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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Pasco County teachers, district unlikely to dump VAM in evaluations

Florida Department of Education

Despite the scorn heaped upon it, the value-added model (VAM) appears all but certain to remain a part of Pasco County teacher evaluations.

The district could do away with it, as Citrus County schools did, as part of new rules set into law by HB 7069. But districts still would have to use some sort of student performance data to rate teachers.

And bottom line, in Pasco at least, is that VAM hasn't really impacted evaluation outcomes much.

"VAM has really not, because of all the parameters built into it, been a negative factor," said United School Employees of Pasco presidenrt Don Peace. "We are not looking at this time to change anything in that VAM process."

Instead, he said, the union is asking the district to change its classroom observation system. Instead of having an administrator sit and take notes in a teacher's classroom twice a year, Peace said, the observations might be several shorter, informal visits.

"We're trying to look at monitoring people over a period of time rather than just two snapshots," he said. …

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Florida education news: Robert E. Lee, anarchy, term limits and more

Some Hillsborough County School Board members want to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary, which originally opened its doors in the early 1900s as the Michigan Avenue Grammar School.

Skip O'Rourke | Times

Some Hillsborough County School Board members want to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary, which originally opened its doors in the early 1900s as the Michigan Avenue Grammar School.

CONFEDERATE NAMES: As statues memorializing Confederate soldiers and leaders come down across the nation, the Hillsborough County School Board decides to go slow in considering whether to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary School.

BEHAVE: Parents and staff at a Pasco County elementary school come to a better understanding of the school's new behavior guidelines after a 90-minute meeting. The model had come under fire over its vocabulary, such as "anarchy" to describe undesired actions, which the principal has agreed to modify.

SESSION STARTERS: A state senator proposes changing the definition of what students qualify for courtesy bus rides. • The same senator also calls for term limits for school board members.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: The Pinellas County school district receives applications to start two new charter schools after going two years without any requests.

GUNS ON CAMPUS: Three students at a Hillsborough County middle school are arrested after officers find a non-functioning BB gun in one of the student's backpacks. •  The Lee County School Board weighs allowing some weapons on its campuses, NBC 2 reports. More from the Fort Myers News-Press. …

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Pasco parents, school approach consensus on behavior concerns

Deer Park Elementary principal Margie Polen and assistant principal Billie Sass show a revised behavior guidance chart to parents who had concerns about the school's new program. "What would be better if we don't use the word anarchy?" Polen asked.

Jeffrey S. Solochek

Deer Park Elementary principal Margie Polen and assistant principal Billie Sass show a revised behavior guidance chart to parents who had concerns about the school's new program. "What would be better if we don't use the word anarchy?" Polen asked.

About 50 Deer Park Elementary parents filled the Pasco County school's media center Tuesday evening for a 90-minute session reviewing a plan to improve student behavior.

The newly introduced model had generated controversy over its use of the word "anarchy" to describe unacceptable actions, and the term "conform to peer pressure" as a positive attribute akin to cooperation. Much of the concern, though, turned out to be connected to the way the system was rolled out — charts without context or explanation — rather than the actual system itself.

And once the group got through principal Margie Polen's review, developer Marvin Marshall's Skype presentation and some questions and answers, even the most ardent early detractors who brought the issues to the fore in social media said they were mostly satisfied.

"The delivery to the parents wasn't the best way," said Charity Hendry, whose child is in kindergarten. "I do feel a lot better learning the system." …

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"Elevate" schools to get experienced principals

A pep rally at Potter Elementary School. TWITTER

A pep rally at Potter Elementary School. TWITTER

Hillsborough County School District leaders acknowledged Tuesday that experience matters when it comes to leading a high-needs school.

Proposed revisions to their policy on Elevate schools call for those principals to have at least two years experience.

"Your first year as a principal, everything is new still," Superintendent Jeff Eakins told the School Board at a workshop. "Your second year, everything starts to click because you're not worried about the new things that were happening in the first year. You now start to develop a rhythm."

