Florida schools roundup: Schools of Hope rules, grade pressure and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

Schools of Hope rules: Rules have been proposed to implement the “Schools of Hope” part of the education bill passed in the Legislature earlier this year. The rules define what companies can be “hope operators,” who can then open a charter school within 5 miles of a persistently low-performing public school. The law outlined three criteria for becoming a “hope operators” – that student achievement exceeds district and state averages in the states in which they have schools; that college attendance rates have to exceed 80 percent; and that at least 7 in 10 students at their schools are eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch. But the proposed rules would allow the state to choose operators that meet just one of the criteria, at least for the time being. Politico Florida.

Performance pressure: The pressure is on at Hawthorne Middle/High School in Alachua County. When the school got a D grade from the state in the spring, state officials gave school official three choices if the school’s grade isn’t a C or better next spring – close, transition to a charter school, or find an outside provider to run the school. School officials chose to close, which is reflected in the #AllIn slogan plastered on the walls of the school. The school is the heart of this rural community, and residents have rallied around the improvement plan. WUFT.

Tax bill and education: The final version of the federal tax bill retains the $250 deduction teachers can take for spending their own money on supplies for their classrooms, allows 529 college savings plans to be used for up to $10,000 in annual K-12 expenses, including private school tuition, and ends qualified school construction bonds, among other things. It also limits to $10,000 what taxpayers can deduct in either a combination of property and income taxes, or property and sales taxes. Some educators say that could pressure local government officials to lower property taxes, which would potentially lower revenue for schools. Education Week.

Missing school implications: At least 9 million U.S. students in Florida, eight other states and Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have missed several days of school because of natural disasters this year. In Florida, according to an NPR Ed analysis, 2.6 million children missed at least a week of school, and the average time missed was 5.78 days. Research shows that students who are chronically absent, for whatever reason, are more likely to fall behind and eventually drop out. That’s worrisome to many school officials in states that require certain levels of success to move to the next grade or graduate. NPR.

Displaced teachers, students: About 75 Puerto Rican teachers have been hired by central Florida school districts since Hurricane Maria hit the island Sept. 20. They have moved into hard-to-fill jobs teaching math, science and the visually impaired, and other subjects. While they say they’re sad to leave their island homes, they’re also happy to be able to continue their teaching careers. Orlando Sentinel. More than 200 students displaced by hurricanes – most of them English language learners – have enrolled in Duval County schools. The cost to serve them is hard to assess, and it does not appear the district will be getting any help from the state. Florida Times-Union.

Costs of sheltering: The Pinellas County School District is requesting $2.65 million in reimbursement from FEMA for sheltering 25,000 evacuees during Hurricane Irma. Sixteen schools provided shelter, and designated school administrators and staff, such as maintenance crew and cafeteria workers, are required to work during a hurricane. Officials estimate the payroll cost of providing the shelters at $2.1 million. Other expenses include $300,000 to clean schools and buses, almost $125,000 for food and about $42,000 for utilities. Gradebook.

Teachers honored: Kerry Adams, a 5th grade teacher at Shadeville Elementary School in Crawfordville, is named the Wakulla County School District’s teacher of the year. Tallahassee Democrat. Dale Adamson, an algebra teacher at Howard D. McMillan Middle School in Miami, wins the Milken Educator Award for excellence in education. Adamson was one of 44 U.S. teachers honored, and the only one in Florida. The award comes with a $25,000 cash prize. WLRNWQAM. Associated Press. Jacqueline Holmes, a 3rd-grade teacher at Triangle Elementary School in Mount Dora, wins the Excellence in Teaching about Agriculture Award from the Florida Agriculture in the Classroom. Daily Commercial.

Contract negotiations: The Hillsborough County teachers union declares a bargaining impasse with the school district, but the two sides will continue to talk. Teachers want the district to honor its promise of several years ago to raise pay for more than 6,000 teachers by about $4,000. The district says it doesn’t have the money, and instead is offering small, one-time bonuses. Tampa Bay Times. Teachers union officials in Okeechobee County say they’re insulted by the latest offer from the school district, which would provide bonuses but no pay raises, and declare an impasse. District officials say they don’t want to dip into reserves to provide raises. Okeechobee News.

Help for homeless: The Santa Rosa County School Board approves a rental assistance program for homeless families. The program, which will provide financial help for a year to 20 to 25 families, is a joint project of the school district, EscaRosa Coalition on the Homeless, the Housing Finance Agency and the Milton Housing Authority. Santa Rosa Press Gazette.

