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Florida schools roundup: Investigation on testing urged, security deal and more

Testing investigation: Six conservative legislators are calling on the Florida Department of Education to investigate whether three school districts deliberately limited the number of low-performing 7th-graders taking the state end-of-course civics exam in order to earn better school grades from the state. Sen. Dennis Baxley and Reps. Jason Fischer, Michael Bileca,  James Grant, Bob Rommel and Jennifer Sullivan, all Republicans, and the Florida Coalition of School Board Members suggest that the Duval, Manatee and Polk districts limited the number of struggling students taking the test in order to boost the grades of schools and keep charter schools from moving in under the Schools of Hope law. District officials say they are simply having many of the struggling students take the test as 8th-graders, when they might be better prepared, which state law allows them to do. Gradebook. redefinED.

School security: A school safety agreement is reached between the Sarasota County School Board and Sheriff Tom Knight. The district will pay 80 percent and the sheriff 20 percent of the $1.6 million for 11 deputies to cover 10 schools, plus a lieutenant and two sergeants. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. More than 100 people have applied to become armed guardians to protect Manatee County schools. Most have law enforcement or military backgrounds, officials say. About 40 will be hired. Bradenton Herald. The city of Clermont agrees to provide resource officers for three elementary schools and a K-8 charter school. The Lake County School District will pay the city $279,653 for the officers, and a one-time fee of $211,280 for equipment, including new police cars. Daily Commercial. A coalition of law enforcement groups is looking at ways to make schools safer. The initiative is led by Max Schachter, whose son Alex died in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting Feb. 14. Schachter’s group, Safe Schools for Alex Foundation, organized the meeting of the eight groups after he discovered there is no nationally recognized list of recommendations to improve school security. Sun-Sentinel. As individual districts work to meet the state mandate for an armed guard in every school, the Florida Department of Education is working to finish setting up its Office of Safe Schools to coordinate the security efforts. Damien Kelly, formerly a public corruption inspector for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, is its director. WFSUContinue Reading →


How Montessori education can help low-income students

Emerging Minds Montessori Academy school officials say low-income students fare better with a Montessori education.

Sitting on the floor cross-legged with his hands to his sides, the student was focused. He had a long division problem to solve.

But he was not going to solve it the conventional way, with a pad of paper and a pen.

The student took several squares with numbers on them and arranged them physically on the floor, so he could count them out and visually come to the answer. The multi-colored squares each represented different numbers: 1000s, 100s and 10s.

Rows of squares lined the floor vertically and horizontally as the student worked through the problem 4518 divided by 6, coming to the answer: 753.

He grinned. Other students around him were also sitting on the ground solving their own math problems. In another classroom, students were having a book discussion, and in another, they were learning to write essays.  Teachers served as facilitators, while students took ownership of their learning by choosing the lessons they wanted to learn. They worked independently.

Students of all backgrounds can excel at Emerging Minds Montessori School in Boca Raton, Fla. The school groups children ages 3-6 grouped together, as well as 6-9-year-olds and 9-to-12-year olds. School officials say they focus on the needs of the whole child. They emphasize hands-on-activities and self-directed learning. When students arrive at the school behind academically, they often catch up in a few years’ time. A study released by the University of Virginia showed that Montessori schools help keep pace with their peers — where, with other educational models, they often fall behind.

“In my opinion, because children who come from lower income families don’t have the same family support the student needs a more enriched environment,” said Jeanne Weigel, head of school academics at Emerging Minds. “It is a self-motivating curriculum that allows the children to follow their already holistic needs.” Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Immigrants and GED review, security and more

Immigrants and GED: The Miami-Dade County School Board has ordered a review of the way the district educates immigrant students. The review was approved about a month after newspaper reports detailed how arriving teens with limited English skills were often pushed into adult education programs, where they then prepared to get a high school diploma through the GED program. Critics of that process say those students are steered away from regular high schools because school officials think they’ll have a negative impact on graduation rates. More than 1,000 of the 5,000 immigrant teens who arrived this year ended up in Spanish-language GED programs. Board members gave administrators until September to conduct the review and report back. Miami Herald. About 200 immigrant youths under the age of 19 who tried to enroll in Collier County schools were turned away and pushed toward a GED degree, online programs and workforce training sessions, according to a lawsuit filed on their behalf by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Here’s the story of one, 17-year-old Nehemy Antoine, a Haitian immigrant who became a U.S. citizen. Teacher Project, Naples Daily News.

