Catholic schools: Don’t forget about us

If Florida’s Catholic schools and their 84,000 students were part of a public school district, they’d be the ninth largest in the state. They’d generate scores of news stories every year. Have powerful interests battling on their behalf. Win praise for saving taxpayer money. But like other private schools, they’re often out of sight, out of mind.

Sen. Altman: “If we’re going to meet the future needs of society, we have to have a viable private, parochial and faith-based education system” in addition to public schools,

Sen. Altman: “If we’re going to meet the future needs of society, we have to have a viable private, parochial and faith-based education system” in addition to public schools,

In Tallahassee Tuesday night, Florida’s Catholic school superintendents led a meet-and-greet with a handful of state lawmakers to send a polite but direct message: Don’t forget about us.

“The impact of Catholic education in our state can never be underestimated,” Bishop Gregory L. Parkes of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee told about 100 people gathered on the top floor of the Capitol.

Catholic schools have long enjoyed a reputation for serving low- and middle-income families and setting a high academic bar. For taxpayers, they offer financial benefits, too. Florida’s Catholic schools save the state at least $435 million every year, according to new calculations by the Florida Catholic Conference. That’s how much it would cost to educate Catholic school students in public schools, less the cost of publicly funded school choice programs.

Tuesday’s event, which included brief remarks by Gov. Rick Scott, was not a knock on public schools. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Career academies, charters, districts & more

Career academy: Some Pasco County high school students will learn to fly drones when their school launches an aviation career academy in conjunction with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. The Tampa Tribune.

Charter schools: Pinellas County school board members approve the school district’s first virtual charter school. The Tampa Tribune. Hillsborough school officials vote down a charter school for MacDill Air Force Base. redefinED. More from The Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Times. The Hillsborough County School Board made the correct decision in denying an application for a charter school at MacDill Air Force Base, writes the Tampa Bay Times. florida-roundup-logoAs the Miami-Dade School Board looks to improve its grip on charter schools, a new national report shows that Florida’s network of independent schools is expanding faster than anywhere else in the U.S. Miami Herald. Orange County school district ties for 10th nationally for “highest growth” in charter school enrollment the past two years. Orlando Sentinel. School board members receive a recommendation to deny approval of the South Lee County Florida High School for Accelerated Learning, but they vote to wait another month on a final ruling. Naples Daily News.

District schools: To help compete with a growing array of school options, Broward County plans its first online technical high school, three new preK-8 schools, and an overhaul of six failing elementary schools. Sun Sentinel. Four struggling Lee County schools get an extended school day starting in the new year. Fort Myers News-Press.

Honors classes: Starting next school year, incoming freshmen in Pinellas County high schools may find that honors classes carry less weight for their GPA than AP, IB and dual-enrollment classes. The Tampa Tribune.

Teacher evals: Calls to push back the deadlines are getting louder. Tallahassee Democrat.

Common Core: The Pasco County school district plans a series of 13 community meetings to educate parents about the Common Core State Standards. The Tampa Tribune. Continue Reading →


Gov. Rick Scott: Catholic schools are working

Gov. Scott chats with one of the attendees during the Catholic school event in the Capitol.

Gov. Scott chats with one of the attendees during the Catholic school event in the Capitol.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott praised the state’s Catholic schools Tuesday night, noting their recent enrollment gains and crediting them for providing high-quality academic and spiritual experiences.

“Both my daughters went to Catholic high school. They had a great experience,” Scott said. “And it was great because not only did they have a great education, but they were taught about Jesus Christ and about the importance of being saved.”

The governor’s brief remarks came during a meet-and-greet at the Capitol building in Tallahassee between the state’s seven Catholic school superintendents and a handful of lawmakers. About 100 people were in attendance.

Florida’s 235 Catholic schools enroll 85,000 students in PreK-12. After years of falling enrollment, they saw modest increases for the second year in a row this year, thanks in large part to growth in the state’s tax credit scholarship program. (The program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-co-hosts this blog.)

“So Catholic schools are clearly working,” Scott said.

He listed a handful of schools by name, including Bishop Moore High School in Orlando and St. Peter Claver Elementary in Tampa. He also noted he has three grandsons now, and there’s a good Catholic school near his daughter’s home. “So, I’m trying to be persuasive,” he said. But “at 31, they don’t listen quite as much.”


FL charter schools continue to grow

charter school market shareFlorida parents continue to choose charter schools in growing numbers, according to a new national report and fresh state statistics.

Eleven Florida school districts now have 10 percent or more of their public school students enrolled in charter schools, shows the report released Tuesday by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. They are Lee (at 14 percent), Broward, Miami-Dade, Sarasota (all at 13 percent), Lake, Polk, Osceola (all at 12 percent), Bay, Indian River (both at 11 percent), and Leon and Manatee (both at 10 percent.)

Four Florida districts are also among the Top 10 nationwide in charter school enrollment growth: Duval, Hillsborough, Orange and Palm Beach.

Hillsborough is one of five districts in the Top 10 two years in a row. Its school board voted Tuesday to deny a proposed charter school aimed at serving military families at MacDill Air Force Base, home of U.S. Central Command.

The alliance report looks at growth in charter school market share nationwide. It’s based on 2012-13 data.

According to the latest FDOE stats, requested by redefinED last week, Florida now has 229,233 students in charter schools. That’s up 25,993 students, or 13 percent, from last year.

Long a leader in the charter school movement, Florida now has more K-12 students in charter schools than 11 states have K-12 public school students.


FL school board votes down MacDill AFB charter school proposal

A Florida school board has denied the application for a charter school at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, even as board members said they support the military families it would serve.

Stacy White

Stacy White

“I would very much like to see MacDill have their charter school one day,” said Hillsborough County School Board member Stacy White, who was among the unanimous vote to reject the school.

“We are at odds about the governance,” added fellow board member Doretha Edgecomb. “But we are not at odds about doing our very best for our students and their families.”

District Superintendent MaryEllen Elia made the final recommendation to the board to deny the proposal, following staff concerns that the application didn’t explain clearly who was in charge of the school. She said she wanted to work with the base, the home of U.S. Central Command, and called for a task force to study concerns that prompted the push for a charter.

“The long-standing working relationship we’ve had with MacDill is important,” she said, noting the district already provides services to military families through an A-rated elementary school located on the base. “I think clearly we need to work to resolve these issues to move forward.”

Supporters of the charter school said they plan to meet and discuss the possibility of appealing to the state Board of Education. In Florida, school boards serve as authorizers of charter schools in their districts, but the law allows the Board of Education, which is appointed by the governor, to overturn denials.

“I think quite frankly that the superintendent has shown this has become a turf war,” said Ken Haiko, chairman of the Florida Charter Educational Foundation, a nonprofit volunteer board which applied for the charter. Continue Reading →


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 →