More than two years would also be good, he said, but "we wouldn't want to go anywhere below that."

The policy, if approved when the board votes later in the year, marks a departure from past practice. 

The district's seven Elevate schools, chosen for attention because of high poverty and chronic academic struggle, were led largely by first-time principals.

Eakins defended that practice in a letter in March after the Tampa Bay Times documented high staff turnover and day-to-day instability at Potter Elementary, then a four-time F school. Potter went on to earn its fifth F this year. …

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Two bills take aim at Florida school board operations

School board members could face term limits under a bill recently filed in the Florida Senate.

Octavio Jones (2016)

School board members could face term limits under a bill recently filed in the Florida Senate.

Two lawmakers have filed bills that could alter the way Florida's school boards operate in the future.

One could potentially expand their powers. The other would likely decrease them.

The first measure [SB 192] would codify in law that two or more members of a school board or other elected body may meet privately, and without any public notice, if no official acts or public business are to occur. It also would allow multiple members of the same board to participate in "fact-finding exercises or excursions," or to meet with lawmakers, to learn about public business, again as long as no formal action takes place or is contemplated.

Those excursions would require advance notification.

The bill's sponsor is Sen. Dennis Baxley, the Ocala Republican who put forth legislation in the spring that would allow two members of an elected body to meet privately to discuss public business. The idea was overwhelmingly panned, and failed in the House, although a majority supported it. 

This latest proposal does not go as far. But there's the question of whether it opens the door to future such moves. …

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Pasco school's parents, principal seek compromise on behavior plan

This is the original chart that upset parents with wording such as "anarchy" and "conform to peer pressure" without any context.

Facebook

This is the original chart that upset parents with wording such as "anarchy" and "conform to peer pressure" without any context.

Leaders of a Pasco County elementary school that has come under criticism for its new behavior plan have offered an alternative model that sticks to its goals while also better considering younger children who might not understand the original terminology.

Deer Park Elementary principal Margie Polen has begun circulating a new classroom poster explaining the characteristics that students should — and should not — model in school. Unlike the first one, which to some parents seemed to equate cooperation with conforming to peer pressure, the latest iteration removes the conformity language and uses smiling emojis to note positive behavior like "cooperation" and frowning ones to label "bossing."

Notably, the A term "anarchy" in the initial poster that first went up without explanation is gone, with a crying emoji and a blank space for a new A word that has yet to be determined.

Related coverage: Should kindergartners be encouraged to conform to peer pressure? One Pasco school suggests so …

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Pinellas receives two charter school applications

Windsor Preparatory Academy in St. Petersburg could be home to Pinellas Academy of Math and Science's St. Petersburg campus. The Pinellas County school district received a charter school application from that school's leadership this fall to open in 2018.

MONICA HERNDON | Times

Windsor Preparatory Academy in St. Petersburg could be home to Pinellas Academy of Math and Science's St. Petersburg campus. The Pinellas County school district received a charter school application from that school's leadership this fall to open in 2018.

Following a two-year dry spell, the Pinellas County school district has received two new applications to open charter schools in St. Petersburg.

Lighthouse Academies, a charter school chain with 16 schools in three states, submitted an application to open an elementary school in the 33705 zip code in south St. Petersburg. Former Pinellas County School Board member Glen Gilzean sits on the charter's national board.

Pinellas' charter school director Rick Wolfe said the school has not applied to be a "School of Hope," a charter school allowed by the Legislature to set up shop near a struggling public school to give parents an alternative option. 

Pinellas Academy of Math and Science in Largo is looking to open a St. Petersburg campus for Kindergarten through eighth grade students. Wolfe said school officials are eyeing the property once home to Windsor Preparatory Academy in St. Petersburg.

Both applicants have signed waivers allowing the charter school office more time to review their applications. If approved, both schools could open in fall 2018.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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Should Florida revise its rules for which students get bus rides to school?