School security: A Palm Beach grand jury’s suggestion that the school district dip into its reserves to pay for school resource officers is dismissed by school officials as a simplistic and unrealistic solution to a complicated problem. They say the reserve fund as a percentage of the annual budget is already lower than that of most Florida districts, and that reserves should not be used for everyday expenses like new employees and higher salaries. Palm Beach Post. While Sanibel, Fort Myers or Cape Coral city officials have agreed to contribute financially to place resource officers in schools in their cities, officials in Estero and Bonita Springs are still questioning whether it’s their responsibility. They think school protection ought to fall under what they already pay the county for the sheriff to police their cities. Naples Daily News. Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods drops the cost to supply resource officers for schools, and if the city of Ocala can’t do the same the school board is likely to contract with the sheriff. The board meets Monday to finalize its decision. Ocala Star-Banner. Officials from the St. Johns County School District and sheriff’s office talk about how the county will comply with the state’s school security mandate. St. Augustine Record. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: School crime reporting, scholarships, suit and more

School crime reporting: The Broward County School District has failed to report many students’ crimes to the state as required by state law, according to records from the Broward Sheriff’s Office. For example, the district reported 193 weapons were found in schools during the 2016-2017 school year, but officials acknowledge they no longer were counting such things as ammunition, small knives, throwing blades, nunchucks, BB guns and combustible materials. District spokeswoman Cathleen Brennan says the data sent to the state is meant only to capture “the most serious of incidents, while other incidents are recorded and addressed locally.” Lisa Maxwell, executive director of the Broward Principals and Assistants’ Association, adds, “The state statute is really kind of unclear and open to interpretation, so it leads to subjective decisions.” Sun-Sentinel.

Scholarship oversight: Several legislators say they want to standardize education curriculum for all state schools. Sen. Victor Torres, D-Orlando, was among those calling for the change after a newspaper report detailing some of the materials used by some private schools that enroll students who get scholarships from the state. Among those lessons: people and dinosaurs lived on Earth at the same time, slaves who “knew Christ” were better off than free men who did not, and God intervened to prevent Catholics from controlling North America. The state doesn’t track curriculum used by private schools with scholarship students, and bars the Florida Education Department from regulating academics at those schools. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer two scholarship programs students use to attend private schools. Orlando Sentinel.

One lawsuit on hold: Leon County Circuit Court Judge James Shelfer rules that the Palm Beach County School Board’s challenge of the Legislature’s 2017 education law, H.B. 7069, is on hold until an appeal on a broader lawsuit against the law is settled. Palm Beach is challenging only the part of the law that requires the district to share local property tax revenue with charter schools it authorizes. The other lawsuit, brought by several districts, claims the law is unconstitutional because it has “encroached on the authority vested by the Florida Constitution in locally elected district school boards to operate, control, and supervise the local public schools located in their respective jurisdictions.” redefinED. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Task force findings, cop talks, term limits and more

Security task force: Almost four months after 17 people were shot to death at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, a Broward County school safety task force recommends 100 ways to improve security for schools. Among them: installing portable metal detectors at Stoneman Douglas this fall and considering them for all schools, putting coverings over windows in doors, keeping classroom doors locked at all times, increasing the height of all outdoor fences, requiring ID badges for all students and staff, and reviewing the Promise program, which was created in 2013 as a way to offer alternatives to arresting students. The committee members also joined local officials in calling on the Legislature to boost funding for school safety. Sun-Sentinel. Miami HeraldWSVN. Politico Florida. WLRN.

A cop reflects: Scot Peterson, a Stoneman Douglas resource officer who did not enter the building where confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz was killing 17 people on Feb. 14, is haunted by that day, at times justifying his decisions (“How can they keep saying I did nothing?”) and at times questioning them (“Why didn’t I know to go in?”). He has considered changing his name or moving out of state, but knows there’s no escaping the infamy. “It’s haunting,” Peterson says. “I’ve cut that day up a thousand ways with a million different what-if scenarios, but the bottom line is I was there to protect, and I lost 17.” Still, he believes there is little or nothing more he could have done. Washington Post. Parents of students killed at Stoneman Douglas express outrage at Peterson’s comments. “I’m tired of him trying to paint himself as the victim,” says one, Fred Guttenberg, the father of 14-year-old Jaime Guttenberg. “He is not a victim. He created victims. He keeps referring to them as his kids. They are not your kids, Scot Peterson! You let them die!” Miami Herald. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Private school curriculum, education lawsuits and more

Private school problems: Three Christian publishing companies provide some Florida private schools and homeschooled students with a curriculum that denies evolution, says humans and dinosaurs shared the earth, downplays the horrors of slavery and treatment of native Americans, and disparages religions other than Protestant Christianity and cultures that didn’t descend from white Europeans, according to a review of the materials. Experts from several colleges and school districts say the lessons also are easier than those required in public schools, and do not prepare students for college. Orlando Sentinel. The principal of an Osceola County private school says he knew about the felony convictions of the man he hired as athletics supervisor, but didn’t know hiring him was a violation of state law. Orlando Sentinel.

