Kindergarten readiness, turnaround schools, bill of rights for parents, compensating athletes and more

Kindergarten readiness: About 63 percent of the 126,238 Florida children who completed free voluntary prekindergarten were considered “ready” for kindergarten when they arrived in the fall of 2018, according to the latest report from the state Department of Education’s Office of Early Learning. About 47 percent of the children who started the program but didn’t finish were considered ready, compared to 39 percent of those who didn’t enroll, dropping the overall readiness rate to 53 percent. Under new rules imposed by the DOE, about 33 percent of the state’s 6,611 pre-K providers would be placed on probation for not reaching a 60 percent readiness threshold. The report was released as the Legislature is considering strengthening the standards preschool providers must meet. A year ago, Gov. Ron DeSantis called for improvements after a report last year that just 42 percent of preschoolers were judged to be ready for kindergarten. Orlando Sentinel. Gradebook.

Turnaround schools: Struggling schools would get only one year to make changes and improve in the state’s turnaround program under a bill approved by the Senate Education Committee. S.B. 1498 would force districts to create a turnaround plan for any school that received a grade from the state of D or F. Currently, schools must receive one F or two D’s to be put into the program. Once the school is in the program, it would have one year to improve to a C or be closed, turned into a charter school or be taken over by an outside operator. Several senators expressed concern about the short time allowed for a turnaround, and suggested amendments could be added when the bill makes its next stop, before the K-12 Education Appropriations Subcommittee. Gradebook. Florida Politics.

Parents’ bill of rights: A bill that would give parents more control over their children’s education was approved Monday by the Senate Education Committee in a 3-2 vote. S.B. 1634 would give parents the option of withdrawing their children from instruction about issues they object to, such as sex education, and would require schools to share “important information” about students with their parents, “including information relating to the minor child’s health, well-being, and education, while the minor child is in the custody of the school district.” Critics of the bill said it could also give parents the right to opt out of instruction about such things as the Holocaust and slavery, and force school officials to “out” gay and transgender students to their families. News Service of Florida. Florida PoliticsWPEC. Tallahassee Democrat.

Compensating athletes: A bill allowing college athletes to be compensated for the use of their name, image or likeness was approved Monday by members of the Senate Innovation, Industry and Technology Committee, but with an amendment that would give the NCAA until July 2021 to settle on its own regulations. That makes S.B. 646 different from the companion bill that is now awaiting a vote in the full House. State Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, who offered the amendment, said he’s concerned that taking a unilateral approach could put Florida schools at a disadvantage. Associated Press. Florida Politics. News Service of Florida. WFSU. Politico Florida.

FTC participation up: The number of students using the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program is now 109,741, up from 108,570 in the last quarterly report by the Florida Department of Education’s Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice. Hispanic students make up 38 percent of those in the program, with black students at 29.6 percent and whites at 26.6 percent. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, administers almost 99 percent of the FTC scholarships. redefinED.

School officers’ incidents: Eleven times since last May, Florida school officers have been fired or disciplined for discharging a weapon outside of training or for misconduct, according to reports made to the state’s Office of Safe Schools. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who chaired the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, said that total shows a “minuscule” number of problems with the officers, and he thinks the standards for hiring guardians and for the training they receive is sufficient. Not everyone agrees. Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security in Cleveland and a school safety consultant, wonders if there are enough qualified guards to meet the state law requiring an armed officer in every school. Sun Sentinel.

Superintendent searches: All five members of the Marion County School Board have denied rumors that they’ve already decided on an internal candidate as the next superintendent. Board member Nancy Stacy broached the topic at a recent meeting after she heard from a school board member from another county that the choice had already been secretly made. “The rumor mill is that three (local) school board members have told this individual, who works in this district, that they will be supporting him,” said Stacy, who would not name the employee. A national consulting firm, Ray and Associates, has been hired to handle the search. March 22 is the deadline to apply, and the board is expected to make a decision by the end of April. Ocala Star-Banner. The Exceptional Student Education Parent Advisory Council (EPAC) of Flagler County has created its own preferred list of school superintendent finalists, and it varies significantly from the list of nine finalists recommended by the school board-appointed Citizens Advisory Committee. The EPAC report was not solicited by the board, but chairwoman Janet McDonald said she welcomes it. Flagler Live. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Testing for lead in schools: Bills that would have required testing for lead-tainted water in schools appear dead this legislative session, leaving it up to districts to decide whether to take the initiative. “There should be some communities that are completely outraged that this is happening,” said state Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Hollywood, who introduced the House bill. “We have a $90 billion budget. If we want to spend $3 million or even $100 million we have the money to do it, it’s just a matter of prioritizing.” WFTS.

