Administrative churn in Broward, second Brevard teacher dies of COVID, national spelling bee and more

Around the state: Two more top Broward school officials have announced that they are stepping down, a second Brevard County teacher has died of complications from COVID-19, a teaching assistant at the Florida State University School has been named the state’s school-related employee of the year, three of the eight Florida students who qualified for the Scripps National Spelling Bee are still competing after the first three rounds, and two more school boards meet today to discuss changes in masking and other coronavirus-related policies. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: The turbulence in the administrative ranks of the school district continued with two more high-ranking officials stepping down. Chief financial officer Judith Marte, who recently told colleagues she was three years from retirement, is resigning July 15. Frank Girardi, the executive director of capital programs who has overseen the district’s troubled $800 million bond program to renovate schools, is leaving that role because of health concerns. He said he has accepted a demotion to a job as a district construction manager. The departures follow the April indictments and resignations of Superintendent Robert Runcie and general counsel Barbara Myrick. Maurice Woods, the chief of strategy and operations, also resigned in early April. Sun Sentinel.

Duval: Patrick Kyne, a 6th-grade science teacher at Fletcher Middle School in Jacksonville Beach, is one of just 11 U.S. teachers selected as a 2021 National STEM Scholar. He spent a week at Western Kentucky University to take part in science projects and develop a challenge for his classrooms next fall. His students will place weather stations around the school and record the data. Kyne will then report on the results at the National Science Teachers Association meeting next April. WJXT.

Polk: Summer school began last week with a 27 percent increase in the number of students participating, from 3,550 in 2019 to about 4,500 this summer. The district will spend up to $5 million for this year’s programs, which run through July 16, compared to $1.3 million in 2019. But some experts worry that even the expanded programs won’t be enough to make up the learning gap that widened during the pandemic. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: The Tarpon High School marching band has been chosen to perform in the 2022 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. It’s one of 10 U.S. high school bands selected. Bands are chosen 18 months in advance to give them time for fund-raising. Tarpon Spring High’s band also appeared in the parade eight years ago. WTVT. Tampa Bay Times. A 5th-grade math and science teacher at Leila Davis Elementary School in Clearwater was arrested last week in Polk County and charged with driving under the influence. Deputies said Lee Anne Huff, 50, was slumped over the wheel of her car, which was still running, at the Hamptons Golf and Country Club in Auburndale. WWSB.

Lee: The school district will receive almost $260 million in the next two waves of federal coronavirus relief aid, according to district chief financial officer Ami Desamours. She said the funds should arrive by September. The second phase of the program, $84 million, has to be spent before the end of 2023. The third phase, $174 million, is available to be used until the end of 2024. WINK. A Junior ROTC teacher at Lehigh Acres Senior High School has been disciplined for an exchange with a student. The girl said the instructor told her to choke herself with his hand. He later apologized to the girl and her mother. WFTX.

Brevard: The school district has lost a second teacher to COVID-19. Lewis Wayne Moore, a digital design and marketing teacher at Cocoa Beach Junior/Senior High School, died May 25, six weeks after contracting the infection. He was 65. Last December, a reading teacher at Lyndon B. Johnson Middle School in Melbourne died of complications from the coronavirus. Elizabeth Toro was 52, and died less than 24 hours after her mother passed away from the virus. Florida Today.

Volusia: School board members meet today to vote on a proposal to make face masks optional and voluntary. If the measure is approved, it will go into effect immediately. WKMG.

Manatee: The Pace Center for Girls is planning to expand and renovate its Bradenton building, and upgrade its security, technology and health services. The school accepts girls 11 to 17 who are behind in their education. Some have criminal records, some have been victims of trauma and some feel uncomfortable in traditional public schools. Pace helps about 100 students a year but wants to expand to accept more girls and meet a community need, said executive director Amy Wick Mavis. Bradenton Herald.

Collier: District officials said Friday that students will not be required to be vaccinated against the coronavirus in order to be eligible to attend school in the fall. “Whether or not to vaccinate a child for COVID-19 is the decision of the child’s parents,” according to a statement posted on the district’s website. WBBH. A lawsuit has been filed against the school board and a school bus driver over an accident last year, claiming negligence on the part of the driver, who is still working for the district. WINK.

St. Johns: Brittany Glisson, who was 17 and pregnant when she graduated 19 years ago from the St. Gerard Campus in St. Augustine, has been hired as executive director of the school for pregnant girls and young mothers. Glisson later became a nurse and returned to the school several years ago as a volunteer. The school was started in 1981 by community activist Caroline Wolff, who is now 87 and has stepped down from day-to-day responsibilities. St. Augustine Record.

Sarasota: Friday was the last day of a school year most teachers and students are happy to see end. Teachers union president Barry Dubin bluntly titled an end-of-school email, “Good Riddance to a Terrible School Year.” Both he and Superintendent Brennan Asplen praised educators for their hard work under trying circumstances. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Escambia: The dean of students at East Hill Christian School has been cleared of wrongdoing after an investigation by the Florida Department of Children and Families. Several students said Steve Thomas “engaged in gestures of warmth and affection that made the students uncomfortable, including hugs and shoulder massages of students, both male and female.” Despite the announcement, school officials said they and Thomas had reached a “mutual determination that it will be in the best interests of all involved if he and the school end their professional relationship when his current annual contract expires June 30.” Pensacola News Journal.

