Author Archive | redefinED staff

Pausing to honor a colleague

We pause today for a funeral and introspection. Sherri Ackerman, formerly the associate editor of this blog, died suddenly on Friday at age 52. She was a journalist who wrote for two major daily newspapers, the Tampa Tribune and the Tampa Bay Times, before she found a home at the nonprofit, Step Up For Students, that publishes this blog. Sherri believed in the possibilities education holds for every child. Her gift was to tell stories that breathed life into our often-sterile debate. We reflect on Sherri today through a powerful account, written two years ago, about a school in her back yard of Tampa. Academy Prep Center was and remains, to use her words, “electric with opportunity.”

A school where ‘realization of possibility’ is routine

Jorge Perez graduated in 2008 from Academy Prep Center of Tampa, a private middle school in Florida, as class valedictorian. He earned a full scholarship to the prestigious Phillips Exeter prep school in New Hampshire and, today, he's a sophomore at Columbia University in New York City. Photo provided by family.

Jorge Perez graduated from Academy Prep Center of Tampa, a private middle school in Florida, as class valedictorian. He earned a full scholarship to the prestigious Phillips Exeter prep school in New Hampshire and, today, is a sophomore at Columbia University in New York City.
Photo provided by family.

By Sherri Ackerman

Jorge Perez remembers the first time he stepped behind the black iron gates surrounding Academy Prep Center of Tampa, Fla. The private school for students in grades 5-8 is wedged beside a Cuban bakery and the interstate in a faded neighborhood with sagging bungalows. Yet, something made it electric with opportunity.

“It was very different from other middle schools I had seen and the atmosphere was buzzing,’’ recalls Perez, then a rising sixth-grader. “It felt like a place where I could grow.’’

And grow he did. Perez graduated from Academy Prep, earned a full ride to the legendary Phillips Exeter Academy boarding school in New Hampshire, and now attends Columbia University in New York City.

The story is all the more remarkable because, for Academy Prep, it’s not all that surprising. Since 2003, when the school was founded, many of its students – all of them low-income and almost all of them black or Hispanic – have moved on to top public and private high schools, and then to highly regarded public and private colleges.

No one at the school expects anything less.

*** Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: STEM majors, school spending, testing & more

The Commish. Pam Stewart is up for a performance evaluation before the Board of Education next week. Gradebook. StateImpact Florida.

florida-roundup-logoTesting. Three-person panel meets today to begin selecting independent reviewer of state tests. Gradebook. Political Fix Florida.

STEM. Black students in Florida are being steered away from the most lucrative college majors, which tend to be in STEM fields. Bridge to Tomorrow. Some Okaloosa students hear from experts whose jobs hinge on STEM. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Middle schools. The Hernando schoool board backs a plan to create a new center for struggling middle school students. Tampa Bay Times.

Turnaround students. Pasco honors them. Tampa Bay Times.

Principals. One in Broward is Florida’s Principal of the Year. South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Employee conduct. A former Orange County principal is reprimanded for not immediately reporting a case of possible child abuse to authorities. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: charter schools, testing glitches, STEM & more

Charter schools. The abrupt closing of Acclaim Academy charter schools in Duval and Orange shows again that charter school reform is long overdue, writes the Miami Herald’s Fred Grimm.

florida-roundup-logoSchool choice. Tampa Bay Times takes a shot at charter schools and private schools in an editorial panning Gov. Scott’s proposal for profit-sharing among hospitals.

Standardized testing. Glitches, again. Tampa Bay Times. Tampa TribuneMiami Herald. Orlando SentinelGradebook. SchoolZone. The Citrus school board weighs in. Gradebook.

STEM. Black students continue to earn a smaller and smaller percentage of science and engineering degrees in Florida universities. Bridge to Tomorrow.

Rick Scott. Study hard to get out of poverty, he tells students at a Volusia high school. Daytona Beach News Journal.

Superintendents. Exit interview with Manatee’s outgoing super. Bradenton Herald. A look at Manatee’s interim. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald Tribune.

School spending. Pinellas explores options for self insurance. Gradebook. The Miami-Dade school board considers what to do with 10 acres of prime real estate. Miami Herald. The Leon school district’s legal tab in several matters is approaching $400,000. Tallahassee Democrat.

