Florida schools roundup: Cruz tapes, reading scholarships, VPK and more

Cruz’s statement released: Nikolas Cruz, accused of shooting 17 people to death at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, told police he had been hearing voices that told him to buy a gun and to “burn, kill, destroy.” Left alone during the interview, Cruz was recorded talking to himself, saying: “Kill me. Just f—ing kill me. … I want to die. At the end, you’re nothing but worthless s—, dude. You deserve to die because you’re f—ing worthless and you f—ing (unintelligible) everyone. I want to die.” Cruz’s attorneys tried to keep the statement from being made public, but a judge ruled against them and the transcript was released Monday, The video will be released today. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. Associated PressTCPalm. The Broward County School Board is asking a judge to hold a newspaper in contempt for publishing a report on Cruz’s school experience that included material the judge ordered redacted. The method the district used to redact parts of the report allowed reporters to see those parts by copying the report and pasting it into another document. Sun-Sentinel.

Reading scholarships: Florida families can apply for the state’s new reading scholarship starting Aug. 13. Students are eligible if they scored a Level 1 or 2 on the language arts Florida Standards Assessment test in grades 3 or 4 in the 2017-18 school year. The scholarships are available on a first-come, first-served basis for up to $500 to help pay for tutoring and materials. Special priority will be given to English language learners. The scholarship is administered by Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog. Gradebook.

VPK readiness test: The practice round for the state’s Voluntary PreKindergarten (VPK) programs is over, and those programs will have to have 60 percent of their students pass the kindergarten ready test this year to avoid being put on probation. During the trial period, just 42 percent of VPK providers managed to reach the 60 percent benchmark. Many managers of those programs say the problem lies not with the programs or the students, but with the tests. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School security: Increased security is expected to create long car pool lines getting into Palm Beach County schools when students return Aug. 13, officials are warning. More police, tighter access into schools, new fencing, security cameras, door locks and alarms are part of the security improvements. Sun-Sentinel. Hillsborough County is trying to hire 210 police officers to protect its elementary schools when classes begin Friday. Until those officers are hired and trained, sheriff’s deputies and police officers will fill in. WUSF. Less than half the schools in St. Johns County will have an armed resource officer on the first day of school Friday. Private security guards will be at those schools until the sheriff’s office hires more deputies. WJAX. The Citrus County School Board continues to fight with the sheriff over details of school security, and votes to pursue the creation of its own police department as a backup if an agreement can’t be reached. Citrus County Chronicle. Volusia County has a shortage of school guardians, and Sheriff Mike Chitwood says deputies will have to be pulled from their regular duties to cover at schools until guardians can be hired and trained. WOFL. The Sumter County School Board, charter schools, county commission and sheriff’s office have reached agreements to put at least one school resource in every school when classes resume Aug. 13. Villages Daily Sun. Longtime Hernando County principal Jill Renihan is hired as the school district’s director of school safety. Gradebook.

District money movement: Indian River County Superintendent Mark Rendell says an administrator moved $2.3 million into various accounts without his knowledge, giving school officials the incorrect impression that they had financial problems and nearly triggering cuts in programs. Rendell would not say if there will be an investigation of Carter Morrison, the assistant superintendent for finance and employee services who made the transfers, or if disciplinary action is planned. Rendell says the district will review its entire $291 million budget. TCPalm.

Contract vote delay request: Sarasota County Superintendent Todd Bowden asks the school board to delay a vote on removing a “terminate without cause” provision in his contract. Bowden suggests the vote should be put off until after the school board elections in November. “When you’re the superintendent of schools, you never want to be a distraction,” says Bowden. “I just began to get the feeling that there was more conversation about my contract than the start of the school year. And all of our time and energy needs to be on the start of school.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Administrator on leave: Manatee County’s deputy superintendent for operations is placed on administrative leave because of “an internal investigation initiated by the School District of Manatee County,” according to a district statement. The nature of the investigation into Ron Ciranna’s conduct was not disclosed. Bradenton HeraldSarasota Herald-Tribune.