The morning bus ramp at Lennard High School. In 2015-16, 183 Lennard students got courtesy busing from homes less than two miles from the school. The Hillsborough school district cut back those rides this year.

Loren Elliott | Times (2016)

The morning bus ramp at Lennard High School. In 2015-16, 183 Lennard students got courtesy busing from homes less than two miles from the school. The Hillsborough school district cut back those rides this year.

There's a constant push-pull in the world of Florida school transportation.

Everyone wants all children to get to and from school safely. Yet the money to pay for all those buses to carry all those kids isn't nearly enough.

The state funds only a percentage of the total cost that districts pay to transport students, and has in law made clear that anyone living closer than 2 miles from campus isn't eligible without proof of a hazardous walking route. Even then, secondary students are not required to receive what they call "courtesy" bus rides — presumably they're old and smart enough to walk the distance, regardless.

Except when they're not. Just last spring, a Manatee County 15-year-old who wasn't eligible for a seat on the bus was killed crossing five lanes of U.S. 41 traffic on his way to Palmetto High School. His story is not singular. And parents throughout Florida, including in southeast Hillsborough County, have raised repeated concerns over having their children walk to school in the dark, along unsafe roadways, for up to two miles. …

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Florida education news: Solar eclipse, gender gap, new schools and more

Students at Bayonet Point Middle School observe the solar eclipse Monday through their special eclipse glasses.

Michele Miller | TImes

Students at Bayonet Point Middle School observe the solar eclipse Monday through their special eclipse glasses.

TOTAL ECLIPSE: More than 8,000 Hernando County students skip school after their school district gives them excused absences for the day. Students who showed up for school across Florida — and even many who didn't — got to view the event and learn the science behind it. Bayonet Point Middle School in Pasco County was one of those to take advantage of the opportunity. More on eclipse mania in the schools from the Miami Herald, ABC Action News, Naples Daily News, Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel

A/C BREAKDOWN: Hillsborough County schools experience a spate of air conditioning woes, and lacks enough available cash to handle the onslaught of maintenance and repair calls.

GENDER GAP: Pinellas County schools aim to improve boys' reading skills after seeing in data that boys lag behind girls.

NEW SCHOOLS: Pasco County's superintendent says he plans to fast track a needed new middle school for the eastern part of the county.

SUE YOU: The Brevard County school district will sue a software provider over a failed deal that has cost taxpayers close to $6 million, Florida Today reports. …

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In Hernando, more than 8,000 kids skipped school for solar eclipse

More than 8,000 students — nearly 40 percent of Hernando County’s enrollment — skipped school today after the district last week told kids they could stay home for the solar eclipse.

Perhaps in preparation for the large number of absences, some teachers in the district used the days leading up to the rare phenomenon as an educational opportunity, some even documenting their hands-on lessons on Twitter.

Pine Grove Elementary assistant principal Nicholas Pagano tweeted on Friday photos of fourth grade teacher Glenda Shea’s darkened classroom, where students used flashlights and a small globe to simulate an eclipse. That same day, he shared more photos of student drawings depicting views of the eclipse from Earth.

There were, of course, eclipse-related activities on Monday, too.

Michael Maine, principal at Spring Hill Elementary, tweeted out a video showing how teacher Traci Athanason’s fourth grade class celebrated “The Great American Eclipse.” The song Walking on Sunshine played over a stream of photos of students wearing the special glasses used to view the eclipse. …

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Look for new Pasco County middle school by 2019, superintendent says

Cypress Creek Middle-High School opened this month with students in sixth through eleventh grades. Plans call for a separate middle school on the site as the community continues to grow.

Jeffrey S. Solochek

Cypress Creek Middle-High School opened this month with students in sixth through eleventh grades. Plans call for a separate middle school on the site as the community continues to grow.

Approval for increased impact fees in hand, Pasco County schools superintendent Kurt Browning said he plans to "fast track" construction of a new middle school serving Wesley Chapel and surrounding areas.

