Collaboration between traditional public and charter schools is critical

Several superintendents from different parts of the country told an audience at the National Alliance For Public Charter Schools conference that it is critical charter schools and traditional public schools work together to meet the needs of all students.

Pedro Martinez, superintendent of the San Antonio Independent School District, said it is important leaders do not get bogged down in philosophical debates.

“Let’s focus on what matters,” Martinez said. “How do we create options that are inclusive?”

The superintendents were speaking on a panel about how they have been able to overcome obstacles and work together with charters.  The discussion centered around three principles key to advancing choice: equitable access; transparent indicators of quality and equitable funding. But the superintendents acknowledged in working together, there were challenges that may impede that progress. Continue Reading →


Charter school couldn’t change Zoe’s past, but it changed her future

Zoe Jenkins relaxes with Lady, her beloved Great Pyrenees. A recent graduate of Dayspring Academy in New Port Richey, she will attend Florida State University.

Zoe Jenkins hasn’t seen her mother or father in person in years. But a few months ago, she saw her father on TV.

On a crime show.

The 18-year-old was watching “Live PD,” a popular A&E program that follows police officers from around the country, often during nighttime patrols. This episode was being shot in Moon Lake, a blighted, crime-ridden community in Pasco County, Florida.

The camera zoomed in on a man being questioned by officers. It was her dad, about to do meth in a car, with her brother in the passenger seat.

“I had to do a double take,” Zoe said. “It was just crazy.”

Zoe’s life has been filled with shockers. Her mom struggles with alcohol. Her 16-year-old brother, the one in the car with Dad, is missing. Her childhood was marked with so much chaos and violence she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.  Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: District force ripped, security, tax measures and more

District’s force blasted: A Palm Beach County grand jury looking into school security issues a report blasting the school district’s police department, calling it “understaffed, underfunded and underpaid” and saying it is misleading the public about how well it’s protecting schools. “If the Palm Beach County School Board and the [school district] do not want to adequately fund, hire, pay and equip the [school district police], they are in effect wasting our taxpayer money and could be putting our children’s lives in danger,” the grand jury concluded. If the district isn’t willing to spend the money necessary, the grand jury said, it should turn over the job to the sheriff’s office. School officials call the grand jury’s suggestion to fix the problems by using financial reserves or cutting other school programs “irresponsible.” Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel.

School security: South Florida schools districts are scrambling to hire police officers to comply with the state mandate of having an armed officer in all schools when they reopen this fall. Sun-Sentinel. Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight and county commissioners criticize School Superintendent Todd Bowden for his handling of negotiations for school resource officers and for the district’s decision to create its own police force. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WFLA. WTSP. About 180 people have applied to become armed guardians for the Volusia County School District. Sheriff’s officials say about 130 met the minimum requirements and will be interviewed. As many as 52 could be hired to guard elementary and charter schools. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Orlando Sentinel. Estero city officials say protecting schools should be the responsibility of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, not the city. WFTX. The St. Johns County School District and county agree to a deal to have the sheriff hire 16 youth resource deputies to help guard schools. The district will contribute $1.4 million and the county $1 million. St. Augustine Record. Continue Reading →


Top teacher: Education can be a tool for social justice

Sydney Chaffee, 2017 National Teacher of the Year, spoke about the importance of empowering students to become active and engaged citizens.

AUSTIN, Tex. – Sydney Chaffee has taught her students about apartheid in South Africa.

But students simply do not take notes and answer questions.

They probe deep questions about morality and justice.

“My students draw comparisons between South African kids’ activities and their own power and promise as young people,” said Chaffee, the 2017 National Teacher of the Year. “They debate whether they would be willing to risk their lives to ensure future generations can live in a more just world.”