Leon: James A. Henry Jr., a teaching assistant at the Florida State University School, has been selected as the state’s school-related employee of the year. Florida Department of Education. Florida State University School. Face masks will be optional for summer school and the 2021-2022 school year, Superintendent Rocky Hanna told parents in an email Friday. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. The Red Hills Academy charter school is appealing the school board’s April 27 decision to deny its application to open a school. In its appeal to the Florida Board of Education, Red Hills officials contend that “reasons for denial advanced by the superintendent through the school board do not constitute competent substantial evidence of good cause to support the denial.” Tallahassee Reports. A popup preschool that first appeared during spring break is back and will take its “cool bus” to the Bond and South City neighborhoods this week. Tallahassee Democrat.

Okaloosa: The executive director for the Early Learning Coalition of the Emerald Coast in Shalimar has resigned after a group of former employees accused her of creating a hostile workplace. Renea Black had run the organization, which collaborates with more than 100 providers to deliver learning services to children, for the past five years. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Indian River: Schools in the district received about $550,000 this year in donations from the Education Foundation of Indian River County, individuals, nonprofit organizations and local businesses, according to district officials. More than $242,000 of the money went to the district’s transportation and Title 1 departments, the kindergarten preparation program, summer math camps and curriculum development. The rest of the money went to schools, with Dodgertown Elementary receiving the most, $65,000. TCPalm.

Citrus: School board members meet today to consider ending COVID-19 safety precautions. Masks are expected to be made optional, and while most students will be in school classrooms, an online learning option will be offered. Citrus County Chronicle. Hunter Eichhorn, a 5th-grader at Crystal River Primary School, beat out thousands of other Florida students to be named the AAA safety patroller of the year. He’s a co-captain of the school’s safety patrol squad, and has also helped create safety videos for students. Citrus County Chronicle.

Colleges and universities: Jupiter philanthropist and weather manager David J.S. Nicholson has donated $9.2 million to help build the Florida Atlantic University Brain Institute’s news 58,000-square-foot neuroscience building. Palm Beach Post. Construction is on schedule for a spring 2022 completion of the Florida Polytechnic University’s Applied Research Center, an architecturally distinctive angular building that will be visible from I-4 near Lakeland. Lakeland Ledger. Stetson University is starting construction on the $18 million Cici and Hyatt Brown Hall for Health and Innovation. The building for science and health classes, named for the local philanthropic couple, is expected to be ready for students in the fall of 2022. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

National Spelling Bee: Three of the eight Florida students who qualified for the Scripps National Spelling Bee are still alive after the first three rounds of virtual competition Saturday. Moving on to the quarterfinals Tuesday are Isabel Liu, 14, of Lee County; Steven Dubin, 14, of Miami-Dade County; and Erik Williams, 13, of Duval County. Eliminated were Emily Snider, 13, of Palm Beach County; Eliana Kut, 14, of Collier; Lilly Foo, 10, of Leon; Juan Rondeau, 12 of Miami-Dade; and Dev Shah, 12, of Polk. Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Around the nation: A new national study suggests that, contrary to the conventional wisdom of the past two decades, struggling schools do not get a boost when taken over by the state. “Maybe school boards are the least worst option that we have,” said Beth Schueler, a professor at the University of Virginia and one of the study’s authors. Chalkbeat. Problems with technology are being cited by the Biden administration for its announcement that the implementation of the simplified application for federal financial aid approved by Congress last year will be delayed a year, until the 2024-2025 academic year. Politico.

Opinions on schools: In two decades, the state’s scholarship program has raised more than $4 billion to fund more than 1 million scholarships for low-income and working-class students. It is a success that has never been duplicated by any other state — and one that almost didn’t happen. Patrick R. Gibbons, redefinED. The state Board of Education’s decision to restrict some curriculum raises concerns that state leaders don’t want critical thinking about race in civics and history lessons. Palm Beach Post. The last year has been nothing but an evolving experiment for schools, and there can be no doubt that masks, distancing and other safety precautions spared a worse contagion of the highly transmittable virus. Tampa Bay Times. History has contributed far more than what was forced upon us by enslavement. The factual stories must be told from the perspective of those who lived them and know it best. State Rep. Ramon Alexander, Tallahassee Democrat. Teachers, watch your step if you value your job. Bringing up race is increasingly off-limits in history class, and state leaders seem inclined to get back to Washington-chopped-down-the-cherry-tree style history. Mark Lane, Daytona Beach News-Journal. With or without an elected education commissioner, the governor will still control K-12 and higher education. That is the election that matters. Sun Sentinel. Florida’s failure to provide its students with better opportunities to become scientists and engineers has consequences for the futures of the state’s students and families as well as for the state’s economy. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. Renaming public schools in Duval County was the right thing to do. But the work toward equity in education is just beginning. Rachael Tutwiler Fortune, Florida Times-Union. The county Democratic party’s censure of four members of the school board who voted to remove a contentious phrase from the district’s equity statement is a chilling move toward political orthodoxy. Palm Beach Post.

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BY NextSteps staff