Florida schools roundup: Enrollment influx, evaluations, housing and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

Refugee influx: The academic performances of most students who came to Florida schools after Hurricane Maria will not be counted when the state figures grades for districts and schools, says Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart. She says the federal government approved the exception for English language learners, which covers most of the nearly 8,000 students who fled the hurricane and have enrolled in Florida schools. Most of the extra students – 7,212 – are from Puerto Rico, and 710 are from other islands. Orange County has gotten the most refugee students, 1,793 for an 0.8 percent increase, while Osceola County has enrolled 1,218, which is a 2.2 percent increase. Housing remains the biggest problem for the refugees, members of the state Board of Education are told. Gradebook. Orlando Sentinel. News Service of FloridaFlorida Politics. Daily Commercial.

Teacher evaluations: Several states, including Florida, have begun to change the way they evaluate teachers. Florida still uses testing and student performance indicators to determine one-third of teacher evaluation scores, but now allows districts to decide whether they want to use a state-approved formula for student growth to determine the other two-thirds. Six other states – Alaska, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and Oklahoma – now let districts decide what data to use to evaluate teachers. Education Week.

Housing for teachers: Broward County School Board members are considering ways to convince developers to build more housing that teachers can afford. Among the ideas is to waive school impact fees for those developers who build homes for people with incomes of up to $42,700 for a single person or $61,000 for a family of four. “We have a drastic need for teachers and many of them can’t afford to live in the county,” says board member Patti Good. The median home price in Broward is about $355,000, which is more than most teachers can afford. Sun-Sentinel.

Scholarship ban: An Orlando private school that is appealing its ban from the state’s scholarship programs failed to attend a hearing to consider the appeal. An attorney for the Agape Christian Academy says there was confusion about which party would call the other for the hearing, and by the time he called the meeting had ended. Lois Tepper, the hearing officer, said she will make a recommendation to the Department of Education in the next two weeks. The state wants to ban Agape from receiving money from the tax credit, Gardiner and McKay scholarship programs for 10 years because the school isn’t fulfilling an agreement it had with the state after a previous violation. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit and Gardiner scholarship programs. Orlando Sentinel.

Tax questions: Scott Hopes, who has been elected chairman of the Manatee County School Board, says he wants to appoint a citizens financial committee to take an in-depth look at the district’s budget because he has questions about the decision to ask voters for a 1-mill property tax increase for schools. “I don’t know if the number (we need) is $33 million,” Hopes says, referring to the annual amount the tax would raise. “If we get information back that makes this look like it’s unlikely to succeed in March, then we need to rethink it. The original polling that was done didn’t come out too positive, so I think we need to hit the road to get this thing passed.” The new board vice-chairwoman is Gina Messenger. Sarasota Herald-TribuneBradenton Herald.

Preparation for school: Early education is one of the keys to Florida’s prosperity, say several speakers at the Florida Chamber Foundation’s first “Less Poverty through More Prosperity Summit.” Making sure that families, especially the poorest, can find child care and early-education programs to prepare their children for school is a way for businesses to create prosperity that reduces generational poverty, organizers of the summit say. Tampa Bay Times.

DeVos and Florida: U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has now made seven trips to Florida in her 10-month tenure, visiting 14 schools. That represents about 25 percent of all her trips. Florida has been her favorite destination, probably because it’s been a leader in school choice, which aligns with DeVos’ philosophy. U.S. News & World Report.

App for aid: The U.S. Department of Education is developing an app that will accept and process federal college aid applications from high school students, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says. The app will make the Free Application for Federal Student Aid process “modern, streamlined, more accessible and simply easier” for all, she says, and will be available soon. Associated Press.

Complaint against superintendent: A formal complaint filed with the Okaloosa County School Board charges that Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson has violated state law or Florida Department of Education policies at least 20 times. The complainant wants the board to forward the accusations against Jackson and two other school employees to the Florida Ethics Commission, the DOE, attorney general and/or governor. The complaints were prompted by the officials’ handling of a child abuse complaint against a teacher. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Turnaround schools: The Florida Board of Education approves turnaround plans for two struggling Duval County schools. Both Ramona Boulevard Elementary and Arlington Middle would remove low-rated teachers, add training for teachers and create special programs. And Duval school officials say if student performance doesn’t improve, the principals will be removed. Florida Times-Union.

