Archive | Parent empowerment

Parents, teachers support converting Fla. Gulf Coast school to a charter

When Kevin Jackson learned about a grassroots effort to convert his daughter’s middle school to a charter, he became newly hopeful about improving student achievement. In recent years, the Manatee County school has mostly been stuck at a “C” letter grade or below.

“I am so excited for my community and for the parents,” he said. Lincoln Middle School “has developed a negative stigma as far as the area. Now we get an opportunity to compete with the best.”

Jackson said the charter school would have more flexibility to create programs tailored to students’ needs. About 44 percent of the school’s population is Latino, he said, and every student is on free and reduced lunch.

“A charter would allow us to venture outside the box to give our Hispanic population different resources,” he said.

If the change takes place, Lincoln will join 22 other schools that also converted to charters with a majority vote from parents and teachers.

Florida law allows parents and teachers to convert any traditional public school to a charter by petition. But that rarely happens. In some places, administrators and teachers have faced retaliation for aiding conversion efforts, even though the law protects them.

In Manatee County, however, at some key officials support the change. Their district is home to one past charter conversion, and it looks like a success. Rowlett Academy for Arts and Communication did well as an elementary school, and it’s set to add middle grades this fall.

At Lincoln, the principal, a teacher and parents argue such a change will enable the school to better serve its population while providing more autonomy and accountability.

A call to change

Concerns about Lincoln’s performance prompted teachers and parents to come together to lobby for change. Nearly 70 percent of students perform below grade level. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Capital for charter schools, a hack attack and more

Charter schools: Florida charter schools could get an extra $96.3 million from school districts that will now have to share the tax money they collect for capital projects, according to Florida House estimates. That’s nearly 7 percent of the money school districts could have after debt service is subtracted, as H.B. 7069 stipulates. The $96.3 million is a maximum  estimate, says Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah. Charter schools need to meet certain academic and financial standards and have been operating for two or more years to be eligible for the money. Miami-Dade and Broward will be among the districts hardest hit in sheer dollars, but tiny Sumter and Franklin counties will have the highest percentages of shared dollars, at 33 and 24 percent, respectively. Miami Herald. Manatee and Sarasota counties are two of the counties that will have share higher percentages of their capital funding with charter schools under the new education law. Sarasota is third in the state at 13.54 percent, and Manatee is 11th at 9.26 percent. Manatee School Superintendent Diana Greene says the district will continue with plans to build three new schools, but the law could have an impact on smaller projects. Bradenton Herald. Wayman Academy of the Arts is one of five charter schools in Duval County to earn an A grade  from the state this year. The school, which draws its students from a poor neighborhood in Jacksonville, now has received every possible grade from the state in its 17-year existence. Florida Times-Union.

District hacked: The St. Lucie County School District’s Twitter account was hacked last week, and several racially charged messages were posted and stayed online for more than nine hours before being removed. The cyberattack was just one of several against school districts around the United States, according to St. Lucie School Superintendent Wayne Gent. School officials are unhappy with the difficulty they had contacting Twitter and its response time. “It took way too long,” Gent said. “It should’ve been done immediately.” TCPalm.

Fighting failure: As the 2016-2017 school year began, another first year of a rebuilding process began at Fairmount Park Elementary School. It had a new principal, new and inexperienced teachers, and a history of failure. Fairmount is located in a poor St. Petersburg neighborhood and in 2014, was one of five city elementary schools labeled a “failure factory.” But this year it had a plan, and better resources, and hope. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: S.B. 374 veto, charters, new report cards and more

S.B. 374 veto: Gov. Rick Scott vetoes the Legislature’s higher education bill, S.B. 374, saying it shortchanges community colleges. “While the bill makes positive changes to several State University System programs, and there are many provisions I think would be good for students, it does so at the expense of the Florida College System,” Scott wrote in his veto letter. The bill, the top priority for Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, also includes a significant expansion of the Bright Futures scholarship program. That and other programs that expand financial aid won’t be affected this year because they’re also embedded in the overall budget bill, says Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. Scott is urging legislators to make the Bright Futures changes permanent during next year’s session. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. News Service of FloridaFlorida Politics. Politico Florida. Sunshine State News. The governor signs 28 other bills, including a measure to study school crossings for potential safety improvements. Palm Beach Post.

