Florida schools roundup: Tougher tests, Schools of Hope, top employee and more

Testing standards toughened: The Florida Board of Education adopts tougher standards for the state exams high school students must pass to graduate. The board also eliminated the Post Secondary Education Readiness Test, one of the alternatives for students who don’t pass the state exams. Alternatives to the state tests are now the SAT, ACT and just-added PSAT, though the board also boosted the scores needed on those tests to qualify for graduation. The new standards go into effect for students entering high school this fall. Educators protested the changes, saying they will significantly lower graduation rates. Orlando Sentinel. Gradebook. News Service of FloridaPolitico Florida. WFTS. Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart announces that she’s retiring Jan. 8, the day Gov. Rick Scott leaves office, though she says she’s open to staying on if the next governor asks her to. Stewart has been in the job since 2013, when she replaced Tony Bennett after he resigned. Gradebook.

Schools of Hope: The Board of Education also approves two new Schools of Hope operators, bringing the state’s total to four. Schools of Hope qualify for special financing and grants to expand services and increase instructional time. Officials for KIPP New Jersey and Democracy Prep Public Schools say they look forward to working with school districts and the state to put schools in areas where traditional public schools have struggled. KIPP is helping create a new school in Miami in a partnership with the Miami-Dade district, while Democracy Prep wants to complement KIPP in Miami and is also looking into places like Polk and Hillsborough counties. redefinED.

Employee of the year: Stephanie Melton, an exceptional student education behavioral health assistant at W.E. Cherry Elementary School in Clay County, is selected by the Florida Department of Education as the 2018 school-related employee of the year. She wins $10,000. The other finalists — Sylvester Jones of Bay County; Jermaine Green of Miami-Dade County; Debra Canning of Pinellas County; and Sarah Woods of Sarasota County — each win $6,500. Florida Department of Education.

Charter enrollment up: The number of Florida K-12 students in charter schools stands at 295,814 this year, according to a report from the Florida Department of Education. That’s an increase of 12,059 over last year. The public school enrollment is 2,537,300, which is a slight increase over last year. redefinED.

Teacher’s firing urged: Marion County Superintendent Heidi Maier is recommending the firing of a teacher accused of drowning two raccoons and an opossum in class, calling them “nuisance animals,” and enlisting students to help. Dewie Brewton, an agri-science teacher at Forest High School in Ocala, was placed on leave after the allegations were made. Ocala Star-Banner. Spectrum News 13. WKMG.

Immigrants and the GED: For years the Miami-Dade County School District has pushed immigrant teenagers out of public schools and into adult education programs where they learn little English and might pick up a GED, according to a newspaper investigation. This year, about 1,000 of the 5,000 immigrant teens who tried to enter the school district ended up in a Spanish-language GED program. The district contends that students choose their own programs, but students and immigrant rights groups dispute that and point out that the district has an incentive to push the immigrants into adult programs. Graduation rates and standardized test scores are factors in determining school grades from the state, and GED students aren’t counted in either category. Miami Herald.

School security: The Gulf Coast School Board won’t arm employees under the state’s guardian program, but will keep it as an option as it looks into other ways to provide security at district schools. The priority is to put a school resource officer in every school. “With the state (school safety) funding and some out-of-pocket from my budget and the district’s budget we can do that without increasing local ad valorem taxes,” says Superintendent Jim Norton. Port St. Joe Star.

Contract negotiations: Contract talks between the Volusia County School District and the teachers union stall over disagreements on salaries, dress code and workload. The district is offering a three-year contract with a raise of 1 percent plus an $800 bonus in the first year and 2 percent raises in each of the next two years. The union wants 2.5 percent in the first year and 4 percent in each of the next two. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Green ribbon winners: Gove Elementary School in Belle Glade is chosen by the U.S. Department of Education as a green ribbon school for its work to “reduce environmental impact and utility costs, improve health and wellness, and provide effective sustainability education.” Also honored was Penny Taylor, director of the Florida Department of Education’s Office of Healthy Schools, who won the director’s award for her work in promoting green schools in the state. U.S. Department of Education.

Construction academies: A building boom has spiked interest in Bartow High School’s Construction Academy, so the Polk County School District will open four new construction academies this fall at Fort Meade, Lake Region, Ridge Community and Tenoroc high schools. Lakeland Ledger.

Choice applications reopened: The Pasco County School District is reopening applications for students who want to attend a school outside their zone, even as a complaint about the plan for rezoning some west-side schools is being heard by an administrative judge later this month. Decisions will be put on hold for those students who want to move into or out of the schools affected by the proposed rezoning. Gradebook.

Personnel moves: Auburndale High School principal John Hill is approved as the new deputy superintendent of the Polk County School District. Hill will be second in command behind Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd, and will manage all district programs and operations. Lakeland Ledger.

School board sued: The Hernando County School Board is being sued by the mother of a girl who was sexually assaulted several times by a Fox Chapel Middle School employee in 2017. That employee, 35-year-old suspension monitor Marcus Wells, was sentenced in March to 16 years in prison after agreeing to a plea deal. The mother’s suit alleges the board is at least partly responsible for the attacks. Tampa Bay Times.

Teacher cleared: Broward County school officials clear a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High teacher accused of calling a conservative student “the next Hitler.” The allegations were lodged against history teacher Greg Pittman after he engaged in a Twitter argument with student Kyle Kashuv, a gun rights supporter. “School leadership investigated the complaint/allegation and were unable to corroborate the allegations from the complaint,” says district spokeswoman Tracy Clark. Sun-Sentinel.

School killer resentenced: An appeals court upholds the life sentence given to Michael Hernandez, a teen who stabbed 14-year-old classmate Jaime Gough to death at Southwood Middle School in Palmetto Bay in 2004. Hernandez was sentenced to life after his trial in 2008, but was granted a new sentencing in 2012 when the U.S. Supreme Court banned automatic life terms without the possibility of parole for minors convicted of murder. Miami Herald.

Students arrested: Three students at George C. Miller Middle School in Putnam County are arrested after allegedly making threats against each other on social media. WJXT.

Bus driver fired: A substitute school bus driver for the Duval County School District is fired for having “inappropriate contact” with students. The district, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Children and Family Services are investigating. WJXT.

Opinions on schools: The Brevard County School Board’s new plan to hire “security specialists” for school security is a painful compromise and falls short of hiring more school resource officers for campuses that currently don’t have one. The board should join forces with others to pressure lawmakers to go back to Tallahassee to increase funding for SROs. Florida Today. The bipartisan school safety proposal passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor had more to do with protecting the rear ends of politicians than the lives of students. John Romano, Tampa Bay Times. Guns aren’t the only safety risks to students. Exclusion and bullying can lead to higher risks of suicide, depression, homelessness, drug use and dropping out of school. Carrie Seidman, Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Student enrichment: Apopka High School seniors will return to their elementary schools next week for “walk-on Wednesday.” The visits are meant to inspire the children to dream about graduation and their futures. Orlando Sentinel. Retiring Boynton Beach Community High School teacher Michael Cavanaugh is giving his 2007 Honda Civic to graduating senior Jacquez Champion. “I’m sure it’s going to make a pretty good difference in his life,” says Cavanaugh, who teaches American government and economics. Palm Beach Post. Sarasota Booker High School student Ellen Bausback’s 500-word essay has won her teacher a national teacher of the year award from Barnes & Noble. Lem Andrews has been the college and career adviser at Booker for about 14 years. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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