Duval picks two finalists, Alachua questions charter vote claim, state teacher of year finalist, and more

Around the state: Duval’s school board selects two finalists for the superintendent’s job, Alachua school officials are questioning the claim of victory made by proponents of turning an elementary school into a charter school, a Leon County educator is selected as a finalist for the state’s teacher of the year award, Broward’s former superintendent reaches a separation agreement, Pinellas school board members throw their support behind the renewal of an expanded property tax initiative in November, and Sarasota school board members approve a resolution rejecting new federal protections against gender identity discrimination. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A music teacher at Dr. Edward L. Whigham Elementary in Cutler Bay has reportedly been removed from the classroom and faces charges for allegedly slapping the face of an 8-year-old autistic boy Tuesday. District officials said the investigation is continuing and they will have more to say about the incident today. WSVN.

Broward: Former superintendent Peter Licata has reached a separation settlement with the district that the school board will vote on May 14. Under the deal negotiated with board chair Lori Alhadeff and general counsel Marylin Batista, Licata would work until July 1, then be a consultant for nine weeks. He’d get $138,000 as severance, and both sides have agreed to a non-disparagement clause for a year. Licata announced last month that he would retire Dec. 31, but the board dismissed him immediately and hired deputy superintendent Howard Hepburn as his replacement. Sun-Sentinel. A 15-year-old girl was hit by a car as she walked to school Tuesday in Dania Beach. She’s in stable condition with a head injury. Deuties said she was wearing headphones and crossed the street while the traffic light was green. Miami Herald.

Hillsborough: Apollo Beach Elementary School will become a K-8 school, starting this fall with the addition of 6th grade, followed by a 7th grade in 2025 and 8th grade in 2026. Parents who were unhappy with their middle school options lobbied the district for the change. Tampa Bay Times. WFTS. Five schools will have new principals in the fall. Kimberly Jahn, 52, leaves the closing Monroe Middle to take over Eisenhower Exceptional Center. Nishira Mitchell, 40, comes to Memorial Middle from Adams Middle, which is also closing. Replacing retiring principals are Cassandra Smallen at Tinker K-8, Alesha Looper at Gorrie Elementary and Anita Ventura at Lowry Elementary. Tampa Bay Times. Johnathan Sheppard, a 38-year-old teacher at Henderson Hammock Charter School K-8 charter school in Citrus Park, has been arrested and accused of inappropriately touching and texting a student. Also arrested was a school security officer. Deputies said Theresa Cruz, 48, interfered with the school’s initial investigation “by providing Sheppard with details.” Tampa Bay Times. WFTS. WFLA. WTVT.

Orange: Building new schools and maintaining old ones will cost the school district $8.9 billion through the fiscal year 2034, school board members were told Tuesday by administrators who want the board to ask voters to renew a half-cent sales tax for capital projects in the November election. Without its renewal, about $1 billion in projects could go unfunded, said Superintendent Maria Vazquez. “My heart kind of jumps at the thought of what that could mean.” Orange County commissioners also endorsed the tax. WKMG. WOFL.

Palm Beach: District officials said Tuesday that an elementary school will be built in the western part of the county near the Arden and Westlake developments. It will hold 950 students when it opens in the fall of 2025, and cost about $45 million. Palm Beach Post. WPTV.

Duval: Former Lee County superintendent Christopher Bernier and Daniel Smith, the chief of staff at Loudoun County Public Schools in Virginia, have been chosen as finalists for the school superintendent’s job. The vote was unanimous. Interviews are scheduled May 13 and 14, and the community is invited to meet Bernier and Smith from 6-8 p.m. Monday at EverBank Stadium. The superintendent will be selected May 23 by the school board, which is also expected to approve a contract June 4. Florida Times-Union. Jacksonville Today. WJAX. WJXT. WTLV. Middle school schedules will remain the same next year, district officials announced Tuesday. The district had been considering cutting middle school electives to save money. WJAX. WJXT.

Pinellas: A proposal to double the local-option property tax to support teacher salaries and arts programs won the tentative approval of all school board members Tuesday at a workshop meeting. The half-mill tax was first approved in 2004 and has been renewed by voters four times. In November, though, voters will be asked to double the tax to a full $1 for every $1,000 in assessed property value. If it’s approved, the revenue would boost each teacher’s annual pay by just over $11,000 a year, offer support employees an additional $2,910 a year and provide extra funding for arts field trips, early literacy initiatives, classroom technology, and more. Board members will vote May 14 on a resolution to add the request to the ballot. Tampa Bay Times. WTVT. Walsingham and Southern Oak elementary schools, which already share a main corridor and cafeteria, will be merged into a K-8 school for the 2025-2026 academic year. School board members gave their tentative approval Tuesday. Tampa Bay Times.

Lee: School board members are considering banning students from using cell phones during classes. “We should go ahead and change that this year,” said board member Armor Persons. “For next year, have the phones in their backpacks on the off position from the first bell to the last bell.” No decisions were made, and district staff will research the issue for discussion at a future meeting. WINK.

