Florida schools roundup: ESSA, active shooter training, bonuses and more

ESSA plan: After federal education officials recently raised questions about Florida’s plan to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act, the state asks for an extension beyond the Jan. 4 deadline to rework the plan. State officials say they are still reviewing the letter federal officials sent that questions the state’s plans to measure how individual groups of students perform and to consider progress made by English-language learners when holding schools accountable for student learning and progress. “We acknowledge that USED may not be able to provide a final determination within the 120-day period in the law,” Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart wrote in her request for an extension. “Our focus is the successful completion of the 2017-18 school year as school districts continue to recover from Hurricane Irma and embrace the nearly 9,000 students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as a result of Hurricane Maria.” Politico Florida.

Active shooter training: The University of Central Florida is using video game technology to help train teachers on how to react to an active shooter scenario. The $5.6 million technology was developed by the Homeland Security Department and the U.S. Army, and is similar to the program used to train soldiers in combat tactics. “With teachers, they did not self-select into a role where they expect to have bullets flying near them. Unfortunately, it’s becoming a reality,” says chief project engineer Tamara Griffith. “We want to teach teachers how to respond as first responders.” Associated Press.

Bonuses mistakenly paid: Twenty-seven Leon County School District employees wrongly received about $180,000 from the state’s Best and Brightest teacher bonuses program, according to a recent report from the Florida auditor general. The audit showed that 21 teachers who received $143,155 in bonuses were not rated as “highly effective,” a requirement to be eligible for the payments. Another six who received $40,902 weren’t eligible because they didn’t meet the state’s definition of a classroom teacher. All must repay the district, which in turn will send the money to the state Department of Education. The audit also raised concerns about a lack of competitive bidding to select health insurance companies and the security of personal information for students. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. WCTV.

Top education foundations: Six Florida education foundations are listed among the top 25 in the United States, according to a report by the Caruthers Institute. The Pinellas Education Foundation is No. 1 for the fourth straight year. It has raised $140 million since it began in 1986. The Foundation for Seminole County Schools is rated 12th, Hillsborough Education Foundation 14th, Brevard Schools Foundation 20th, Polk Education Foundation and Business Partnership 21st, and the Public Education Foundation of Marion County 22nd. EdWeek. The Public Education Foundation of Marion County collected a record $1.85 million in cash and in-kind contributions during the 2016-2017 school year, according to its annual report. Ocala Star-Banner.

Tax bill effect on education: The new federal tax law will make it easier for some parents to pay for private school tuition and will retain the $250 tax break for teachers to buy school supplies, according to education experts. But is also could cut funding for local schools because of a new cap on state and local tax deductions, and colleges fear fewer donations because taxpayers will have higher standard deductions and less incentive to itemize charitable contributions. Miami Herald.

Student discipline: The Pinellas County School District sets a goal of having a restorative practice discipline system in every school by 2020. The process involves daily restorative circles in classes in which students deal with issues they have with others in a way that encourages collaboration and closure. The district sees it as a way to deal with the disparities in discipline outcomes for black and nonblack students. Tampa Bay Times.

Florida scholarship programs: Outside the world of school choice, Step Up For Students is not well known. But for parents and private school administrators, the nonprofit is synonymous with the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, so much so that they often refer to it as the “Step Up scholarship.” Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit and Gardiner scholarship programs. Orlando Sentinel.

Looking back, ahead: The top education stories of 2017 in the state, the state’s school districts and the nation, according to various news organizations. Sunshine State News. The 74. Gainesville Sun. NPR. Keynoter. Tallahassee Democrat. Florida Trend. Education Week. Looking ahead to education stories for 2018. Fort Myers News-Press. Lessons learned in 2017 that we can take into 2018. Chalkbeat. Expansion of Bright Futures college scholarship programs is high on the list of goals of Senate President Joe Negron for the 2018 legislative session, which begins Jan. 9. News Service of Florida. The man whose persistence on behalf of his son led to an investigation of alleged child abuse by a teacher in the Okaloosa County School District is named person of the year by a newspaper. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Tax projects update: A year after Palm Beach County voters approved raising the sales tax a penny for school projects, several small projects have been completed and larger ones have been scheduled for the next four years. The tax will produce about $1.3 billion over 10 years for the school district. Sun-Sentinel.

Teacher recruitment: The Lake County School District is partnering with the University of Central Florida’s College of Education to establish a teacher preparatory academy program for the 2018-19 school year. The goal is to for the district to attract more teachers with education degrees. Daily Commercial.

Contract negotiations: The Sarasota County School District and its teachers union haven’t come to an agreement on pay issues, and the union is now calling on teachers to picket at the Jan. 9 school board meeting. Union officials say the district’s proposal unfairly benefits teachers hired after July 1, 2011, at the expense of more veteran teachers. The district says it’s just trying to follow state law on salary schedules. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Financial worries: St. Johns County school officials say if the state doesn’t increase the amount of money it gives to education, the district risks losing its position as the top school district in Florida. The amount of money the district gets from the state for each student is “less than what it was 10 years ago” when factoring in inflation, according to Superintendent Tim Forson. St. Augustine Record.

