Parent: Charter school conversion idea sparked by frustration with school district

The former superintendent abruptly resigned amidst a budget shortfall. The new superintendent came under fire immediately for alleged plagiarism. Now teacher positions are being cut.

Given that backdrop, some parents at one of the most popular magnet schools in Manatee County, Fla., say it’s obvious why they want to convert the district school into an independent charter.

They’re worried Rowlett Elementary will lose the special programs and dedicated teachers that made it so successful. And they don’t believe district leaders, mired in a budget crisis that promises drastic cuts, know what they’re doing.

Asked if she had doubts that district administrators could keep Rowlett a top performing school and properly run the district, parent Jessica Nehrboss said this: “Absolutely. I have no doubt in my mind. I have no doubt in my mind and it’s more apparent than ever that they can’t. The county has absolutely proven they cannot handle it.’’

Nehrboss is a mother of four with a fourth-grader at the school and a rising kindergartner. She and other parents will be voting next month on whether to convert Rowlett. Teachers will also be voting. If a majority of each group says yes, the school will apply to the district for a charter.

If Nehrboss’ assessment sounds harsh, consider this: The 44,000-student district is under a spending freeze that has at least one middle school principal so desperate, he is asking parents for donations to make it through the end of the school year. Meanwhile, the proposal to eliminate 182 teaching positions next fall has prompted a petition from a parent who doesn’t believe the district’s projections are accurate. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: bullying, teacher conduct, eyeball scanners & more

Bullying. Gov. Rick Scott signs the anti-bullying bill into law. Gradebook.

florida roundup logoTeacher conduct. A private school teacher in West Delray is under investigation for allegations of sex with a student, reports the South Florida Sun Sentinel. State officials are investigating whether a Collier County teacher verbally abused students, reports the NBC-2. A fired Duval teacher appeals, claiming age discrimination, reports the Florida Times Union.

Gays and lesbians. A federal judge rules in favor of a Lake County middle school student who wants to create a Gay Straight Alliance at her school. Orlando Sentinel.

K-8 schools. Orange County is going to create more of them. StateImpact Florida.

Spelling bee. A home school student from South Florida makes it to the semifinals, reports the Miami Herald. The winner, Arvind Mahankali of New York, is the sixth straight Indian-American to win and the 11th in the last 15 years. Continue Reading →


Florida school district looks into JROTC denial for private school student

A private school student denied enrollment in a public school Junior ROTC program in Florida may get a chance to participate after all.

Clay County Superintendent Charlie Van Zant told redefinED Wednesday he is looking into his district’s recent decision with the hope of getting 15-year-old Kevin Gines into JROTC by August. Van Zant also added he is a longtime supporter of school choice options.

“It takes all kinds of programs and school offerings to get our kids where they need to be,’’ he said.

School board member Johnna McKinnon said she also plans to discuss the matter with administrators Wednesday evening, after a special district executive meeting.

“I am not aware that anyone has been denied that ability,’’ said McKinnon, who described herself as “very pro-ROTC.’’

Fellow board member Tina Bullock, a former high school principal, said she couldn’t see any reason Kevin couldn’t be admitted into the program if he was a student in good standing. “It’s clear we accept any student as long as the criteria are met and there is space available,’’ she said. “We’re looking for students.’’

Private school students can participate in public school extra-curricular activities, such as sports, and in gifted programs. And Clay County has welcomed virtual education students, homeschoolers and students from outside the district – with more than 300 special assignments this year alone, Van Zant said.

All three district leaders said they didn’t know about Kevin’s situation until after our story ran Tuesday.

Kevin attends Christian Home Academy in Orange Park on a publicly-funded scholarship for low-income students. (The scholarship program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.) Someday, he hopes to be a Marine – and he wants to start preparing now. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Catholic schools, teacher pay, accountability gaming & more

Catholic schools. Yet another Catholic school closes, this one in Palm Beach County, with many students turning to charter schools. South Florida Sun Sentinel.

florida roundup logoCharter schools. One in east Hillsborough will close after multiple issues, reports the Tampa Tribune. Dayspring Academy in Pasco, co-founded by state Sen. John Legg, wants to expand to two more campuses, reports the Tampa Bay Times.

Virtual schools. A struggling teen in Hernando takes 10 online courses in a comeback surge to graduate on time. Tampa Bay Times.

Accountability. Florida has taken steps to prevent gaming of the system. EdFly Blog.

Common Core. The Council of Chief State School Officers opposes delays in accountability requirements as states adjust. StateImpact Florida.

Teacher pay. Pasco Superintendent Kurt Browning says the Leg didn’t increase funding enough to give teachers the raises that Gov. Rick Scott envisioned. Gradebook.

Teacher conduct. A Polk teacher who said she and her father were dying was apparently lying so she could skip school. WFTV. Continue Reading →


Religious schools should be a bigger part of the solution

Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court justice, might never have blossomed in the Bronx without the help of a faith-based school, a Catholic oasis called Blessed Sacrament. Sotomayor herself says so. Asked by Anderson Cooper if she would have become who she is without the school, Sotomayor said, “Doubtful.”

