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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

NAACP, other groups blast computer-coding proposal as 'misleading and mischievous'

From The Buzz:

Organizations that represent black and Hispanic Floridians released a joint statement Monday declaring their opposition to legislation that would let high school students count computer coding as a foreign language class.

The measure passed the Senate, 35-5, last week, and its companion bill awaits consideration on the House floor.

The groups who joined in Monday's statement were the NAACP's Florida Conference and Miami-Dade branch, the Florida chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the Spanish American League Against Discrimination (SALAD).

"Our children need skills in both technology and in foreign languages to compete in today's global economy," the joint statement reads. "However, to define coding and computer science as a foreign language is a misleading and mischievous misnomer that deceives our students, jeopardizes their eligibility to admission to universities, and will result in many losing out on the foreign language skills they desperately need even for entry-level jobs in South Florida. …

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Will Kurt Browning be superintendent of Pasco County schools until he dies?

Rufus Smith-Jones, a star of Pasco County's Special Olympics award-winning soccer team, recently snagged an interview for his "Rufus Show" with district superintendent Kurt Browning. A Pine View Middle student, Rufus is a regular contributor to his school news.

His second question to the superintendent: "Are you going to do it until you die?"

Browning, who so far is unopposed in his bid for a second term, smiled and responded, "I'm not going to do it, I don't think, until I die -- unless it kills me. But I plan on doing it for at least another four years, I hope."

Welcome to the Rufus Show.

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Changes take shape for Hillsborough's peer evaluators and mentors

Hillsborough peer evaluators at a training in August. The district plans to "reclassify" 110 for an anticipated savings of $6 million.


Hillsborough peer evaluators at a training in August. The district plans to "reclassify" 110 for an anticipated savings of $6 million.

Major changes are happening to Hillsborough County's teacher evaluation system, directly affecting more than 100 employees.

The School Board will vote Tuesday on Superintendent Jeff Eakin's plan to name a General Manager of Performance Evaluation. Reporting to that person will be instructional mentors and teacher talent developers. Employees in the second group will spend half their time teaching and the other half helping other teachers.

While it is not yet clear how many people will hold these jobs, Eakins' agenda item says the district can save more than $6 million by eliminating 110 existing peer and mentor positions. The document used the term "reclassification," raising the question of where the savings will come in if all 110 people will be absorbed into the new positions. …

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What is the Florida Department of Education telling superintendents about opting out?

A new round of Florida's writing tests began Monday morning, with little evidence so far of technology problems that popped up a year ago.

The arrival of the testing season has brought a renewed debate over exactly how far school districts must go to accommodate children and parents who don't want to take the tests. 

In a conference call with superintendents, commissioner Pam Stewart made clear the message she wants the districts to promote. Testing is required, she said, just like vaccinations. Like it, or leave.

From her call notes, distributed to all districts: …

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Florida education news: Budgets, testing, hot peppers and more

FUNDING: Florida lawmakers reject Gov. Rick Scott's education funding plan, choosing to rely less on local property taxes and more on state money. More from Politico Florida.

CLOSER LOOK: The Hillsborough School Board calls for scrutiny of schools' use of the SpringBoard teaching materials.

TESTING: A Sarasota girl with cerebral palsy is denied a medical exemption from Florida Standards Assessments, the Herald-Tribune reports.

SICK: Three Volusia students spike their teacher's drink with hot pepper, WFTV reports.

INTERNAL RELATIONS: The Duval School Board and superintendent seek to calm the waters after weeks of turmoil, the Florida Times-Union reports.

DISRUPTED: Manatee's superintendent sends a message to parents after local schools are threatened nine times in a month, the Bradenton Herald reports.

AFTER CARE: Collier organizations make their bids to run the district's after-school care programs, the Naples Daily News reports.

RECESS: Florida parents continue to demand daily recess for their children despite the issue stalling in the Legislature, the Palm Beach Post reports. …

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Could 'Best & Brightest' teacher bonuses be continued through budget language?

From The Buzz:

As legislation to make permanent the "Best & Brightest" teacher bonus program remains in limbo this session, Florida House and Senate leaders are floating the possibility of a one-year extension by including the program -- once again -- in proviso language for the annual budget.

The controversial program predictably surfaced as a point of leverage between House and Senate education leaders this weekend as they started hashing out the 2016-17 budget.

The bonuses are a priority for House Republicans, but senators in both parties are especially reluctant to buy in to the idea.