School fighting. City officials in Cutler Bay are concerned about 188 reports of fighting at a local middle school, the highest in the state. Miami Herald. Continue Reading →

Civil rights leader draws connection between Selma & FL school choice battle

Florida civil right leader H.K. Matthews, who marched at Selma, says both that historic march and the current fight over school choice are about empowerment.

Florida civil right leader H.K. Matthews, who marched at Selma, says both that historic march and the current fight over school choice are about empowerment.

The historic march at Selma in 1965 and the current battle over school choice in Florida have a lot in common, writes Florida civil rights icon H.K. Matthews in an op-ed in today’s Fort Myers News Press.

Matthews participated in the Selma march, which is again the focus of national discussion thanks to a powerful new movie. He also helped lead the 2010 march on Tallahassee that drew nearly 6,000 people in support of tax credit scholarships for low-income children.

Watching the movie revived painful memories, Matthews writes. But it wasn’t the first time he had flashbacks to that pivotal moment in the civil rights movement, pointing specifically to the 2010 rally in Florida.

“Incredibly, nearly 6,000 people showed up — that’s roughly 10 times the number who marched across that Selma bridge,” he writes. “Over 1,000 people slept on buses overnight to be there. They came to celebrate their own empowerment — the ability to choose the best school for their children.”

Rev. Matthews participated in both the first Selma march and the 2010 march in Tallahassee that drew nearly 6,000 in support of parental choice. He is in the front row on the left, walking with the cane.

Rev. Matthews participated in both the first Selma march and the 2010 march in Tallahassee that drew nearly 6,000 in support of parental choice. He is in the front row on the left, walking with the cane.

The 2010 march preceded passage of a bill, later signed by then Gov. Charlie Crist, that expanded the scholarship program. Last August, the Florida teachers union, Florida School Boards Association and other groups filed suit to end the program, which is administered by nonprofits such as Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog. A key hearing in the case is set for Feb. 9.

“When I heard about the lawsuit, I had another flashback to the old movement,” Matthews writes in the op-ed. “The parallels were striking to me. Here were citizens demanding empowerment. A march symbolized that demand. And here were powerful groups trying to deny it.

“I suppose that this lawsuit will eventually end up in the Florida Supreme Court. One thing I’m fairly sure of: If nearly 6,000 people showed up just to demonstrate that they supported the program, how many will come if the most important thing to them — their right to choose the best school for their children — is threatened to be taken away?”

Read the full op-ed here.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year 2

May the seeds of parental choice continue to bear fruit in 2015.

In the meantime, the final post in our wish list series runs tomorrow. Thanks to all 10 guest bloggers who took time out to contribute such strong reads for the holidays. We are grateful.

Our regular publication schedule resumes Monday. See you then!

FL teacher/union member: Lawsuit wrong against school choice program

thanks_teacherA Florida public school teacher and teachers union member is speaking out against the lawsuit that threatens to dismantle the nation’s largest private school choice program – and take away the scholarship that is benefitting one of her children.

In an op-ed in today’s Miami Herald, Miami teacher and union steward Marlene Desdunes describes the lawsuit against Florida’s tax credit scholarship program, which is serving about 69,000 low-income students this year, as spiteful and “antithetical to our values” as teachers. She writes:

How could we, in the name of teaching, uproot these children from schools that are working for them? No one asked me whether my $837 in annual union dues could be used to try to throw my daughter out of St. Mary’s, and this court fight is turning school and union leaders whom I admire into politicians that I hardly recognize.

In Miami-Dade, more than 18,000 students use the scholarship, and yet when some of the parents showed up at a recent School Board meeting to protest the lawsuit, the board voted not to even hear what they had to say. That’s a degree of callous indifference to poor parents of color that I don’t ever remember seeing from the School Board. Do children in our community not matter unless they attend a district-operated school?

Desdunes’s op-ed notes she is the mother of three students – one who attends a Miami-Dade district school, another who attends a private school with help from a tax credit scholarship, and a third who attends a private with help from a McKay scholarship for students with disabilities. She is also among 15 parents who were granted intervenor status earlier this month to help defend the program against the Florida teachers union, Florida School Boards Association and other groups who filed suit against it Aug. 28. The program is administered by nonprofits like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.

Desdunes isn’t the only public school teacher making her opposition known. Continue Reading →