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High school graduation rate down, state cleared of violating court order, superintendents and more

Graduation rate dips, but: Florida’s high school graduation rate dropped nearly three percentage points in the 2021-2022 academic year compared to the previous year, from 90.1 percent to 87.3 percent. But the rate was up 0.4 percentage points from the 2018-2019 school year, which state education officials said is a better comparison because they were the last two years that statewide, standardized assessment requirements for graduation were in place without waivers granted during the pandemic. Those rates were also about the same or higher across demographics groups. Lafayette and Wakulla counties had the highest graduation rates in 2022 at 97.6 percent and 97 percent, respectively. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. The Capitolist. Florida Department of Education. Reports on graduation rates from districts around the state. Tampa Bay Times. St. Pete Catalyst. Miami Herald. Coral Springs Connection. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WMFE. WPTV. Lakeland Ledger. Palm Coast Observer. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WWSB. Mainstreet Daily News. WCJB. Charlotte Sun. WEAR. WJHG. Suncoast News. Palatka Daily News.

State cleared of court order violation: A federal judge ruled last week that the state did not violate a preliminary injunction he issued that blocked parts of a law restricting how race-related concepts can be taught in higher education. After state officials ordered colleges and universities to “provide a comprehensive list of all staff, programs and campus activities related to diversity, equity and inclusion and critical race theory,” the plaintiffs in the lawsuit accused the state of violating the injunction. But Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, who called the law “positively dystopian” in his injunction, disagreed, writing that, “Although this court would not hesitate to compel compliance with its preliminary injunction, this court finds there has been no violation of the injunction at this time.” In a related development, House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, joined the Gov. Ron DeSantis administration last week in asking the state’s 40 colleges and universities for costs of housing diversity, equity and inclusion offices and programs. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Florida Politics.

Around the state: Broward, Manatee and Sarasota school districts meet this week to discuss superintendents, a controversial school rezoning plan is approved by a Palm Beach County school boundary advisory committee, a Manatee County teacher who had been missing a week was found dead Sunday, contract negotiations have stalled between school officials and teachers unions in Osceola and Volusia counties, and some parents were angered when the Marion County School District sent home permission slips for students in grades 3, 4 and 5 to learn the black anthem. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A surge in immigration has added about 14,700 students to district classrooms since August, according to school officials. Nearly 10,000 of them are from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela. “This whole thing is like a perfect storm. We’ve already been experiencing, for the last couple of years, the lack of human capital,” said school board chair Mari Tere Rojas. “Now, we’re going to have more children to serve.” Miami Herald.

Broward: The 90-day period the school board gave Superintendent Vickie Cartwright to show progress in fixing several long-standing district problems ends Jan. 24, and the district leader’s job depends on how well the board thinks she’s done. Four current board members have already voted once to fire Cartwright, and several of the others have agreed to look for a replacement. Six people have applied to become the interim superintendent, and on Wednesday the board will vote on a contract with a search firm to find a new permanent superintendent. Sun-Sentinel. WFOR.

Palm Beach: A school boundary advisory committee has approved a rezoning plan that will move students in nine schools to help fill the new Dr. Joaquin Garcia High School in Lake Worth when it opens in August. More than 1,500 students would be affected, and the proposal has drawn widespread criticism from parents whose students would be changing schools. The recommendation now goes to Superintendent Michael Burke for a decision that would then go before the school board. Palm Beach Post. WPTV. Parents and other community members have a few more days to offer their views on the social studies textbooks being considered for the next school year. A new law requires that the books be free of lessons on critical race theory, which argues that racism is embedded in American society and institutions, and social justice, culturally responsive teaching, social-emotional learning and “any other unsolicited theories that may lead to student indoctrination,” according to the state. Palm Beach Post.

Polk: School district chief of staff Jason Pitts broke down the district’s $2.3 billion budget to school board members last week, including where the money comes from, how it can be spent, and more. He said while the district is the 24th largest in the United States, it ranks only 995th in funding and is well below the Florida averages in per-student spending and average teacher salary. Lakeland Now. Lakeland Ledger.

