Teacher of the year, sales tax hike fight, pre-K improvement plans and more

Jim Booth

Teacher of the year: Dakeyan Chá Dré Graham, an instrumental music teacher and the band director at King High School in Hillsborough County, is chosen by the state Department of Education as the 2020 Florida teacher of the year. Graham wins $20,000 and will spend the next year as an education ambassador for the state. The other finalists were Shane Swezey, a music teacher at the Oak Park school in Sarasota County; Nicole Mosblech, a science teacher at Vero Beach High in Indian River County; Leigh Ann Norris, a 6th-grade math teacher at Hamilton County Elementary; and Megan Crombie, a 6th- and 7th-grade math teacher at the Florida State University School in Leon County. Florida Department of Education. Gradebook. TCPalm. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WFLA. WTSP.

Sales tax hike vote dispute: Frustrated by the Jacksonville City Council’s delays in deciding whether to allow a sales tax hike for schools to go to voters, the Duval County School Board is asking for a second opinion. Board vice chair Lori Hershey will ask the city’s general counsel, Jason Gabriel, for outside counsel to define the district’s rights in the dispute. In May, the city general counsel’s office ruled that it was within the city council’s authority to decide if the referendum for schools would be placed on a ballot, and when. “I just feel like it is always best to exhaust every effort,” Hershey said. “I feel like as a board we’ve been professional, respectful, responsive and we’ve done the right things. At this particular point, they’ve left us no option. We’re at an impasse.” Florida Times-Union.

Plans for pre-K improvements: Florida Department of Education officials say their plan to improve the state’s Voluntary Prekindergarten program is taking shape and will be submitted to the state Board of Education in August. Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered the upgrades after state testing showed that 42 percent of the state’s pre-K students were not ready for kindergarten. Among the changes will be the inclusion of learning gains into the formula used to determine readiness, a new funding model for the VPK program and a new advisory council. Gradebook.

Upheaval at school: The Marion County School Board is looking for a new outside operator for Evergreen Elementary School in Ocala, which just received a grade of D from the state. Evergreen has gotten a D or F for the past seven years and has been under the operation of Educational Directions, but the Florida Board of Education has ordered Marion school officials to find a new operator. The board has directed Superintendent Heidi Maier to see if Jayne Ellspermann LCC, which was recently hired to oversee Oakcrest Elementary, can handle a second school and how much she’d charge. Ocala Star-Banner.

Help for homeless students: A proposal for a community-wide approach to help the families of homeless students gets a positive reception from the Winter Haven City Commission at a meeting Thursday. The plan, which was presented by the faith-based social services organization Heart for Winter Haven, asks the city for $120,000 in the first year to provide financial assistance to families with students so they can stay in their homes, and create shelter space in churches for those who are evicted. Lakeland Ledger.

Student vaping problem: Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody says vaping among students has increased 78 percent in the past year. She was in Sarasota on Thursday as part of a statewide tour to collect information from school districts so she can make recommendations to the Legislature for ways to tighten existing laws. WFTS. WTSP.

Computer science push: Florida officials say they hope the $10 million investment they’re making in computer science education will help meet the growing demand for college graduates to fill open computing jobs in the state. The money will help train computer science teachers, and the state is offering to let students take computing courses instead of some traditional math or science classes to fulfill graduation requirements. Orlando Sentinel.

Driver’s education is back: After an absence of years, driver’s education courses will again be offered this fall at Marianna High School in Jackson County. “It was here years ago. We’ve fallen away from it and now we’re getting the opportunity to bring it back,” said Travis Blanton, assistant principal. WTXL.

No impact fees in budget: Santa Rosa County school officials are again compiling a budget without impact fees. The district’s request to impose fees on new construction was turned down in May by county commissioners, leaving the district to rely on the half-cent sales tax that began in 1998 to help build schools. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Personnel moves: Andy Tuck has been appointed as the chair of the Florida Board of Education. He replaces Marva Johnson, who had been chair since 2015 but was ineligible to continue. She was appointed vice chair. Gradebook. For the first time since it was started in 1988, the Clay County Education Foundation has a fulltime employee. Makayla Buchanan is the new executive director. Clay Today.

Education podcasts: School accountability and testing are the subjects of the second part of a podcast between education historian Sherman Dorn and redefinED executive editor Matthew Ladner. redefinED. The dispute between the Brevard County School District and its teachers and the recent school board is discussed. Florida Today.

School, district grades: More reports and analysis from districts and schools about grades issued from the state last week. Lafayette. Manatee. Washington. Gilchrist. Indian River. Osceola.

School lunch prices: Charlotte County School Board members are being asked to approve meal prices for the school year that begins in the fall, and district officials say students at Lemon Bay and Charlotte high schools are not likely to see an increase. Charlotte Sun.

Wrestling for girls: The Florida High School Athletic Association’s Wrestling Advisory Committee recently approved wrestling as an official high school sport for girls. Competition could start as early as the winter of 2021. Palm Beach Post.

Ex-administrator indicted: A former assistant principal at Miami’s Norland Senior High School is indicted on a charge of first-degree murder in the death of a teacher at the school in May. Prosecutors say Ernest Joseph Roberts faces the death penalty for the murder of Kameela Russell, who was reported missing May 15 after she failed to pick up her daughter. Roberts is godfather to that girl. Russell’s body was found in a canal a few days later. Miami Herald.

The firing that wasn’t: The security monitor who failed to stop the accused shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018 almost lost his job a few months earlier after being accused of sexual harassment. Andrew Medina made several sexually suggestive remarks to at least two female students — one of them Meadow Pollack, who was among the 17 killed in the shooting. A discipline committee recommended Medina be fired, but it was overruled and turned into a three-day suspension by Craig Nichols, chief of human resources for the district. Sun Sentinel.

Ex-administrator charged: A former assistant principal at Fort Myers High School has been charged with making a false report to law enforcement officers. Police say on May 9, Jamie Kirschner, 42, who was then working at the school, called 911 to report a Hispanic man burglarizing her home. After investigating, police determined the incident never happened. Fort Myers News-Press.

School employee arrested: An Indian River County School District employee has been arrested in Peaks Island, Maine, and accused of assaulting a police officer in an American Legion hall. Randall Hunt, 54, works in the Exceptional Student Education Department as a program specialist for resource and transition services. TCPalm.

Opinions on schools: Three-quarters of the students at Lorenzo Walker Technical High School in Naples are considered economically disadvantaged, 80 percent are minorities and 63 percent come from homes where Spanish is the primary language. But the school has beaten the odds to collect A grades from the state since 2012, and its ongoing success should be held out as an example for others to emulate. Naples Daily News. The state’s teacher bonuses program has been controversial and will continue to be since the latest program relies on the dubious value-added model scores for teachers to help determine eligibility. But any attempt to put the best teachers with the kids who need them most makes sense. St. Augustine Record.

Student enrichment: Thousands of backpacks and school supplies will be given away Saturday at a back-to-school at a Palm Bay church in Brevard County. Florida Today. The South Florida Science Center in West Palm Beach has won an award from the Florida Department of Education for expanding STEAM programs into preschools. Sun Sentinel.

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