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Teacher shortages, no classroom libraries, school grades, candidates on tax, and more

Around the state: School districts around the state report that they still have hundreds of teaching positions to fill, Brevard teachers have been told to not put books into their classrooms until they have been vetted by library technicians, several Hillsborough County School Board candidates are speaking out against the property tax hike that’s on the ballot this year, some Orange County teachers are urging their coworkers to reject the proposed contract agreement, Duval school board members approve a policy requiring parents to be notified about changes in their children’s mental, emotional or physical health or well-being, and one box of test results that were sent to the state late and have yet to be scored will determine if an Escambia County middle school remains open. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade, Broward: Miami-Dade and Broward schools reopen in about a month, and both districts are still trying to fill hundreds of teaching openings. Miami-Dade has 475 openings, and Broward 502. “We are going out there to find qualified and high-quality teachers in our classrooms,” said Broward Superintendent Vickie Cartwright. “I want the best and brightest teachers for our children to set them up for success.” WFOR. Students from some south Florida school districts qualify for grants that will allow students to continue receiving free meals when schools reopen next month, but others do not. Many educators worry that for some kids, that will mean going without food for much of the day. WLRN. A 3-year-old died Monday after being left in a vehicle for about six hours at a Miami Gardens preschool. Both the child’s parents work at the Lubavitch Educational Center. Miami Herald. WPLG.

Hillsborough: Most of the eight school board candidates agree that parents have rights in education, support charter schools and generally do not support book censorship. But on the question of the proposed increase in property taxes to help the district improve teacher pay and courses such as art and music, there is little equivocation and significant differences of opinions. “It’s obviously the No. 1 thing on people’s minds,” said District 2 board member Stacy Hahn, who opposes the tax. Tampa Bay Times. The latest school grades issued by the state show that Hillsborough is 19th in the state in academic achievement, with 96 percent of its schools receiving grades of A, B or C, moving up from 35th the last time grades were issued. “The school grades affirm that we are on the right course in correcting the detrimental impacts on student learning caused by the pandemic,” said Terry Connor, the district’s deputy superintendent and chief academic officer. WTVT. WTSP. WFTS.

Orange, central Florida: Some Orange County teachers are urging their colleagues to vote against the tentative contract agreement reached between their union and the school district. That deal calls for most teachers to get a pay raise of $3,325, but critics say that’s not enough because of inflation. “This isn’t as good of a deal as it looks like,” said Drue Pautz, a 5th-grade teacher at Pinar Elementary School. He said the average teacher would need at least another $1,000 “in order to stay afloat.” Votes of teachers will be counted July 18. Orlando Sentinel. Central Florida school districts still have hundreds of openings for teachers. More than 400 teaching jobs remain unfilled in Osceola County, while Orange, Polk and Volusia each have nearly 350 vacancies and Brevard 130. WESH. The school district is holding six more job fairs from Wednesday to July 25 as it tries to hire 100 school bus drivers and 20 mechanics. Newly hired drivers will get a $1,500 bonus and pay ranging from $16.65 to $19.98 an hour. Mechanics will be paid from $17.03 to $23.54 an hour. WKMG.

Duval, northeast Florida: School board members approved a new policy requiring school employees to notify parents about any changes in the student’s mental, emotional or physical health or well-being, unless they believe the disclosure would result in abuse or abandonment. The policy was created to comply with the state’s new Parental Rights in Education law. The district also recently removed an anti-bullying video from its website that offered tips on how middle and high school students could support their gay and transgender friends. WJAX. WJXT. WTLV. Jacksonville Today. St. Johns, Clay and Nassau school districts received A grades from the state, according to the state DOE. Alachua, Baker, Columbia, Duval, Flagler and Union districts received a B, and Bradford and Putnam were given C grades. WJXT.

Palm Beach: A surge in the number of conservative candidates for school board seats has made gun shows a new stopping point in campaigns. Two candidates made appearances at last weekend’s West Palm Beach Gun and Knife Show. “We’re seeing much greater ideological and partisan divisions in school board races than we’ve seen historically,” said Kevin Wagner, a political science professor at Florida Atlantic University. “It’s also fair to say the pro-Second Amendment movement is particularly significant inside the Republican party, so this has become a place where Republican party candidates spend their time rallying votes.” Sun-Sentinel.