H.B. 7069: Despite reports that Gov. Scott will sign H.B. 7069 today in Orlando, State Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, is holding out hope that the bill will be vetoed and reworked. Gradebook. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a Republican candidate for governor, says he remains troubled by the secret process used to put together the education bill. Tampa Bay Times. Here’s a summary of some of the things that will happen if H.B. 7069 is signed. Palm Beach Post. Brevard County school officials say they’re behind in the budget process because they still doesn’t know how much money they’ll be getting from the state. Florida Today. The Volusia County School District should receive about $4.5 million more than expected from the state, after the increases approved in the legislative special session, but school officials say they still face a $2.42 million budget deficit. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The Charlotte County School District will receive about 1.7 percent more per student than originally expected from the state. Charlotte Sun.

Charters win in court: A circuit judge rules that five charter schools in Indian River County are entitled to their fair share of a tax approved by voters and collected by the school district for operations. The charters have received about 5 percent of the tax since the 2013-2014 school year, as determined by the school board, but contended they deserved 12 percent. The judge agreed, saying the charter schools should receive a proportional amount based on enrollment. The school board will have to decide whether to appeal. TCPalm. The ruling could have implications for Palm Beach County. Palm Beach Post. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: No names in bills, alternative schools and more

Bill drops name: A bill that would prohibit Florida high school students from leaving campuses for lunch won’t bear the name of a Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High School girl who was killed in a car crash during lunch off campus in 1999. Sen. Rene Hialeah, R-Hialeah, removed the name of Mayra Capote from his bill at the request of Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who said he didn’t want bills named after people because it puts lawmakers in an awkward spot if they want to oppose them. Miami Herald.

Legislative issues: The expansion of school choice programs, cutbacks in testing and the expansion of the Bright Futures scholarship program are among the top issues to watch in this year legislative session, which begins in a week. Orlando Weekly. WFSU.

District denies report: Orange County School District officials deny a ProPublica report last week that the district is using alternative schools to hide struggling, problem students who might otherwise drag down a school’s graduation rate, test scores and grade. Spokespersons for the district and Accelerated Learning Solutions, a for-profit charter school management company that manages five charter alternative schools in the county, say students choose the alternative schools. One of the schools mentioned in the report, Sunshine High School, is up for contract renewal. District staff is recommending the school board approve the renewal at today’s meeting. Orlando Sentinel.

District criticized: Florida TaxWatch, a nonprofit group that monitors financial performances of institutions, is criticizing the Broward County School District for construction delays and overruns in its $800 million bond program to upgrade schools. County voters approved the bond in 2014, but many projects expected to be under construction by 2015 still haven’t begun. Sun-Sentinel. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Recess, charters, alternative schools and more

Recess bill advances: A bill requiring mandatory daily recess of at least 20 minutes for all Florida K-5 students passes the state Senate Education Committee. Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, said the bill showed “the power of advocacy, of parents” who pushed legislators to act when local school boards would not. The bill now goes to the Senate PreK-12 Appropriations Committee for consideration. Miami HeraldAssociated PressFlorida Politics.

Charter facilities funding: The Senate Education Committee approves a bill that would send a proportional share of a district’s property tax revenue to charter schools based on enrollment, with more money attached for those schools that have large low-income or special needs populations. But a second bill that would have increase districts’ local tax authority is delayed. Supporters say the measures need to move forward together to allow districts to catch up on construction that’s been backlogged since the recession. redefinED. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida.

Hidden dropouts: Alternative schools increasingly are being used by public schools as places to hide struggling, problem students who might otherwise drag down a school’s graduation rate, test scores and grade, according to an investigation by ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative journalism website. The Orange County School District is one of 83 U.S. school districts that bumped its graduate rate by at least a percentage point between 2010 and 2014 by sending an increasing number of students into alternative schools. ProPublica.

Florida 4th in AP: Florida ranks fourth in the nation in the percentage of students taking and passing at least one Advanced Placement course, according to the College Board, the organization that runs the AP program. In Florida’s class of 2016, 29.5 percent passed at least one AP exam. That’s over the national average of 21.9 percent and 11 percentage points better than 10 years ago. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Evaluations, recess, discipline, LGBT sign and more

Teacher evaluations: About 98 percent of the teachers evaluated in Florida during the 2015-2016 school year were rated either “highly effective” or “effective,” according to the Department of Education. Less than 1 percent of the state’s teachers got an “unsatisfactory” rating, and only 1.2 percent were rated “needs improvement.” The numbers have shown little change over the past few years. Evaluations are used by districts for raises and contract renewals, and by the state for determining eligibility for teacher bonuses. Okaloosa County was tops in the state with 97.6 percent of its teachers graded as highly effective, while Putnam County was lowest with just 1 percent. Gradebook.