Spokesman removed: Henry Kelley is removed as spokesman for the Okaloosa County School District after being officially reprimanded for not following district policy and procedures. Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson says Kelley tried, without first receiving approval, to hire a secretary of community affairs and released emails and complaints against a district administrator to a TV station, both violations of district procedures. Northwest Florida Daily News.

School programs: South Lake Elementary School in Titusville will reopen next fall as a choice school specializing in science, technology, engineering, arts and math, school officials have announced. The school was closed in 2013 because of declining enrollment. Florida Today. Every Pinellas County elementary school now has a science lab. The process of converting a classroom into a lab at every school began in 2013, at a cost of $40,000 per classroom. Tampa Bay Times.

Private meetings: Lake County School Board members and district officials are being criticized for holding private meetings to discuss school business. Board attorney Stephen Johnson says he believes the meetings between individual board members and Superintendent Diane Kornegay and staff are legal and above board. Barbara Petersen, president of Florida’s First Amendment Foundation, says, “The public is supposed to be a part of that deliberative process. On any issue coming before the board, how can we talk intelligently if we don’t know what they are being told behind closed doors?” Daily Commercial.

Notification policies: Sarasota County School Board members say they were recently surprised by a $415,000 school building renovation project, and have responded by setting new guidelines for reporting to the board on capital projects. Any project that isn’t in the capital improvement budget must be brought to the board if it costs $325,000 or more at a school, and $150,000 on district buildings that aren’t used as schools. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Switching schools: Students at Venetia Elementary School in Jacksonville will attend school at John Stockton Elementary School today, Tuesday and Wednesday because of a fire in the Venetia cafeteria. Florida Times-Union.

Personnel moves: A retired principal, Sandra Russell, is named interim principal at Lamarque Elementary School in North Port. Ryan Bruck, who had been Lamarque’s principal, is now the assistant principal at Ashton Elementary in Sarasota. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

No action against teacher: A Collier County teacher who called movie studio executive Harvey Weinstein’s accusers “whores who sold their bodies and dignity for a movie part” has been counseled twice for his inflammatory Facebook postings, but remains in the classroom. Brian Milner continues to teach history at Lely High School. A school spokesman had no comment about the situation or whether any disciplinary action might be forthcoming. Naples Daily News.

Student arrested: A 17-year-old student at Wekiva High School in Apopka is arrested after he was caught with a gun on campus, according to Orange County deputies. The student made no threats, and no one was injured. Orlando Sentinel.

Opinions on schools: While House Speaker Richard Corcoran is the one pushing this supposed anti-bullying bill, you could make a pretty strong argument that he is the biggest bully in Tallahassee. John Romano, Tampa Bay Times. What does the Lake County School Board have to hide? That is the question we raise today as we ponder why Superintendent Diane Kornegay has decided to hold regular closed door meetings with individual board members to go over the board agendas days before the actual public meetings takes place. Daily Commercial. Polk and other school districts fighting the bill to provide fairer funding for charter schools should be worried about students’ success, not bureaucrats’ authority. Tegan Bombard, Lakeland Ledger. The Collier County School District, chamber, county government and employers are vested partners in developing a workforce training center, which would be part of a referendum to add a 1 percent local sales tax. Naples Daily News. The school district’s equity plan should expand efforts that help close Alachua County’s achievement gap, but the involvement and support of the rest of the community are a key part of ensuring that happens. Gainesville Sun. Spending vast amounts of taxpayer’s money on a program or “app” that will not be available to your most vulnerable students, as the Marion County School District is preparing to do, is not a wise use of funds. Elizabeth H. Cohen, Ocala Star-Banner. The kerfuffle over poor communications between the Marion County School Board and Superintendent Heidi Maier over the past couple of weeks was necessary to remind all six of those elected officeholders that they are doing the public’s business and that demands open and frequent dialogue. Ocala Star-Banner. The First District Court of Appeal whiffed when it said that the most effective teaching method is still being debated. Educators know how students learn best.  It’s why we still use the phrase “Socratic method” across disciplines to describe best teaching practices. Students learn best when they interactively engage their peers and, ultimately, an expert in the subject they are trying to learn. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: Pine Ridge Elementary School is named a silver model school by the Florida Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports at the University of South Florida. Pine Ridge met the guidelines by reducing disciplinary incidents and supporting improved academic performance for all students. Daily Commercial. Catholic school students hand out turkeys and other food items at the 20th annual St. John Bosco Noche Buena Food Distribution, which is organized and run by the teens. Miami Herald. Students at Round Lake Conversion Charter School are building an outdoor nature classroom, and Leesburg High School students are trying to build a scale-size sustainable town by developing a device using photovoltaic cells. Both projects are funded by a collaboration between AT&T and the Consortium of Florida Education Foundations. Daily Commercial.

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