Florida schools roundup: Charters, magnet schools, teacher evals & more

Charter schools: A proposed charter school for MacDill Air Force Base doesn’t get the superintendent’s approval, but the Hillsborough County School Board still could vote in favor of the project. redefinED. More from Tampa Bay Times and  The Tampa Tribune. Only about three months after opening its doors, west Boynton Beach charter school Franklin Academy is already on the hunt for a new principal. Palm Beach Post. The principal of Imagine Schools Lakewood Ranch in Manatee County returns to work after the State Attorney’s Office determines she will not  face charges for failure to report suspected child abuse. Bradenton Herald.


Magnet schools: Pinellas County’s superintendent proposes reopening two elementary schools, closed by the district just five years ago, as technology magnet schools. Tampa Bay Times.

Teacher evals: Count me among those skeptical that nearly 60 percent of Brevard teachers are “highly effective,” writes Matt Reed for Florida Today. Scholar Diploma and teacher evaluations are two state programs joining a long list of empty initiatives that accomplish nothing other than some politically appealing headlines for policymakers — some of whom might not be in office when the impacts hit, says the Naples Daily News. No evaluation system is perfect, but neither is every teacher. The public shouldn’t stand for the kind of grade inflation for teachers that wouldn’t be tolerated for students, says The Gainesville Sun.

School safety: More security guards are not needed in the Hillsborough public schools and could contribute to discrimination against minority students, says the American Civil Liberties Union. Tampa Bay Times.

Common Core: While the transition will be challenging, never before have our standards contained the coherence, rigor and depth of understanding the CCSS brings to us, writes teacher Peggy Brookins for the Ocala Star-Banner.

College prep: Survey results from the PISA show most of the nearly 2,000 Florida teenagers who took the test are “satisfied” with their schooling and feel they’ll be prepared for college as long as they put forth the necessary effort. On the other hand, Sunshine State students are more likely to skip school than their U.S. and international peers and nearly 30 percent say school “does little to prepare me for adult life.” Miami Herald. Continue Reading →


Florida superintendent to recommend denial of MacDill Air Force Base charter

A proposal for a charter school at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., won’t get the local school district superintendent’s approval. But the Hillsborough County School Board still could grant the charter.

Hillsborough Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia

Hillsborough Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia

The board meets Tuesday morning to review seven charter school applications, all of which have received district staff recommendations for approval except the one calling for an 875-student K-12 school on the military base that serves as U.S. Central Command.

The district already runs an elementary school on the base. One of the concerns for charter supporters is that there is no on-site middle school option for military families who live on base or work there.

Superintendent MaryEllen Elia and her staff cited issues with the charter application, filed by the Florida Charter Education Foundation in August, particularly about who would serve on a local governing board. Such a board, which   includes members with ties to the community where the school will be located, is required by state statute.

The foundation, a not-for-profit based in Fort Lauderdale, has stated it would have a local governing council with local members. It also intends to contract with Charter Schools USA to manage the school. But it’s not clear, district officials said, which entity would oversee day-to-day operations such as managing the budget.

Hillsborough officials notified charter organizers last week that they tentatively were recommending denial. But that decision could be reversed, they said, if they received more information on the makeup of the charter school’s governing board. Richard Page, vice present of development  for Charter Schools USA, said the groups already talked about the governing setup last month, and that it’s similar to ones used by other charter schools throughout the state.

“We are puzzled by the timing and the process when we felt like it was clear,” Page told redefinED last week.

Both sides met Monday morning to discuss the district’s concerns. Elia was out-of-town, but spoke with staff later and, late Monday, upheld the original recommendation of denial.

“Clearly Hillsborough County district staff is not interested in helping military families at MacDill Air Force Base by providing a charter school option for students on base,” Ken Haiko, chairman of the Florida Charter Educational Foundation, said later in an email to redefinED. “The concerns provided in our meeting and the documents posted online are ludicrous and demonstrate the district’s weak arguments against the charter.”

The proposal now goes before the school board, which in Florida is the authorizer of charter schools in its district. If the board denies the application, organizers vow they will appeal to the state Board of Education.

“As we wait for the school board’s vote tomorrow, we’d like to make it clear that the Florida Educational Foundation is not willing to give up on the needs of military families at MacDill AFB,” Haiko said. “We have never backed down from a challenge and don’t intend to leave these families with no options.”

Elia has said she believes the district can better meet the needs of military families. She even offered to expand a district-run middle school into a K-8 to serve MacDill. But charter supporters, including the base commander, Col. Scott DeThomas, say the needs are too great and really call for an independent school on base that can cater to soldiers and their families with counseling and programs that recognize the difficulties that come with the duty.

“I really respect the district’s position,’’ DeThomas recently told redefinED. “But, unfortunately, at this time we need to do more for our military families.’’


Private school network seeks to help “the toughest of the toughest”


Rob Staley

Rob Staley founded his private school a decade ago, with eight students he expelled himself from public school. The former public school principal wanted the “toughest of the toughest” – the gangbangers, the dropouts, the pregnant. He wanted to give them another chance at education – and life – with a school that combines faith-based therapy, career training and a never-give-up attitude.