"My hope is to get that up and open by 2019," Browning said of the school, which would rise on Old Pasco Road alongside Cypress Creek High, which currently is serving as both middle and high school.

The School Board already has approved an architect for the project, potentially trimming the amount of time needed to ready the school by about six months. The site work to prepare the land was completed, as well, during construction of Cypress Creek.

The rise of a new school would require another attendance zone revision for the east Pasco area that fought hard over the new boundaries put in place for this academic year.

Browning, who came under fire for his handling of the changes, said certain aspects of the next rezoning appear settled. The children currently assigned to Cypress Creek would not be moved, he said, and the bulk of crowding relief would come from John Long Middle. …

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Florida school districts learn how much state money they'll get for construction, maintenance

Times files

They said it wouldn't come close to being enough.

Florida school district leaders fought during the 2017 legislative session for permission to increase their local tax rate for capital project funding, anticipating they would have to share with charter schools, knowing they had more projects than revenue, understanding the state's portion had been low for years.

Late last week, superintendents learned exactly what their piece of the $50 million Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) allocation would be. For some of the larger districts, it might get them close to paying for a new classroom wing. In the smaller ones, it might not even pay for air conditioning repairs.

Now they have to submit a request for authorization to encumber the money. If the work isn't under contract by the end of January 2020, the money can revert back to state coffers. Few districts anticipate anything like that happening.

Here's the breakdown, by county:  …

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Florida education news: HB 7069, solar eclipse, courtesy bus rides and more

Eve Edelheit | Times

DISCORD: Employees of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association accuse the union of "less than fair and equitable" working conditions.

MIXED MESSAGE: At the same time they threaten to sue over HB 7069, the Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach school boards seek added funding through one of the law's signature programs, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Lauded as alternatives to traditional public schools, many charter schools aren't making the grade in state rating systems, ABC Action News reports.

SPECIAL EDUCATION: A Jacksonville Catholic school adds a wing to provide added services to students with special needs, the Florida Times-Union reports. …

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ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of Aug. 13, 2017

Times (2013)

 

With the reopening of schools came all sorts of school related stories -- busted air conditioning, behavior expectation battles, enrollment projection errors and more. Catch up on the week's highlights below. You can keep up with our conversation on Facebook, hear our podcast, and follow our blog to get all the latest Florida education news. All tips, comments and ideas welcome. Know anyone else who'd like to get this weekly roundup or other email updates? Have them send a note to jsolochek@tampabay.com.

Should kindergartners be encouraged to conform to peer pressure? One Pasco school suggests so, Jeffrey S. Solochek
"A Pasco County elementary school came under fire on social media Thursday for its new behavior expectation charts that suggest conforming to peer pressure is positive, and that running in school is anarchy."

Hillsborough leaders ask for patience as multiple schools still suffer from broken air conditioners, Marlene Sokol
"Hillsborough County school superintendent Jeff Eakins and his facilities chief appealed to parents Wednesday to be patient as the district works through chronic air conditioning problems - and to advocate for more state funding." …

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Fifty Florida schools apply for 'Schools of Hope' grant

Florida House of Representatives

Mor than half of the Florida traditional public schools eligible to vie for newly minted "Schools of Hope" grants submitted applications by Tuesday's deadline, the Florida Department of Education reported.

The program was a late add-on to a House proposal that set aside millions of dollars to support the creation of new charter schools to serve communities where traditional schools have consistently performed poorly on state tests. Aiming to gain support in the Senate, where support for HB 7069 was shaky, bill writers added a provision to give $2,000 per student in added funding to up to 25 schools required to submit turnaround plans to the state.

Of 90 schools that could apply, 50 did so. Polk County led the way with eight submissions, followed by Orange County with six. Hillsborough County, which had one of the highest number of "failing" schools in Florida, applied for three schools, as did Pinellas County.

The State Board of Education is scheduled to select up to 25 grant recipients at its Sept. 13 meeting. Here's the full list of schools seeking the money: …

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