Lee, Charlotte: With just four weeks until schools reopen, the Lee County School District still has 285 openings for teachers and at least 69 for school bus drivers, according to officials. Charlotte County schools still need 56 teachers and has 140 other openings for employees. WINK.

Brevard: Classroom teachers have been told to hold off placing books in their rooms until the books are vetted by library technicians. District spokesman Russell Bruhn said the decision is a response to a newly signed law that requires greater oversight for classroom books and instructional materials. Florida Today. The school district dropped from an A grade to a B in the most recent report card issued by the Florida Department of Education. It’s the first time since 2016 that the district has not received an A grade. Twenty-five district schools dropped at least one letter grade, while only three schools improved by one letter grade. Florida Today.

Collier: School board members have approved the use of math books for K-4 students despite the objections of several parents. Sandra Doyle cited 127 examples in the books that she said had references to critical race theory and social and emotional learning. The books had already passed a review by the state. WBBH. WINK.

Lake: The school district received a B grade from the state this year, according to the state. Eight schools were judged to be A schools, while 10 got a B, 26 got a C and three received a D. “We had to overcome some challenges, particularly regarding student attendance, and we did so significantly,” said Superintendent Diane Kornegay. “Our teachers, administrators and staff were attentive to the needs of our students, and our grade reflects that.” Daily Commercial.

St. Johns: The school district again led the state in Florida Standards Assessments test scores in English language arts, according to the DOE, with 73 percent of students passing; science (75 percent pass rate); math (78 percent) and social studies (87.5 percent). WJXT.

Marion: The school district maintained its C grade from the state this year, and fell just a point from improving to a B. Three schools improved their letter grades in 2022 compared to 2019, the last time grades were issued, while 32 schools maintained their grades and 13 schools dropped a grade. Ocala Star-Banner.

Escambia, Santa Rosa: One box of as-yet unscored test booklets will decide if Warrington Middle School in Pensacola will receive a C grade or be closed this coming school year and reopen in 2023 as a charter school. A batch of test booklets were sent to the state late and haven’t been graded, resulting in the school receiving an “incomplete” when grades were issued last week. Warrington has received a D from the state in every year since 2011. Pensacola News Journal. WEAR. The Santa Rosa County School District still has 130 teaching and 100 educational support positions to fill. The first day of school is Aug. 10. WEAR.

Leon, Big Bend: Schools in districts in the capital and Big Bend area generally received lower grades this year than they did in 2019, according to the state DOE, but were largely better than expected in the first assessments since the pandemic began. “I think overall we were very pleased and very excited with the results coming off two years of COVID,” said Billy Epting, Leon’s assistant superintendent for academic services. “Of course, we still have areas we want to improve.” WFSU. WTXL. WCTV.

Okaloosa: The school district was one of just 14 in the state to be awarded an A grade by the Florida Department of Education this year. “Okaloosa joins St. Johns and Sarasota as the only three counties in the state to earn an A rating every year since the baseline year for the Florida Standards Assessments in 2014-2015,” said Okaloosa Superintendent Marcus Chambers.  “That’s something of which we can all be very proud.” Northwest Florida Daily News.

Alachua: School officials are staging a job fair Thursday looking to hire teachers, counselors and social workers, carpenters, plumbers, bus drivers, custodians, food service and after-school workers. WCJB.

Bay: School officials are still trying to hire 64 teachers and 57 support employees. District communications director Sharon Michalik said a lack of affordable housing seems to be the biggest obstacle. “We have had many instances where people from out of state have been hired, have agreed to come for the salary being offered, they’re excited, they’re ready to get started, and then they have to e-mail the principal a couple of weeks later and say I can’t find anywhere I can afford to live on the salary that you’re offering,” she said. WMBB. An 8th-grader at Holy Nativity Episcopal School in Panama City has finished in the top 10 at the National Innovator Challenge. Anna McCord, 13, invented a device that helps people lost at sea more visible to searchers. Her “Sea Me Here” innovation can be folded into a small bag, but inflates to a larger size when removed from the  bag and floats behind the user. Panama City News Herald.

