State says Alachua charter conversion passed, first finalist for teacher of year named, and more

Around the state: State officials rule that a tie vote on converting an Alachua public elementary school into a charter school means the measure was approved, a Walton County science teacher is the first of five finalists chosen for the state teacher of the year award, another high-ranking Broward school administrator is retiring, 284 Volusia teachers have been reassigned since the district announced budget cuts because of the end of federal pandemic funding, Duval school board members are expected to narrow the list of finalists for the superintendent’s job at today’s meeting, and a Christian club at a Hamilton County elementary school is disbanded after a complaint from a group advocating the separation of church and state. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: All 1,000 Miami-Dade school buses have now been outfitted with cameras that take photos of vehicles that illegally pass stopped buses. Starting Wednesday, those drivers will be mailed $200 tickets. During the test period in the past month, more than 10,000 drivers were caught on camera violating the law. WPLG. Amanda Gorman, the national youth poet laureate, is taking issue with a school district decision to make her book, The Hill We Climb, inaccessible to middle school students at the Bob Graham Education Center after hearing a complaint from one parent. “When we get to a situation where that one person’s dislike of my work leads to everyone else not having access to that, that is a huge issue,” she said, “I think because it encroaches on our freedom to really absorb and love and enjoy literature from where we are.” USA Today.

Broward: Judith Marte has announced she is retiring as deputy superintendent of operations for the school district. Marte, 65, had planned to retire June 30, 2025, and gave no indication why she moved that up. She’s the latest in a string of prominent departures from the district, including former superintendent Peter Licata, who was replaced by Howard Hepburn on April 16 after announcing he was retiring Dec. 31 due to health issues. Sun-Sentinel. More unhappy parents vented to school officials Monday about the proposed plan to close three schools and make significant changes at nine others because of declining enrollment and budget problems. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ.

Hillsborough: Teachers asked for a 6 percent, across-the-board raise on the first day of contract negotiations Monday. “This job has been monumentally more difficult ever since the pandemic, and they’re showing up and they’re doing everything they can for these kids, so they deserve that,” said union president Rob Kriete. The next meeting is scheduled May 28. WTSP. WFTS.

Palm Beach: Teacher say impressive academic performances from students at the A.D. Henderson School, a developmental research K-8 school on the campus of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, are at least partially attributable to the creative freedom teacher have been given by administrators. School Superintendent Joel Herbst said the school’s success can be duplicated if administrators give up some control but are supportive. “Give (teachers) the freedom to do what they do best, which is to impart knowledge, to teach beyond the textbook,” Herbst said. Associated Press.

Duval: The district is considering closing schools because of declining enrollment and budget problems, and is facing significant resistance from the community. So what are the thoughts of the five finalists for the superintendent’s job? They were asked that question as part of their interviews. The school board will consider their answers at today’s meeting, where they expect to further narrow the field of candidates. Florida Times-Union.

Brevard: Crystal Kazy, a former flight attendant and the mother of two high school students, has filed to run for the District 4 seat on the school board. Matt Susin is the incumbent, and he faces three challengers: Kazy; Avanese Taylor, an active duty member of the Navy and mom of a high school student; and Max Madl, a senior at Viera High School. Florida Today.

Volusia: More than 280 teachers have been reassigned since the district announced it would reduce the staff because of declining enrollment and the end of federal pandemic funding. District spokeswoman Danielle Johnson said 172 of the 284 reassigned teachers were placed by the district’s human resources department, and the rest found new positions at job fairs or moved to a different role in their current schools. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Lee, Collier: Florida is 50th in the nation in average teacher pay, 16th in starting teacher pay, and 27th in K-12 support staff pay. How much do employees in the Lee and Collier school districts make? Fort Myers News-Press. Naples Daily News.

Alachua: State officials have concluded that the vote to turn Newberry Elementary School into a charter school was approved by teachers, and backers of the initiative are proceeding with the application for the conversion. On April 17, Alachua Supervisor of Elections Kim Barton said conversion votes for Newberry Elementary, Oak View Middle and Newberry High all failed. Education First for Newberry contested Barton’s ruling on the teachers’ vote for the elementary school, arguing that a tie vote meant the measure passed. Adam Miller, senior chancellor for the Florida Department of Education, agreed. District officials said they are awaiting a confirmation from the state. Mainstreet Daily News. WCJB. Alachua Chronicle. Independent Florida Alligator. Angela Kelly, a cafeteria worker at Chiles Elementary School, has been named one of the state’s five 2024 school lunch heroes by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. WCJB. Gainesville Sun.

Walton: Heather Stewart, a science and aerospace teacher to students in grades 8-12 at the Paxton School in Laurel Hill, 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.

Hamilton: District officials have shut down a club for Christian athletes at Hamilton County Elementary School after receiving a complaint from the Freedom from Religion Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes the separation of church and state. In late March, the group wrote to the district requesting the club be disbanded. “Elementary students are too young to truly run a club entirely on their own initiative with no input from school staff or outside adults,” wrote Samantha Lawrence. “The Establishment Clause prohibits school employees from organizing or leading a religious club for students and therefore prohibits religious clubs in elementary schools.” The First Liberty Institute, a conservative religious liberty organization, criticized the decision, saying “the Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized that … students do not give up their free speech rights while at school, including elementary schools.” Tallahassee Democrat.

Opinions on schools: While we are busily reducing the amount of funding discrimination against families wishing to send their children to private schools, we ought to expand family access to public schools as well. Matthew Ladner, NextSteps. Give dunce caps to the Florida Legislature for flunking one of life’s most obvious lessons. It’s this: Experience really is the best teacher. And yet Florida has just placed next to last in the annual nationwide teacher pay rankings. That’s how poorly Tallahassee values experience. Sun-Sentinel. I signed up to be a reviewer of science instructional materials to see how the process works and to have a bit of influence over what physics materials are adopted. The first thing I learned: Doing a credible job of reviewing instructional materials is really, really demanding. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. It’s time for Jacksonville to consider a strong, elected superintendent model such as most counties in the state have. Someone with a mandate to speak for the district – and not just part of it – and who can make decisions and recommendations without worry about being pushed out by the board. A.G. Gancarski, Jacksonville Today.

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BY NextSteps staff

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