Florida roundup: charter schools, teacher transfers, Head Start & more

Charter schools. The charter schools in Pinellas expect to add 1,400 students this fall, for a total of nearly 6,500. Gradebook. A new charter school in Naples is offering a summer camp to boost literacy skills for ELL students entering kindergarten. Fort Myers News Press. The struggling Tiger Academy charter school in Jacksonville shows big improvement in its third grade FCAT results. Florida Times Union.

florida roundup logoPrivate schools. Q&A with the new head of Tampa’s Carrollwood Day School. Tampa Tribune.

Teacher transfers. Alexander Russo takes a look at a recent study examining involuntary transfers in Miami-Dade.

School spending. Pasco anticipates $1 billion in capital expenses through 2025 and $711 million from all funding sources. Gradebook. Pasco considers shifting some school start times to save money on bus routes. Tampa Bay Times.

Superintendents. The Tampa Bay Times profiles new Hernando Superintendent Lori Romano.

Porn. Pasco deputies arrest a 15-year-old high school student for possession of child pornography after school officials find a photo on her iPhone of two teens having sex. Tampa Tribune, Tampa Bay Times.

Head Start. The feds uphold the suspension of the Jacksonville Urban League as a program provider, citing health and safety issues. Florida Times Union.


The school where Bible truth & evolution built a bridge

Editor’s note: This is a sidebar to Monday’s profile post about Daniel and Suzette Dean, a Tampa, Fla. couple whose private school is at the heart of their community development vision.

At Bible Truth school, Lizzie Bilogo-Nguema, 12, helps 3-year-old Delilah Prevot with math. The school features a lot of interaction between students of different ages.

At Bible Truth school, Lizzie Bilogo-Nguema, 12, helps 3-year-old Delilah Prevot with math. The school features a lot of interaction between students of different ages.

The big girl scooched the little one gently back to the center of the chair, then pointed to the work sheet on the table. Today’s topic: kindergarten math. Can you count the elephants in the first clump, Lizzie, 12, asked Delilah, 3. Now in the second clump? Now can you add them? Beneath the rainbow of clasps in her braids, Delilah correctly counted the answers out loud.

“Good job. You got it,” Lizzie smiled. “Do you know how to write a 10?”

Scenes like this play out all the time at Bible Truth Ministries Academy. The tiny private school in Tampa, Fla. often goes out of its way to put students of different ages together and frequently to have older kids teach younger ones. That kind of multi-age, multi-grade set-up isn’t unheard of – it’s a fundamental part of Montessori schools, for example – but in the case of Bible Truth, the origin of the idea is noteworthy.

A think tank called the Evolution Institute recommended it. Bible Truth followed up. And the fact that the entities have a warm relationship is a sign that bridge-building is possible even in that tense place where schools, faith and science collide.

“We get so caught up in the vessel. It doesn’t matter to me” where good ideas come from, said Daniel Dean, who co-founded Bible Truth school with wife Suzette. “If it makes sense, it makes sense.”

“It starts with, what do they want for the children and the families? – which is what I want,” said Jerry Lieberman, who co-founded the institute and has known the Deans for seven years. “We both want them to have an excellent education, and we both want to remove obstacles that stand in their way.”

The school doesn’t teach evolution. Lieberman doesn’t dwell on it.

But as its name suggests, the little institute with a board full of top-notch scientists is big on it. Its mission is to use evolutionary science to solve real-world problems. In education, that translates, in its view, into classroom practices that echo the way children have adapted to learn – in mixed-group settings, with lots of physical movement, with an emphasis on self-directed play.

The group’s co-founder and president, David Sloan Wilson, an internationally respected evolutionary biologist, carved out “10 simple truths” about childhood education from an evolutionary perspective. A lot of it hinges on choice, community, cooperation. In the Binghamton, N.Y. school district a few years ago, the 10 points were converted into classroom practices and tested in a year-long program for at-risk 9th and 10th graders. The result: Students in the program outperformed their peers in a control group. They had less absenteeism, higher standardized test performance – and a 30-point jump in the scores behind school grades.

The institute is hoping to secure funding to test the program in other school districts, and in both public and private schools.

In the meantime, it’s been working informally with Bible Truth. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: school grades, charter schools, Common Core & more

Charter schools. The Pembroke Pines Charter Schools system, which recently cut teacher pay, is asking parents to pay $1,000 per student per year to restore the system’s reserves. South Florida Sun Sentinel. Gov. Rick Scott signs the bill boosting accountability for charter schools. Orlando Sentinel.

florida roundup logoCommon Core. FEA President Andy Ford says too much testing could sour the public on it. StateImpact Florida.

School grades. Tony Bennett meets with the school grades task force, which  includes a number of superintendents, but says he won’t make changes just to soften the blow of bad grades. Orlando Sentinel, Tampa Bay Times, StateImpact Florida, Palm Beach Post, News Service of Florida, Tallahassee Democrat.

Dual enrollment. Tony Bennett says districts and state colleges need to better collaborate in the wake of the Legislature’s decision to shift costs to districts. Gradebook.

Parent power. The Pensacola News Journal writes up the new law that gives more power to parents of students with disabilities.

Superintendents. Duval’s Nikolai Vitti: “Folks here know that public education can be better. And they’re willing to put their shoulder to the wheel to make it better.” StateImpact Florida.

Teachers unions. The Broward union wins an arbitration case involving changes to the high school schedule. South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald.

