New superintendent, moment of silence, charter denial overturned and more

Superintendent searches: David Moore, an assistant superintendent in the Miami-Dade County School District, has been chosen by the Indian River County School Board to become the district’s new superintendent. Moore was selected Saturday over two other finalists, Margaret Aune from Collier County and Peter Licata from Palm Beach County. “When we look at a transformational school leader, that’s Dr. David Moore,” said Laura Zorc, school board chair. Moore will replace interim chief Susan Moxley when her contract expires in May. Moxley took over when Mark Rendell resigned about six months ago. Moore will be paid $175,000 a year. TCPalm. The Sarasota County School Board is expected to name an interim superintendent Tuesday to replace Todd Bowden, who stepped down under fire last week for his handling of a sexual harassment allegation against the district’s chief operations officer. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. A community group says it wants the next Escambia County superintendent to be a politically savvy visionary who has experience working with low-income communities. Pensacola News Journal.

Moment of silence: Schools and teachers would be required to offer students time for a moment of silence at the beginning of school days, if a bill proposed by state Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, is approved during the legislative session that begins Jan. 14. The “moment” would have to be at least a minute, but no more than two. “The Legislature finds that our youth, and society as a whole, would be well-served if students in the public schools were afforded a moment of silence at the beginning of each school day,” the bill reads, and also says that each teacher “shall encourage parents to discuss the moment of silence with their children and make suggestions as to the best use of this time.” Florida Politics.

Charter denial overturned: The state has overturned the rejection of an application for a charter school that wanted to open in Volusia County but was denied by the school board. In April, board members decided that the Florida East Coast Charter School wasn’t financially prepared and didn’t have a proper curriculum. But the state’s Charter School Appeal Commission said the board lacked evidence to deny the application, and recommended it be overruled. Friday, the Florida Board of Education followed that recommendation and reversed the denial. Politico Florida.

Virtual school changes: State officials are proposing a series of changes to the Florida Virtual School, including establishing regular audits of operations through a newly established Office of Inspector General, reducing franchise fees to save school districts about $2.1 million a year, and improving cybersecurity. The Florida Board of Education took over operation of FLVS earlier this year after widely reported problems with financial reporting and data breaches that exposed personal information about more than 360,000 students. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida.

Sex education curriculum: The Hillsborough County School District is phasing in an updated sex education curriculum, and not everyone is happy with the changes. District officials say the courses will emphasize abstinence, healthy relationships and contraception, but critics say the new materials treat abstinence “like an afterthought” and violate the school board’s policy of using only curriculum that’s proven to be effective. “This is a new curriculum that has never been tried,” said Terry Kemple, a conservative activist. ”Even if you piece together tested parts, they have never been tested as a whole. It is not proven effective.” Tampa Bay Times. WUSF. Bay News 9. Florida Politics.

Judge under fire: A Baker County judge has been the focus of community anger after ordering the release of a 15-year-old student who had been arrested and accused of creating a detailed plot to carry out a mass shooting at the only high school in the county. Judge Gloria R. Walker ruled that the state couldn’t prove the threat had been transmitted as the law requires. Members of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission were incredulous, and community leaders have urged residents to deluge Walker with emails and phone calls. “We count on the laws to keep us safe. Are there laws to do that? We thought so, and then recently we had a judge who said that the law wasn’t good enough to keep us safe, or to get this child some help,” said Angela Callahan, a middle school teacher whose son attends Baker County High School. Walker has not commented. Associated Press.

Charter withdraws request: A company that had been pressing for about a year to open a charter school in Lake County, and had asked for an extension of the timetable to open, has now decided not to start the school. An official from Charters Schools USA, which would have operated the Lake Charter Academy in Clermont, told school officials last week that it decided to pull back to maintain good relations with the district in hopes of collaborating on a future project. Daily Commercial.

Open meetings questions: A review of 45 Leon County School Board agendas and subsequent minutes between 2017 and 2019 suggests the board violated Florida’s Sunshine Law by not producing complete minutes or failing to audio-record meetings. District officials changed the agenda process in September, and say the missing recordings were a result of faulty equipment malfunctions, and that there are now multiple audio backups. Tallahassee Reports.

Hiring a board attorney: Lee County School Board members have started the process of evaluating whether to hire a fulltime attorney for the board. Since former board attorney Rob Dodig resigned last May, the board has been paying an outside law firm for representation. Some officials think having a fulltime attorney and a larger legal staff could allow specialization in recurring legal matters and save money. Fort Myers News-Press.

Early education: Leaders from the Santa Rosa County School District and early education providers meet to develop a more coordinated approach to preparing students for kindergarten. “There is a big difference in what we do in early education than what they do at the school district, so we want to bridge that gap,” said Melissa Stuckey, executive director of the Early Learning Coalition of Santa Rosa County. WEAR.

District turnaround: Hamilton County school Superintendent Rex Mitchell talks about the improvements the district has made and the impact of the emphasis it’s placed on mental health and services for students. Suwannee Democrat.

