Florida schools roundup: Scholarships, shooting report, 2018, 2019 and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

Scholarship funding: In a recent interview, Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis says he wants to direct more funding toward the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program. Ultimately, he said, he’d like the state to give families a stipend for their student’s education that they could use as they wish. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the scholarship. Florida Trend. DeSantis’ education transition team is preparing its final recommendations, which are expected to include increased parental empowerment on educational choices of schools, and expanded school choice options and vocational education. Florida Politics. WJCT. WLRN. New Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran talks about his vision for the future of education in Florida. He starts the job Jan. 8. WTSP. Politico Florida. Outgoing Commissioner Pam Stewart says, “We are, in Florida, at an all-time high,” and says Corcoran needs no advice from her because he already knows enough to do a good job. Gradebook.

School shooting aftermath: The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission is expected to release its report today. WFLA. What’s being done to stop another school shooting? Sun Sentinel. Broward County school resource officers are receiving more rigorous active-shooter training and being given more powerful weapons, according to Sheriff Scott Israel. Associated Press. Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald. What went right on the second floor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School building that was attacked by a gunman Feb. 14. Sun Sentinel. A review of Israel’s performance since the shooting reveals excuses and misstatements. Sun Sentinel

School security: With greater demand for sworn law enforcement officials to guard schools, fewer officers are available to patrol some high-crime neighborhoods in Miami-Dade County. Miami Herald. A push for adding hardened corners in classrooms in state schools is simply a reminder to students that schools can be dangerous, according to some parents protesting the move. Law enforcement officials disagree. GateHouse. The Santa Rosa County School District is adding restricted access controls to all schools. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Top 2018 education stories: A school shooting, the reports from the investigating commissions, a new state education commissioner, new superintendents, new school boards and a devastating hurricane are among the state’s top education stories in 2018. Sun SentinelFlorida Watchdog. Florida Times-Union. WJCT. Ocala Star-Banner. Tallahassee Democrat. Tampa Bay TimesOrlando Sentinel. Florida Today. Gainesville Sun. Panama City News Herald. Education Week.

2019 district priorities: Improving school security, cutting absenteeism, making construction upgrades and improving school grades are among 2019 goals for school districts in Florida and across the country. The 74Lakeland Ledger. Tampa Bay TimesTallahassee Democrat. Fort Myers News-Press. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Education Week.

Settlement discussions: Manatee County’s interim school superintendent, Cynthia Saunders, is negotiating with the state Department of Education to resolve an allegation that she inflated inflating graduation rates between 2014 and 2016. A settlement would not include admission of wrongdoing, she says. Bradenton Herald.

Car line software gets test: Software designed to smooth car line pickups at schools will get a chance to improve the process at up to 10 Miami-Dade County schools this year. PikMyKid, developed by a Tampa man in 2013, is used in about 400 schools in 32 states and seven countries. The software sets up a digital geofence around the school, which can detect when a cell phone of a person registered to pick up a student enters the area and provides school officials a list of drivers and their position in line. Students only come out of the school when their ride is ready to pick them up. Tampa Bay Times.

Vaccinated students: Just 90 percent of Sarasota County’s 3,200 kindergarten students have been vaccinated, according to the state Department of Health. That’s the lowest percentage of any county in the state. Of the 320 or so who have not been vaccinated, about 230 reported a religious exemption to being vaccinated. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Fewer extended days: The number of Palm Beach County elementary schools required by the state to have extended days for reading time dropped from 29 to 19 this year. The state’s 300 schools with the lowest reading scores are required to extend the school day by 30 minutes for added reading instruction. Palm Beach Post.

Educators honored: Megen Stair. a counselor at Park Vista Community High School in Lake Worth, is named Florida’s school counselor of the year by the Florida School Counselors Association. WPTV. Allen Burch, principal at Lincoln High School in Tallahassee, wins the Florida Music Education Association’s 2019 administrator of the year award. Tallahassee Democrat.

Graduation rates: More reports on 2018 high school graduation rates from school districts around the state. Florida’s rate hit a record high 86.1 percent, according to figures released in December by the state Department of Education. WJCT. Gradebook. Daily Commercial. Pensacola News Journal. WMBB. Key West Citizen. Keynoter. Lehigh Acres Citizen.

School enrollment: Student enrollment continues to increase in Walton, Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties, according to a report from the Legislature’s Office of Demographic and Economic Research. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Bad driving near schools: Florida is the second-worst U.S. state in the number of dangerous drivers in school zones, according to a report from Zendrive, a smartphone app that tracks driving conditions. Twenty of Florida’s 67 school districts received F grades, while three received an A. WBBH.

School bus service: The St. Johns County School District is resuming school bus transportation to a neighborhood after parents raised safety concerns. Busing was eliminated because the neighborhood is within 2 miles of Liberty Pines Academy, but complaints prompted the district to reverse its decision while it conducts another review. WJAX.

After the storm: Washington County School Superintendent Joseph Taylor talks about his district’s recovery from Hurricane Michael, and its plans for using the half-cent surtax voters approved in November. “It will help massively,” Taylor says of the extra tax money that will go toward capital projects and technology improvements. “It is a game-changer for us.” Washington County News.

Online expansion: Home-schooling in Volusia County is up 86 percent since 2007, and school officials are considering upgrading their online education programs to try to lure those students back to the district. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

New schools: The Florida Department of Education gives its approval for a new elementary school in Boca Raton, The school, which will be built on city-owned land next to Don Estridge High Tech Middle School, is expected to open in 2020 with a capacity of 1,000 students. Sun Sentinel. WPTV. Palm Beach Post. The DOE also approves a new high school for Palm Beach County, but rejects a proposal for a new middle school west of Boynton Beach. Sun Sentinel. Palm Beach Post.

