School grade skeptics, substance abuse accountability, school mascots and more

Jim Booth

School grade skepticism: While many educators and politicians have been praising the improvement in grades for schools and districts in the state, some say it doesn’t align with the reality they’re seeing in schools. Manatee County School Board member Charlie Kennedy, for one, says the number of state school districts receiving an A grade had jumped 800 percent since 2014, from 3 to 24 this year. Eight districts with fewer than half their students passing the state reading test were awarded a grade of B. Sixty-five schools earned an A or B with fewer than half of their students passing math and reading exams. “If you were a testing company and you saw grades rising this dramatically, I think you would go back and look at your test,” Kennedy said. “Where is the validity of the system?” The grades were also criticized by the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, as a measure of family income instead of success. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Tallahassee Democrat. WINK. More reports and analysis from districts and schools about grades issued from the state last week. Hillsborough. Pinellas. Pasco. Hernando. Volusia and Flagler. Lake. The Villages. Leon. Osceola. Citrus. Gadsden and Jefferson.

Substance abuse education: Florida school districts would have to file their substance abuse education plans and documentation reports yearly to the state or risk losing funding and grants for those programs, according to a rule being proposed by the Florida Department of Education. “This rule would establish a mechanism to ensure Florida K-12 students are receiving substance use and abuse education,” says Penny Taylor, director of the Office of Healthy Schools. The state Board of Education will consider the proposal in August. Politico Florida.

School mascots: Hillsborough County School Board members will consider a proposal Tuesday to require any change in school mascots to be approved by the board. The proposed policy reads: “The board shall, upon recommendation of the superintendent, approve by vote any proposed new mascot for all elementary, middle and high schools and any proposed change to an existing mascot for any elementary, middle or high school. The superintendent shall develop procedures for the selection of change of mascots to ensure equity, inclusion and transparency.” In June, board members halted the decision by district officials to change mascot names at six schools after some parents complained. Gradebook.

Security in schools: A bill proposed in the U.S. House would expand the role of the Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center to include a national program to focus on school violence prevention that would include more research and training about school violence and wider dissemination of prevention methods. The legislation, which is named the Eagles Act for the mascot at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, was proposed by U.S. Reps. Ted Deutch, a Democrat whose district includes Broward and Palm Beach counties, and Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican whose district spans Miami-Dade, Collier and Hendry counties. Sun Sentinel. Sunshine State News. Lake County school officials are spending more than $1 million to overhaul the program to provide mental health services to students. Daily Commercial.

Sales tax hike vote: After a meeting with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry on Friday, Duval County school officials say they are confident their request to have a half-cent sales tax increase put on a ballot will be honored. What remains unclear is whether the referendum will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot or in November 2020. “The meeting went very well,” said Superintendent Diana Greene. Curry did not comment. Florida Times-Union. WJXT.

Downfall of a principal: Little in a 26-year career of a Palm Beach County educator could have foreshadowed his sudden fall after telling a parent “not everyone believes the Holocaust happened.” William Latson had the reputation as a low-key leader of elementary, middle and high schools before his 2018 exchange with a parent who questioned whether students at Spanish River Community High School were learning enough about the Holocaust. Palm Beach Post. A Boca Raton businessman is offering Latson an all-expenses paid trip to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland so he can “fully understand the atrocities that took place.” WPEC.

Superintendent retiring: Flagler County school Superintendent James Tager announces he is retiring when his contract expires June 30, 2020. The decision was expected. When Tager was hired in 2017, he was in the Florida Retirement System’s Deferred Retirement Option Program, which allowed him to remain working for three years while his pension accrued in a trust fund and earned interest. Tager is starting his 38th year in education in Volusia and Flagler counties. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Charter vs. district: A town meeting Thursday clearly illustrated the sharp divide between the Manatee County School District and a struggling charter school. District officials say the Lincoln Memorial Academy is failing financially, with a leader who has been sanctioned by the state for giving job recommendations to a teacher who was under investigation for sexual misconduct. But that leader, principal Eddie Hundley, says the district has wrongfully withheld funds from Lincoln and maliciously targeted him, and he’s gathering support in the community. The school board will discuss the dispute at its July 23 meeting. Bradenton Herald.

State history testing: While 69 percent of the students who took the Florida Standards Assessments U.S. history exam passed it, only 43 percent are considered “proficient.” Scoring at levels 1 and 2 is considered failing, while Level 3 is passing. But to be considered proficient, students have to score at Level 4 or 5. Still, the proficiency gain is up from 28 percent in 2013. Florida Phoenix.

Parent liaisons: The Hillsborough County School District wants to hire parent liaisons for 16 schools in low-income neighborhoods to help promote better communication. Liaisons would help parents sign up for resources such as sports and tutoring programs, recruit parents for school committees, and coordinate with religious groups and charities. The new positions are fulltime and pay $10.69 an hour. Gradebook.

New school logo contest: The board for the new charter high school in Destin is asking for submissions for a school logo, colors and mascot. Backers plan to open the school in August 2020. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Opinions on schools: William Latson’s neutrality about the Holocaust was deeply hurtful to his community and cost him his job. But in a terrible way, he went out doing what every educator is supposed to do: Teach. Steve Bousquet, Sun Sentinel. Florida students should not just be passing third-grade state exams; they need to be proficient in reading and math in order to set them up for future success. Gainesville Sun. Here are some tips for getting your children ready for bullies when schools reopen in August. David E. Clarke, Orlando Sentinel. The reason choice programs are growing isn’t because of laws, policies, political support or industry lobbying. There is only one reason: Florida parents want choice, and choice is working for their children. Shawn Frost, TCPalm. The issue of school choice leads to too many unanswered questions. Martin County School Board member Tina McSorley, TCPalm. Why did the Collier County School Board call a special meeting to “review the matter of whether to issue a notice of termination of the charter with Mason Classical Academy,” when from the outset of the meeting it was clear that termination wasn’t in the cards? Naples Daily News. Finally, 18 north Florida school districts are getting special kits to deal with serious bleed-outs, which can prevent a death in the critical first minutes before EMTs arrive. Florida Times-Union. The Escambia County School District’s resistance to reasonable performance commitments requested as a requirement for a $2.3 million grant from Triumph Gulf Coast sends a sad message that the district is afraid to step up to that challenge. Pensacola News-Journal. To say that the American public education system works for many kids would be true; but saying three of the reactors at Chernobyl never detonated also would be true. Matthew Ladner, redefinED.

Student enrichment: Seven incoming juniors and seniors at University High School on Orange City have been appointed by the city council to a youth advisory council. The group will take its concerns to the city council every month. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

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