Authority on book challenges changing soon, Corcoran says New College enrollment up, a principal’s position questioned, and more

Change coming in book challenges: Final decisions on school book challenges will soon be taken out of the hands of local school board members. In the legislative session earlier this year, lawmakers added a provision to the law that will allow parents who disagree with a school board’s decision on a challenge to request a state magistrate review. The magistrate would make a recommendation to the Florida Board of Education, which would make the final decision on the fate of the book. School districts would still be responsible for the costs of the review. The state Department of Education is collecting public input on rules for the magistrate process, but has yet to release draft language. Tampa Bay Times.

Around the state: New College of Florida interim president Richard Corcoran says new enrollment is at a record level, members of the faculty union blast the state’s suspension of the Florida Atlantic University presidential search, questions are being asked about the Broward school district’s decision to keep the former principal of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School at his current status despite taking lesser jobs for the past four years, Sarasota school board members will consider a contract for the district’s new superintendent at their next meeting, the state’s first back-to-school tax holiday begins July 24 and runs through Aug. 6, and several central Florida school districts said they are still looking for teachers and other workers. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Four years after Ty Thompson was removed as principal at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School over questions about his leadership before and after the 2018 shooting at the school in which 17 people died, he still has his title and the $134,254 salary while working jobs with less responsibility that pay less. The district’s decision to keep Thompson has angered families of the shooting victims who contend he bears some responsibility for the massacre. Some board members also question Thompson’s status, and new Superintendent Peter Licata, whose contract is expected to be approved today, said, “I’m going to look a little deeper into the practice. We should have people paid to do the jobs they’re qualified for. The salary should match the job you’re doing.” Sun-Sentinel.

Hillsborough, Pinellas, Hernando: Students in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Hernando counties can get free immunization shots and physical examinations at 10 locations before schools reopen Aug. 10 in Hillsborough and Pinellas and Aug. 14 in Hernando. Appointments are required. Tampa Bay Times.

Sarasota: A three-year contract for newly named Superintendent Terrence Connor is up for school board approval at its July 17 meeting. It calls for Connor to receive a base salary of $255,000 a year, a $15,000 relocation bonus and a $30,000 annual performance incentive. Board members can terminate the contract at any time with a simple majority vote, but if they do Connor would be eligible for 20 weeks of base pay, or about $98,000, plus benefits as severance. Connor was the deputy superintendent for Hillsborough County schools before being hired June 14 in a 3-2 board vote. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Marion, Lake, Sumter: School officials in Marion, Lake and Sumter counties are looking to fill hundreds of jobs before schools reopen Aug. 10. Marion has 260 teaching vacancies, and other jobs to fill. Lake is looking for 82 teachers, 19 bus drivers and other school support staff, and Sumter has 31 open teaching positions, 20 bus driver jobs and several other support staff. The Villages Charter School is also looking for 16 teachers in preK-12 and has 28 non-instructional jobs to fill. Villages Daily Sun. Wildwood city commissioners were deadlocked on a request to provide crossing guards for two new Villages Charter schools in the Middleton area of Sumter County. One commissioner was absent, and the issue will be reconsidered when all five city officials are present. Villages-News. More than 7,000 backpacks filled with school supplies will be distributed free to Marion County students this summer in a collaborative effort by the Community Foundation for Ocala/Marion County, AdventHealth Ocala and the school district. Students have to register to be eligible. Distribution dates are July 28 and 29, and Aug. 5 and 8. WCJB.

Escambia: A West Florida High School physical education teacher and coach has been arrested and accused of aggravated assault and felony battery. Police said Michael Taylor, 48, attacked his domestic partner for speaking to another man on the phone. He’s charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, domestic battery by strangulation, battery and cyberstalking. District officials said Taylor is “currently suspended with pay, pending the outcome of this investigation.” Pensacola News Journal. WEAR.

Citrus: School board members meet today to consider approving the use of naloxone by trained school staff to reverse opioid overdoses, updating policies covering suicide prevention and the way the district manages student records, and updating the district’s contract with LifeStream Behavioral Center. Citrus County Chronicle.