By Sunday evening, lead education budget negotiators Rep. Erik Fresen and Sen. Don Gaetz had agreed on the largest budget issue: how to fund increases to K-12 schools and by how much.

The rest of the education budget remains unresolved.

The House rejected the first and only offer from the Senate, which included -- among a host of issues -- a proposed compromise on funding for the "Best and Brightest" program. The bonuses award "highly effective" teachers who scored in the top 20 percent on their high school SAT/ACT exams. …

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House, Senate close to deal on K-12 funding that avoids hike on local tax dollars

From The Buzz:

Legislative leaders were close to hashing out a deal Saturday evening to provide record-level K-12 education funding next school year -- without forcing businesses and homeowners to shoulder hundreds of millions of dollars in extra funding through local property taxes.

The proposal is a gesture of significant compromise by the Florida House.

But by using a greater share of state dollars instead, the $458 million proposed increase for 2016-17 is far less than what Republican Gov. Rick Scott or House or Senate leaders had originally sought.

Scott's recommendation to the Legislature was for a $507 million increase, almost 90 percent of which would have come from property taxes that homeowners and businesses pay.

By comparison, the House had originally proposed a $601 million increase, while the Senate wanted $650 million extra.

Both initial legislative budget plans mirrored Scott's funding formula, but Senate leaders have, for weeks, argued that increasing K-12 funding through the "required local effort" -- as Scott proposed -- would constitute a "tax increase." …

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ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of Feb. 21, 2016

Florida's spring testing season approached this past week, with opt-out families scrambling to figure out exactly what procedures their schools will follow. Lawmakers scrambled, too, to push education bills closer to the finish line as the end of their 2016 session neared. Out in the districts, school boards fought among themselves, with their constituents and about their records. Visit the Gradebook daily for the latest Florida education news.

Parents, school officials tussle over kids opting out of Florida tests, Jeffrey S. Solochek
[Pasco superintendent Kurt] "Browning and many other Florida superintendents consistently reject such overtures by parents. And their anti opt-out policies are pushing families, already upset with the state's beleaguered assessment system, to go beyond "minimal participation" as their children decline the tests that begin Monday."

Attempt to revive recess bill withdrawn from Florida Senate committee, Kristen M. Clark
"Sen. Alan Hays' effort to bring back to life a proposal that would mandate elementary-school recess was short-lived today." …

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When it comes to SpringBoard, some schools are all in

Strawberry Crest High School tweeted this photo of their SpringBoard plaque on Thursday to show support for the College Board curriculum, which endured harsh criticism from the Hillsborough County School Board this week.

Strawberry Crest High School tweeted this photo of their SpringBoard plaque on Thursday to show support for the College Board curriculum, which endured harsh criticism from the Hillsborough County School Board this week.

Even if the Hillsborough County School District wanted to part ways with SpringBoard -- and no one in the administration has indicated this will happen any time soon -- it would not be easy to unravel the program's relationships with individual schools.

College Board, the New York organization that also oversees Advanced Placement and SAT college entrance exams, designates "national demonstration schools" for its SpringBoard curriculum, a competitive process that conveys extra training, prestige and recognition. Such schools receive decorative plaques, educators are invited to College Board conferences and visitors tour their classrooms to observe SpringBoard in action. In recent years Bloomingdale High School, Strawberry Crest High School and Martinez Middle School earned that distinction.

Following a letter of support this week from Lennard High School math teacher Kelly Zunkiewicz, Superintendent Jeff Eakins received a similar letter of support from Carol McGuire, English department chairwoman at Strawberry Crest. These came in response to scathing remarks that School Board members made about SpringBoard during a workshop Tuesday. 

McGuire wrote: …

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PR firm will help Hillsborough district spread its message

Jason Pepe is the Hillsborough school district's manager of communications.

Jason Pepe is the Hillsborough school district's manager of communications.

Hillsborough County public school officials want to do a better job keeping the public informed.

And they're poised to pay a corporate public relations firm $30,000 to help them.

Tucker/Hall, one of Florida's largest PR firms, had the winning bid for a one-year contract that can be renewed if district leaders like what they get.

The firm, which offers a host of service including crisis management and issues management, would help the district pull together a strategic communications plan, subject to a School Board vote Tuesday.

Superintendent Jeff Eakins pointed to communication as a weakness the self-evaluation he turned in earlier this year.

