Archive | Faith-Based Schools

School choice gave this teacher freedom

Angela Kennedy’s decision to quit being a public school teacher was driven by a steady drip, drip, drip of frustration.

Dr. Angela Kennedy was a 14-year veteran of public schools when she left to start her own private school. She had been a classroom teacher and instructional coach, and had also coordinated curriculum compliance for English language learners. “I wanted parents and students and teachers to have another option,” she said.

In her view, teaching had become too scheduled and scripted, with new teacher evaluations rewarding conformity more than effectiveness. Cohort after cohort of low-income kids continued to stumble and fall, while people far from classrooms continued to impose mandate after mandate. Her passion for teaching began to fade.

Kennedy considered becoming an administrator, so she could attempt reform from within. But ultimately, she took a leap of faith. After 14 years in Orange County Public Schools, she did what educators in Florida increasingly have real power to do: She started her own school.

Deeper Root Academy began three years ago, with three students in Kennedy’s home. Now it’s a thriving PreK-8 with 80 students and nine teachers, including seven who, like Kennedy, once worked in public schools. Most of the students are black, and 80 percent are from in or near Pine Hills, a tough part of Orlando that drew President Trump to another private school this month.

“It was that back and forth, thinking about where I could be the most impactful,” Kennedy said. “Would it be to stay and try to start a change? To try to deal with a mammoth system? Not likely that I’m going to get very far … ”

“But what I could do is give people an option. And that’s where this school came from. I wanted parents and students and teachers to have another option.”

Kennedy had options because parents had options.

Florida offers one of the most robust blends of educational choice in America, which is why Education Secretary Betsy DeVos gives it a nod. Forty-five percent of Florida students in PreK-12 attend something other than their zoned district schools, with a half-million in privately-operated options thanks to some measure of state support.

Charter schools, vouchers, tax credit scholarships and education savings accounts are all opening doors for Florida students. With far less fanfare, they’re doing the same for teachers.

“In my school,” Kennedy said, “I have the liberty to do what’s best for my kids.” Continue Reading →

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Jacksonville private school, scholarship fueled student’s emotional turnaround

Malik Ferrell turned his life around at The Potter’s House Christian Academy in Jacksonville.

Lost.

That’s where Pamela Howard feared her son, Malik Ferrell, would end up after years of struggles at different schools in Jacksonville.

She couldn’t afford to let that happen. Malik needed a caring environment, especially after he and his family were rocked by the murder of his older brother, Derrell Baker.

Pamela had been searching for the right fit for Malik – four different schools in four years.

Finally a friend told her about the Step Up For Students scholarship, which allowed her to send him to The Potter’s House Christian Academy.

(Step Up For Students publishes this blog, and helps administer the tax credit scholarship program in Florida.)

That’s where Malik’s life unraveled – and where he ultimately put it all back together.

“Having the opportunity to go to a private school helped get him on track,” Pamela said. “I cannot even tell you the difference it made in his life.”

At his neighborhood school, Malik made mostly D’s in second grade, then mostly F’s in third grade, which he had to repeat.

Three years and three schools later, at the age of 11, he got a fresh start at The Potter’s House.

Then the unthinkable happened.

Just weeks after Malik enrolled, Derrell, 17, was killed in a drive-by shooting. Police had no suspects. There were no arrests.

Pamela was working full-time at Blue Cross Blue Shield, taking complaints in the executive department. The grief and stress overwhelmed her, and the mother of five went on disability. She now works part-time doing billing at McKesson.

“Seeing my momma cry and my sisters cry, it was … it was just a lot to deal with,” Malik said. “That was my only big brother, so there was nothing for me to look up to.”

Derrell was everything to Malik – best friend, football hero, protector, disciplinarian, role model. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Trump’s budget, recess, charter district and more

Trump’s school choice push: President Donald Trump’s first budget calls for $1.4 billion to be set aside to expand school choice, even as it cuts the overall Department of Education budget by $9 billion, or 13 percent. The federal Charter Schools Program would be boosted by 50 percent, and Trump also calls for an increase of $1 billion in Title 1 spending for high-poverty schools to provide services for low-income students. Notable cuts are in teacher training, after-school and extended-day programs, and programs for students on military bases, Native American reservations and other federal lands that are not on local tax rolls. redefinED. U.S. News & World Report. Huffington Post. Education Week. THE Journal. Miami-Dade County schools would lose about $40 million under the Trump budget, says Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, and he figures Broward County would lose about $25 million. WTVJ.