History lessons revisions: “American History 2.0” is a Jackson County School District initiative that aims to weave the contributions of African-Americans into the history curriculum year-round, not just during Black History Month in February. “If we’re talking about Thomas Edison’s invention of the light bulb,  simply include Lewis Latimer’s invention of the filament,” said Byron Dickens, the founder and president of the Emancipation’s Day Festival of Northwest Florida, who is working with Superintendent Larry Moore on the project​. The district hopes to begin the new curriculum in 2021 or 2022. WMBB.

School health kiosks: Child-focused therapy sessions have quadrupled since dozens of telehealth kiosks and iPad portals were installed in schools in Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Franklin, Jackson and Liberty counties, according to data from the provider, Let’s Talk Interactive. The portals are part of Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis’ Hope for Healing Initiative. Florida Politics.

Charter schools: The Pinecrest Academy Space Coast is on schedule to open as projected this fall in Viera. About 400-600 students are expected initially in the STEM-based charter school, which will open for grades K-6 and expand into grades 7 and 8 after the first year, for a total enrollment of up to 800 students. Florida Today.

New school concerns: Residents are protesting the Santa Rosa County School District’s plan to build a new K-8 school in a Milton neighborhood, saying it would endanger students trying to get to school and worsen an already bad traffic situation. Berryhill Elementary School is just a half-mile from the proposed site, and its traffic already causes what the residents call “crippling” congestion during school start and end times. Pensacola News Journal.

Arts center planned at school: Bay County School Board members have approved design and engineering fees for a new fine arts center at Bay High School in Panama City. Construction is expected to begin in eight to 10 months and cost up to $10 million. The center will include a 600-seat auditorium. Panama City News Herald.

School grieves for student: Grief counselors will be available today for students at Westminster Christian School to help them cope with the death of a 17-year-old senior in a boating accident last weekend in the Keys. Lucas Alvarez was also a lacrosse player, and the school’s matches this week have been canceled. WPLG. WSVN. Miami Herald.

School lawsuits: The city of Jacksonville has spent $206,000 defending itself in a lawsuit brought by the Duval County School Board over the city’s refusal to place a half-cent sales tax hike on the ballot to help pay for repairing and replacing schools. The cost to the school district is unknown, and its outside counsel said the firm hasn’t yet decided if it even will bill the city. Meanwhile, a circuit judge has ruled that the school board can sue the city, and school and city officials have been meeting. Florida Times-Union. The attorney for the Lincoln Memorial Academy charter school said the Manatee County School Board took over the school because its former CEO and principal, Eddie Hundley, is black. A federal lawsuit against the district and the city of Palmetto was filed last week. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WFLA.

Ex-administrators face discipline: Two former Leon County principals face disciplinary proceedings before the Florida Education Practices Commission on March 4. Karwynn Paul, the former principal at Riley Elementary School, resigned in 2018 after he was accused by several work colleagues of making sexual advances toward them at and away from the school. Marilyn Jackson-Rahming was removed from Pineview Elementary School in 2008 after she allegedly ordered employees to file fake Title I surveys and asked a custodian to help her with personal errands on district time. Both have denied the allegations. Tallahassee Reports.

Students and the law: A 16-year-old Flagler Palm Coast High School student was arrested and accused of make a shooting threat against her school over social media. Deputies say the girl, who is autistic, is a member of the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office Explorers, a training program for teens who have an interest in law enforcement careers. Florida Times-Union. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Flagler Live.

Opinions on schools: The Marion County School Board should ask  the county commission to place a one-year, one-cent sales tax hike on the November ballot to improve security at schools. It’s a very short-term fiscal pain for a real long-term benefit. Ocala Star-Banner. If you’re off to college this year and think there’s a chance you might be interested in a STEM major, do not declare “exploratory” or “undecided” as a major. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: Taylor Richardson, a 16-year-old activist from the Bolles School in Jacksonville, and her mother Latonja are being presented with the  Girls Inc. of Jacksonville’s Champion of Girls Award for their work on the behalf of the community and of girls. Florida Times-Union.

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BY NextSteps staff