Florida education news can't seem to leave the national spotlight. Marion County schools captured attention this week for its new transgender student bathroom rule, while the state's new open enrollment law got people talking about how easy school choice is becoming in the Sunshine State. Testing, turnarounds and teacher shortages, meanwhile, remained key issues for educators and officials to grapple with. Keep up with the latest every day on the Gradebook. …
That's a 495-student increase from their current combined population.
Unlike Hillsborough County, though, the charters' increases are not pushing down the numbers in Pasco's traditional schools. Those are projected to see a 1,311-student rise in population, as well, across elementary, middle and high schools.
Even so, Pasco district officials continue to seek ways to attract children back into their classrooms. They're adding magnet programs at two middle schools in the fall, and have encouraged principals at other campuses to consider implementing attractors that might lure students in future years. …
Along with ending its athletics transfer review committee, the Pasco County school district is rewriting its student-athlete eligibility rules in light of newly adopted state law that makes it easier for teens to move and still play their sports.
The administration is asking the School Board to approve new language to the Code of Conduct reflecting the more laissez faire approach, which some critics have likened to free agency. If approved, the board would set new definitions for eligibility. The proposal reads:
"Eligible to participate" is defined as including participation in tryouts, off-season conditioning and workouts, in-season practices, and contests. It does not mean the student must be placed on a team. High school students will be "immediately eligible to participate" when first enrolling in school or transferring schools, with certain limiting conditions.
Even mid-season transfers would be able to play, so long as there's space on the team and the coach deems them skilled enough.
A few restrictions would still apply. A student would not be allowed to participate in the same sport at two schools in the same year, unless they meet one of four exceptions. …
Some of the losses happened because a handful of schools were converted in recent years from elementary to K-8 schools. The newest are Sulphur Springs and Tinker at the MacDill Air Force Base. The Tinker situation left Monroe Middle School with roughly 400 students, virtually half empty.
Principals told us another reason was a catch-up program last summer that enabled over-age students to skip a year and start high school with their peers.
But the latest Student Migration Report from the district confirms that charter middle and K-8 schools are growing rapidly and attracting groups of sometimes 100 and more from a single school zone, In some cases, the numbers suggest they also erode diversity in the district schools the children leave behind.
First, some big numbers:
While 3,393 Hillsborough children are now in charter elementary schools, 2,311 are in charter middle schools. The second number is smaller, but middle schools serve only three grades while elementary schools serve six. …
Chamberlain High School in North Tampa registered 121 out-of-school suspensions of more than five days, the highest number in the Hillsborough County School District this year.
The Hillsborough County School District has kept a close watch this year on out-of-school suspensions, and they've shared some of that data with us. Any suspension of more than five days must be approved by an area superintendent.
The Pasco County school district is tugging at heartstrings with cute kids as it launches an effort to attract top teachers to six high-needs schools.
It has posted to social media a video of children from the elementary schools -- Cox, Lacoochee, Hudson, Gulfside, Gulf Highlands and Pasco -- in which they ask educators to give them the help they want and need.
"Please come to my school and help me achieve greatness," one little girl implores.
"I love my school and I love my teachers," a smiling boy declares.
Participants were instructed in a variety of ways they can assist students.
As guests of the Christian organization "Huddle," they can attend meetings of students. But they cannot attend regularly. And, although the students are free to pray, the adults cannot lead or direct the prayer. Nor can anyone on staff at the school lead or encourage prayer.
Adults also can visit schools at the invitation of teachers and administrators. In those cases, they must make sure their activities and remarks are secular and neutral. …
BUDGETS: The Hillsborough school district imposes a spending freeze as the finance department prepares for the next fiscal year. • St. Johns district leaders focus on higher funding as a legislative priority, the St. Augustine Record reports.
The Florida Prepaid College Board has just made it a little easier to invest for future higher education needs.
It has removed the minimum contribution level for a Florida 529 Savings Plan. Beginning in May, a family member can open a 529 account at any amount, and without application fees.
Families can contribute to a 529 account and use the initial amount plus accumulated growth tax-free on higher education expenses.
