Free school lunches at risk for 200,000, teacher evaluations, rezoning and more

Jim Booth

Free lunches threatened: Almost 200,000 Florida students could lose automatic access to free or reduced-price school lunches if a new Trump administration proposal to limit the number of people enrolled in the federal food stamps program (SNAP) is enacted, according to the Florida Policy Institute. Hardest hit would be Okeechobee County, where 83 percent of students are now automatically eligible. “Once these SNAP benefits are pulled, it will drastically impact the kids who are accessing free lunches at school, and it will put that much more of a burden on families that are already struggling,” said Paco Vélez, president and CEO of the hunger relief organization Feeding South Florida. Miami Herald. An anonymous donor has given $1,500 to the Leon County School District to help cover $4,000 in unpaid student lunch debts so far this school year. Tallahassee Democrat. About $11,000 in unpaid lunch fees are owed by Monroe County students. Key West Citizen.

Teacher evaluations: Miami-Dade County school officials are offering to develop, in partnership with the teachers union, an alternative teacher evaluation system to the controversial value-added model that places an emphasis on how much growth students show on standardized test scores in reading and math. The union has not responded to the proposal, made last week in a contract bargaining session, but the sides are expected to meet again this month. Miami Herald.

New school rezoning approach: Instead of drawing defined school boundaries for a new school that’s opening in the Viera area in 2020, Brevard school officials have decided to use open enrollment and offer seats to anyone in the county. The school is expected to have 300 to 400 students in its first year, and if more apply a lottery will be used to select students. David Lindemann, the district’s director of planning and project management, said the idea is less disruptive and unpopular than the traditional method of zoning creating boundaries that force students from their schools. Florida Today.

School safety survey: Eighty-eight percent of the members of a panel of Miami-Dade County community leaders think the state hasn’t done enough to protect students in schools. The consensus is that the lack of armed guards for schools is exacerbated by a lack of funding for mental health services, best practices and technology upgrades. Other priorities mentioned are recruiting and retaining teachers, improving vocational programs and bolstering early education. The group will present its recommendations to the governor and Legislature before the next session, which starts Jan. 14. Miami Herald.

School worker wages: Hourly workers in the Monroe County School District will get average pay raises of 50 cents an hour in 2020, under a proposal announced by Superintendent Mark Porter. The district will make a further study of paraprofessional wages. The school board is expected to vote on the raises at its Dec. 17 meeting. Key West Citizen.

District’s progress: The Clay County School District made progress toward its primary goals during the 2018-2019 school year, according to Superintendent Addison Davis’ annual report to the school board. The district’s students improved test scores and graduated at a higher rate, more than 90 percent; built a new elementary school without incurring debt; expanded school choice options; implemented a new social-emotional curriculum; improved its reserves; and improved the rate of hiring and retaining minority teachers. Clay Today.

School bus tracking: The Volusia County School District has spent $30,000 for an app that allows parents to track their children’s school buses. The app, which was activated last week, is updated every 15 seconds and is available for Apple and Android devices. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Back to the classroom: Brevard County school officials went back to the classroom last week as substitute teachers for a reminder of the challenges of a classroom. Superintendent Mark Mullins, his top assistants, school board members, and the president and vice president of the teachers union all participated. Space Coast Daily.

Superintendent election: The election of an Okaloosa County school superintendent is months away, but the race is already attracting donors for both candidates. Ray Sansom, a former state legislator, has raised more than $93,000, and the sitting superintendent, Marcus Chambers, has raised more than $53,000. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Personnel moves: Brian Mast has been named president of the Mount Dora Christian Academy and Children’s Home. He replaces James Moore, who is retiring after 30 years at the school. Daily Commercial.

School choice: The application period has begun for educational choice programs in south Florida school districts. Sun Sentinel.

New Jersey’s comeback: At a recent press conference to talk about a proposal to raise the starting pay for Florida teachers to second in the nation, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran cracked: “I always joke, I said the reason we chose 2 is because No. 1 was New Jersey, and nobody wants to teach in New Jersey. I can say that in Florida.” New Jersey was not amused, pointing out that it’s first in the country in an annual ranking system by the Education Week Research Center, and that Florida lags behind New Jersey in key achievement categories and average SAT scores. Florida Phoenix.

School district sued: The family of a 6-year-old autistic student is suing the Broward County School Board, alleging that he was physically and verbally abused by teachers and an aide at two schools this year. All three school workers have been reassigned pending investigations. Sun Sentinel.

School employees and the law: A teacher’s aide at Brentwood Elementary School in Miami-Dade County has been arrested and accused of molesting a child under 12 years old. Police say Brian Holt, 38, inappropriately touched a 4-year-old pre-kindergarten student on Oct. 23. WPLG. Miami Herald. A Brevard County teacher has been arrested and accused of soliciting prostitution. Cocoa police said Michael Patrick Fitzpatrick, 48, a physical education teacher at Golfview Elementary School, was arrested after offering an undercover detective money in exchange for a sex act. Brevard Times. Jason Thomas Maynor, a 38-year-old teacher and coach at Bayside High School in Palm Bay, has been arrested and charged with lewd or lascivious battery on a child under the age of 16. Brevard Times.

Opinions on schools: If Democratic candidates for president — indeed, candidates from all parties — wish to be true representatives of all Americans, they will stop taking sides in the education wars, stop pitting parents against each other, and stop acting as if children are less important the moment they enter a charter or non-traditional schools. Chris Stewart, redefinED. Former Superintendent Todd Bowden’s departure is costing the Sarasota County School District more than $230,000. But what about the repercussions that don’t carry a dollar sign, such as the decision to drop an application for a community partnership school grant? Carrie Seidman, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. In the debate over electing or appointing school superintendents, we seem to be ignoring a major factor: Elected superintendents are responsible to the voting public and the parents. Appointed superintendents are responsible to the board. Ann Wiggins, Florida Times-Union. The Florida Legislature should stop shortchanging the state’s future by scrimping on teacher pay. Florida Times-Union. Students who are English language-learners should be tested in their native tongues. Alex Barrio, Orlando Sentinel. If the state of Florida insists on singling out favorite teachers with bonuses, any system of evaluation and reward should be designed with more input from students, parents and the teachers themselves. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Equipping children with literacy and numeracy is a key component of mobility. The performance of our education system is a major impediment to such an aspiration, and in fact, may have us trending toward a detrimental elitism of our own. Matthew Ladner, redefinED.

Student enrichment: At Gulf Middle School in Pasco County, where 90 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, the school’s Treasure Chest classroom filled with shoes, clothing, school supplies and more is a lifeline for needy students. Tampa Bay Times. Students at the Sagemont Lower School campus in Weston donate 506 nonperishable food items to the nonprofit Kids in Distress organization. Sun Sentinel. More than 30 Lee County schools now have gardens that teach students about the value of growing and sharing food and providing help for those in need. Fort Myers News-Press. Manatee County students finished sixth in the F1 in Schools World Finals with the miniature, CO2-powered race car they designed and built. The six students, from Palmetto High School, Southeast High and the University of South Florida, competed in the United Arab Emirates against teams from 55 countries. Bradenton Herald.

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