Education lawsuits: Lawyers for the state say 10 members of the 1998 Constitution Revision Commission should not be permitted to file a brief supporting the group Citizens for Strong Schools in its suit filed nine years ago that alleges the state has not adequately funded school education as required by the constitution. Those members, who include former attorney general Bob Butterworth, former Supreme Court justice Gerald Kogan and former House speaker Jon Mills, say they want to explain their intent in framing the constitutional amendment requiring the state to provide a high-quality public school system. Gradebook. News Service of Florida. State lawyers also argue that the appeal of the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Legislature’s 2017 education law, H.B. 7069, should continue in the standard appeals process instead of being certified quickly to the Florida Supreme Court, as the school boards that brought the suit are requesting. News Service of Florida.

Bittersweet graduation: Sunday’s graduation ceremony for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School seniors was a bittersweet affair, the excitement tempered with the memory of the Feb. 14 massacre of 17 people, including four students who would have graduated. Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon made a surprise appearance as a guest speaker, telling students, “When something feels hard, remember that it gets better. Choose to move forward. Don’t let anything stop you.” Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. Palm Beach Post. Continue Reading →

Football? Academics? Scholarship student chooses both at Dartmouth

Robert Crockett III is headed to Dartmouth College to play football and study pre-med.

MIAMI – Robert Crockett III is engaged in hand-to-hand combat with his uncooperative red-and-white striped necktie as a photographer sets him up for the next shot.

On a bright, breezy spring day at Christopher Columbus High School in Miami, teachers and fellow students say hi as they walk past without an ounce of surprise to see the affable senior representing the school. With his close-cropped hair and perfect smile, Robert is a star on campus.

Getting accepted to Dartmouth College has only added to the mystique.

“We need to buy him a lifetime supply of school sweatshirts to have him be the face of a Columbus alumnus,” said English teacher Bob Linfors. “He’s a success. I don’t know how much credit we should get for molding him, but he’s somebody to put on our posters.”

When Robert came to Columbus for ninth grade, it was his third school in three years. He excelled at a K-8 magnet school through seventh grade, but mom Stacy Preston, who also grew up in Miami, wanted Robert to get the big neighborhood school experience for eighth grade. It turned out to be too easy. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Reading, bargaining, school security and more

Reading test results: More on how 3rd-graders performed on the Florida Standards Assessments language arts testing in districts around the state. Test results are a major factor in determining if students are promoted to the 4th grade. Miami Herald. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Gradebook. WUSFFlorida Today. Space Coast Daily. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Daily CommercialLakeland LedgerChipley Bugle. WMBB. State testing went smoothly for Sarasota County students, district officials say. More than 76,000 tests were taken this year. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Bargaining suit challenge: Officials of teachers unions around Florida say they will file suit against a new law that requires more than half of eligible teachers to be dues-paying members of a union or the union should be decertified. Teachers argue the law, which takes effect July 1, is unconstitutional because it defies a provision added to the constitution in 1968 after a teachers strike, and discriminatory because it targets only them. WLRN. Teachers talk about union membership and how they think it’s affected their paychecks and classrooms. WLRN.

School security: The Brevard County School District begins advertising to fill 28 school security specialist positions for the 2018-2019 school year. The pay is listed at $25,444 to $37,915 for the 10-month position, with benefits pushing the value of the package to about $40,400. The specialists, who will carry concealed weapons, will work at elementary schools that don’t already have a resource officer. Florida Today. Orlando Sentinel. WOFL. The executive director of the School Safety Advocacy Council says he has concerns about the Sarasota County School District’s ability to hire and train a police department by August, and has pulled out of a consulting role with the district. “We only lend our name and our expertise to processes that we have confidence are going to be 100 percent successful,” says Curt Lavarello. “At this point, I don’t have that feeling that this is on the path to success, from what I’ve heard.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Continue Reading →