Mandatory recess: The Senate Appropriations Committee approves a bill that would require 20 minutes of daily recess in the state’s elementary schools. The bill now moves to the full Senate for a vote. The House’s identical bill has yet to get a committee hearing. Gradebook. Florida Politics. Tampa Bay Times.

Charter district: The Jefferson County School Board votes Tuesday on a charter school company’s application to take over the operation of the struggling district schools. Somerset Academy was the only company that made a presentation that had “a record of effectiveness with similar student demographics” to Jefferson County, where most students are low-income minorities, according to the Florida Department of Education. Somerset is a nonprofit network associated with the management company Academica. It runs 50 schools with nearly 17,600 students. redefinED.

District audit: A state audit finds fault with the Brevard County School District on four points: paying $150,000 over three years to the Brevard Schools Foundation for administrative expenses, not performing routine background checks on 27 teachers, awarding state teacher bonuses to eight ineligible teachers, and allowing transportation employees unsupervised access to inventory. Superintendent Desmond Blackburn says state law does not prohibit payments to the foundation, and the other three items are being corrected. Florida Today. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Teacher pay, true costs, safe schools and more

Teacher pay: Prospects for a statewide $200 million raise in pay for teachers have dimmed after proponent Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, says he is no longer pursuing the hike. Instead, Simmons says, he is backing an expansion of the teacher bonuses program, known as the Best and Bright Teacher Scholarship. Both the Senate and House are considering bills that would increase the money for bonuses and widen eligibility. Naples Daily News.

Public education spending: The true cost of educating one public school student in Florida for a year is $10,308, according to a report from Florida TaxWatch. The Florida Education Finance Program funding formula expenditure was $7,178 per student for the 2015-2016 school year. But TaxWatch says other tax dollars spent by districts take the total spending per student to more than $10,000. redefinED.

Protecting undocumented: The Miami-Dade County School Board declares its district a safe zone for undocumented immigrant students, and will review what else it can do to protect those students from U.S. immigration officials. The intent, says board member Lubby Navarro, is “to ensure that our schools are safe havens for all students and that this message resonates throughout entire communities, our neighborhoods, our barrios, so that everyone knows that our schools are safe for our children and our families.” Miami Herald.

Teacher program: The Palm Beach County School District and Nova Southeastern University will partner to create a teacher-training program that promises students jobs in the district after graduation. Students will be paid substitute teachers during their senior year at Nova, and will be offered fulltime teaching positions when they graduate as long as they meet certification and other requirements. Nova is hoping to enter into similar partnerships with Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Sun-Sentinel. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Weapons, security bill, open enrollment and more

Weapons at schools: Two legislators file bills that would stiffen criminal penalties for people who carry guns and other weapons within 1,000 feet of a public school. Anyone breaking the law would be charged with a second-degree felony and could get up to 15 years in prison or fined $10,000, according to the bill filed by Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation. Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura, filed the House companion legislation. Sunshine State News.

Security at Jewish schools: The Florida House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee approves a bill that provides $1.5 million to boost security at all Jewish day schools in Florida. The bill would pay for bulletproof glass. Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, says the bill is a response to the increasing number of bomb threats to Jewish schools in the state. Florida has 35 Jewish day schools in nine counties. redefinED. Florida Politics.

Open enrollment: More than 3,000 students in Osceola and Lake counties want to transfer schools under the state’s new open enrollment law, which allows transfers to any public school that has openings. The Osceola school district has received 2,477 applications, and the Lake district about 900. Orange and Volusia counties are taking transfer applications now, and Seminole begins signups April 16. Officials in all four counties say there are limited spaces available in schools. Orlando Sentinel. The Clay County School Board is expected to vote April 6 on a proposed plan to deal with open enrollment. District officials say 11 schools are under the 85 percent enrollment threshold, and 1,557 spots at those schools will be available for transfers. Florida Times-Union.

That’s our satellite: A satellite built by students at the Weiss School in Palm Beach Gardens will be launched into space by NASA sometime in 2018, 2019 or 2020, according to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. The WeissSat-1 will study bacteria that has thawed after being trapped in ice. The Weiss satellite is one of 34 chosen by NASA, and is only the second built by elementary and middle school students. Palm Beach Post. Continue Reading →

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Drexel Fund awards Cristo Rey Tampa $300,000

A venture philanthropy fund that aims to expand private schools that serve low-income and working-class students, has begun making investments in Florida.

