A peek at educational priorities, school police chiefs, superintendent search, student voting and more

Educational outlook: Next week’s Senate Education Committee agenda could foreshadow the education priorities for the legislative session that opens Jan. 14. The committee will discuss a repeal of the Best and Brightest educator bonuses program to pave the way for Gov. Ron DeSantis’ plan, the creation of a “do not hire” database of educators who have had trouble with districts or the law, a bill that would exempt English language learners from the 10th-grade Florida language arts exam, and a bill that would change the high school state grading formula to include the percentage of students eligible to earn credits for career dual enrollment courses. Gradebook. DeSantis has proposed new academic standards, a $47,500 starting teacher salary and a new educator bonuses program that targets teachers and principals who work at schools in low-income neighborhoods. Now he says he expects to roll out several more proposals soon for the Legislature to consider, centering on curriculum and vocational training. News Service of Florida.

Security in schools: Every Florida school district with a police department would be required to hire a police chief under a bill proposed by state Rep. Kimberly Daniels, D-Jacksonville. At least 14 of the state’s 67 school districts have police forces, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The bill would require districts to give chiefs contracts of at least three years, but does not specify who is responsible for paying. The bill would go into effect July 1, 2020. Florida Politics. Palm Beach County school officials are proposing to pay the Renaissance Charter Schools $75,000 for legal expenses incurred when the company filed a court challenge against the district for refusing to pay for armed guards at charter schools. The judge ruled the district was breaking state law by not doing so. Palm Beach Post.

Superintendent search: The person widely expected to be chosen as the interim superintendent of the Sarasota County School District has withdrawn his name from consideration. Bill Vogel said after speaking to school board members and acting superintendent Mitsi Corcoran, he concluded that the interim leader should be someone already known within the community. Vogel is the former Seminole County superintendent who was favored by a majority of the board to run the district until until a permanent replacement can be named for the departing Todd Bowden. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Registering student voters: Madeline Feiock, an 18-year-old senior at Leon High School in Tallahassee, is asking the Florida School Board Association and the Florida Association of District School Superintendents to endorse her idea to devote two school days a year to preregister students in their high schools so they will be immediately eligible to vote when they turn 18. Her resolution has already gotten the backing of the Leon County School Board. Feiock’s idea began as a way to fulfill her school’s Student Government Association project and quickly grew. Tallahassee Democrat.

Honoring arts students: Accomplished high school students in the arts would receive a seal for fine arts on their diplomas if a bill proposed by state Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, is approved in the next legislative session. To qualify, students would have to complete three or more year-long courses in dance, music, theater or the visual arts with a B or higher, a year-long course in another art category, two fine arts-related extracurricular activities, give at least 20 hours of community service and deliver a comprehensive presentation of their experiences. Florida Politics.

Testing results dissected: While the latest results of the Program for International Student Assessment tests show American students gaining ground against those from other countries, the 15-year-old U.S. students made no significant improvements in reading, math and science. “It’s really time to rethink the entire drift of policy reform because it just isn’t working,” said Daniel Koretz, an expert on testing and a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Education Week. New York Times.

Educators honored: Jennifer Dixon, an economics teacher at Gulf High School, has been named the Pasco County School District’s teacher of the year and is now eligible for the state teacher of the year award. Gulf High also had the district’s school-related employee of the year, Title I family involvement coordinator Andrea Morrow. Gradebook.

Help proposed for districts: Two bills have been filed that would provide help for school districts affected by Hurricane Michael in 2018. More than $24 million is being requested to build classrooms and other school facilities in Calhoun County under a bill filed by state Rep. Jason Shoaf, R-Port St. Joe. And the Bay County School District would get an extra $4 million to keep administrators and teachers on the payroll despite lower enrollment under a bill proposed by state Rep. Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City. News Service of Florida.

A school’s future: Marion County School Board members are divided about what path to take if Evergreen Elementary School doesn’t improve to at least a C grade from the state next summer. Their decision is due to the state Department of Education this week. Evergreen is under the operation of educational consultant Jayne Ellspermann this year. If the school doesn’t improve its grade, the district can rehire Ellspermann for another year, turn Evergreen into a charter school or close it. Superintendent Heidi Maier said she’ll submit a preliminary report saying the board is leaning toward an external operator or a district-sponsored charter school. The board will then take a closer look in January and amend the report if it decides differently.  Ocala Star-Banner.

