Florida schools roundup: Investigation on testing urged, security deal and more

Testing investigation: Six conservative legislators are calling on the Florida Department of Education to investigate whether three school districts deliberately limited the number of low-performing 7th-graders taking the state end-of-course civics exam in order to earn better school grades from the state. Sen. Dennis Baxley and Reps. Jason Fischer, Michael Bileca,  James Grant, Bob Rommel and Jennifer Sullivan, all Republicans, and the Florida Coalition of School Board Members suggest that the Duval, Manatee and Polk districts limited the number of struggling students taking the test in order to boost the grades of schools and keep charter schools from moving in under the Schools of Hope law. District officials say they are simply having many of the struggling students take the test as 8th-graders, when they might be better prepared, which state law allows them to do. Gradebook. redefinED.

School security: A school safety agreement is reached between the Sarasota County School Board and Sheriff Tom Knight. The district will pay 80 percent and the sheriff 20 percent of the $1.6 million for 11 deputies to cover 10 schools, plus a lieutenant and two sergeants. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. More than 100 people have applied to become armed guardians to protect Manatee County schools. Most have law enforcement or military backgrounds, officials say. About 40 will be hired. Bradenton Herald. The city of Clermont agrees to provide resource officers for three elementary schools and a K-8 charter school. The Lake County School District will pay the city $279,653 for the officers, and a one-time fee of $211,280 for equipment, including new police cars. Daily Commercial. A coalition of law enforcement groups is looking at ways to make schools safer. The initiative is led by Max Schachter, whose son Alex died in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting Feb. 14. Schachter’s group, Safe Schools for Alex Foundation, organized the meeting of the eight groups after he discovered there is no nationally recognized list of recommendations to improve school security. Sun-Sentinel. As individual districts work to meet the state mandate for an armed guard in every school, the Florida Department of Education is working to finish setting up its Office of Safe Schools to coordinate the security efforts. Damien Kelly, formerly a public corruption inspector for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, is its director. WFSU

School grades: More on school grades from districts around the state. WEAR. Northwest Florida Daily News. WFSUWFTXWOFL. WKMG. Daily Commercial. Villages Daily SunWJCT. WOKV. WJXT. North Port Sun. Brevard Times. WLRN. Lakeland Ledger. WTXL. St. Augustine Record. Hillsborough County has 39 of the 300 lowest-performing schools in the state, the most of any district.  Gradebook. The best high-poverty schools in Florida. The Capitolist. A database is set up that allows viewers to see the past three years of grades, and other details, for any public school in the state. WJCT. Legislators started the Schools of Hope program last year to prompt struggling schools to get turned around quickly. The just-released school grades suggest the plan might be working. redefinED.

Principals moving: Interim Duval County school superintendent Patricia Willis is proposing to put new principals at six more schools, bringing the number of new principals in the district for next year to 25. A couple of the changes move veteran, accomplished principals to struggling schools. Florida Times-Union. Hillsborough Superintendent Jeff Eakins transfers 18 principals after receiving school grades this week. He said he had little choice, considering the way the state deals with schools with low student test scores and grades. Tampa Bay Times.

Temporary superintendent: Cynthia Saunders is sworn in as the interim superintendent of the Manatee County School District. Saunders, who had been deputy superintendent of instruction, takes over for Diana Greene, who is leaving for the same job in Duval County. Saunders’ contract stipulates that she can’t apply for or accept the position during the board search, but the board can amend the contract if members change their minds. Bradenton HeraldSarasota Herald-Tribune.

Black students and STEM: A study of data from the Florida Department of Education shows that black students are underrepresented in middle and high school classes that feed into careers in science, technology, engineering and math. The Collier County School District has had the most success in the number of black students passing the state’s algebra 1 end-of-course exam. Bridge to Tomorrow.

Writing test zeroes: Some Florida school districts are questioning why some students are receiving grades of zero in the writing portion of the Florida Standards Assessments tests. The Florida Department of Education’s answer is that a score of zero on the 1 through 5 rating scale is possible when the writing is not in English, is illegible or incomprehensible, the majority of the writing is copied from the source material, or the response is completely off-topic. DOE officials say the scoring not a new development, but that some people may not routinely notice it because the writing score is now wrapped into the language arts score. Gradebook.

New schools: Two new K-8 schools are on track to open in August in St. Johns County. Freedom Crossing Academy in Aberdeen and Palm Valley Academy in Nocatee are part of the district’s plan to help manage enrollment growth. St. Augustine Record.

Performing arts center: The Pasco County School Board is expected to vote Tuesday to have a performing arts center built on the Cypress Creek Middle-High School campus. Pasco-Hernando State College, which doesn’t have space for the center, would build it and own it and adjacent parking. Both the college and the school district will use it. The center will be built with a $15.5 million grant from the state. Gradebook.

Charter schools: The Indian River County School Board approves the application of the Somerset Academy K-8 charter school, probably in the Pointe West subdivision. School officials are planning to open with up to 424 K-6 students in August 2019, and add 7th and 8th grades later. Vero News.

Notable deaths: Steve Christopoulos, the CEO and president of Superior Schools, which has opened nine Plato Academy charter schools in the Tampa Bay area, died this week in Costa Rica. The 59-year-old was vacationing with his three daughters when he reportedly drowned while swimming. Tampa Bay Times. Sylvia Carley, a longtime administrator at Hillsborough Community College and most recently vice president for education and student services, has died at the age of 72. Tampa Bay Times.

Education and politics: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jeff Greene started a private school in West Palm Beach in 2016, but has come out against the state giving scholarships to students to attend private schools. The Greene School, which has slightly more than 100 students, does not accept the scholarships. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer several scholarship programs. WLRN.

Ex-teacher pleads out: A former teacher at Pleasant Grove Elementary School pleads no contest to two counts of selling marijuana and two counts of possessing marijuana. Kimberly Kay Hellenberg, 56, will receive a year in the Citrus County jail. She retired shortly after her arrest last November. Citrus County Chronicle.

Opinions on schools: Let’s not leap to conclusions about the quality of our schools based on headlines or sound bites. Dive into details. Listen to differing points of view. Don’t just take as gospel the generalizations of people (including me) who have strong opinions. Laurence Reisman, TCPalm. As local teacher movements implore county school boards to raise wages, the Legislature could make everyone’s lives easier by allocating additional funds for the professionals who mold our kids’ minds and Florida’s future. TCPalm. There’s a solid case for paying Martin County teachers more, and asking voters to help by raising taxes. But the district had better start making it soon, or this is all one big waste of time. Gil Smart, TCPalm.

Student enrichment: Time magazine names Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students as some of the world’s most influential people on the Internet. The students became highly visible political activists after 17 people were shot and killed at their school Feb. 14. Sun-SentinelMiami Herald. Eighteen-year-old Anita Dickson is one of the success stories from Communities in Schools, a Miami-Dade County nonprofit organization with a goal of keeping at-risk students in school. CIS helped Dickson, who was homeless five years ago, get food, clothing, school supplies and a job, and she graduated from Homestead High School this spring. Miami Herald.

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BY NextSteps staff