Chaffee, a humanities teacher at Codman Academy Charter Public School in Boston, was one of the main speakers at the closing session of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools Wednesday. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Tax hikes, textbooks, charter schools and more

School tax hikes: Palm Beach County school leaders are considering giving charter schools a portion of the $150 million a year that would be generated if voters approve a property tax hike in November. Language that specifically excluded charter schools has been removed from the proposal, which the school board will consider today. The decision to cut charters in was made after legal action was threatened if they were excluded. Palm Beach Post. The Hillsborough County School Board agrees to ask voters to increase the sales tax to raise money for capital expenses. The request now goes to the state, which has to perform a financial audit. Superintendent Jeff Eakins also said he was looking into asking voters for a property tax hike, which could be used for teacher salaries and programs. Tampa Bay Times. Lake County commissioners approve a special school safety tax, which will be on the Aug. 28 ballot. Money generated would help pay for resource officers in all schools. Orlando Sentinel.

Science textbooks approved: The Collier County School Board approves the use of new science textbooks that were challenged by evolution and climate change skeptics. The vote was 3-2, with Erika Donalds and Kelly Lichter voting against using the recommended textbooks. Four people had lodged complaints against 220 items in 18 textbooks, alleging that they treat evolution and climate change as fact rather than theory. The new books will cost the district $1.7 million and will be handed out to students in August. Naples Daily News. Continue Reading →


State test results show signs of progress in Jefferson County, Fla.

One year into a historic charter school takeover, Jefferson County, Fla. has come a long way. But it’s got a long way to go.

Last year, the state approved an unprecedented turnaround effort in the high-poverty rural school district. The county’s lone primary and secondary schools became Jefferson County K-12, run by the South Florida charter operator Somerset Academy. At the time, leaders cautioned it could take years to improve Florida’s lowest-performing school system.

Recent results on the Florida Standards Assessment and math end-of-course exams show signs of progress — but also underscore the magnitude of the task.

Jefferson County’s overall pass rate on state reading tests jumped by 25 percent from a year earlier. Only one other district, rural Liberty County, made a similar improvement.

Jefferson County improved its passing rate on the Florida Standards Assessment. Statewide passing rates remained largely flat. Source: Florida Department of Education.

Jefferson County’s passing rate jumped by a whopping 60 percent in math for grades 3-8. No other district came close to that rate of improvement, but no district had as far to climb. Last year, Jefferson was Florida’s lowest-performing district in this category. This year, it narrowly surpassed DeSoto County to claim the second-lowest passing rate in the state. Continue Reading →


Innovation is key to the future of success of charter schools

Charter schools must continue to innovate to meet the needs of students.

This was the message at the heart of the first day of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools annual conference.

“Some worry that schools are becoming too conventional,” said Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools during the annual conference. “We need to keep dreaming big and we need to turn those dreams into action.”

It is about finding innovative ways to educate students, offering parents a variety of public school options and giving inspired leaders the freedom to organize their schools, Rees said. Continue Reading →


Growing up as an immigrant fueled this Catholic school principal’s passion

Vikki Delgado tries to create a welcoming school environment at St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic School.

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. – Vikki Delgado remembers the difficulty her father experienced when he settled the family of six in America.

Living as a Cuban immigrant, he faced backlash. But he sought to bring his family out of Cuba in 1959 just as Fidel Castro was coming to power.

“There was pushback,” Delgado said.  People thought “my dad was coming to take jobs away. That somehow opening doors to others is going to take something away from them.”

“You would see signs against Cubans,” she added. “I saw how polarizing that can be.”

The family of six settled in Miami in 1968 after spending a few years in Ohio. He left his home of Cuba right as Fidel Castro emerged in power in 1959.

Arriving in the United States at the age of 3, Delgado did not know a word of English. She began to learn the language at the age of 5 through TV programs such as Captain Kangaroo.

In her 20s, she saw the nativist backlash against the Mariel Boatlift and race riots in Liberty City. Such events affected her deeply.

Delgado is now the leader of St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic School in Delray Beach, Fla. The strife she witnessed in her youth fuels her drive to create a school where all are welcome. Like in Florida Catholic schools as a whole, the student population at her school has grown increasingly diverse.

When she first became principal at St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic School in 2008 there were few minority students at the school. Continue Reading →