Growing pains: The Flagler County School District student enrollment has doubled since 2000, from 6,000 to 12,000, and school officials say they could see another 5,500 students as growth continues in the county. Impact fees for that many students would generate more than $59 million for the district, but the new schools required to house them would cost more than $140 million. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Employees honored: The Pasco County Education Foundation announces finalists for the top school district employees in four categories. Teacher of the year finalists are Kimberly Mahoney, Wesley Chapel Elementary; Susan McNulty, J.W. Mitchell High School; and Tracy Tilotta, Thomas E. Weightman Middle. Administrator finalists are Tammy Rabon, Mark Butler and Julie Marks. Noninstructional, nonbargaining finalists are William Amon, Maria Correia and Robin Wachsman, and school-related finalists are Mahalia Hennecart-Surin, Pamela Paone and Tracy Sanderson. Winners will be announced Jan. 26. Gradebook.

Best public high school: The Pine View School in Osprey is the best public high school in Florida, according to rankings by the website 24/7 Wall St. The rankings are based on standardized test scores, student-teacher ratios, graduation rates, AP enrollment and more. USA Today.

School calendar: The Brevard County School Board is considering a school schedule for 2018-2019 that includes an earlier spring break and more time off over the holidays. The year would start Aug. 10 and finish May 31, 2019. Florida Today.

Help for storm victims: Gwen Graham, a Democratic candidate for governor, proposes allowing students from Puerto Rico and other islands who were displaced by hurricanes to take state assessments tests in Spanish, extending eligibility for Bright Futures scholarships to them, providing in-state college tuition, and providing more housing assistance and expanding Medicaid to help with health care. Florida Politics. Sixty-seven students displaced by hurricanes have enrolled in Manatee County schools and 45 in Sarasota County schools since September, according to officials from the districts. Most are from Puerto Rico. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. An anonymous donor gives $500,000 to the Monroe County Education Foundation to help teachers and other school staff members recover from Hurricane Irma. Keynoter.

School improvements: Officials at three Hernando County schools talk about how the schools improved a grade level. Tampa Bay Times.

Computer science push: Computer science classes at Timber Creek High School have grown from 30 students to nearly 400 in the past nine years, and school officials give much of the credit to Orange County teacher of the year Kyle Dencker, who teaches many of those courses. Computer science “isn’t just for geeks and nerds anymore,” he says. Some state officials agree, and a $15 million initiative is being proposed to expand computer classes. Orlando Sentinel.

Physics enrollment down: The number of Florida students enrolling in high school physics classes declines for a third straight year, according to the Florida Department of Education. The decline is 8 percent since 2014. Bridge to Tomorrow.

Open enrollment: Open enrollment has not been the problem many worried it would be in the Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River county school districts, say school officials. Just 30 students have transferred schools under the new state rule, and 27 of those were in Indian River County. TCPalm.

IB expansion: Sarasota’s Riverview High School is expanding its International Baccalaureate program in an effort to enroll more minority and low-income students. Riverview is one of 100 schools chosen to participate in the IB Excellence and Equity Initiative. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Elected superintendents: Many residents and officials in Martin County take exception to a proposed constitutional amendment that would require all school superintendents to be appointed, calling it a government overreach and an unnecessary intrusion into local decision-making. Martin is one of 26 Florida districts that elect superintendents, and voters have affirmed that decision in 1986, 1996, 2000 and 2010. TCPalm.

Notable deaths: Nancy G. White, a teacher of English and journalism for 59 years in Hillsborough County high schools and then at Hillsborough Community College, dies at the age of 94. Tampa Bay Times. Frances McGlannan, who founded a school for dyslexic children in Miami and developed innovative teacher techniques, has died at the age of 98. Miami Herald. Tom Coward, a former teacher at Lincoln High School, dean at Buchholz High School in Gainesville and the first black person elected to the Alachua County Commission, has died at the age of 95. Gainesville Sun.

Volunteer honored: Terri Priore, 52, is named the Palm Beach County School District’s adult volunteer of the year. Priore, who has volunteered in five district schools over the past 14 years, will now be considered for further recognition by the Florida Department of Education. Palm Beach Post.

Problems at charter: Three Cape Coral Charter School employees are under investigation for misspending school money. One, former superintendent Nelson Stephenson, took a week of unentitled vacation time, according to an internal audit, and has been ordered to repay the district $5,000. The report also says former principal Steve Hook gave $24,000 to his wife’s charity fundraiser, and that the school’s culinary arts teacher misspent money. Board member Jennifer Nelson says none of the charges are criminal in nature. WBBH.

