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Diaz staying on at DOE, St. Johns teachers reject pay proposal, Sarasota superintendent and more

Around the state: Manny Diaz Jr. will continue as the state’s education commissioner for the second term of Gov. Ron DeSantis, St. Johns teachers have overwhelmingly rejected a tentative contract agreement because they say the raises aren’t large enough, talks continue between the Sarasota school board and Superintendent Brennan Asplen that could lead to his resignation, the Palm Beach County School District is getting its first two community partnership schools, and new research suggests that older students and those in high-poverty schools did worse during the pandemic than other students. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Daniel Espino, newly appointed by Gov. DeSantis to the school board, is a lawyer, chair of the South Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and part-owner of a brewery. He and his wife have four sons. Espino supports parental rights, said schools “need to focus on fundamental” in education, and believes certain topics on sexuality should be kept out of the classroom. Miami Herald.

Hillsborough: Marshall Middle Magnet School in Plant City has completed a three-year process to become designated as an International Baccalaureate World School. The program launches in the fall, and the district is taking applications from students until Dec. 16. Plant City Observer. For 17 years, Latino students in the school district have relied on a Spanish-only college information program to help them through the admissions process and how to search for scholarships and financial aid opportunities. Pasos al futuro (steps to the future) caters to the thousands of Hispanic students in the district, including Briseida Flores, a senior at Strawberry Crest High School in Dover. “I’m excited to start a new journey and have the opportunity to pursue a higher education,” said Flores, who plans to apply to the University of South Florida to study criminology. Tampa Bay Times.

Palm Beach: Two district schools are being transformed into community partnership schools that offer academics, health-care, social services and more. The school district is joining Children’s Home Society of Florida, the Health Care District and Florida Atlantic University in collaborating to turn John F. Kennedy Middle and Lake Worth High schools into schools that provide services to both students and the surrounding communities. They’re the first two county schools to join the program, which requires a 25-year commitment. The partnerships are overseen by the University of Central Florida. Palm Beach Post. A teacher who has been investigated six times in eight years is going before an administrative law judge in February to fight the district’s latest attempt to fire her. Diane Baumann, 52, a teacher at K.E. Cunningham/Canal Point Elementary in the Glades, has been accused of telling one student to jump off a cliff, saying “f— you” to another, and threatening to stick a pencil up another student’s nose. The school board approved her firing in July, but she filed a challenge with the Division of Administrative Hearings in August and has been on unpaid administrative leave. Palm Beach Post. Oscar Otero, principal at Conniston Middle School since 2012, has been chosen to be the founding principal for Dr. Joaquin Garcia High School, which opens next fall just west of Lake Worth Beach. The school is named after a West Palm Beach businessman and co-founder of the Hispanic Education Coalition who died last year, and was a friend of Otero’s. Palm Beach Post.

Polk: Two new school board members and two returnees were sworn in at last week’s meeting. New to the board are Rick Nolte and Justin Sharpless, and re-elected were Kay Fields and Lisa Miller. Board members also voted unanimously for Sara Beth Wyatt to continue as board chair, and for William Allen as vice chair. Lakeland Now.

Pasco: Chasco Middle School in New Port Richey has turned to basketball to provide weekend activities for students and to help students struggling with homelessness. Hoops for the Hungry offers a weekend basketball skills camp that students can attend by donating nonperishable food, hygiene and cleaning products, or paper goods. “We were saying, ‘What can we do that could benefit the kids and benefit the community that might be going through a rough time?’ ” asked physical education teacher Rob Oppedisano. He and an assistant, Thomas Clark, conduct drills on ball handling, shooting and passing as well as messages about the importance of schoolwork and community. Tampa Bay Times.

Lee: Newly elected school board members Armor Persons and Sam Fisher also won elections last week for school board chair and vice chair, respectively. Persons was elected in a 5-2 vote for chair against incumbent board member Cathleen Morgan, and Fisher was elected vice chair in a 4-3 vote, also over Morgan. Fort Myers News-Press.

Brevard: The number of county students who are homeless or in unstable housing situations has nearly doubled in the past year, according to the district’s homeless liaison Ivette Collado. Economic hardship, domestic violence and natural disasters have pushed the number of families without stable living quarters from 750 last year to more than 1,300 this year. Collado’s job is to make sure students are enrolled in school and attending, that they have transportation and school supplies, that breakfast and lunch are free, and that they are making academic progress. Florida Today. Former school board member Misty Belford said the board’s decision last week to segregate school bathrooms and locker rooms by gender at birth puts millions of dollars in federal funding at risk and opens the district to lawsuits. Board members said the change puts the district in compliance with state law. Florida Today.

St. Johns: For the first time, district teachers have rejected a tentative contract agreement between their union and the school district. More than three-quarters of the teachers voted against the proposal that would have set minimum salaries at $48,200 and given raises of $1,260 to most teachers. The union wanted more than double that for raises. “We didn’t think what we were asking for was that much,” said teacher and union negotiator Morgan Mousley. “And, you know, we were trying to listen to their concerns, and I feel like they didn’t necessarily listen to our concerns, which … are that teachers are not a priority right now.” Contract talks are expected to resume in December. WJXT.

