Is political trouble brewing in a charter-friendly district?

This week, while the school board in one generally charter-friendly Florida district was voting to reject a charter school application, another lamented the limits of its authority.

Speakers lined up to oppose a pair of charter school applications before the Hillsborough County School Board. Most dinged charter schools generally but concentrated their criticism on for-profit management companies.

In a sign of rising political tensions, some school officials talked about turning their attention toward Tallahassee.

In some ways, Hillsborough County seems like friendly territory for charter schools. Steady population growth, a well-regarded charter school office and a relatively collaborative climate have allowed the district to avoid some of the problems that cropped up elsewhere in the state.

However, the school district is under fiscal stress. New needs, like security officers, add to its expenses. Superintendent Jeff Eakins is reorganizing the administration to shed an unsustainable cost structure and talking about a local tax referendum to boost revenue.

Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association was one of several speakers who argued charter schools make the problems worse. The union is trying to negotiate a new contract. Its demands for raises have run headlong into a lack of available funding. With that backdrop, she asked the school board to reject two applications to open K-8 charter schools in the fast-growing Riverview area. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Tougher tests, Schools of Hope, top employee and more

Testing standards toughened: The Florida Board of Education adopts tougher standards for the state exams high school students must pass to graduate. The board also eliminated the Post Secondary Education Readiness Test, one of the alternatives for students who don’t pass the state exams. Alternatives to the state tests are now the SAT, ACT and just-added PSAT, though the board also boosted the scores needed on those tests to qualify for graduation. The new standards go into effect for students entering high school this fall. Educators protested the changes, saying they will significantly lower graduation rates. Orlando Sentinel. Gradebook. News Service of FloridaPolitico Florida. WFTS. Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart announces that she’s retiring Jan. 8, the day Gov. Rick Scott leaves office, though she says she’s open to staying on if the next governor asks her to. Stewart has been in the job since 2013, when she replaced Tony Bennett after he resigned. Gradebook.

Schools of Hope: The Board of Education also approves two new Schools of Hope operators, bringing the state’s total to four. Schools of Hope qualify for special financing and grants to expand services and increase instructional time. Officials for KIPP New Jersey and Democracy Prep Public Schools say they look forward to working with school districts and the state to put schools in areas where traditional public schools have struggled. KIPP is helping create a new school in Miami in a partnership with the Miami-Dade district, while Democracy Prep wants to complement KIPP in Miami and is also looking into places like Polk and Hillsborough counties. redefinED.

Employee of the year: Stephanie Melton, an exceptional student education behavioral health assistant at W.E. Cherry Elementary School in Clay County, is selected by the Florida Department of Education as the 2018 school-related employee of the year. She wins $10,000. The other finalists — Sylvester Jones of Bay County; Jermaine Green of Miami-Dade County; Debra Canning of Pinellas County; and Sarah Woods of Sarasota County — each win $6,500. Florida Department of Education.

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New Schools of Hope organizations want to become ‘good neighbors’

Florida’s two newest “Schools of Hope” operators don’t just plan to open schools in academically struggling areas. They also want to work with districts — and the communities they serve — long before they open they get started.

The state Board of Education approved KIPP New Jersey and Democracy Prep Public Schools as Hope Operators today. The status allows them to qualify for special financing and state grants that help them expand student services and offer more instructional time.

The money will come out of a $140-million-a-year appropriation from the Legislature. As a result, Gabriella DiFillipo of KIPP New Jersey, which is helping to midwife a new school in Miami, said it “will only mean more funding for schools in low-income communities.”

DiFillipo said there’s no “secret sauce” behind the KIPP approach. There’s a lot of hard work and high expectations. Continue Reading →


Florida’s charter school enrollment jumps to nearly 296,000

Florida charter school growth slowed over the past several years. But that trend appears to have leveled off.

The state’s charter schools added a little more than 12,000 students this school year, according to the latest statistics from the Florida Department of Education. That’s down only slightly from the previous school year, when they added just shy of 13,000 students.

Total charter school enrollment stands at 295,814.

Source: Florida Department of Education

Statewide, this growth is not cutting into school district enrollment. Over the past five school years, both district and charter schools added students overall. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Security, deputy’s pension, charters and more

School security: St. Petersburg officials reverse themselves and say they will not take 25 police officers off the streets to work as resource officers in the city’s elementary schools. City officials point to the cost, more than $3 million, and a reluctance to remove officers from their beats. The decision means the Pinellas County School District will hire security guards for those roles until the district can expand its own police department. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. The Flagler County School Board approves an agreement with the sheriff to split the $1.8 million cost to increase the number of resource officers in schools to 13. Flagler Live. WJXT. A majority of Lake County students want the school district to arm school personnel, reinforce locks and doors in schools and integrate a mental health curriculum into their classes, according to a survey conducted by a student advisory committee. Daily Commercial. The Sarasota County School Board’s creation of an independent police force gets debated further at a Sarasota Republican Club meeting attended by supporters and critics of the decision. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

A school deputy’s pension: The Broward County sheriff’s deputy who took cover outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and waited while 17 people were shot to death is now receiving an $8,702.35-a-month-for-life pension from the state. Scot Peterson, 55, retired under fire eight days after the shootings in Parkland Feb. 14. Sun-Sentinel.

