Charter school proposed for FL Air Force base

Charter schools have a reputation for being a growing presence in urban education, but one proposed for Florida stands out for a more novel locale: a military base.

charter schools usa logoCharter Schools USA, with 58 schools in seven states, has applied to open a charter school at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla. If approved, it would be the second charter school on a Florida military base and the ninth one nationally.

MacDill, headquarters to U.S. Central Command, has an A-rated elementary school. It’s operated by the local school district and has served the base for 50 years. But with about 500 students, it’s at 93 percent capacity. And in a recent interview with a local newspaper, the district superintendent said it’s possible the school could expand, but she didn’t say how or when.

That’s a concern for a base that serves 13,000 families and expects another 600 to move into new housing within the next year, said local attorney Stephen Mitchell, a member of the MacDill Advisory Education Council, which includes representatives from the community and base.

Another big worry, he said, is that military families, who want their children to remain on base, don’t have a middle school option.

The current school, Tinker Elementary, “is a valuable asset and we don’t anticipate to detract from it,” Mitchell said. “This is about quality of life for military families. Housing and education – we have to take care of that.’’

Richard Page

Richard Page

Plans call for MacDill Charter Academy to accommodate 875 students with a unique design: grades 6, 7 and 8 will have double the seats (about 150) of the K-5 classes. That quickly addresses the greater need for a middle school, said Richard Page, vice president of development for Charter Schools USA.

The academy, like Tinker, will be open to the public, but MacDill families get first priority.  Parents and relatives will have to undergo advanced security screenings to enter the base.

The school will focus on creating programs that meet the needs of military families, many of whom are reassigned to different bases every two years. It will make it easier for parents to get transcripts and enroll their children, and to transition into a new community. There also will be special counselors for children whose moms and dads might be deployed overseas. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Virtual ed, Rick Scott, accountability & more

Virtual Ed: District online classes grow in Volusia and Flagler counties, helping schools become more user-friendly for students. Daytona Beach News-Journal. New Pasco County schools’ online program is the brainchild of two teachers, and builds upon current virtual offerings. Tampa Bay Times. 

FL roundup logo snippedRick Scott: During an online live chat with the education blog redefinED, outgoing state Board of Education member Kathleen Shanahan says Scott needs to express full-throated support for Common Core. Tallahassee Democrat. 

Common Core: The future of Common Core to improve academic achievement is largely being undermined by — and there is no gentle way to put this — very shrill, stupid people, writes Dan Ruth for the Tampa Bay Times. In our mobile society, why wouldn’t we want our children to be assured of being taught the same high-level, college- and career-ready standards in the same grade level across the country? writes high school reading and English teacher Mella Baxter for the Orlando Sentinel. ExxonMobil comes out in support of the Common Core. Sunshine State News.

Accountability: A new study finds Florida’s eighth-graders hold their own on international math and science tests, but fall short of marks posted by top-performing nations and U.S. states. Sun-Sentinel. More from StateImpact Florida.

Teacher pay: Palm Beach County school officials offer most local teachers another $76 on top of the $2,000 raises previously offered, but teachers still are seeing red. Palm Beach Post. Hernando teachers and district officials continue to hash out agreement for raises. Tampa Bay Times.

Racial gap: Pinellas County administrators look to students for help in overcoming the district’s racial divide. The Tampa Tribune. Pinellas County’s superintendent says the district will be aggressive as it tackles the achievement gap between black students and their peers. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →


Florida ed leader: Gov. Rick Scott gets an ‘incomplete’ grade on education



Three years into his term, Florida Gov. Rick Scott should get an “incomplete” grade on education, in part because he is seeking political cover rather than providing clear leadership on key issues, an influential member of the state Board of Education said Thursday.

“His clear and directional leadership is needed to continue to advance Fla’s success,” two-term BOE member Kathleen Shanahan wrote during a live chat on redefinED. “If he continues to seek political cover in creating more noise and not enough clarity he will not gain anyone’s support in his re-election effort.”

Shanahan’s criticism of Scott was not entirely surprising, but more direct than it has been in the past. An ally of former Gov. Jeb Bush, Shanahan has been increasingly critical in recent months of ed policy shifts under Scott, including a “safety net” for school grades and a decision to distance Florida from Common Core-tied tests developed by a respected consortium.

“The teachers are excited about Common Core, the parents need to be educated on why this is the best next step for their kids to succeed and Gov. Scott can lead that effort or sit back and listen his way to complete confusion,” Shanahan wrote.

On other topics, Shanahan said Florida, a national leader in education reform for more than a decade, is at a “tipping point.”