Pasco: A Woodland Elementary School 1st-grade teacher who allegedly pushed a student’s head into a desk resigned earlier this month just before she was arrested and accused of child abuse. Police in Zephyrhills said Victoria Ashley Neault, 23, pushed the student’s head into the desk and injured his lip. She said she “thought his head would strike his arm, not a desk,” police said. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA.

Osceola: District officials have countered the teachers union’s request for 8.7 percent raises with an offer of a $1,000 bonus. “If it were not one time, we would be having a different conversation right now,” said Emily Gorentz, an official with the teachers union. “The fact that it is one time makes it feel so much like a slap in the face because it completely ignores the whole problem of the economy has permanently changed.” Bargaining resumes next month, and the negotiations could be a target of discussion at today’s school board meeting. Spectrum News 13.

Volusia: Negotiators for the school district have declared an impasse in contract talks with the union representing teachers and instruction support staff. The district has offered $14.7 million but the teachers union said it wants more, according to school officials. The impasse was called when no agreement was reached after five instructional bargaining sessions and three support sessions since November. A decision on the contract will be made by the school board. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: Justin Darr, a 39-year-old physical education teacher at Gilbert W. McNeal Elementary School in Lakewood Ranch who had been reported missing Jan. 10, was found dead near his Parrish home on Sunday. A sheriff’s deputy said a cause of death is unknown. Grief counselors will be at the school today for students and staff. Your Observer. WWSB. WFLA. WTSP. As the search for a new superintendent begins, school board members have different ideas about where to look. Some members say their preference is a resident of Florida, while others are open to all candidates regardless of where they work now. Cynthia Saunders, who had led the district since 2019, is retiring June 30. Your Observer. The first Guy Harvey Academy of Arts & Science opened last month at Anna Maria Elementary School. “Working with art, math and science educators through the Guy Harvey Foundation, we have developed a STEAM curriculum that draws on Dr. Harvey’s real life experiences to guide students as they learn science and math through an art lens,” said Saunders. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Sarasota: School board members are expected to discuss candidates for the interim superintendent’s position at today’s meeting. Assistant superintendent Chris Renouf has been doing the job since Brennan Asplen was cut loose last month. Board members said they want to get input from the community before appointing an interim superintendent and searching for a permanent one. Board chair Bridget Ziegler said the goal is to have a new superintendent in place by the time the 2023-2024 school year begins in August. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WWSB.

Marion: College Park Elementary School’s decision to send permission slips home asking parents if children in grades 3, 4 and 5 can learn the black national anthem Lift Every Voice and Sing has angered some who said the request is unnecessary and others who find it objectionable. “Our parents often express they want more choice when it comes to their children’s education, and this was an attempt to give parents more choice when referencing the anthem lyrics,” said principal Teresa Forsyth. WKMG. WOFL.

Escambia: Warrington Middle School will become a K-8 charter school next fall after school board members approved an agreement with Charter Schools USA last week. The state had given the board a January deadline to reach a deal or close the school after the school had received substandard grades every year since 2011. Board members will still have to approve a final, binding contract by May 1. Pensacola News Journal.

Leon: After a rash of arrests of students for bringing weapons to school or making threats of violence, State Attorney Jack Campbell has promised to scale up punishment for offenders. “If I have to put them in a juvenile facility for 30 days, then I’ll do it,” he said. “If that doesn’t work then I’ll put them in a jail. If that doesn’t work then I’ll put them in a prison. But we have to have safety for the youth and this community as a whole.” WFSU.

Alachua: The achievement gap between white and black students in the county is the highest in the state, but a charter school started in 1998 is doing its part to cut the gap. The preK-5 Caring and Sharing Learning School in Gainesville was started by Verna and Simon Johnson to reach “children who people have said were untrainable and letting them know what they can do,” she said. About 92 percent of students are black, and the school, which has grown from 31 students in 1998 to 255 today, is across the street from a low-income housing complex. People.