Sadly, Blessed Sacrament is closing this year, felled by the same social and economic forces – and education policies – that contributed to the shuttering of 1,300 Catholic schools in the past 20 years. There is tragedy and irony in its passing. You don’t have to be religious to feel it.

For most of this country’s history, faith-based schools have been a fundamental part of the American experience. But now, as the nation continues to wrestle with how best to get academic traction with poor and minority kids, its 21,000 religious schools continue to shrink, and continue to be mostly overlooked as a potential piece of the solution.

Here’s the tragic part. Eleven of 12 gold standard research studies find positive academic outcomes for students using vouchers to attend private schools, the vast majority of them religious schools. More recently, William Jeynes, a researcher at California State University, Long Beach, found via a meta-analysis of 90 studies that students in religious schools were on average seven months ahead of their peers in traditional public and charter schools. This was after controlling for race, gender, poverty and parental involvement.

Faith-based schools are a financial bargain, too – for all of us. Average tuition is thousands of dollars less than per-pupil funding for public schools, so collectively, taxpayers are saving tens of billions of dollars a year.

All this isn’t to say faith-based schools are the end-all, be-all. They range in quality just as charter and virtual and traditional public schools do. But in this era of customization, they offer more options, and in this time of desperation, more hands on deck. There is no good reason to bar them from the mix of educational alternatives that is helping parents and educators find the best fit for each and every child. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: laptops, gifted students, accelerated classes & more

School technology. StateImpact Florida takes a look at the One Laptop Per Child program.

florida roundup logoAccelerated classes. In Pasco, enrollment is climbing fast in AP, IB and dual enrollment. Tampa Bay Times.

FCAT. Gains not as good as they sound, writes Shanker Blog. Three Pinellas elementary schools have among the worst math scores in the state, reports Gradebook.

Parent trigger. A distraction and faddish. Sherman Dorn.

Superintendents. The new Lee super is Naples High Principal Nancy Graham, but it’s not clear whether she’s temporary, reports the Naples Daily News. Tony Bennett’s a fan of Pinellas’ Mike Grego, reports Gradebook.

Ed summit. Speaking of Grego, he’s among the speakers at the Florida Sterling Council’s annual summit. StateImpact Florida.

Gifted students. Pinellas is eliminating programs for gifted students at a few schools in lieu of offering gifted services at all elementary schools. Tampa Bay Times.

School spending. Broward gets no legislative funding help for its technology and building needs, reports the Miami Herald. More from the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Broward wants to charge a developer $3.6 million in impact fees for four students, the Sun Sentinel also reports. Continue Reading →


School choice voucher bill clears major hurdle in N.C.

From the Associated Press:

RALEIGH, N.C. — A North Carolina House panel on Tuesday narrowly backed a controversial bill that would give taxpayer money to North Carolina students to attend private or religious schools.

The House Education Committee voted 27-21 to recommend a school choice bill that would give annual grants of $4,200 each to students from low-income families. The bill has sparked a clash between advocates who call it a victory for school choice and opponents who say it marks the dismantling of public education.

The bill still has to go through another committee, which will discuss the financial impact, and the House floor. Full story here.


JROTC denied to private school student

Kevin Gines

Kevin Gines

Kevin Gines is 15 years old. He attends a private school on a publicly-funded scholarship for low-income kids. He wants to be a Marine.

He’s dying to get into a Junior ROTC program to start getting prepped. But there’s one big hitch.

His small school in north Florida doesn’t have a JROTC program. And he can’t get into the JROTC program at a nearby public high school because the school district says no.

A district administrator for Clay County public schools told Kevin’s father his son can’t participate because he’s not enrolled in the public school, Middleburg High.

“It’s not simply attending the after school drills,’’ wrote Lyle Bandy, director of exceptional student education, in an email to Jesse Gines (pronounced Hee-nez).

The program includes a sequence of Naval science classes during the school day that the student also must complete, Bandy said, citing the official Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps website.

That was the end of it for Bandy, who did not respond to our requests for comment. But not for Gines.

He reached out to another public school with a JROTC program, Mandarin High, about 25 miles away in neighboring Duval County. A JROTC official there told him Kevin was welcome to join JROTC.

“In the past, that has taken place,’’ said Lt. Evaristo Gines (no relation to Kevin and Jesse), who is awaiting final word from his district supervisors. “All I know is that we’re in the business of trying to help the students.’’

Kevin may be caught in a gray area as the once hard-and-fast lines of public education continue to blur. Tim Tebow was homeschooled, but starred on a public high school football team. Private school students can take classes through the public Florida Virtual School. They also can participate in public school gifted programs. So why can’t Kevin join JROTC at a public school?

Jesse Gines points to state statutes that allow private school students to participate in extra-curricular activities, such as sports, at public schools. He also looked at the JROTC website and noted the requirements include a provision that lets students not enrolled in the host school become special cadets.

“It does not state denial of enrollment,’’ said Gines, a security guard at Florida State College in Jacksonville. “It does state opportunity for all schools.’’ Continue Reading →