Student dies during soccer: Jordan Bonny, a 15-year-old 9th-grader at Lake Region High School, collapsed on a soccer field before Christmas break and died the next day. A cause of death has not yet been determined. Lakeland Ledger.

Stadium naming rights: The North Law Firm of Fort Myers will pay $22,896 a year for five years for the rights to put its name on the Dunbar High School football stadium. The deal is the first of its kind in the Lee County School District, which will put the money into its infrastructure fund. Fort Myers News-Press.

School board criticized: The mother of a gay Collier County high school student criticizes the school board over its decision to remove sexual orientation and gender identity from the district’s access to equal educational opportunity policy in favor of the statement calling for “equal educational access to district programs and opportunities for all students consistent with state and federal law.” Naples Daily News.

Teacher vs. district: The Palm Beach County School District tells a teacher whose car was stolen from the Boynton Beach High School parking lot that it would not reimburse him for any losses because he parks in the school lot “at his own risk.” The district does reimburse teachers whose vehicles are vandalized, but says it has no legal liability for thefts or collisions. Palm Beach Post.

District wins lawsuit: The Palm Beach County School District wins a lawsuit against the city of West Palm Beach and does not owe the city $5 million in stormwater drainage fees. The city had been trying to collect the fees for five years, but the district maintained it has immunity from the fees. Circuit Judge Lisa Small agreed with the school district. Palm Beach Post.

Administrator accused: An investigator for the Okaloosa County School District says district administrator Henry Kelley broke two Florida laws when he released documents exempt from public disclosure to a TV station reporter. Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson declined comment on the report, citing an ongoing state attorney’s investigation. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Teacher back in class: A Hernando County teacher who was taken out of the classroom after being accused of inappropriately touching an adult education student, has been returned to the classroom. Kevin Moglia, 61, returns as an automotive instructor at Nature Coast Technical High School but will no longer teach at SunTech, the district’s evening adult education program. Tampa Bay Times.

Teachers arrested: A Hillsborough County substitute teacher is arrested and accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl. George Washington Foreman Jr., 28, was a substitute at Woodmont Charter School in Temple Terrace. The girl was a student there. Tampa Bay Times. A Brevard County teacher is arrested and accused of assaulting a 13-year-old student at Kennedy Middle School in Rockledge. Dawn Krell, 48, allegedly assaulted the boy after he repeatedly asked her if he could go to the bathroom. Florida Today.

Employees charged in theft: A secretary and janitor at William Dandy Middle School in Fort Lauderdale have been charged with stealing from the district. Police say the secretary, Trenell Jones Hanna, 51, falsified payroll records to direct more money to janitor Tard Smith, 45. Smith pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years of probation. Hanna has entered a not guilty plea, and her case is pending. Sun-Sentinel.

Opinions on schools: Some students need other options beyond the tradition path to high school graduation, such as those offered by alternative and charter schools. But they also need assurance that those options truly prepare them for what comes next. Travis Pillow, redefinED. H.B. 7069 and Hurricane Irma caused interruptions in school progress in 2017. Naples Daily News. All families want what is best for their children, but they don’t always realize how school absences can stack up, resulting in real academic problems. Kimberly Krupa, Pensacola News Journal. Do voters value public education enough to tax themselves in order to supplement Florida’s mediocre funding of schools? We’ll see this spring when Sarasota and Manatee voters are asked to approve special, 1-mill taxes for public school operations. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Students from Puerto Rico have dribbled into Lake County schools, but more are expected. Lauren Ritchie, Orlando Sentinel.

Student enrichment: The nonprofit Generation Jacksonville is providing career training for young, mostly disadvantaged students. Florida Times-Union. Fifty-one gardens at Miami-Dade County elementary schools provide fresh food for students and improve science achievement, according to the Education Fund, the nonprofit in charge of the project. WLRN. Membership has doubled in the four years since a Colors for CASA club began at Lecanto High School to raise awareness of domestic abuse. Citrus County Chronicle. Elizabeth Handberg of Hagerty High School and Dhruv Dadhania of Lake Mary High School win the 2017 state Advanced Placement Scholar awards for Florida. The awards are presented to a male and female student from each state who score 3 or higher on the greatest number of AP exams, and have the highest average score on all exams taken. Orlando Sentinel. Perry Cohen, who was lost at sea in 2015, is honored with a mural at Jupiter High School painted by Shepard Fairey, best-known for the “Hope” poster from Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. Palm Beach Post. Ninety-three student-musicians from Polk County schools are among the 2,384 Florida students chosen for 22 Florida all-state music ensembles. Lakeland Ledger. The Marion County School District is moving its Young Parents program from portable classrooms into a new 8,800-square-foot facility on the Marion Technical Institute campus, with plans to widen the program from focusing primarily on child care to helping mothers graduate from high school. Ocala Star-Banner.

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