“We are the leader in choice and performance across many forums, we need to challenge ourselves to maintain that,” she wrote. “Having all this noise about we are FOR higher standards, but not clear as to why and what higher standards we support (aka Common Core) is creating and adding to the negative noise and parents are confused and questioning the facts.”

Shanahan also offered her take on what former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist would mean for ed reform if he were re-elected as a Democrat. (The Republican Crist appointed Shanahan to her second term on the BOE.)

“Charlie Crist has stated some regrets in his education selections made when he previously was in elected office. If he acts on those stated regrets, YES there will be a setback for Florida on ed reform,” she wrote. “A key part of Fla’s leadership is the fullness of the system we offer, choice, tax scholarship programs, dual enrollment, Florida Virtual School and an excellent public system – all engaged with each other competing for the best education delivery for the kids to excel.”

“I do not think Charlie Crist if he is the Democrat nominee for governor, based on his supporters, would be able to support these programs in their entirety.”

To read the full transcript of Shanahan’s remarks, just check out the live chat below.


Florida schools roundup: Magnet schools, charters, Bright Futures & more

Magnet schools: Broward County’s popular district choice schools, NOVA, face scrutiny for what some parents call unfair advantages over other magnet and choice options. Sun Sentinel.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools: Bok Tower Academy charter school in Lake Wales attempts to set a Guinness World record for hand-holding. The Ledger. All 430 of Hillsborough’s Brooks-DeBartolo Collegiate High School students plan to pursue post-secondary education and all  69 seniors have received college acceptance notices. The Tampa Tribune. Pasco County school administrators change procedures for reviewing charter schools. Tampa Bay Times.

Teacher pay: The teachers union and Palm Beach County School District return to negotiations about raises. Palm Beach Post. Osceola County’s public school teachers will get raises of about $1,400 this year. Orlando Sentinel.

Bright Futures: The state scholarship that used to pay up to 100 percent of college tuition for qualifying students now covers only about half the costs. Fort Myers News-Press.

School safety: Hillsborough school board members continue talks about putting armed security guards at elementary schools. Tampa Bay Times.

Principals: Patricia Noble is the new leader of Kingsford Elementary in Polk County. The Ledger. Janet D. Knott of Duval County is one of 61 school principals named a distinguished principal by the National Association of Elementary School Principals. Florida Times-Union.

Class size: Broward County school officials expect a lower fine this year, maybe even as low as $1,600. Sun Sentinel. Hillsborough County district schools meet class size. The Tampa Tribune. Continue Reading →


Education needs the ‘tech surge’

digital economy

Editors’s note: State Sen. John Legg is a Florida certified teacher with more than 10 years of classroom teaching experience. He is also a school administrator and the current chairman of the K-20 Education Policy Committee in the Florida Senate.

During the White House’s much-maligned rollout of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama suggested that purchasing health care insurance would be as easy as ordering “a TV from Amazon.” However, the president found himself several weeks later admitting the Affordable Care Act website has significant problems.

The U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services is supporting President Obama’s call for a “fix” by sending in the nation’s best and brightest for a “tech surge” to solve the implementation problems. But instead of deploying a tech surge to redesign a website, perhaps our nation’s future would be better served if a tech surge was deployed upon our educational system.

Our nation, indeed our global economy, has dramatically changed. Individuals that have digital and technological skills are, and will continue to be, in demand. America has a growing talent gap when it comes to workers with technology skills. Florida, meanwhile, ranks first in computer training, second in space and defense industries, third in engineering services, and fourth in Internet and telecommunications services, according to the 2012 Cyberstates report. In tech employment overall, it ranks fifth.

It is imperative that our education system equip Florida students with fluent digital and technological skills. Many of Florida’s business and education leaders have seen firsthand the need for policies and investment in technology in our schools. Continue Reading →


School districts should regulate school choice, not compete with it

School districts have owned and managed public schools for 150 years, and the results indicate they are not well suited for this task. Public education would be improved if, instead, local school boards regulated their communities’ schools.

School districts have owned and managed public schools for 150 years, and the results indicate they are not well suited for this task. Public education would be improved if, instead, local school boards regulated their communities’ schools.

Florida’s Duval County School District is losing students to charter schools, and the district’s entrepreneurial superintendent, Nikolai Vitti, is fighting back.

But his efforts to regain lost market share raise an important question: Should districts place maximizing student enrollment over ensuring all children have access to the learning options that best meet their needs?

Most school boards and district superintendents want to maximize district enrollment, but this is not the best way to ensure student success. K-12 students today are incredibly diverse. School districts have never been able to meet the needs of all students, which is why parents are demanding more school choice options and flocking to charter schools, private schools, virtual schools, and homeschooling.