The result? The Crossing, based in Elkhart, Ind., has now enrolled more than 6,000 students since its founding. It operates on 15 campuses and partners with 35 public school districts across Indiana. It’s yet another example of the kinds of schools that are possible when the artificial lines between public and private education fade away, and the focus instead is put on creating options that better meet kids’ needs.

“I believe in public schools … they are run by good people,” Staley said in a phone interview with redefinED. “But the truth is, public schools can’t serve every student.”

The state-accredited religious school focuses on helping “students begin and continue their journey with God.” Its mission: to save students, not merely in a spiritual sense, but from a life of poverty or crime. Its focus: academics, job training and mentoring.

Staley worked in Indiana public schools for 25 years. He saw the extraordinary efforts teachers and principals make to encourage students to succeed – and how sometimes they still fell short.


Graduation Day

Many students sent to The Crossing failed to succeed in district-run alternative schools. After founding his first campus in Goshen in 2003, Staley turned to his friends in the local district and asked them to send the kids that had dropped out or been expelled.

Staley raised private funds to educate these students but the need outstripped public generosity. Within a few years, he had convinced public schools in Elkhart, then Middlebury and South Bend, to support his school with public tax dollars. Although these districts operated their own alternative schools, they were encouraged by Staley’s willingness to try something different.

In South Bend, about half of the eligible seniors at The Crossing campus graduated with a high school diploma last year.  “Those were 19 graduates that won’t be counted as dropouts,” Staley said.

Since the school doesn’t have a traditional freshman cohort – students typically arrive as juniors or seniors – the school cannot calculate a graduation rate that allows for comparison with district-run schools. Staley says his schools have an 87 percent retention rate.

(Update: A representative of The Crossings says Amanda – in the featured video above – is now attending Ross Medical Education Center)

Continue Reading →


redefinED roundup: ‘Schools of terror,’ virtual schools in Maine, charter schools in Tennessee & more

MondayRoundUp_redAlabama: The National School Choice Week nationwide whistle stop tour is making a trip to Alabama (AL.com).

Arizona: The state superintendent of public instruction urges the state supreme court to uphold the constitutionality of education savings accounts (Arizona Daily Sun). District officials in Prescott worry a new charter school will take away its best and brightest students (Daily Courier).

California: Parents in Los Angeles are getting more active in education issues, thanks to the help of civil rights groups, and they are helping decide school budgets and make leadership choices (LA Times).

Connecticut: The Stamford area school district is looking to build a new magnet school to solve overcrowding issues (Stamford Advocate).

Delaware: The Indian River School District will be initiating an advertising campaign aimed at retaining students in the district (Sussex Countian).

Florida: Julie Young, the CEO of Florida Virtual School, says FLVS does not “flunk” in its job to teach kids (Tallahassee Democrat). Miami-area magnet schools don’t provide a lot of information about themselves, frustrating some parents looking at school choices (Miami Herald). Florida’s budget is going to get sandwiched by a growing number of students and retirees unless the education system can improve enough to produce a more productive workforce (redefinED). The city of West Palm Beach is looking to start and run its own charter school to attract residents but one journalist doesn’t think that is fair (Palm Beach Post). The Hillsborough County School District recommends an initial “no vote” on a proposed charter school at MacDill Air Force Basel but the school board will make the final call this week (redefinED, redefinEDTampa Tribune, Tampa Bay Times). Reporting news from across the pond can be tough, but the British newspaper reports “right wing” groups plan to push for vouchers in Florida (the state already has tuition tax-credits and vouchers for pre-kindergarten and special needs kids (The Guardian).

Georgia: The superintendent in Fulton County endorses public school choice for parents (Heartlander).

Indiana: Gov. Mike Pence wants pre-k vouchers (Indianapolis Star). Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Charter schools, safety, teacher pay & more

Charter schools: Lee County administrators are putting greater scrutiny on charter applicants and state officials have tightened requirements to open schools. Naples Daily News.

florida-roundup-logoSchool safety: The Broward school district has allowed police officers to live rent-free on some school grounds since the 1980s as a way to provide after-hours safety, but there’s no proof the program is still effective. Sun Sentinel. A dozen educators from Pinellas and Hillsborough counties come to a martial arts studio to learn what they can do to stop a tragedy. The Tampa Tribune.

Teacher pay: It’s time for the Palm Beach County school district and teachers union to sign an agreement for pay raises, writes Rick Christie for the Palm Beach Post.

Testing: Florida’s next generation of standardized tests moves a step closer to adoption when the state gets a look at the players that want to create FCAT’s replacement. Orlando Sentinel.  Are Florida high school students really as unprepared for the job market and college as recent PISA tests results suggest? Local and state civic and business leaders say yes, but educators are starting to address the problem. Tampa Bay Times. Changes to the GED are causing concerns. StateImpact Florida.

Teacher evals: Almost half of Polk County’s classroom teachers receive a “highly effective” rating and the rest of evaluations that have been submitted so far are rated “effective.” The Ledger. Rosy teacher evals contradict student progress. The Tampa Tribune.

