Faith helps Florida Catholic schools draw students

Students listen intently in Sally Gibson’s literature class at Cardinal Newman High School. Administrators find their Catholic identity the best way to draw students to their schools.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Like many Catholic schools, Cardinal Newman High School has worked to reinvent itself over the years to draw students.

In 2005, it became the first Catholic school in Florida to offer an International Baccalaureate program. It’s added college prep courses and is preparing to add more science, technology, engineering and math initiatives.

The new programs may help the school respond to an increasingly competitive school choice landscape. The surrounding Palm Beach County school district has added magnet, IB and career academies. Charter schools have proliferated, and now enroll more than one out of 10 students. But they face competition too, and charter enrollment actually fell this year.

In this environment, faith-based private schools don’t only have to attract families but convince them to pay tuition.  Schools like Cardinal Newman have found that faith may be their biggest competitive edge.

“The difficulty for a school of Newman’s nature is it is a tuition-driven school,” said Rev. David Carr, the president of Cardinal Newman High School. “When these programs are offered in the public school, somebody says, ‘I can go to Suncoast Community High School, and it is free. They are not coming because Newman has an IB program. They want to be at Cardinal Newman.”

A major reason they want to be at Cardinal Newman, Carr said, is the Catholic faith.

“It is our mission to educate the whole child: mind, body and spirit,” he said. “You don’t teach faith because you can’t. What you have to do is bring out the faith that is within. That is what it is all about.” Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Teacher of the year, school security issues and more

Teacher of the year: Joy Prescott, a 4th-grade math teacher at Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School in Glades County, is named Florida teacher of the year. She wins $20,000 and will be the state’s Christa McAuliffe Ambassador for Education for the next year. The other finalists were Kyle Dencker, a computer science teacher at Timber Creek High School in Orange County; Samantha Neff, a math coach at Idyllwilde Elementary School in Seminole County; Patrick Farley, a 3rd- and 4th-grade gifted teacher at Crystal Lake Elementary School in Martin County; and Molly Winters Diallo, a social science teacher at Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Senior High School in Miami-Dade County. Each wins $15,000. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Department of Education.

School security: Only 35 of the 140 applicants for armed guardians jobs in Broward County schools pass the first screening test. The district says it needs to hire at least 80. Fort Lauderdale City Manager Lee Feldman says based on his experience with his city’s police department, only about five of those 35 candidates will survive further screenings. He says most candidates fail the psychological tests. Sun-Sentinel. Only 24 of the eventual 107 school safety assistants will be in Duval County classrooms when students return to schools Aug. 13 because of hiring and training delays, say district officials. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. Insuring each security guard the Brevard County School District will cost only $150 a year, says Mark Langdorf, director of risk management for the district. District officials say they need 28 guards, so the insurance premium will be $4,200. Florida Today. The Leon County School District’s patchwork of protection for schools will test the state law demand that every school have an armed officer every day. Tallahassee Democrat. Lawrence Leon, the former chief of the Palm Beach County School District’s police department, will keep his $137,732 salary even though his job now is patrolling Jupiter Farms Elementary School. Palm Beach Post. The city of North Miami Beach is partnering with the Miami-Dade County School District to place a resource officer in all schools located in the city. The agreement adds officers at the two elementary schools; the middle and high schools were already covered. WTVJ. Several of the 13 Manatee County charter schools still do not have a plan for school security. Bradenton Herald. Continue Reading →


Moving on

Today is my last day editing this blog. After 23 years as a Floridian, six years chronicling the politics and policy of the public education system that educated me, and four and half years writing in this space, I’m moving on to start a new chapter alongside my fiancee, who teaches high school English in New Orleans.

It’s a transition from one hotbed of education reform to another. And it’s got me thinking.

A couple months after I first joined Step Up For Students, I wrote a recap of the 2014 Florida legislative session. It was a bruising one for school choice advocates. My thesis was that all the sturm and drang over how to measure academic outcomes of students who used scholarships to attend private schools, or how to manage the charter school application process, signaled a new era in the politics and policy of public education in our state. We were done fighting over whether charter schools or voucher programs ought to exist. They existed, and it was clear they weren’t going anywhere. We’d moved on to thornier questions about how to govern them.

Looking back, more than four years later, that may have been wishful thinking. In Florida and around the country, advocates and academics burn staggering amounts of intellectual jet fuel litigating whether charter schools are good or bad for public education and whether private school choice is a win-win solution or an affront to American ideals.

In this space, we’ve tried to push the debate in more productive directions. How can the state stop the bad charter school operators, while encouraging new, better ones to open and expand? How can politicians who support public education draw lessons from charter schools and apply them in districts? How can schools of all types foster innovations that will help them meet the educational needs of all their students? Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Amendment 8 suit, charter schools, unions and more

Amendment 8 lawsuit: Amendment 8 is misleading and should be removed from the ballot, the League of Women Voters and the Southern Poverty Law Center argue in a lawsuit filed Thursday in Leon County. The lawsuit focuses on the part of the proposed amendment that would allow allow entities other than school boards to “operate, control, and supervise” public schools. “Voters will not recognize that the real purpose of the amendment is to allow unaccountable political appointees to control where and when charter schools can be established in their county,” says LWV president Patricia Brigham. The amendment would also limit school board members to eight years in office and require the teaching of civics in public schools. redefinED. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. GateHouse. News Service of FloridaFlorida Politics. Politico Florida.

Charter school appeals: The Florida Charter Schools Appeal Commission is recommending that the state Board of Education override the Palm Beach County School Board’s decision to deny two charter school applications. And Education Commissioner Pam Stewart is recommending the board go along with the appeal commission’s advice when it meets next week. Charters that don’t fill a specific niche have been getting turned down by the Palm Beach board for the past five years. But as Stewart points out in her memo to the state board, “The school board’s determination must be based on good cause.” Gradebook.