Hernando: Superintendent John Stratton said he’s worried that there won’t be enough teachers or school bus drivers when schools open next month. There are 140 teaching openings and 150 non-instructional jobs still unfilled. “I am worried about the first week in August,” he said. “I am worried because I don’t have enough bus drivers. We need employees if we are going to operate at the level of service we need.” Suncoast News.

Martin: Sheriff’s officials will meet this month with leaders of preschools, private schools and home-schools later to talk about ways to keep students safe. A system is available that will send alerts directly to dispatchers in the sheriff’s office, and deputies will also be available for site visits and assessments. WPTV.

Citrus: For the first time since 2010, the school district received a C grade from the state instead of a B. “We’ve got work to do,” said Superintendent Sandra Himmel. “Throughout the school year, our progress monitoring data showed that learning gaps have developed in student achievement. Seeing these trends, we have already put plans in place to move the needle forward.” Citrus County Chronicle.

Flagler: A school bus driver who was arrested in February and charged with being intoxicated while driving a school bus with about 40 students from Buddy Taylor Middle School in Palm Coast has pleaded no contest and been sentenced to 18 months in state prison. Sentencing was postponed after Mark McNeill showed up impaired at his June 13 hearing. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Monroe: The school district’s grade dropped from an A to a B this spring, according to the state DOE. Five schools earned A grades, while seven received a B and three got a C. Florida Keys Weekly.

Jefferson: Jefferson High School finished the 2021-2022 school year, its last under control of the Somerset Academy charter school company, ranked 512th out of 596 schools. It plans to improve is by regaining local control and hiring 35 new teachers for the 2022-2023 school year, which represents more than half of its staff. WTXL.

Colleges and universities: Only New College of Sarasota improved in a Board of Governors metric that measures whether schools are increasing the numbers of low-income students they admit. The other 11 state universities declined. “While none of the declines are significant, it’s important to ensure that the commitment to access is preserved going forward and that the declines do not become a long-term trend,” said Christy England, vice chancellor for academic and student affairs. She also said this “is a particular concern” at Florida State University and the University of Florida, the only two universities that are below the 2025 system strategic plan goal of an access rate above 30 percent. Tallahassee Democrat. Enrollment at community colleges is starting to trend up after sharp declines over the past two years during the pandemic, said Hillsborough Community College president Ken Atwater. His school enrollment dropped 13 percent two years ago, then 8-10 percent in the second year. This coming year, he expects the decline to be about 5 percent. WUSF. Jacksonville University’s women’s track coach Ron Grigg has stepped down after he was accused by team members of weight-shaming them and creating a toxic team environment. WOFL.

State tries to shield Corcoran: The state is asking a judge to exempt former education commissioner Richard Corcoran from giving a deposition in the court challenge of the law requiring voluntary surveys of “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” be distributed on college and university campuses. “Plaintiffs have not, and cannot, demonstrate that Mr. Corcoran, as commissioner of the Florida Department of Education and a member of the Florida Board of Governors, possesses unique knowledge that cannot be gathered from less burdensome sources,” the motion reads. News Service of Florida.

State’s racial sensitivity consultant: Even as Gov. Ron DeSantis condemns “wokeness” in the use of race and gender in classrooms and in workplace training, the state is paying a consultant $700,000 that embraces and creates “high-profile, racially sensitive studies that address social inequity and lead to recommendations for true social change.” MGT Consulting of Tallahassee is run by former Republican state Rep. Trey Traviesa. Politico Florida.

Diaz on teacher shortage: Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. said Monday that the state is trying a variety of approaches to cut into the teacher shortage. Higher pay, bonuses, new pathways for professionals to get into teaching, and an increase in the number of district teacher academies are all part of the state’s strategy, he said. The Capitolist.

Around the nation: The statue of educator and civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune will be unveiled Wednesday at the National Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol. In 1904, Bethune founded what later became Bethune Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach and later served as an adviser to President Franklin Roosevelt. News Service of Florida. WKMG. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Opinions on schools: Micro-schools, charter and otherwise, seem like a golden opportunity to diversify rural schooling. The one-room schoolhouse is making a comeback, and rural students and educators have much to gain from the process. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED.

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BY NextSteps staff