Hazardous paths to school: It’s been more than 40 years since the criteria to determine if students face “hazardous” walking conditions to schools has changed, according to the Florida Association for Pupil transportation. That’s a concern for many students who live within 2 miles of their school and have to walk or bike to school because they aren’t usually eligible to ride buses. WTSP.

Notable deaths: Eva B. Mannings, who was a teacher and mentor in the Leon County School District for 38 years and a civil rights pioneer, has died at the age of 95 in Tallahassee. Tallahassee Democrat.

School board elections: Sarasota County School Board member Caroline Zucker says she will not run for re-election in 2020. Zucker, who will have been on the board 22 years by the time she leaves, often has been part of a three-member majority on the five-person board. Her District 2 seat has one candidate so far, former school administrator Karen Rose, but the qualifying period doesn’t close for seven months. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. All four Hillsborough County School Board seats that are up for election in 2020 will be contested. In District 1, Victoria Anne Gudbranson is challenging  incumbent Steve Cona III. Incumbent Cindy Stuart has drawn an opponent, Jessica Vaughn, in District 3. In District 5, Henry Washington is running against incumbent and board chair Tamara Shamburger, and in District 7, incumbent Lynn Gray is opposed by Sally Harris and Josephine Amato. Gradebook.

Educators honored: Two Brevard County teachers are selected as finalists for a national physical education teaching award from SHAPE America, an organization that represents health and physical education professionals across the nation. Tabitha Best, who works at Manatee Elementary, and Patricia Edwards, who works at Heritage High, are among five U.S. finalists in their school levels. Space Coast Daily.

Teacher pleads out: A former chemistry teacher at Chiles High School in Tallahassee had pleaded no contest to a charge of soliciting a child for sexual conduct using a computer or electronic device. Casey O’Brien, who was arrested in 2018, entered the plea with the understanding that prosecutors will not ask for a prison sentence of more than four years. Tallahassee Democrat.

School employee arrested: A paraprofessional at Glenridge Middle School in Orlando has been arrested and accused of molesting a 13-year-old student and sending her nude photos. Deputies say Jorge Eugenio Perez Gonzalez, 26, also encouraged the girl to send nude photos of herself to him. Orlando Sentinel.

Students and the law: Two students from St. Lucie West-Centennial High School in Port St. Lucie have been arrested and accused of showing off a handgun on a school bus. No threats were made by the boys, 19 and 17, police say. Palm Beach Post. TCPalm.

Opinions on schools: As the public brawl between the Marion County School Board and Superintendent Heidi Maier intensifies, we really need to ask the “adults” running the school system: What about the children, and what about the taxpayers? Ocala Star-Banner. Only around 1 percent of Florida businesses pay any corporate taxes at all, and that means the state has less money to fund the services citizens need, such as schools, mental health services, early education and more. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. To the parents, legislators, religious leaders and members of our communities, we implore you to sustain our community immunity and support the removal of non-medical exemptions for school vaccination. Let’s protect Florida children together. Carly Muller, Orlando Sentinel. St. Petersburg City Council member Steve Kornell has made a smart push to provide more options for the homeless students at a handful of public schools in the city, and it should not be too difficult to move from concept to action. Tampa Bay Times. The high marks Polk County School Board members gave Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd on her recent evaluation reflect the progress schools have made under her leadership. Lakeland Ledger. A proposed bill that would give students a “mental health” day off school every semester is a sign that we are starting to recognize that preventative and proactive attention to mental health will ultimately be more effective, efficient and transformative than the crisis care that’s standard practice today. Carrie Seidman, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The vast majority of Florida’s teachers do their level best at whatever school they call home. What they need is a living wage and lawmakers to simply keep clear of “fixing” education by way of partisan politics and payola. St. Augustine Record. Florida is behind most states in the number of students taking a high school physics course, and that’s not okay. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. The book Why Meadow Died lays out a methodical case that Broward County expulsions and detentions did not decline because student behavior had improved, or because other methods had made them unnecessary. Rather, expulsions and detentions fell simply because the central office dictated that frontline educators not utilize such methods despite the lack of effective substitutes. Matthew Ladner, redefinED. Florida undervalues its teachers, who are the second-most important influence in a student’s life. Ryan Haczynski, Orlando Sentinel.

Student enrichment: Molly Smith, a senior at Montverde Academy in Lake County, has won two national student Emmy Awards for a public service announcement and for her writing. Daily Commercial. The Marion County School District’s Marion Technical Center is receiving a $186,276 grant from the state to develop carpentry apprenticeship programs. Ocala Star-Banner.  In its 10 years in operation, the Jacksonville Public Education Fund has raised $50 million for northeast Florida schools. Florida Times-Union. The HEAL Foundation, a nonprofit in Ponte Vedra Beach, has donated 100 tricycles to special-needs students in the Baker, Clay, Duval, Nassau and St. Johns school districts. Florida Times-Union. The nonprofit Food Brings Hope, which helps feed needy students in Volusia and Flagler counties, has grown from serving 12 students from one school in 2007 to 1,400 students from 29 schools this year. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

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BY NextSteps staff