School closes: A private Christian school in Kissimmee closes its middle school over the holidays. Fifteen students in the 6th- through 8th grade at First United Methodist School are scrambling to find new schools before the holiday break ends. Orlando Sentinel.

Battling bonus program: A St. Johns County middle school teacher is on a mission to change the requirements needed to qualify for the state’s teacher bonuses program, known as the Best & Brightest scholarships. Pacetti Bay Middle School teacher Lisa Fink is rated is rated “highly effective” on her evaluations, but is not eligible for the bonus program because she did not score in the 80th percentile on the SAT test she took 23 years ago. St. Augustine Record.

Student’s testing problem: A Miami-Dade high school senior is fighting with the College Board, which is accusing her of cheating on the SAT because she improved her score by 33 percent in nine months. Kamilah Campbell, a senior at Dr. Michael Krop Senior High School, says she’s been told she has to prove that she didn’t cheat. WPLG.

Compensation for raped teacher: A bill is filed in the Legislature that would pay $3 million to a Miami-Dade teacher who was raped by an 18-year-old student in 2014 at South Dade Senior High School. The teacher had been assigned to teach students with emotional and behavioral disorders, though she didn’t having the training for it, and was raped by a student with a long history of making threats. She’s already received $200,000 from the district, but state law requires the Legislature to approve the rest of the settlement. Miami New Times.

School’s ex-officlal pleads guilty: Kyle Ritsema, a former assistant principal at Cypress Creek Middle-High School in Pasco County, pleads guilty to federal charges of producing, distributing and possessing child pornography. He was arrested in February, and could get a sentence of up to 80 years in prison. WFLA.

Teacher arrested: Tasha Fisher, 45 a 4th-grade teacher at Kingsford Elementary School in Winter Haven, is arrested and accused of driving while under the influence of a drug taken to help her sleep. Lakeland Ledger.

Middle school problem: Sleepy Hill Middle School has more calls to law enforcement for physical attacks and more reports of bullying than the other two Lakeland middle schools combined, according to a review of police and Polk County School District records. Lakeland Ledger.

Opinions on schools: Broward School Superintendent Robert Runcie is a good, thoughtful and well-meaning man who cares about kids, closing the achievement gap and ensuring schools are safe for everyone. But in the wake of the Feb. 14 massacre in Parkland, he is not the take-charge, no-excuses leader our school district needs to bust down bureaucratic barriers, hold people accountable and build public trust that our schools are safe. Sun Sentinel. Richard Corcoran is not a fox and he’s not the devil, but he is keen on disrupting the parts of our public schools that aren’t working in hopes of making them better. Lane Wright, Capitolist. Florida Republicans have once again demonstrated their contempt for education by making former House Speaker Richard Corcoran commissioner of education. It’s not merely that he’s grossly unqualified, he’s hell bent on wrecking our public schools. Diane Roberts, Florida Phoenix. There is a great opportunity in front of Richard Corcoran to change the perception of Florida education. To provide choices for parents. To raise academic standards. To provide teachers with encouragement and support instead of threats and ultimatums. John Romano, Tampa Bay Times. If Gov.-elect Ron if DeSantis really wants to improve public education, he’s going to have to direct more funding toward schools — and a truly honest approach would boost school funding without soaking local taxpayers, who often bear the brunt of educational spending increases. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Here’s a bold to-do list for the Duval County School District. Florida Times-Union. Alachua students should be able to ride public transit for free or at drastically reduced fares. James F. Lawrence, Gainesville Sun. The federal school safety commission’s report uses tenuous logic to walk back the Obama administration’s guidance on school discipline. Jon Valant and Michael Hansen, Brookings Institution. The Florida Legislature faces no greater duty than to pay what it takes to make schools safer than they were on Valentine’s Day, when a gunman killed 17 people and wounded 17 more at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. It also faces a moral obligation to compensate the survivors and families of those whom Florida failed to protect. Sun Sentinel. Foisting the added responsibility of shooting back at a gunman upon a well-meaning, but stressed-out and overworked classroom teacher is not an answer. One thing that Parkland taught us is that even law-enforcement officers are not infallible in these intense situations. Palm Beach Post. Legislation for the arming school personnel will be painful. Obviously, the school districts don’t want to do it and neither do most police agencies. But when a gunman is roaming the halls of a school, could an armed teacher make things any worse? Bill Cotterell, Tallahassee Democrat. The Marion County School Board is learning that a long and arduous process lies ahead before the board will be ready to hire a superintendent to run the schools. Ocala Star-Banner. Florida should boost teacher salaries and improve school transportation and pre-K funding with the extra $842 million of revenue recently forecast to be available over the next two years. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. A rash of sexually charged incidents among young students points to the need for better mental health counseling in schools. Lauren Ritchie, Orlando Sentinel.

Student enrichment: Students present the gift of color to a 38-year-old teacher at Osceola Fundamental High School in Pinellas County. Brian Yarbrough has been color-blind since birth, but can distinguish colors since 15 of his students presented him with a pair of $350 glasses from EnChroma. Tampa Bay Times. More than 700 K-12 schools are named Five Star Schools by the Florida Department of Education. Here are the lists from the Palm Beach area, central Florida, the Tampa Bay area, southwest Florida, south Florida, the Panhandle and northeast Florida schools. Florida Department of Education. Students at Umatilla and Eustis high schools in Lake County will get laptops this month as part of the Lake County School District’s plan to go all digital in grades 3-12. Orlando Sentinel. Pickleball is now part of the physical education curriculum in the Palm Beach County School District. Palm Beach Post. About a dozen Sarasota County schools now use virtual reality in the curriculum. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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