Gadsden: A native of Quincy will receive his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice on July 21 — three days before his 80th birthday. Willie Ryals, an associate pastor of Zion Hope Community Baptist Church, was a high school dropout who also spent seven years in prison for aggravated manslaughter. But he finished high school and started taking college courses during his incarceration, and will receive his degree from American Intercontinental University, an online school that he began attending in 2021. His capstone project centers on solitary confinement and mental health, and he said his current grade in the course is 95 percent. “I’m happy for myself, because my father always wanted me to go after a degree,” Ryals said. “He’s passed and gone, but I’m keeping this promise.” Tallahassee Democrat.

Colleges and universities: First-year enrollment at New College of Florida is expected to be more than 300 for the fall, interim president Richard Corcoran has announced. He said it is a school record, and attributes it to the addition of extracurricular activities such as sports and extra money allocated for the school by the Legislature. At least eight sports are being introduced. “Those two things have absolutely increased our enrollment, and our enrollment is up both on first time college students and in transfers; we’re beating both metrics,” he said, while being “highly selective” of the students they accept. Corcoran also said about 30 faculty have resigned, retired or on leave. Florida’s Voice. The United Faculty of Florida union is calling on state Chancellor Ray Rodrigues to allow Florida Atlantic University’s presidential search to “continue unhindered or to immediately resign from his position.” Rodrigues cited “anomalies” in the search process last week when he recommended FAU suspend it. The school complied, but FAU board of trustees chair Brad Levine defended the search in his response to Rodrigues. News Service of Florida. Sun-Sentinel. Florida Phoenix.

Sales tax holiday: The state’s first back-to-school tax holiday begins July 24 and runs through Aug. 6. School items that can be purchased tax-free include computers and related accessories that sell for $1,500 or less, school supplies selling for $50 or less, clothing items selling for $100 or less, and learning aids and jigsaw puzzles selling for $30 or less. A second school-related tax holiday is scheduled Jan. 1-14. Tallahassee Democrat. WBBH. WFTS.

Around the nation: Despite billions of dollars spent to help students make up learning losses during the pandemic, progress in reading and math stagnated over the past school year for elementary and middle-school students, according to a new national study released Tuesday. The research organization NWEA analyzed test results for about 3.5 million students in grades 3-8. “We are actually seeing evidence of backsliding,” said Karyn Lewis, a researcher on the study. Tom Kane, a Harvard economist, added, “The recovery effort has been undersized from the very beginning. We have seen examples of programs that were making a difference for students, but none have been at the scale or intensity required.” New York Times. The presence of police officers doesn’t prevent school shootings, according to new research that supports previous study conclusions, but contributes to disproportionate discipline of boys and black and disabled students. The study’s finding “makes it clear that any potential benefits in violence reduction or gun detection come at very high costs to students,” say its authors. Education Week.

Opinions on schools: Novel state experiments with education freedom are beneficial for the rest of the country. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED. The timing of State University System Chancellor Ray Rodrigues’ letter, after the finalists for the Florida Atlantic University’s presidency were announced, raises obvious red flags, and the “anomalies” look like political cover to ensure a different result. Sun-Sentinel. As a participant in the FAU presidential selection process, I feel comfortable that we had appropriate access to all of the applicants and their backgrounds, and we had thoughtful and thorough committee discussions about them. I feel personally outraged and slandered by the implications of the chancellor’s letter on me and my colleagues, for what appears to be an attempt to unwind our successful, hard work and reopen a search for a candidate more to the liking of certain politicians. Dick Schmidt, Sun-Sentinel. Using information that exists on both sides of the war over how to teach reading can empower teachers, administrators, and school leaders to develop a literacy program that is both balanced in its time allocation of the elements of reading instruction and supported by the body of research that is the science of reading. Isn’t it time to call a truce? Brooke Wilkins and Lauren McNamara, Education Week.

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BY NextSteps staff