The board also is sponsoring a scholarship program along with the new rules, to bring attention to 529 accounts. Ten families can win $529 to be deposited into their Florida 529. Enter here.
"We look forward to awarding these scholarships, helping 10 Florida families get a strong start in the very important journey of saving for college," Foundation Board chairman Duane Ottenstroer said in a release. "Setting aside even a small amount each month in a Florida 529 Savings account can help students reduce or avoid student loan debt."
Pasco County school district leaders want to ensure their lowest-performing schools, which often struggle to attract and retain top teachers, don't have that problem again for 2016-17.
They've scheduled two job fairs next week specifically for those schools, giving them a chance to lure teaching candidates without the added competition of campuses serving higher performing, generally more affluent students and communities.
The events come as part of the district's attempt to provide more supports and services for the neediest schools, after having determined that signing bonuses don't necessarily do the trick. The flyer states the mission clearly: The district wants "passionate, driven, goals-oriented highly-qualified teachers who want to change the lives of students in high needs schools."
Intrigued by the challenge? The job fairs are set for:
- 5:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Pasco Middle School, 13925 14th Street, Dade City
- 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Chasco Middle School, 7702 Ridge Road, Port Richey
Every year, the Pasco County School Board aims to adopt its future academic calendars early, to give parents time to plan their days off.
So the board approved its 2016-17 calendar back in November, with no comment or concern. But nearly six months later, it's having to revise the plan because of state testing schedules.
After the board set its spring break as March 18-27, 2017, the Florida Department of Education established a testing calendar that set March 27 as the first day of the third-grade language arts Florida Standards Assessment.
The department later alerted districts of "decreased flexibility with the scheduling of state standardized assessments for the 2016-2017 school year," Pasco officials noted.
That means the Pasco Board will have to consider changing its spring break so students are in school on March 27, adding instead March 17 -- the Friday before the official vacation -- as a student day off and teacher planning day. The School Board is set to take up the amendment on Tuesday.
Any parents who already made plans for that day off will then have to adjust. …
Shadows line the walkway as students line up outside in the courtyard as they prepare to participate in a no referral party at Lakewood Elementary School in St. Petersburg.
Pinellas County Schools superintendent Mike Grego announced a hefty addition to the school board's agenda Tuesday evening: a change of leadership for the district's identified "turnaround" schools, including three of the lowest performing schools in the state.
Grego made a request to amend the agenda to include transfers for the following principals, which are effective July 1:
The district will also appoint Yvette McLean-Pilliner to assistant director of school leadership.
The district conducted a national search for turnaround principals that lasted three weeks and received about 100 applications for multiple positions. Deputy superintendent Bill Corbett said principals are reviewed every spring, and each principal was reviewed on a case-by-case basis. The search, he said, is still ongoing.
"This is the time of year we look at leadership and where people fit best," he said.
Corbett added that research shows that a turnaround process takes around three to five years. Grasso, Ovalle and Pollauf began their careers at their respective years ago three years ago. …
After meeting for about a half hour with Republican Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday, incoming Florida Senate president Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said he and the governor seem to be in general agreement about their future goals for Florida's 12 public universities.
Enhancing the State University System -- and adding $1 billion in funding to it over two years -- is a priority for Negron as he's poised to take over the Senate in November. Last week, Negron and a handful of other senators toured all of the universities to learn about each institution's needs and goals.
"I updated the governor on some of the things that we learned during the university tour," Negron told reporters after the meeting at the Florida Capitol. "I think there’s a strong alignment of policy and budget goals, with my commitment to universities."
Scott's spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said Negron "requested a meeting to discuss his priorities." She had no comment on what they discussed, because the governor typically doesn't talk about private meetings.
But the universities have been on Scott's mind, also. …
Gradebook features education articles and insights on schools in Florida, focusing on Tampa Bay area schools. What's the latest from the Florida Department of Education? How is the FCAT being used to compare Florida schools? What's going on in Tampa Bay schools? Get an insider's view from the Times education reporting team.