The Duval school district is the sixth largest in Florida and 22nd largest in the nation. Its enrollment has dropped from 126,873 in 2003-04 to 119,188 today, while enrollment of charter schools within the district has increased from 609 to 7,795 over the same period. Duval’s private schools now enroll more than 24,000 students.

That Duval parents are choosing non-district schools in increasing numbers suggest these schools are adding value to the community’s K-12 education system. Ideally, we’d expect the community’s top public educator to celebrate this success, but Vitti, like most district superintendents, sees these schools as competitors to be defeated and not assets to be nurtured.

According to Jacksonville’s daily paper, the Times-Union, “Vitti’s fight is two-pronged. The district must determine how to retain students whose parents are thinking of moving to a charter, while also convincing charter-school parents to return to the school district.”

To help recapture lost enrollment, Vitti instructed his principals to call charter school parents and convince them to return to district schools. “The superintendent has decided that principals will be rewarded for successfully bringing back students who were slated to join a charter,” the Times-Union reported. “The reward could be reflected in their evaluation, he said, or by extra pay.”

School districts are the only charter school authorizers in Florida. The Duval district is responsible for reviewing, approving and managing charter school contracts, but may soon begin paying its principals to help put these same charter schools out of business. This conflict of interest is harmful. It undermines public education and the public good. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Charters, cyberbullying, ESE aides & more

Charter schools: A new St. Petersburg charter school under fire for missteps wants to open another school in neighboring Hillsborough County. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoPay raises: Polk County school district teachers, principals, assistant principals, paraprofessionals and clerical staff will get a raise this year. The Ledger. Lee County school leaders approve a 3.3 percent raise for district support staff. Fort Myers News-Press. Hillsborough teachers will get a 4 percent pay raise. The Tampa Tribune. Pasco County principals get a pay bump. Tampa Bay Times.

Class size: Broward schools face a $1.1 million fine this year for failing to meet state class size caps. Sun Sentinel. A Pasco County school turns to team teaching to comply. Tampa Bay Times.

Strategic plans: Polk County moves forward with a plan to pull the district’s state grade to an A by 2017-18. The Ledger. Duval County school leaders eye a legislative platform that includes dual enrollment and textbook funding. Florida Times-Union. Brevard County school board members vote unanimously to seek a half-cent sales tax in the 2014 election. Florida Today.

ESE aides: The special needs workers soon will get benefits, new titles and for some, a pay boost. Tampa Bay Times.

School zones: Public backlash influences a Broward County school board member to withdraw her boundary change proposals. Sun Sentinel.

Accreditation: Pinellas County school board members vote unanimously to seek accreditation from AdvancED. Tampa Bay Times.

Struggling students: Palm Beach County school officials now will separate academics from consequences to keep troubled students from falling further behind in class work. Palm Beach Post. Continue Reading →


With school choice scholarship, student escapes bullying & thrives in new school



When Gianna Viale started first grade at the Good Shepherd Catholic School in Orlando, she had no idea there were forces working behind the scenes to ensure she would have the best educational opportunities available to her. But the one person who loves her the most was shaping her life: her mom.

Gianna’s mom, Maria Galindo, made a promise to herself when her daughter was born that no sacrifice would be too great when it came to making sure her daughter had every opportunity she could afford. Being a single mom, Maria admits that she plays the role of mother and father, filling her daughter’s heart and mind with unconditional love and understanding. She acknowledges that though many personal sacrifices were made for her daughter in the early years, the first major decision for Maria came while Gianna was in kindergarten.

“Her kindergarten was a good school, but I noticed that the other parents were not as involved with their kid’s education as I was,” said Maria. “There were certain things I noticed that made me feel a bit uncomfortable. They weren’t horrible things, but I felt that if I was uncomfortable, then my daughter must also feel uncomfortable.”

Maria’s suspicions were verified when she learned her daughter was being bullied and teased from older kids, even while still in kindergarten. She decided to search for a different environment.

A friend told her about the Good Shepherd Catholic School in Orlando and even though it was a bit further from her home than Gianna’s school, she visited immediately. She decided this was the school for her daughter. She knew it would be impossible to afford alone, so she began researching financial assistance and found the Step Up For Students school choice scholarship program. (Florida tax credit scholarships are sometimes called private school vouchers. They’re administered by Step Up, which co-hosts this blog.)

This was the turning point Maria was desperately looking for on behalf of her daughter’s education and future. Looking back now, Maria feels that this single event changed the course of her daughter’s educational experience. Continue Reading →