"Although the communications staff has done a terrific job during the first six months, I must do a much better job of proactively communicating  information to all stakeholders, including the board," he wrote. He did not list any examples.

Hiring outside firms for public relations is not unheard of in the public schools, although it often happens in small school districts, and in times of crisis. …

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What's included in those Florida Senate education train bills?

By now you've heard that the Florida Senate Appropriations Committee this week strung together a variety of education proposals that were struggling to get to the finish line, and put them into two previously tiny and barely related bills that had to be renamed to encompass their new, broader scope.

Some of the issues have received a great deal of attention in the new SB 524 (state university system performance based funding), and the revamped SB 1166 (education funding).

The Best and Brightest teacher bonus, for one, dropped into SB 524 after facing must criticism in other forms when heard in other Senate committees. Even after landing in the new bill, that measure has an uncertain fate, with some key Republican senators still questioning the program's value.

A bill to mandate elementary school recess, already adopted by the House, came and went as an amendment without a vote but also could resurface on the floor.

What else got looped into these two pieces of legislation, which still must win approval in the full Senate and agreement in the House? Here's a rundown. …

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'I care about the success of my students,' embattled Pasco teacher says

Much has been said, pro and con, about the teaching methods of Pasco County high school English teacher Michael Maynard.

Some of his students and their parents complained about Maynard's off-color comments, prompting superintendent Kurt Browning to move to suspend and reassign him from River Ridge High. Almost immediately, Maynard's fans responded to say the detractors simply didn't get how good a teacher he is. Days later, the Florida Department of Education recognized Maynard's success with students.

Maynard largely remained quiet, though he did encourage his backers through social media to speak out on his behalf. Now, he's offered some insights into his approach. While he might have made some missteps, Maynard said via email, he had his students' best interest at heart: …

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Florida education news: Train bills, mentors, reserves and more

ON THE TRAIN: The Florida Senate Appropriations Committee approves two bills filled with a variety of lumped together education issues including the Best and Brightest teacher bonus but excluding mandatory recess. More from the News Service of Florida.

MENTORS: Raymond James invites volunteers from across Pinellas County to help mentor students in 29 needy schools.

RESERVES: Hernando's reserve funds drop below the state recommended level of 3 percent.

SAVE OUR SCHOOL: The tiny Manatee community of Duette rallies to prevent Florida's last remaining one-room school from closing, the Bradenton Herald reports.

SECURITY: A 13-year-old is arrested related to threats made against a Martin County school, TCPalm reports.

NEW SCHOOLS: Lee district officials continue to explore sites for a new high school, the Naples Daily News reports.

DON'T COME: Leaders of the Miami-Dade school district and county government aren't getting along too well these days, the Miami Herald reports.

LEADERSHIP: More details emerge surrounding the abrupt resignation of a Palm Beach elementary principal, the Palm Beach Post reports. …

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Strong turnout expected for Pasco school district instructional job fair

Criticized for hiring late, and therefore missing out on top candidates, the Pasco school district is holding a teacher job fair at 4 p.m. today to get a jump on hiring for next fall.

Interest in the event has been higher than expected. Nearly 500 people have signed up to attend the fair. The candidates include college graduates and soon-to-be graduates with and without education degrees who are interested in becoming a teacher.

"It's part of our new approach to get to them early," district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said.

The district anticipates as many as 300 vacancies, based on a teacher survey asking their intent to return. The preliminary offers could begin as early as today.

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Disciplined Pasco teacher recognized among best in Florida

One week after his suspension for inappropriate comments to students, Pasco County high school English teacher Michael Maynard won high praise from the Florida Department of Education.

Maynard was one of 240 Pasco teachers deemed a "distinguished Florida educator" on Wednesday, based on the consistently strong performance of his students on state tests over the past three years. Pasco has nearly 5,000 teachers.

"Whether in a classroom where students arrived already high achieving, or a classroom in which students were underperforming, your efforts provide inspiration and opportunities to young people that may have been otherwise inaccessible," state education commissioner Pam Stewart wrote in a form letter to the designated teachers.

That assessment falls in line with the view that Maynard's supporters have put forth since learning of his removal from River Ridge High School and his subsequent leave of absence in lieu of a three-day unpaid suspension. While district officials have argued that students deserve better, noting the teacher's string of reprimands for language and comments, many of his students have lauded Maynard for challenging them to think in new ways and find success. …

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