Florida schools roundup: Test options, failing schools, flag, choice and more

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florida-roundup-logoTesting alternatives: A bill allowing school districts to use alternatives to the Florida Standards Assessments tests didn’t get through this year’s Legislature. But Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, says he’ll make another push for the bill in the 2017 legislative session. Politico Florida. Members of the Manatee Opt-Out movement plead with school officials to work with them. But they’re told the district is obligated to follow the state statutes, which requires students to sit for the tests. Bradenton Herald.

Failing schools: A report by the NAACP’s St. Petersburg branch calls on Pinellas County school officials to acknowledge they have failed to provide an equal education for black students. The report also says parents feel ignored by school leaders, and that Superintendent Mike Grego should step down if the five failing schools in the black community don’t make dramatic improvements. Tampa Bay Times. Teachers at Oak Ridge Elementary criticize Alachua County Commissioner Bill Proctor’s claims that their school is failing its students. Proctor recently called on the state to take over six south Tallahassee schools that are “separate and unequal” facilities. Gainesville Sun.

Confederate flag: The Indian River County School Board declines to ban the display of the Confederate flag from school campuses. “We can’t legislate morality,” Superintendent Mark Rendell says. “Our job is to try to teach these kids how to be good, young citizens.” TCPalm.

School choice: The Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options, based in Palm Beach County, is recruiting Hispanic leaders for training to lobby for school choice policies and run for elected offices. The group wants to start in Florida and then replicate the program in other states. Politico Florida.

Teacher evaluations: A change in the “deliberate practices” portion of teacher evaluations is responsible for a huge decline in the number of teachers who are rated “highly effective,” Orange County School District officials tell the school board. The “deliberate practices” requires teachers and administrators to choose an area and then measure the teacher’s improvement in that area. In the 2013-2014 school year, 81.2 percent of county teachers were rated highly effective. In 2014-2015, the percentage dropped to 2.4 percent. Orlando Sentinel.

Superintendent news: The Polk County School Board abandons its search for a new superintendent and hires Jacqueline Byrd, who has been the interim superintendent since Kathryn LeRoy resigned in mid-February. Previously Byrd was a deputy superintendent. Byrd’s contract is for one year. Lakeland Ledger. The Manatee County School Board is working on a four-year contract for Superintendent Diana Greene. Bradenton Herald. The Collier County School Board is considering allowing the superintendent to settle lawsuits under $40,000. Naples Daily News.

Pricey projects: The price is rising for the Broward County School District’s bond program. Voters approved $800 million in November 2014, and allowed for 3 percent inflation, but school officials say construction costs are up about 5 percent. Instead of asking for bids, the district plans to hire a construction manager who hires all the contractors and provides a “guaranteed maximum price” for a project. In 2011, a grand jury found that model led to millions in waste. The district says safeguards now in place will prevent a repeat. Sun-Sentinel. Aventura city commissioners support building an iPrep high school in northeast Miami-Dade County. Some residents object due to traffic concerns. An iPrep school is a school in which all students take honors, Advanced Placement or dual enrollment courses. Miami Herald.

Restructuring details: Hillsborough County School Superintendent Jeff Eakins details his restructuring plan for the school board. Some members worry about the cost and the scope, but generally praise the plan. The board also approved the hiring of T.G. Taylor as the district’s chief community relations officer. Taylor previously worked in public relations and as a public affairs officer in the military. He’ll be paid $134,000 a year. Tampa TribuneTampa Bay Times.

Sales tax and impact fee: The Manatee County School Board will consider decoupling the request for a sales tax hike and the reinstatement of school impact fees. Some residents felt the decision to link them was an unnecessary benefit for developers. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

College program: Dayspring Academy in Pasco County is asking the school board for permission to create a dual enrollment program for the charter school and Pasco-Hernando State College. Students up to age 18 and and through 11th grade could attend, and the goal is that they would graduate high school at the same time they complete a college associate’s degree and an industrial certification. Gradebook.

LGBT debate: The public comment portion of the Brevard School Board meeting is again dominated by critics of the board’s vote to table a proposed non-discrimination policy for district gay students and staff. Florida Today.

Teacher pay: The Manatee County School District mistakenly paid 174 newly hired teachers more than teachers already in the district with the same level of experience because of an error in the district’s pay chart, school officials acknowledge. Bradenton Herald.

Schools opening, closing: The Lee County School Board will vote next Tuesday on a contract to buy land for a high school in Bonita Springs. Some nearby residents oppose the site, citing traffic concerns, lights at the stadium and worries about asbestos contamination on the land. School officials say the asbestos has been removed. Fort Myers News-Press. The Manatee County School Board votes to close Orange Ridge-Bullock Elementary School. The school needs extensive repairs and is less than a mile from another elementary school. Bradenton Herald. The St. Johns County School Board approves plans for a $26 million K-8 school in Nocatee. St. Augustine Record.

Notable deaths: Abraham Gittelson, who died March 11 at age 87, is remembered as South Florida’s leading authority on Jewish education as primarily a teacher, but also as an advocate, administrator and mentor. Sun-Sentinel.

Teacher honored: Lavinia Draper, a third-grade teacher at U.B. Kinsey/Palmview Elementary in West Palm Beach, is one of 10 U.S. finalists for the Fishman Prize for Superlative Classroom Practice. The winner gets $25,000 from TNTP, formerly The New Teacher Project, which honors teachers working with students from low-income families. Palm Beach Post.

Teacher suspended: Nancy Atchison, a Lucille Moore Elementary School teacher, is suspended after allegedly leaving a special education student unattended and without clothes for up to an hour in a bathroom. The Department of Children and Families is investigating. Panama City News Herald.

Students arrested: Two Boca Ciega High School students have been arrested and accused of distributing candy laced with marijuana oil to several other students. A third arrest is pending, according to Gulfport police. Five of those students who ate the candy were hospitalized briefly. Tampa Bay TimesTampa Tribune. Three students at Terry Parker High School in Jacksonville are arrested and accused of sexual activity with a female under the age of 16 at the school last week. Florida Times-Union.

Bullying allegations: A 5-year-old boy is allegedly beaten and bullied by other students at his Wesley Chapel preschool. His father said the school told him several age groups were combined because it was short on staff. The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office is investigating. WTSP. WFLA.

Opinions on schools: The history of school lunches contains a lot of debacles. Laurie Futterman, Miami Herald. This school testing system is bad enough, but the “high-stakes” part of it makes it infinitely worse. Bill Hoatson, Tallahassee Democrat.

Student enrichment: Ray Cavicchio, an international umpire for table tennis, donates $12,000 worth of ping pong tables, paddles and balls to five northwest Florida middle schools and pays to train six physical education teachers to be certified to teach the sport to youngsters. Northwest Florida Daily News. Miami-Dade elementary students are drawing pictures and writing essays as part of a campaign to add daily recess time for all county elementary students. Miami Herald. About 100 music students will perform at the Gulf Coast  School of Music’s 2016 Spring Show. Pensacola News Journal. Manatee Elementary School will establish a scholarship in the name of Janiya Thomas, who was murdered in October. Bradenton Herald. Leesa Greenwood of Fort Walton Beach High School is one of 20 U.S. students awarded $20,000 from the Foot Locker Foundation Inc. as part of the Foot Locker Scholar Athletes Program. Northwest Florida Daily News. Sumter County eighth-graders build solar-powered toy cars as part of the district’s Solar-Powered Car STEM Challenge. Daily Commercial.