Tardiness. Alachua looks for ways to crack down on chronic tardiness. Gainesville Sun.

School spending. Walton will consider upping the millage rate for capital improvements. Northwest Florida Daily News.


In education debates, the tired arguments of secular fundamentalism



Editor’s note: This piece is in response to Friday’s guest post from Alex J. Luchenitser of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

It seems simplest, though scarcely elegant, to reply to attorney Luchenitser’s statements one by one, though I will leave to the lawyers how a school choice tax credit is a state expenditure while tax deductions and tax exemptions are not.

First, it is not true that I assert that states should be forced to fund religious schools; my point is that, if a state chooses to fund private schools through parental school choice, it should not discriminate against those with a religious character. The recent ruling in Duncan v. New Hampshire does precisely that, allowing scholarships derived from tax credits to go to private schools on condition that those schools not be “of any religious sect or denomination,” citing the language of an 1877 amendment to the N.H. Constitution.

By the way, it also does not prevent those scholarships from going to homeschooling families no matter how religious their efforts may be, suggesting religious education is excluded only if you do it with other people. How sensible is that?

I compare this discrimination, in my previous post, with the racial discrimination laws adopted in the South during the same historical period, and I urge that it is similarly unjust and should be challenged by anyone concerned with fairness. Equal treatment is my only claim.

Second, he challenges my conclusion (based on a careful review of the historical evidence detailed in my 24,000-word “expert report”) that the anti-aid (or “Blaine”) provision added to the New Hampshire Constitution in 1877 was the result of anti-Catholic bias. To respond to this I can only offer to provide a copy of my report to anyone who would like to review the evidence with an open mind.

Third, he claims, “the New Hampshire constitution today neither allows anti-Catholic discrimination nor has such an effect.” It is true that today the effect of that particular provision, as applied in the recent ruling, is even-handedly discriminatory against all organized religious groups in favor of groups, no matter how strong their ideological flavor, that claim a secular basis. Is this progress? Continue Reading →


Private school anchors couple’s vision for uplifting black community

Bible Truth Ministries Academy teacher Tiffany Smith-Sutton guides kindergartners through a performance they will give during their graduation. The school's founders plan to focus more on early education, giving kids a love for learning as early as possible.

Bible Truth Ministries Academy teacher Tiffany Smith-Sutton guides kindergartners through a performance they will give during their graduation. The school’s founders plan to focus more on early education.

Whatever it takes.

That’s the daily mantra for Suzette and Daniel Dean, a Florida husband-and-wife team who founded a small private religious school in the heart of a struggling black community.

Suzette Dean

Suzette Dean

It’s a way of life that started almost from the moment the native Jamaicans met at their Miami church. Friends told Suzette that Daniel would only marry her if she was a teacher, so Suzette traded her nursing career for one in special education.

Soon after she graduated from the University of South Florida, Suzette’s tutoring gig went from two students to eight. The Deans converted a one-bedroom apartment above their garage in east Tampa and in 1999, Bible Truth Ministries Academy was born.

Word of mouth brought more students, so the couple took a second mortgage and Daniel, a pastor and businessman nicknamed “Preach,” took a second job building low-income housing. The extra dollars went toward renovating a former crack house into a bigger school.

Eventually, the Deans convinced a bank to loan them thousands of dollars to buy land for an even bigger school. Suzette, pregnant with their fifth child, got her contractor’s license so she could pull permits for her husband, who would leave his day job and work until midnight building the new school.

“I was a man on a mission,’’ he said. “Failure was not an option.’’

Daniel Dean

Daniel Dean

Today, the modest Bible Truth school sits behind the church the Deans built and where Daniel shares the word of God. Next door is a new 3,600-square-foot multipurpose building that houses the school’s lunchroom, library, and science and music labs.

It’s all part of a vision to serve the community that includes a center called H.O.P.E. There, residents can hunt for jobs, work on resumes, get their G.E.D. or learn to cook and sew.

But the school, with 86 students in VPK to high school, “is the machine of everything,’’ Daniel said. It’s where children, many of whom have been told they can’t learn, realize they can.

“Good education, holistic education, is part of a community’s development,’’ he said. “Not a cookie-cutter education. There must be an obligation on the teacher’s side and the child’s side.’’ Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Parent power, special needs students, atheists & more

Parent power. Gov. Rick Scott signs into law a bill that gives parents of disabled students more say over their kid’s education. Orlando Sentinel, Associated Press.

florida roundup logoVirtual schools. Scott also signs the digital learning bill into law. Florida Current.

Charter schools. The Lakeland-based Achievement Academy, a charter for students with disabilities, plans to double enrollment to meet demand. Lakeland Ledger.

Career academies. A new firefighters academy is opening at Wellington High School next fall. Palm Beach Post.

Schools and religion. Atheist materials censored by the Orange County School District contained criticisms of the Bible. Orlando Sentinel.

School grades. The state again considers revision to the system in the face of concerns that the results will be too harsh. Tampa Bay Times. Add Treasure Coast districts to those warning parents about a drop in grades. TCPalm.com. A new task force should retract the most “onerous” changes to the grading system. Miami Herald. Or “trash” the system altogether. Palm Beach Post.

School technology. New technology in the Miami-Dade district is boosting education for students with disabilities. Miami Herald.

School spending. The state approves Manatee’s financial recovery plan. Bradenton Herald. Bay plans to remove 22 old portables this summer. Panama City News Herald.

School districts. Pinellas needs to be more transparent with public records. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →