting revisions to its plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, citing the state government’s need to deal with the school shootings in Broward County, requested and received an extension from Friday’s deadline, which was an extension from the original Jan. 4 deadline. Florida’s plan veers from federal standards by not allowing English-learning students to take assessments tests in their native language, by not including demographic subgroups in measuring accountability and on the use of 8th-graders’ math scores, and was ordered to respond by the U.S. Department of Education. Gradebook.

Students help save teacher: Several high school students act decisively to help save a substitute teacher who stopped breathing during class at the Manatee School for the Arts in Palmetto. When Soula Hill stopped breathing in class near the end of the school day, students who were lingering in the room rushed for help, called 911 and supported another teacher who performed CPR until paramedics arrived. Bradenton Herald.

Avossa successor: Five Palm Beach County School District employees will be considered as a replacement for Superintendent Robert Avossa, who is leaving in June to take a job with a publisher of classroom materials. They are: deputy superintendent David Christiansen, chief operating officer Donald Fennoy, chief academic officer Keith Oswald, regional superintendent Frank Rodriguez and Vicente Mendez-Bonilla, a science teacher at Tradewinds Middle in Greenacres. The school board will narrow the list this week. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post.

Safety improvements: Almost half the schools in Duval County need safety and facility upgrades they cannot afford, says school board chairwoman Paula Wright. Eight of the schools do not have electronic locks and buzzers on their front doors to control entry. The cost to upgrade is an estimated $12 million. Florida Times-Union.

Struggling school strategy: A plan to focus intensively on seven struggling Hillsborough County schools is being phased out as the district tries to treat every school equally. The plan, called Elevate, had mixed results, and the job of the person of overseeing the plan was eliminated in 2016. The district has seven schools that will be turned over to an outside operator if they don’t get a school grade of C or better from the state, and another 24 that are being monitored by the state for improvements. Tampa Bay Times.

Meals program deficit: The Monroe County School District is running a $400-a-day deficit in its free and reduced-meals program. School officials blame Hurricane Irma. Before Irma, the percentage of students in the program was in the 30-40 percent range. Since Irma, it’s at 59 percent. “That speaks to what the hurricane did and a lot of those are parents who applied for disaster [food stamps],” says Melissa Albright, food services director for the district. Keynoter.

Teacher shortage: Manatee County has 77 teaching jobs open. Low pay is one factor in the teacher shortage, say school officials, but others include the falling number of education majors in colleges, enrollment growth and more. “Any serious problem defies single-causation analysis,” says school fiscal expert Jim Hamilton. “That’s a really complicated scenario. To say it is solely a salary issue would be inappropriate. But to say that (salary) is not a major issue is also equally inappropriate.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Transgender trial ends: The trial in a transgender student’s lawsuit against the St. Johns County School District ends, and federal Judge Timothy Corrigan says a decision will be issued before Drew Adams begins his senior year at Nease High School in August. Adams was born a girl but has identified as a boy since his freshman year at Nease, and began using the boys bathroom. School officials ordered him to use the girls bathroom or a gender-neutral one. Adams filed suit, claiming the district was denying his constitutional rights. St. Augustine Record.

License issues: A teacher who lost his license in Florida in 2016 for sending inappropriate text messages to a student managed to get two jobs teaching in Maryland before that state finally began to revoke his license in late 2017. WRC-TV.

Notable deaths: Grady “Jack” McCoy, formerly a journalism teacher at Astronaut and Titusville high school, has died from flu complications. He was 74. Florida Today. Rev. Jesse Bloom, founder of the Ocala Christian Academy, has died at age 98. Ocala Star-Banner.

Politics and schools: The chairwoman of the Pinellas County School Board wants to remove a Pinellas Park skating rink from a list of approved venues for school activities after it advertised a Presidents Day event with a photo of Hillary Clinton covered by a red “no” sign. “How can we teach inclusivity but support exclusivity?” Rene Flowers asks. Gradebook.

Old school remembered: The Orange Park Normal and Industrial School, which opened in 1891 and was one of the few schools in the state to accept both black and white children, will be honored today with a marker at the Orange Park Town Hall, the site of the old school. Florida Times-Union.

This day in history: Fifty years ago today, more than 40 percent of Florida teachers staged the nation’s first statewide strike over poor pay and inadequate funding for schools. The strike, which ended March 9 after the state agreed to a modest boost in school aid, helped change the image of teachers from meek to militant. Washington Post. Tampa Bay Times.

School threats: The number of threats against schools has escalated in the days since the Parkland shootings. Here are some of them: Miami Herald. Sun-SentinelMiami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. Orlando SentinelGradebook. Tampa Bay Times. Keynoter. Daily Commercial. Daytona Beach News-Journal. TCPalm. Lakeland Ledger. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Gainesville Sun. WJAX. WJAX. WEAR.

School guard removed: A student’s video shows a security guard at Ronald Reagan High School in Doral pretending to point his gun at students. The guard, who was not named, was removed from the school and faces disciplinary action. WSVN.

Bus driver sentenced: A former Escambia County school bus driver will serve two years in prison and four years on probation for hitting a student twice on the head with a hammer in 2016. After the attack, Jimmy Edwards, 56, put the Camelot Academy student off the bus. Pensacola News Journal. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Opinions on schools: If you believe government exists to keep people safe, Florida Republicans deserve an F. To best honor those who’ve died, let us remember them in November. Sun-Sentinel. To understand why common-sense gun bills don’t pass and bad ones do, follow the money. Sun-Sentinel. Broward School Superintendent Robert Runcie says we’ve got to rise above our anger and our grief to make change happen. Rosemary O’Hara, Sun-Sentinel. After a gunman killed 17 people at a Parkland high school, President Donald Trump sent his thoughts and prayers and a tweeted lecture. He shook his presidential finger at a community in mourning. Andy Reid, Sun-Sentinel. The regretful words “If only” haunt this tragedy. If only Nikolas Cruz had received proper mental health treatment. If only the teenager couldn’t legally buy semi-automatic weapons. If only the FBI had done its job. Miami Herald. Going to school shouldn’t turn into a death sentence. Carl Hiaasen, Miami Herald. This school shooting isn’t just a school issue, or a gun issue, or a mental health issue. It’s an American issue. Do we continue to accept this death toll as part of the price of living in America? Mark Woods, Florida Times-Union. The frightening thing about the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is the way nothing about it seems surprising. Mark Lane, Daytona Beach News-Journal. The attack on teachers unions is just one more volley from House Speaker Richard Corcoran to prop up corporate education at the expense of public education. St. Augustine Record. The Florida Legislature’s recent education reform packages implement nothing that has proven effective for increasing the number of strong individuals teaching Florida’s students. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. Religions should be in school – but all religions, not just a few. Bruno Halpern, Fort Myers News-Press. Myths are being used to undermine public education. Ken Marsh, Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Student enrichment: Alexandria Brady-Mine, a senior at Gainesville’s Buchholz High School, and Paloma Rambana, a 12-year-old middle-schooler from Tallahassee, are named the two top youth volunteers in Florida by the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program. Brady-Mine is the CEO of the Human Rights Project, and Rambana is an advocate for blind services for children. Gainesville Sun. Christopher Hays, an 8th-grader at Trinity Catholic School, wins the Big Bend Regional Spelling Bee to earn a trip to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May in Washington, D.C. Tallahassee Democrat. Indian Trails Middle School students reach out to special-needs students through arts education. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Spruce Creek High School senior Hannah Harrison spreads a message of inclusiveness by putting a hand-written Valentine’s card on the lockers of every one of the school’s 3,250 students. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

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BY NextSteps staff