After school: Pinellas County seeks college students to staff afterschool programs. Tampa Bay Times.

School spending: A group of community activists urges the Broward school district to reduce the costs of its in-house lawn mowing services by hiring an outside company. Sun Sentinel.

College prep: Too many students are arriving to college unprepared, writes Ed Moore, president and CEO of the Independent Colleges & Universities of Florida, for the Tampa Bay Times.
Continue Reading →


Base commander: Charter school can better help military families

A charter school can better and more quickly respond to the pressing needs of military families at MacDill Air Force Base than a district school. So says the base commander as a clash looms between the Tampa, Fla., institution and one of the nation’s biggest school districts.

Col. Scott DeThomas

Col. Scott DeThomas

Earlier this week, the Hillsborough County district told supporters of a proposed, on-base charter that its initial recommendation is to deny the school’s application.

Col. Scott DeThomas, the base commander, said afterward that he applauded the country’s eighth-biggest school district for its efforts to accommodate MacDill, which is home to U.S. Central Command. But he also said needs remain, including the desire of many families to bring their children to a school on base, and MacDill must move quickly to meet them.

That doesn’t appear feasible right now because a district-run elementary school on base is at capacity. The proposed MacDill Charter Academy would be a K-8 with 875 students, offering additional elementary seats and a middle school option that isn’t available at MacDill.

“I really respect the district’s position,’’ DeThomas said in an interview with redefinED. “But, unfortunately, at this time we need to do more for our military families.’’

Hillsborough officials said the recommended denial could be reversed, but they needed more information on the makeup of the charter school’s governing board. A meeting between the district and charter school backers is set for Monday morning.

Superintendent MaryEllen Elia, who has won a reputation as a progressive-minded leader, said she believes the district can better serve the needs of military families. Thomas politely disagreed.

It’s a different world for modern soldiers, most of whom have known only war during their enlistment, he said. For many, that has meant moving from base to base and routine deployments every few years – something extremely stressful for military families, especially children. “We want to get ahead of that,’’ DeThomas said. Continue Reading →


Florida’s education system must get a lot better, a lot faster

The U.S. Census Bureau projects big demographic challenges ahead for Florida. The below figure summarizes its projections for the simultaneous increases in Florida’s youth and elderly populations out to the year 2030.


So let’s take the blue and the red columns separately. The blue columns show Florida’s youth population aged 5-17 is set to more than double between 2010 and 2030 – from approximately two million to well over four million. The 5-17 age cohort underestimates the scale of the challenge from a budgetary standpoint, by the way, as Florida 4-year-olds are eligible for the Voluntary Pre-K program, and many 18-year-olds are still in school.

So needless to say, Florida will be steadily adding more and more students year by year for as far as the eye can see. The current choice programs will not even begin to save Florida taxpayers the expense of building a huge number of new district schools. The time between Florida first passing a charter school law and now nearly matches the time between now and 2030 (see chart below).

ladnerchart1Even if Florida adopted a universal system of private school choice next year, and put a billion dollars aside for new charter school facilities for high-quality operators, it would merely slow the rate of growth for Florida school districts.

The red columns in the first figure show Florida taxpayers will be incredibly hard pressed to afford building a huge number of new school buildings. Older citizens usually have passed both their peak earning years and thus their peak taxpaying years. Elderly citizens also create demands of public dollars in the form of health care spending.

The next time Florida readers visit a mall or other public place, try to imagine 2030 by doubling the number of youngsters and more than doubling the number of elderly people you come across. If you don’t feel a growing sense of growing alarm, well bless your heart; you are just one of those completely fearless sorts. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Charters, private schools, teacher pay & more

Charter schools: A troubled Lee County charter school withdraws its application for a local campus, a month after Collier County board members ordered the closure of the company’s Immokalee campus due to widespread mismanagement. Naples Daily News. The fate of a charter school at MacDill Air Force Base will be decided next week. The Tampa Tribune. MacDill’s proposal gets a preliminary No from the district due to concerns with the local governing board. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoPrivate schools: Students from Seacrest Country Day Academy in Naples channel Secretariats owner during history lessons. Naples Daily News.

Career academy: A Pasco County district high school will launch a gaming technology career academy in the fall. Tampa Bay Times.

Cambridge: Cambridge college prep programs and exams are being introduced in several Orange County public schools. Orlando Sentinel.

Honors classes: Incoming freshmen in Pinellas County could find that their honor courses are worth a little less toward their grade-point averages than college-level courses offered at the high schools. Tampa Bay Times.

Teacher pay: Palm Beach County school and union officials continue working to hash out a salary plan before winter break. Palm Beach Post. Pinellas County Schools and its teachers union reach an agreement to pay teachers up to $29 an hour to work with students before and after school next year. Tampa Bay Times.

Athletic transfers: Suggesting the Lee school district is doing a disservice to student athletes if it fails to adopt stricter policies on athletic transfers implies that students shouldn’t pursue their dreams, that competition is a bad thing and that students should settle for what the system deals them — without question, writes Michael Smith for the Fort Myers News-Press. Continue Reading →