Nassau: Concern over “inappropriate” content in the school curriculum was a topic at the recent meeting of the county’s legislative delegation. James Bruner, of the local organization County Citizens Defending Freedom, lobbied legislators to pass laws restricting what kind of school materials are presented to children. He argued that a relationship between LGBTQ equal rights group Equality Florida and the North East Florida Educational Consortium is responsible for sending out inappropriate content. “Follow that trail I’ve given you, and see how this is happening, and can we not beef up our laws to protect our children?” Bruner said. State Rep. Dean Black, R-Jacksonville, agreed. “There are many of your elected officials that are on it, and are going to pursue it,” he said. “It’s shocking and it has to stop.” Florida Politics.

Franklin: A longtime teacher has been placed on paid leave while the district investigates allegations that she exposed herself to inmates at the county jail. The teacher and three other women were named by the sheriff, but prosecutors said the teacher violated no crime. “She has been an excellent educator in the Franklin County School System for 30 years,” said Superintendent Steve Lanier. “We wish this hadn’t have happened, but it did. And because it did, we have to take administrative action to investigate the situation and then make the determination on what’s best for the school.” Tallahassee Democrat.

Colleges and universities: New College of Florida has acquired a reputation of being “quirky, queer and creative” since it began in 1960. It’s likely to change after Gov. DeSantis appointed six conservatives to its board of trustees and state officials announced their intent to change it to the “Hillsdale of the South.” Tampa Bay Times. Profile of Hillsdale College of southern Michigan, and a comparison of New College with Hillsdale. USA TodayTampa Bay Times. Brian Carroll, the former chief operating officer at Southeastern University in Lakeland, pleaded guilty last week to defrauding the school by setting up a phony corporation and then getting the university to hire that corporation for a marketing project. He faces up to 20 years in federal prison. Business Observer.

State’s teacher shortage: Nearly 5,300 teachers are still needed in Florida K-12 classrooms, officials from the statewide teachers union said last week. That’s more than triple the number reported at this point of the school year five years ago. “This is the most pressing issue facing the education of Florida’s students. It is time to fix the teacher shortage,” tweeted Andrew Spar, the union president. Florida Department of Education officials disputed Spar’s conclusions. “The notion of a large teacher shortage in Florida is a myth generated by media activists and teachers unions,” said DOE spokesman William Patrick. Orlando Sentinel.

Survey suit testimony: A Florida State University professor testified in federal court Friday that the state’s new law requiring colleges and universities to conduct “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” surveys limited her lectures because the language in the measure is vague. Robin Goodman is among the plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of the law. Florida Phoenix.

Opinions on schools: Sweeping history under the rug benefits no one. It’s time for state education officials to back off the politics of fear that inform the right-wing, anti-woke rhetoric, and emphasize education that includes Florida’s racial achievements as well as its setbacks. Palm Beach Post. The best course of action for those who fear the future prospect of mourning New College’s lost legacy is to fight passionately to protect the rich one it still enjoys today. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Florida’s education policy-makers have have spent years bragging about the performance of the state’s 4th-graders on the NAEP math and reading exams. And that has mostly worked for them politically. So why screw things up by even acknowledging that there is a middle school math problem? Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. The future of work is rapidly changing, and it’s important that our education system keeps up. We will have failed this generation if we do not use this moment to shift public education toward the future. Robin Lake, The 74. Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop isn’t in Duval public school libraries. Which is too bad. Because it’s a story worth retelling far beyond Memphis. Mark Woods, Florida Times-Union. I’ve had some close encounters with both New College of Florida and Hillsdale College. And I would be hard-pressed to find a bigger crime against higher education in Florida than to turn the jewel that is New College into the portal of white Christian nationalism that is Hillsdale. Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post. Ron DeSantis likes to say Florida is where “woke” goes to die. If by “woke” he means tolerance, science, inquiry, free expression and knowledge, yes, Florida is where “woke” goes to die. Diane Roberts, Florida Phoenix.

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BY NextSteps staff