School programs: The Learning Center for Children, at the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind, is the only preschool in the state that brings together sighted and visually impaired children in the same classrooms. “Our goal is for total independence,” says Isabel Chica, director of children’s programs. “They need to know where they are and how they will get to the next place.” University of Miami. Seminole High School in Pinellas County now offers seven academies for students as it moves toward a more personalized learning environment. And the school’s once-falling graduation rates are reboundingredefinED. A group of parents raised $27,000 to spruce up and bring new programs to North Shore Elementary School in St. Petersburg. The investment is paying off, as the school is beginning to add students. The kindergarten enrollment is up 23 percent over the past two years. Tampa Bay Times.

Top performing schools: South Florida’s highest-rated elementary school is Henry S. West Laboratory School in Coral Gables, according to the Florida Department of Education calculations. The top middle school is the Doral Academy of Technology Charter School, and the top high school is FAU High, where students can earn three or more years of college credit from Florida Atlantic University while still in high school. Sun-Sentinel.

Transgender case: A federal trial begins in December in the case of a transgender student who is suing the St. Johns County School District over its bathroom policies. Drew Adams, a junior at Nease High School, was born a girl but identifies as a boy. When he was denied use of the boys bathroom at the school in 2015 and told to use gender-neutral bathrooms, he sued. St. Augustine Record.

Superintendent choice: Should school superintendents be appointed or elected? A proposed constitutional amendment would make them all appointed positions, but critics of the proposal say the real problem is the state taking local control away from county school districts. Forty-one Florida counties now elect superintendents, and 26 appoint them. Gradebook.

School move problems: A proposal to move Addison Mizner Elementary School in Boca Raton to a nearby park so it can expand into a K-8 school hits a snag. The Sugar Sand Park is large enough, but there are legal restrictions on building and mounting neighborhood opposition. “I’m just trying to find a place that’s less hectic,” says Broward County School Board member Frank Barbieri Jr. “We’re still investigating whether it’s a possibility.” Sun-Sentinel.

School conditions: A video taken by a teacher in Gulfstream Academy classrooms in Hallandale Beach and posted on social media shows mold, holes in ceilings and broken floor tiles. A Broward County school official says the video was taken before repair work began, and shows unoccupied rooms. WPLG.

School board seats: A teacher-turned-law-student files her intent to run for a seat on the Pasco County School Board. Kathryn “Kassie” Hutchinson, 26, says she intends to seek the District 5 seat, currently held by Steve Luikart, who has not yet announced if he is running for re-election. Gradebook. Former Escambia County School Board member Linda Moultrie says she stepped down from her seat in August so she wouldn’t lose her state retirement benefits. Pensacola News Journal.

Personnel moves: Bridget Ziegler is elected chairwoman of the Sarasota County School Board, and Jane Goodwin is elected vice-chairwoman. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Lice policy questioned: A Duval County 5th-grader has been out of school nearly three weeks because of the district’s policy of not allowing children with nits in their hair to attend school. The girl does not have live lice. Several medical groups say the policy is outdated because nits are unlikely to be transferred to other people. WJAX.

Employees arrested: A Brevard County teacher is arrested and accused of lewd and lascivious molestation of a child under 12 years old. Police say Kenneth Woodard, a 5th-grade teacher at Odyssey Preparatory Academy, inappropriately touched a student in front of his classmates. Florida Today. An assistant basketball coach at Southwest Florida Christian Academy is arrested and charged with DUI and hit-and-run involving a death. Fort Myers police say Cameron Holmes, 28, struck and killed a pedestrian in at 2:20 a.m. Saturday, then left the scene. Fort Myers News-Press.

Opinions on schools: The Florida Constitution Revision Commission is pursuing a radical agenda to undermine public schools and send public money to churches, mosques and synagogues. Sun-Sentinel. The new law allowing anyone to challenge school textbooks is causing more headaches for school board members, as if they don’t have enough already. Joe Henderson, Florida Politics. Florida is flouting the federal requirements for English language learners under the Every Student Succeeds Act. But the federal government appears to have neither the interest nor the stomach for implementing ESSA in a serious way that would require states to actually follow the law. Conor Williams, The 74. Indian River Academy went from a F grade from the state in 2015 to falling just short of a B in 2017. Here’s how. Laurence Reisman, TCPalm.

Student enrichment: Lexi Sima nearly died of cardiac arrest at Viera High School in 2016. Now she’s an advocate for making CPR training mandatory for high school graduation. Florida Today. Two hundred and twenty Bay County School District students join the Dr. James T. Cook and Jana L. Cook chapter of the Future Physicists of Florida. The number of middle school students passing the math and science state exams in Bay County is up 50 percent in the past two years. Panama City News Herald. Four Scheck Hillel Community School students are recognized by the 2018 National Merit Scholarship Program and the College Board. Miami Herald.

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