Pasco: A former 3rd-grade teacher at Beacon Christian Academy in New Port Richey who was arrested in March for using artificial intelligence to merge students’ yearbook photos onto “sexually suggestive” photos of women’s bodies now faces a charge of grooming a student. Deputies say Steven Houser, 67, began showing favoritism to a 3rd-grade student during the 2020-2021 school year, buying her gifts and telling her he loved her. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: District teachers earn an average of $50,863 a year, according to the Florida Department of Education. That’s $2,234 less than the state average and $18,681 less than the national average. Brevard’s average also falls about $6,000 under Florida’s “minimum living wage,” which the National Education Association teachers union defines as income needed for a family of one adult and one child to have a “modest but adequate standard of living in the most affordable metro area.” Florida Today.

Sarasota: In a 4-1 vote, the school board approved a resolution rejecting new federal protections against gender identity discrimination. The resolution states that sex is “defined as biological male or biological female (only two sexes); is an immutable characteristic that cannot be changed, fluid, or altered.” The vote could risk $50 million in federal funding that goes to schools with a high number of low-income students receiving free or reduced-price meals. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Charlotte Sun. WFLA. WTSP. WTVT. WWSB. Kayla Lewis, a cafeteria worker at Englewood Elementary School, has been named one of the state’s five 2024 school lunch heroes by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. WWSB.

Leon: Samantha Wilson, a 5th-grade science teacher at Florida State University School in Tallahassee, has been named one of five finalists for the Florida teacher of the year award give annually by the state Department of Education. The winner will be announced July 25. Florida Department of Education.

Alachua: School district officials are questioning Education First for Newberry’s and Mayor Jordan Marlowe’s claim that the state has approved the vote by teachers to convert Newberry Elementary School into a charter school. District spokeswoman Jackie Johnson said in a news release that “the district had not received any official notification from the Florida Department of Education about changing the results of the Newberry Elementary School conversion vote,” and referenced a rule that states if “a majority of parents and/or teachers do not support the charter proposal, the application may not be submitted to the sponsor.” Gainesville Sun. WCJB. Mainstreet Daily News.

Colleges and universities: Questions are being asked about the $237.75 million stock donation made to Florida A&M University last weekend by the Issac Batterson 7th Family Trust and chief executive officer Gregory Gerami. Little is known about Gerami or the trust, and it’s been reported that Gerami’s $95 million planned gift to Coastal Carolina University fell through last year. Gerami insisted the FAMU stock transfer has been completed and school officials said they did their “due diligence,” but a school trustee has called for an emergency meeting to discuss the donation. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. WFSU. When Florida Atlantic University shut down its diversity center, students stepped in to maintain a place where others could feel at home. WLRN. Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota is starting an artificial intelligence undergraduate certificate program to prepare students for careers that merge AI with art, design, and creativity in a “responsible and ethical manner.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Florida tops in education: U.S. World & News Report has ranked Florida No. 1 in education for the second year in a row. The state was rated first in higher education and 10th in preK-12. It also was rated first for its economy, 13th in crime and in natural environment, 20th in both infrastructure and financial stability, 26th in health care and 45th in opportunity. Tampa Bay Times. U.S. News & World Report. Florida’s Voice.

Guns in Florida schools: The number of gun incidents in Florida schools more than tripled in the decade ending in 2023 over the previous 10 years, to 71 from 21, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database. Only California and Texas had more incidents in the most recent decade. Incidents are defined as instances when a gun is fired or brandished with intent to shoot, or when a bullet hits school property. Eleven incidents have been reported in the country this year, and seven of them have been in Florida. Axios.

School safety, tax break bills signed: Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Tuesday that bolsters requirements for school security. HB 1473 requires sheriff’s offices to report school guardian certifications to the FDLE, private schools to foot costs for background screening and training for guardians, schools to secure entrances and exits when students are on campus, and more. Another bill, HB 1509, grants a exemption for public records that could identify whether a person has been certified to serve as a school guardian. WKMG. News Service of Florida. The Capitolist. DeSantis also signed a bill calling for a two-week back-to-school tax holiday on clothing, school supplies and computers starting July 29. Florida Politics.

Florida dropout rates: St. Johns, Leon and Okaloosa counties have the fewest number of residents over the age of 25 who are high school dropouts, 5 percent, according to 2022 U.S. Census Bureau data. Hendry County has the highest at 31 percent, while DeSoto and Glades are at 27 percent each. Newsweek.

Opinions on schools: “Just Calculate, Florida!” doesn’t roll off the tongue like “Just Read, Florida!” does. But maybe some smart marketing professional can come up with a better slogan to promote the improvement of math instruction in the state. Because that’s what Florida’s students desperately need to have bright futures in our technological economy — better opportunities to learn math. Paul Cottle, Tampa Bay Times. If the idea of a 19-year-old protesting the slaughter of children upsets you more than the slaughter of children itself, I’d suggest you take a step back. And maybe think about what and who is stoking your ire. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff

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