A school’s turnaround: The concept of academic teaming is being credited for a turnaround at William D. Moseley Elementary School in Putnam County. After years of poor performance at the school, district officials hired an outside operator, Learning Sciences International, to help turn the school around. That collaboration, along with new leaders and 20 new teachers, has led to a 20 percent increase in reading proficiency, a 13 percent boost in math performance and a decline in teacher turnover, say school officials. eSchool News. Education Dive.

Parents get apology from district: An Alachua County school official is apologizing to parents of Westwood Middle School students for not getting their input before deciding to place students from other schools at Westwood while their schools undergo construction. Those parents also say the decision will cause congestion and parking problems, and could affect emergency evacuation. Assistant superintendent Paul White apologized on behalf of the district. Gainesville Sun.

School choice movie: A Florida school choice advocacy organization is sponsoring the screening of a movie next week in Tampa about a Washington, D.C., parent who pushed for a federally funded school voucher program. Miss Virginia documents Virginia Walden Ford’s struggle to get educational choices for her teenage son in a low-income neighborhood. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog and administers several scholarship programs for the state, is sponsoring the event. Walden Ford will be on hand to answer questions after the movie. Gradebook.

Personnel moves: Jessica DeFord has been named the interim principal at Belle Terre Elementary School in Flagler County. She replaces Terence Culver, who resigned Nov. 20 and is under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for allegedly taking money from the school’s administrative account and Parent Teacher Organization. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Flagler Live.

District lunch debt: Leon County students will now have no school lunch debt after two donors have agreed to pay the $4,000 owed. A second donor stepped forward after reading a story about a $1,500 donation to the school district, and agreed to pay the remaining $2,500 owed by students. Tallahassee Democrat. WFSU.

After-school program problems: Administrators of a Jewish center’s after-school program reject an inspector general’s criticism of their program and are demanding a new report. The report, released in September, concluded that Chabad Chayil’s operators misrepresented themselves to gain free access to public school facilities, didn’t verify required background checks for employees and operated without a license for a time. The operators made their demand for a new report during a meeting with the Miami-Dade County School Board and community leaders. Miami Herald.

Church visit questioned: A Wisconsin-based organization that advocates for the separation of church and state, Freedom From Religion Foundation, says the Flagler County School District’s participation in a church-sponsored event is a “serious constitutional violation.” The event is Football Sunday, which has been held since 2012 in late August at the Palm Coast United Methodist Church before the annual football game between rivals Flagler Palm Coast and Matanzas high schools. Players, cheerleaders and officials from both schools are invited, and school administrators have also participated. A school district spokesman said no one from the school district is required or forced to attend. Flagler Live.

Accused teacher resigns: An Escambia County School District special education teacher who was accused of having sex with a student has resigned. Susan Weddle, 40, was a learning resource specialist at the J.E. Hall Center. She’s been charged with lewd and lascivious behavior, sexual assault and using a two-way communication device to facilitate a felony. Pensacola News Journal.

School bus driver arrested: A Collier County school bus driver has been arrested and accused of child abuse for allegedly slapping a 10-year-old special-needs student for throwing a piece of apple on the floor. Deputies say Dayely Gonzalez, 37, stopped the bus and slapped the boy’s hands and grabbed him several times. District officials say she will be fired. Naples Daily News.

Students and the law: An 18-year-old Leon High School student has been arrested and accused of threatening to commit a mass shooting at her school. Deputies say the girl made the threat via AirDrop while signed onto the school’s wireless network. She’s been suspended, and the school board will be asked to approve her expulsion. Tallahassee Democrat.

Opinions on schools: Let’s begin listening to the voices that really matter in the educational choice conversation: the children’s. Keith Jacobs, redefinED. There are a small number of states that never adopted the Common Core academic standards that could be examples for Florida as it revises its own. But better yet, there are states that adopted it and made revisions based on what worked and what didn’t. Drew Wilson, Florida Politics. The new PISA scores say a lot about the sad state of education in America, but little about how it can be fixed. Mark Schneider, The 74.

Student enrichment: About 170 students in the Weitz Academy of Construction program at Seminole Ridge High School are finishing the construction of a three-bedroom modular house that will be given to Habitat for Humanity and then a family in Belle Glade. It’s the eighth house for Habitat that Weitz students have made. Palm Beach Post. Students from several southwest Florida schools are performing music through Dec. 17 for travelers at the Southwest Florida International Airport. WFTX. The Florida Theatrical Association has awarded a record $128,500 in grants and scholarships this year to students, teachers, schools, colleges and theater companies. Broadway World.

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BY NextSteps staff