Sarasota: Negotiations are ongoing between the school board and Superintendent Brennan Asplen on a settlement that could lead to his resignation. Four of the five school board members voted last week to hold a meeting to discuss firing Asplen. That meeting was scheduled for Friday, but moved up to Tuesday because of scheduling conflicts with board members and the superintendent, according to a district official. Negotiated settlements are common after a school board majority loses confidence in a superintendent. Barry Dubin, executive director of the teachers union, encouraged people to speak on Asplen’s behalf at the meeting. “I think all of us in the district were hoping for a period of calm and reconciliation,” said Dubin. “The last thing we need now is a new superintendent search and one hired for political rather than educational reasons.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Escambia: Even though the school board voted to turn the operation of Warrington Middle School over to a large company, Charter Schools USA, a group of educators who had hoped a small group of community members could lead the school will continue to try to create a neighborhood charter school. Darreyel Laster, the school dean and head of a group called edEQUITY, has a plan calling for a holistic approach built around academics, civic empowerment and social-emotional development to produce students that are high-test scorers and engaged citizens. Newly elected school board member Paul Fetsko said both charters could simultaneously exist. A school board vote is scheduled in January. Pensacola News Journal.

Leon: Two former educators, Laurie Cox and Marcus Nicolas, were sworn in as school board members last week. Cox was elected Nov. 8, and Nicolas ran unopposed. Alva Striplin was elected board chair. Tallahassee Democrat.

Alachua: Former school board chair Rob Hyatt said he’s proud of the expansion of arts and more career and technical education courses in the district during his eight-year tenure. His advice to the new board is to listen, be creative and embrace change. “A way to do something eight years ago might not be the best way to do it now,” Hyatt said. “If there are constraints put on local schools by the state, do the best you can with what you’re what you’re allowed to do.” Gainesville Sun.

Hernando: A Brooksville Elementary School teacher has been arrested and accused of buying two luxury cars in Ocala with counterfeit checks. Amy Joy Patton and her husband, Michael Aaron Patton, gave dealers certified checks of $101,407.36 and $95,562.36 for a BMW and GMC Denali, respectively, on Nov. 14. Four days later, the dealers discovered the checks weren’t valid, according to police. Both Pattons face charges of organized fraud, grand theft of a motor vehicle and passing counterfeit bank checks. Ocala Star-Banner.

Citrus: Newly elected school board member Joseph Faherty was sworn in last week with colleagues Thomas Kennedy and Douglas Dodd, who both ran unopposed. Dodd was elected as board chair and Kennedy as vice chair. Citrus County Chronicle.

Flagler: An $18 million project to add several buildings and renovate others at Matanzas High School in Palm Coast has been scheduled to begin next summer and be completed by January 2025. Classrooms, a central energy plant, multipurpose building and media center will be added. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Monroe: A Key West charter school has received a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity to implement project-based learning in science, technology, engineering and math subjects for students in grades 3-8. Sigsbee Charter School serves students from all five branches of the armed services as well as others. Key West Citizen.

Colleges and universities: A $26 million donation from the Rinker family to Palm Beach Atlantic University will allow the school to build a six-story Marshall and Vera Lea Rinker Business Building and expand the Rinker School of Business’ programs. “This new building will allow us to expand an already growing program,” said university president Debra A. Schwinn. “We have strength in business already. This is going to allow us to go to a whole other level.” Palm Beach Post. Florida International University’s journalism school has received a $10 million donation from philanthropists Lee Caplin and Gita Karasik. The money will be used to enhance the curriculum and fund student scholarships. Miami’s Community News. A conservative medical watchdog organization is accusing the University of Florida College of Medicine of using critical race theory and other “progressive” initiatives in admissions and academics. Specifically, the report said the school’s diversity statement commits to taking steps to “enhance the recruitment and retention of underrepresented groups to its student body, residency training programs, faculty and staff positions.” Washington Examiner. One person is dead and four others were wounded in a shooting Sunday afternoon at an outdoor basketball court on the campus of Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. Tallahassee Democrat. WFSU. WTXL. WCTV.

Diaz stays on at DOE: Manny Diaz Jr., who was appointed as the state’s education commissioner last spring, will remain in the job for the second term of Gov. DeSantis, the governor’s office announced last week. Before his appointment, Diaz spent 10 years in the Florida Legislature. Florida Politics.

Around the nation: New research suggests that older students and those in high-poverty schools did worse during the pandemic than other students. A half-dozen studies have shown big drops in academic achievement for nearly all students. “The pandemic was like a band of tornadoes, leaving devastating learning losses in some districts and leaving many other districts untouched,” said Tom Kane of the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University. Washington Post. U.S. student debt has reached nearly $1.8 trillion, according to a Federal Reserve report. In Florida, 2.64 million people have $102.8 billion in debt. WFLA.

Opinions on schools: The new Broward school board, chosen mostly by voters and not by the governor, has made a good start by voting a Gov. DeSantis appointee out of the chair’s job and overturning a decision to send extra money to charter schools. Now it should schedule a public discussion about the future of Superintendent Vickie Cartwright’s job. Sun-Sentinel. By all objective measures, Brennan Asplen shouldn’t be a superintendent fighting to save his job. And if the newly formed Sarasota County School Board is so dead-set on taking that job away from Asplen, it owes the community far more compelling reasons than the dubious ones – satisfying political agendas and settling old scores – that now seem to be driving its obsession to remove him. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Chsrter schools are now the last best hope to save U.S. public education. New York Post.

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BY NextSteps staff