Daily recess: A survey by the Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability reveals significant differences in how school districts offer recess, how often and for how long. Only 11 districts have some recess policy, and only eight of those made daily recess a requirement. Supporters of legislation to make daily recess mandatory in all Florida elementary schools argue the results show the need for statewide legislation, instead of allowing individual districts, schools or even teachers decide. Miami Herald.

Discipline disparity: Black students are twice as likely to be expelled as other children, four times more likely to be suspended and almost three times more likely to be arrested, according to recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Education. And children with disabilities, especially black students with disabilities, are more likely to be disciplined than those without disabilities. Florida is below the national average in arrests and expulsions, higher in referrals and about the same on suspensions. WTVJ.

LGBT sign stays: A Milton High School junior will be allowed to keep a “So gay I can’t even drive straight” sticker in her car window. Rachel Campbell was cited by a school police officer for the sign, calling it a violation of a school policy prohibiting “offensive or obscene” tags or stickers. Campbell said she wouldn’t remove it, and now principal Tim Short says it can stay. Northwest Florida Daily News. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Testing reform, funding, incentives and more

Testing reforms: Under the proposed “Fewer, Better Tests” bills filed Wednesday in the Legislature, all K-12 assessment testing would take place in the final three weeks of the school year, starting in the 2017-2018. S.B. 926 and H.B. 773 would also require results be returned to teachers within a week of testing, and that an understandable report be sent to parents. It also directs the education commissioner to study the feasibility of replacing the Florida Standards Assessments with the SAT or ACT. If the changes are approved, the state would also have to renegotiate its contract with testing vendor American Institutes for Research. Bill sponsors Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami; Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah; and Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, say the goal of the bills is to reduce stress and anxiety among students, parents and teachers. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. News Service of Florida.

Per-student funding: Florida’s spending per student ranks well below the U.S. average among states, according to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics. In the 2013-2014 school year, Florida spent $8,714 per student. The U.S. average was $10,936. Miami-Dade County spent the most per student among districts, $9,106. Gradebook.

Teaching incentives: Senators on the Florida PreK-12 education budget committee react coolly to Gov. Rick Scott’s $58 million proposal for incentives to recruit and retain teachers. Specifically, senators criticized Scott’s proposal for $10 million in hiring bonuses for new teachers who score in the top 10 percent in their subject-area exam. “It concerns me that we continue to look for the best performers in college — and not the best teachers,” said Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze. Miami Herald.

Gun-free zones: Bills filed in the Legislature this week are aimed at ending gun-free zones in Florida – including at K-12 schools. Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, and Rep. Don Hahnfeldt, R-Villages, filed S.B. 908 and H.B. 803 to eliminate all restrictions on where people with concealed-carry permits can take their guns. Miami Herald. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Testing, charters, student ID cards and more

Testing reform: Three legislators say they will file a bill today that would cut back on state-required assessment testing. The “Fewer, Better Tests” bill’s goals are to cut down on and improve state tests, move the exams to later in the school year, get the test results to teachers sooner, and provide better student score reports. Filing the bill are Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami; Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah; and Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor. Sunshine State NewsGradebook. The Manatee County School Board tables a discussion on a proposal to limit district-required testing. Bradenton Herald.

Charter school takeovers: Members of the House education committee who are discussing district methods of turning around underperforming schools say districts should consider allowing charter school companies to take over operations at those schools. This week, the Florida Board of Education will consider a plan to make the Jefferson County School District a charter district. Politico Florida.

Student ID cards: The Duval County School District will issue new student IDs that are linked to data such as grades, academic progress, attendance and discipline. Students would have to swipe the cards when they get on and off school buses and when they go to classes. The setup cost is $1.1 million, with a $123,500 annual fee. Florida Times-Union.

School recess: The 2016 bill that would have required daily recess at all Florida elementary schools also would have prohibited teachers from withholding recess for misbehaving students. This year that provision has been stripped out of the recess bills, at the insistence of two powerful legislators who say they don’t want to take away teachers’ flexibility. Miami Herald. Continue Reading →