Florida schools roundup: Teacher bonuses, construction, testing and more

florida-roundup-logoTeacher bonuses: Broward County’s decision to offer bonuses for highly rated teachers to work in at-risk schools is paying off, school officials say. At 28 low-income county schools, only 2 percent of teaching positions were vacant at the start of the school year. Before the bonuses program started four years ago, 30 percent of the jobs in those at-risk schools were unfilled. And about half of those 28 schools have improved their grade from the state. Sun-Sentinel.

School construction: Problems were reported in the air-conditioning systems at all 82 schools in the Brevard County School District in August, school officials say. Even as temperatures are dropping, there are still hundreds of issues reported each month. The problems are being reported at newer schools as well as the older ones. Florida Today. The Polk County School District has almost $448 million of unfunded new construction projects over the next 10 years, and $74 million in unfunded repair and renovation projects. School officials are hoping voters approve an extension of the half-cent sales tax in 2018. The tax brings in about $40 million a year. Lakeland Ledger. A new high school in Bonita Springs is just one of several projects the Lee County School District has in the works. Fort Myers News-Press.

Testing survey says: Almost 90 percent of students who took the online Florida Standards Assessments tests this year say they had no technical problems. But they still aren’t happy with testing, according to a Florida Education Department survey. Students complain they are tested too much, and many prefer the paper and pencil tests to the computer versions. They also suggested breaks during the testing, refreshments, more comfortable chairs and warmer testing rooms. Orlando Sentinel.

Software deal: The Brevard County School District is considering terminating an $8 million software contract with Harris School Solutions. The software was purchased three years ago to manage the district’s finances, contracts, human resource information, payroll and more. School officials say the software is not fully usable. Florida Today.

School lunch makeover? Some nutrition experts worry that the election of Donald Trump as president could weaken the push for nutritional meals in the nation’s schools, a cause championed by first lady Michelle Obama. Many Republicans have complained about the rules governing fat, sugar and sodium in school lunches. Associated Press.

Educators honored: Three principals are honored by Florida TaxWatch for helping students succeed at high-risk schools. Alexandra Prieto of Somerset Academy Miramar, Kim Register of Vernon Middle School and Carlos Alvarez of the City of Hialeah Educational Academy each win $5,000. Florida Trend. Five finalists are chosen for the Volusia County teacher of the year award. Daytona Beach News Journal.

New magnet school? South Lake Elementary School in Titusville, closed since 2013, could reopen as a choice elementary school in 2018, according to Brevard School Superintendent Desmond Blackburn. Florida Today.

Sales tax watch: Palm Beach County clerk and comptroller Sharon Bock says her office will start a special account to track the money that comes in from the recently approved increase in the sales tax. The penny increase in the sales tax is expected to generate $2.7 billion in money over 10 years, with the school district receiving half. Palm Beach Post.

New school boards: Lynn Gray has been named the winner of the District 7 at-large school board seat in Hillsborough County after a recount. Gray led Cathy James by less than half a percent after the election Nov. 8. Gradebook. For the first time in six years, the Monroe County School Board will have a woman member when it convenes this week. Mindy Conn, who defeated incumbent Ed Davidson in the Aug. 30 primary, will be sworn in Tuesday. Keynoter. New Manatee County School Board member Gina Messenger will be sworn in Tuesday. Bradenton Times.

Superintendent race: The race for the Leon County superintendent’s job included surveillance, smears, attack ads, innuendo, an accused cocaine dealer and a man with a fake name speaking at a school board meeting. Tallahassee Democrat.

Teachers union: Justin Katz, 32, a teacher at Park Vista High School and a Boynton Beach city commissioner, says he is running for the presidency of the Palm Beach County teachers union. The election is in March. Current president Kathi Gundlach is retiring in June. Palm Beach Post.

School drama: Parents of children at Brooker Creek Elementary School in Pinellas County are squaring off in court over a series of accusations and counter accusations that began with a road rage incident in April. Twelve lawsuits have been filed. saintpetersburgblog.

Band prestige: Once outside the circle of high school popularity, band members are increasingly thought of as the “cool” kids in school. “Bands are the ‘in’ thing now,” says Ted Hope, supervisor of secondary music for Hillsborough County schools. Tampa Bay Times.

Opinions on schools: The sleazy campaign for the superintendent’s job offers a compelling argument to change the job into an appointed one. Tallahassee Democrat. The children of parents who brought them to the United States when they were very young are innocents who shouldn’t become moveable parts if Donald Trump feels the urge to make good on some of his deportation promises. Sun-Sentinel. The state Board of Education is suggesting a new formula for allocating money that would benefit counties with aging schools and no money to fix them. That is a positive step, but in the long run the Florida Legislature needs to find more money rather than just recarve the same inadequate pie. Tampa Bay Times. Note of optimism posted in a bathroom at Oviedo High School were a gesture of hope in a time of increased racism. John Romano, Tampa Bay Times. The persistent segregation of our schools comes at a cost to our whole society. Jackie Davis, Gainesville Sun. The most pressing and obvious challenge for new Marion County School Superintendent Heidi Maier will be to raise academic achievement. Ocala Star Banner. Consideration should be given to the idea of teaching students according to their aptitude and fields of interest. Wouldn’t it be better to turn out graduates who are able to earn above minimum wage because they were properly trained, rather than students who “got” through school? Bob Waas, Ocala Star Banner. The deal the Volusia County School Board agreed to on school impact fees might have been better, but it’s a reasonable one with benefits for both sides. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Improving STEM readiness for K-12 students is a process filled with frequent failures and small victories. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: Samoset Elementary School students launch #samosetreads, a program to read 6,000 books as fast as they can. Bradenton Herald. Students from Tavares High School get lessons in compassion by volunteering to walk dogs from the Lake County animal shelter. Orlando Sentinel.

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