One early grant will provide $300,000 over three years to help Cristo Rey Tampa — a Catholic college-preparatory high school — to support its four-year school build-out.

The Tampa school opened its doors to ninth graders earlier this year, and will add one higher grade level per year as it grows to fill a remodeled boarding school that had previously stood vacant.

Initially targeting the states of Florida, Arizona, Ohio, Louisiana, Wisconsin and Indiana, the Drexel Fund has set a long-term goal of raising $85 million to support the creation of 50,000 new spaces for low- and middle-income students in high-quality private schools over eight years. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Legislative issues, Trump’s visit and more

Legislative session: Vouchers, recess and capital funding for charter schools are among the hot education topics in this year’s legislative session, which begins Tuesday. Sunshine State News. School testing will again be a prominent issue during the session. Several bills have been filed to cut back on the number of tests, and to give options to the Florida Standards Assessments. News Service of Florida. Teacher bonuses are among the key education issues that will be debated by the Legislature. Tallahassee Democrat. The way the state calculates school funding may get another look from lawmakers this year. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Lake County school leaders say they oppose school vouchers, worry about recruiting and retaining teachers and don’t like the state’s current standardized testing process. Superintendent Diane Kornegay, school board member Kristi Burns and teachers union president Stuart Klatte made the remarks at an education forum last week. Daily Commercial. The Polk County School District is asking legislators to close the gap in per-student funding among districts. Polk ranked 64th out of 67 in per-student funding from the state this school year. Winter Haven News Chief. Senate and House leaders come to an agreement on the rules for the budget-making process for the legislative session. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida.

Trump’s visit: President Donald Trump praises students and educators at St. Andrew Catholic School during a visit Friday. Trump used the stop to promote school choice, and urged members of Congress to pass a bill to fund school choice for disadvantaged young people, including minority children. Orlando SentinelCatholic News Agency. Associated Press. WCSI. WFTV. Fox News. New York Times. News 13. redefinED. A profile of Denisha Merriweather, the University of South Florida graduate student who was held up by the president as an example of how school choice can help struggling students succeed. Washington Post.

Commission choices: Gov. Rick Scott appoints 14 people to the state Constitution Revision Commission. Several of the appointees have ties to education: Pam Stewart, Florida education commissioner; Marva Johnson, state Board of Education chairwoman; Nicole Washington, a trustee at Florida A&M University; Belinda Keiser, vice chancellor of Keiser University; Darlene Jordan, a member of the state university system’s Board of Governors; and Jose “Pepe” Armas, a trustee for Florida International University. Politico Florida. Gradebook. Orlando Sentinel. News Service of Florida. Miami Herald. Continue Reading →

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Islamic schools can have benefits beyond the Muslim community

They’re part of a burgeoning immigrant community that often confronts bigotry and xenophobia. They’ve set up a growing network of academically effective faith-based schools. Those schools, often assumed to hamper their assimilation into American culture, may actually help them become better citizens.

That was the story of American Catholics before the turn of the 20th century. They faced an anti-immigrant backlash and a wave of religious bigotry that inspire Blaine Amendments and spurred the creation of Protestant-controlled common schools.

And it may be the story of American Muslims today, as Ashley Berner, of Johns Hopkins University, and Charles Glenn, of Boston University, argue in The 74:

Muslims in the 21st century are in a position similar to that of 19th-century American Catholics. To the majority culture, their beliefs may seem perplexing and their loyalty suspect, although, according to the Pew Research Center, American Muslims are overwhelmingly “mainstream and moderate” and 82 percent report being satisfied with their lives in this country. Despite the high educational attainment and remarkable economic success of America’s immigrant Muslims and their children, however, some Americans consider their presence a menace. Islamic schools have become a focal point for rumors and vandalism, and some otherwise sympathetic legislators have retreated from supporting school-choice programs because they don’t want to fund Islamic schools.

Such sentiments are intolerant and unwise. Islamic schools constitute a powerful antidote to the alienation from American life fostered on the Internet and by marginalized groups. More than 200 Islamic schools exist across this country, and they are growing in number and adding grades and academic heft each year. Their academic outcomes have not yet been explored in depth, but if they continue to provide high-quality instruction and robust character education, we should expect to see a new version of the “Catholic school effect.”

Continue Reading →