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Florida schools roundup: Teacher bonuses suit, school security and more

Teacher bonuses: A legal challenge to the state’s Best & Brightest teacher bonuses program is scheduled for a mediation session Nov. 13 in Tallahassee. Teachers and a teachers union sued the Florida Department of Education over the program, claiming it discriminates against teachers by age and race in part because it relies on college entry exam scores, which many teachers don’t have. If no settlement can be reached after mediation, the case could go to trial in early February. Gradebook.

School security: Schools in Florida are bolstering security with a mixture of new technology and old-school personal relationships. School resource officers chat with students and give fist bumps, rattle door handles to make sure they’re locked and mentor struggling students, but also use apps to follow leads about threats and monitor social media. Orlando Sentinel. Charlotte Sun. Alan Hall, a charter high school principal in Jacksonville, is one of the first school employees to graduate from the Duval County sheriff’s guardian training program and is now carrying a gun in the halls of San Jose Academy & Preparatory High School. “I’ve always worried, ‘Oh my gosh, what would happen?’ How am I going to put myself in those principals’ shoes that have actually had to live this? And I say, now, I at least have a chance to do something about it,” Hall says. WJAX.

State rank for teachers: Florida is one of the worst states in the country for teachers, according to the latest rankings from the personal finance website WalletHub. Florida ranks 47th out of 50 in the survey, which considers annual salaries, teacher turnover, pupil-teacher ratios and per-pupil spending and more. Florida ranks 25th in starting teacher salaries, with an average of $37,405 in the 2016-2017 school year, but 46th in average salary at $49,400. The national average is $58,950. Florida Phoenix. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Education and politics: In an education ad for his U.S. Senate campaign, Republican Gov. Rick Scott is misstating the national ranking of Florida students for 4th-grade reading and math test scores and 8th-grade reading results. Scott says students are first in the country in those categories on the 2017 National Assessment of Education Progress tests. They aren’t. Florida 4th-graders are fifth in reading and seventh in math, and 8th-graders are 25th in reading. Scott is challenging Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson. Orlando Sentinel. Vocational programs are likely to expand in Florida schools regardless of who wins the governor’s race between Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum. WFSU.

Tax oversight board: Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister agrees to join the committee that will provide oversight for the school district’s spending of money raised from an increase of a half-cent in the sales tax if voters approve the measure Nov. 6. The referendum would raise an estimated $1.31 billion over 10 years for capital needs, such as new air-conditioning in schools. Chronister would be the vice chair of the seven-member committee. Former USF president Betty Castor has been named the chairwoman. Gradebook.

School expansion killed: The Palm Beach County School District is scrapping plans to expand the Conservatory at North Palm Beach from an elementary and middle school into a K-12 school. The decision kills the idea of having a high school with a music focus. Superintendent Donald Fennoy says an ongoing dispute with the state about how to deal with overcrowding at some schools while others are under capacity is affecting district decisions. “I have to be careful before this gets so large it impacts our ability to get other projects done,” says Fennoy. Palm Beach Post.

Stranded on the bus: Immokalee High School band members, cheerleaders and chaperones were left in a school bus in Naples for hours during a lightning storm last Friday. They were accompanying the football team to a game against Naples High School. Members of the football team were permitted to go inside Naples High during the storm, but others apparently were told they could not go inside the school. Collier County School District spokesman Greg Turchetta called it a “miscommunication,” and said Naples High administrators have met to discuss the incident. Naples Daily News.

More laptops coming: The Lake County School Board approves the purchase of Chromebooks for two county high schools. The laptops come with software to prevent unauthorized use and to allow teachers to monitor a student’s screen. Students will have the option of renting them for homework and for new “digitally enhanced” classes, though fees will be waived for students who can’t afford them. Daily Commercial.

Principal resigns: Guarn Sims, principal at Boynton Beach High School, has resigned effective Oct. 3. Superintendent Donald Fennoy recommended that the Palm Beach County School Board fire Sims for having inappropriate relationships with at least one school employee. Sims, 49, has worked in the district for 24 years. Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel.

Student arrested: A 13-year-old student is arrested after posting a social media threat against his school, Pembroke Pines Middle School. Police say the boy admitted making the threat but said it was a joke. He’s been charged with making a false report concerning the use of a weapon in a violent manner, a second-degree felony. Miami Herald. Sun-Sentinel.

Fire in school gym: A fire in the gym at St. Petersburg’s Lakewood High School causes smoke damage to the gym floor, adjoining locker rooms, offices and bathrooms. The cause is under investigation. Tampa Bay Times.

Opinions on schools: The relatively strong results for Florida’s K-12 educational system from Education Week validate the state government’s emphasis on data and accountability in education. Yes, there probably are too many tests. But it’s clear that a valid testing regimen is needed to identify underperforming school administrators and teachers and to reward those who are performing well. Florida Times-Union. Florida faces an uphill battle to keep competent teachers in our schools with 45 states apparently making the profession more appealing. Whatever we think of the statistics, can we agree we have some serious work ahead? St. Augustine Record.

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BY NextSteps staff