A district’s goals: New Duval County School Superintendent Diana Greene says her priorities for the school year are better school security and improvements in student and school performance. “The fact we have school choice, parents can find those programs their child has an interest in and be able to work to get to that school,” says Greene. “The students are much more engaged in the academic process when they are at a program that is of interest to them.” WJXT.

Air-conditioning questions: The Hillsborough County School District has spent $34 million this summer to replace or repair air-conditioning systems at 10 schools, and district officials are hoping that the other 40 that need repairs will be functioning when school starts Friday. “In some cases, we’ve had to make some tough choices between classroom needs or air conditioning,’ says Superintendent Jeff Eakins. “We’re making the repairs, doing what we can. But I have to be honest with you. There are going to be times this year when those air conditioners are going to break.” He says the state is not providing the money necessary to stay current on maintenance. Gradebook.

Displaying a motto: Leon County school officials say most schools are complying with a new state law that requires the state motto, “In God We Trust,” to be displayed conspicuously by flying the state flag, which includes the motto. But they’re checking all schools to make sure. Bay County school officials are making the same argument. Tallahassee Democrat. Other districts are also preparing to comply. WTXL. Crestview News Bulletin.

Union hits threshhold: Pasco County teachers union officials say they’ve added more than 130 new members and have passed the 50 percent membership benchmark required in a new state law to retain certification. Gradebook.

Addressing teacher shortage: The Polk County School District and Polk State College are partnering on a plan that both hope addresses chronic teacher shortages in the district. The college will offer free tuition to all Polk high school seniors, giving would-be teachers a head-start on an associate’s degree. After those students attain a bachelor’s degree in early education from the college, they’ll be recruited to teach at district schools. WFTS.

New schools: About 1,600 students will attend the new Millennium Middle School when it opens Friday just outside Sanford. It’s the first new school in Seminole County in eight years. The old Millennium school, which is about three miles away, will become the new 9th-grade center for neighboring Seminole High School. It’s been renamed the Edward Blacksheare Campus. Orlando Sentinel. The Somerset Academy charter school network is proposing building a school in Parkland, a few miles from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, that school officials say could be the most secure in the state. The school could take as many as 1,280 K-8 students. Sun-Sentinel.

Some schools resuming: Almost 15,000 students at 42 Catholic schools in eight central Florida counties return to school Wednesday. Orlando Sentinel.

School board elections: Sarasota County School Board candidates talk about school security, Amendment 8, the contract of Superintendent Todd Bowden and more at a community forum. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Notable deaths: Carlo Ullysse Jr., an assistant football coach at Cypress Bay High School in Weston, died in a hit-and-run last weekend on I-95 in Broward County. His car was hit by another car, and when he got out of his car he was struck by another car, which then drove away. He was 27. WPLG. Sun-Sentinel.

Educators chip in: Educators from all over Florida donate sick days to help cover a cancer-stricken Palm Beach Gardens High School teacher who had run out of his own sick days. Robert Goodman, a 10th-grade world history teacher, who has stage 3 colon cancer, missed 31 straight days of school and faces six more months of chemotherapy. “The reaction was absolutely incredible,” says Goodman. “I was surprised by the volume of outreach, but I wasn’t surprised that teachers were giving. Because that’s what teachers do, we give.” Sun-Sentinel.

Teacher arrested: A Hillsborough County teacher is arrested and accused of sexual battery against two students. Alex Jeffrey Hull, 31, who teaches at Benito Middle School, is charged with  sexual battery, lewd and lascivious conduct and molestation and showing obscene materials to minors. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA.

Opinions on schools: Despite Florida’s declining interest in high school science courses that prepare students for careers in STEM fields, there are some bright spots. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: Two Duval County schools have added food pantries to help children and families in need. The pantries at KIPP Jacksonville and West Riverside Elementary School are modeled after the one at Dinsmore Elementary. WJXT. Pasco County teachers and other school workers deliver books from the “book bus” to children. Tampa Bay Times. More than 120 Florida high school athletic trainers attend a University of Miami workshop on concussion management, prevention and awareness. Miami Herald.

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BY NextSteps staff