Union membership: Teachers unions in Orange, Lake, Osceola and Seminole counties say membership is on the upswing since the state passed a law requiring unions to have at least 50 percent membership of eligible workers or risk being decertified. Union officials in all four counties say the recent swell has pushed each past the 50 percent threshhold. Teachers unions in 13 districts have membership below 50 percent but most have been adding members, according to Joanne McCall, president of the statewide Florida Education Association. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →


Groups challenge Fla. charter school ballot proposal

The League of Women Voters and the Southern Poverty Law Center are challenging the wording of a Florida ballot measure that could, among other things, overhaul charter school authorizing in the state.

The proposed Amendment 8 would do three things if voters approve it this fall. It would impose term limits on elected school board members, elevate the importance of civic literacy and allow entities other than school boards to “operate, control, and supervise” public schools.

That third part has drawn the most attention from critics. And it’s the focus of the lawsuit, filed this morning in Leon County court.

Florida is somewhat unique compared to other states. Its constitution creates 67 countywide school boards. Courts have held that, with certain, narrow exceptions, those countywide school boards have the exclusive power over public schools. That means statewide charter school authorizing boards, like the one that exists in Massachusetts, are unconstitutional.

The proposed amendment, drafted by the Constitution Revision Commission, would change that by adding the underlined words to the state constitution.

(b) The school board shall operate, control, and supervise all free public schools established by the district school board within the school district and determine the rate of school district taxes within the limits prescribed herein. Two or more school districts may operate and finance joint educational programs.

A proposed ballot summary, intended to explain the change to voters when they go to the polls in November, describes the change this way: Continue Reading →


Charter schools back amendment effort

News Service of Florida

Companies with ties to charter schools and a controversial federal visa program are providing the bulk of contributions to an effort to pass a constitutional amendment that would impose an eight-year term limit on school board members.

Through June, the political committee has raised $54,532 in support of Amendment 8, state election records show.

The amendment, which was approved by the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, would impose term limits on school board members but would also provide more authority to the Legislature to create alternative public education initiatives, like charter schools. The amendment also would require civics literacy instruction in the public schools. Nearly three-quarters of the money raised by the 8isGreat group has come from companies involved with charter schools.

Red Apple Development, a Fort Lauderdale company that has helped develop more than three dozen charter school projects in Florida, donated $10,000 to the amendment effort. GreenAccess, a Jupiter company also involved in more than three dozen charter schools in Florida, donated $15,000.

Florida Overseas Investment Center, a Sarasota company, also made a $15,000 contribution to the amendment campaign, records show. GreenAccess and Florida Overseas Investment are both involved in the EB-5 investor visa program, which provides a path to U.S. residency for wealthy foreign immigrants.

Under the program, the foreign investors can obtain a “green card” for themselves and their families if they provide at least $500,000 for projects, such as schools, that are tied to job creation. Critics have said the visa program is loosely regulated, while supporters have defended it as a way to direct investments and jobs to under-served communities.

Amendment 8 is one of 13 state constitutional amendments on the Nov. 6 general-election ballot. Each amendment will require support from at least 60 percent of the voters to be enacted.


Florida schools roundup: Amendment 8 funding, charters, dispensaries and more

Charters and Amendment 8: Charter school companies are providing the bulk of the financial support for Amendment 8, the proposed constitutional amendment that would impose a two-term limit on Florida school board members, require civics literacy and give the Legislature more authority to create alternatives to public schools, such as charter schools. The political committee has raised $54,532 in support of Amendment 8 through June, according to state election records. Amendments need the approval of 60 percent of voters to be enacted. News Service of Florida.

Charter school funding: Whether charter schools can expect an equal per-student share of school district money raised when voters approve an increase in property taxes hinges on a legal interpretation. State law requires districts to share “current operating discretionary millage levy” with charter schools, but the Palm Beach County School Board recently got a legal opinion that says it does not. The school board will decide next week whether to share increased revenue if voters approve an increase in property taxes. redefinED.

Schools and pot dispensaries: Duval County School Board members are asking local officials to add restrictions to keep medical marijuana dispensaries from opening near three-dozen schools. They say because the facilities deal in cash, they could become robbery targets. “We have had enough code red lockdowns in the past year,” says board member Warren Jones. “There’s no need to increase them because a marijuana facility was robbed.” Jacksonville City Council members say by law, dispensaries must be treated like pharmacies and can open in most commercial areas. Florida Times-Union. Continue Reading →


Sisters of St. Joseph named ‘Women in American History’

St. Benedict The Moor School, St. Augustine, Fla.

The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) recently recognized the Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Augustine, for the orders historic role educating African Americans and combating racism at the turn of the 20th century Florida.

According to the St. Augustine Record, DAR designed the Catholic order “Women in American History,” to recognize their efforts.

More than a century ago, three sisters from the order were arrested for the crime of being white while teaching black students at St. Benedict the Moor School in St. Augustine, Fla. Passed in 1913, the “Sheats Law,” named after the state’s first elected superintendent of public instruction, prohibited whites from educating black students. A conviction could result in fines up to $500 (nearly $13,000 in 2018 dollar values) or imprisonment for up to six months.

The Sisters of St. Joseph fought against the law by continuing to educate black students, in violation of the statute. After the arrest of the three Catholic sisters in 1916, the Diocese fought the law in court and won.

RedefinED chronicled the Sisters of St. Joseph as part of the Know Your History series here.