Charter schools: Sarasota County School Board members deny an application from a controversial charter school company. The plan to put Pinecrest Academy in the Palmer Ranch area drew an organized protest from people who criticized Academica, the management company behind the charter school. Board members framed their decision on the larger issue of public education’s future, and also made the distinction between Miami-based Academica and the homegrown charters already in the county. “I don’t think it’s a good use of our tax dollars to turn it around and give it to a for-profit company that’s out of the county,” said board member Shirley Brown. The company is expected to appeal the decision to the state appeals commission. A second charter school application, for the K-5 Dreamers Academy with an English-Spanish immersion program, was withdrawn. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. redefinED. After 22 years of operation, the Escambia Charter School is closing at the end of the school year. The school in Gonzalez has struggled financially for years because of declining enrollment, according to school district officials. WEAR. WKRG. Continue Reading →


Another Florida charter school application faces organized opposition (corrected)

Sarasota County School Board member Shirley Brown was part of a 4-1 majority that rejected a Pinecrest Academy charter school application.

A South Florida charter school organization saw a setback in its plans to expand into Sarasota County. Pinecrest Academy now faces a familiar dynamic. A divided school board rejected its application. Now it will likely head to a state appeals process.

But the debate surrounding the 4-1 school board vote underscores a rising trend, in which charter school applications face organized opposition. In this case, a local group called Protect Our Public Schools rallied activists who lined up in opposition before the Sarasota County School Board. They criticized Academica, the management company behind the proposed charter, citing a hard-hitting Miami Herald investigation of its business practices. They also framed the decision over one charter school application as part of a larger fight over the future of public education.

Several board members noted most of the charter schools in its community are homegrown nonprofits who enjoy good relations with the district — and highlighted a contrast. Continue Reading →


An unlikely charter school battleground

Sarasota County has long been friendly territory for Florida charter schools. It was one of the few school districts that shared local capital outlay funding with charter schools before the law changed to require it. The superintendent there credits charters with helping the district maintain its “A” academic rating from the state.

But the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports a new charter application has attracted activist opposition, in what may be a sign of shifting charter school politics.

The group, Protect Our Public Schools, sent an email to their members Sunday asking them to gather for a “Vote No on Pinecrest” rally before Tuesday’s board meeting.

Board members are set to vote Tuesday on Pinecrest Academy Gulf Coast, a proposed K-8 charter school in the Palmer Ranch area managed by Miami-based nonprofit Pinecrest Academy Inc. and assisted by academic service provider Academica.

Both Pinecrest and Academica are known for managing a variety of charter schools across the state. Pinecrest Academy alone has seven other charter schools set to open in the next two years, according to their application. The school’s application stated that they chose the Palmer Ranch area because of overcrowding at Ashton Elementary School, located near Proctor Road and Honore Avenue.

One fact the article does not mention: Recent research shows Pinecrest students outperform demographically matched peers on reading and math tests by statistically significant margins. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Superintendent resigning, security in schools and more

School superintendents: Desmond Blackburn, superintendent of the Brevard County School District since June 2015, is resigning to become the CEO of the California-based New Teacher Center, a national nonprofit that trains and mentors new teachers. Blackburn’s last day is no later than Aug. 10. The school board will discuss its search for a new superintendent at a meeting today. The highlights of Blackburn’s tenure include a restructuring of district operations, scaling back teacher evaluations and district-required testing, and developing a new discipline policy. Florida Today. Space Coast Daily. Spectrum News 13. Viera Voice. WKMG. Sun-Sentinel. The Duval County School Board picks three finalists for its superintendent’s job: Diana Greene, Manatee County superintendent; Erick Pruitt, area superintendent of Houston schools; and Michael Dunsmore, superintendent of Wayne County schools in North Carolina. Interview are this week and a decision could be announced as early as 4 p.m. Friday. Florida Times-Union. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School security: Volusia County school officials are now considering hiring 44 armed “school marshals” for each of their elementary schools. Hiring marshals, who would not have the authority to make arrests, would save the district more than $1 million a year because they would work only during the school year. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The Cape Coral City Council commits $1 million to help pay for 22 resource officers so every city school will be covered. Fort Myers News-Press. Just a few days after creating positions for security guards, the Pasco County School District has begun hiring. Nine offers for the jobs of guarding elementary schools have been made, and another 28 have been approved but are awaiting background checks. The district plans to hire 53 guards and a security director. Gradebook. Stanley Switlik Elementary School in Key West will get a school resource officer from the sheriff for the last two weeks of school. Next year the school district will be responsible for the officer, says Sheriff Rick Ramsay. Florida Keys Weekly. Continue Reading →