MONICA HERNDON | Times
Second grade students at Mendenhall Elementary School were read to and given books to take home as a kickoff for this year's First Book event.
Teachers will receive tens of thousands of free books for their classrooms at a giveaway Saturday at Hillsborough High School.
The event, from 9 am to 1 p.m., is open to anyone who works at a Title 1 school, or has students who are English language learners, in exceptional student education, or from active military families.
At the last such event in December, 40,000 books were given away.
The nonprofit First Book, the Hillsborough Alliance for Public Schools and the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association are some of the organizations involved.
To kick off the event Friday morning, books were distributed at Mendenhall Elementary School in South Tampa.Full Story
ATTENDANCE ZONES: A Pasco advisory committee considers moving students at some of Wesley Chapel's biggest subdivisions to ease crowding at the area's most over-capacity middle and high schools.
WHO'S THE MAN? Buccaneers offensive guard Kevin Pamphile serves as Lanier Elementary School's principal for a day.
FREE SPEECH: Eckerd College announces it won't curtail students' freedom of expression on campus, unlike many other colleges and universities.
LABOR NEWS: The newly formed Calhoun County teachers union elects its first-ever officers, the Calhoun County Record reports.
RACE RELATIONS: Black students rally after a teen brings a Confederate flag to Manatee High School, the Bradenton Herald reports. More from the Herald-Tribune. * Some Pasco high school students, who are minorities, are disciplined for wearing KKK-like robes to school, WFLA reports. …Full Story
Northside Christian Elementary in St. Petersburg is one of four schools in the state recognized as a National Blue Ribbon school.
The U.S. Department of Education on Wednesday recognized 279 public and 50 private schools throughout the country that are high-performing or have made strides to bridge the achievement gap. Northside Christian, a private school associated with Northside Baptist Church, is the only school recognized in the Tampa Bay area and the only private school awarded in the state.
The other three Florida schools recognized are State College of Florida Collegiate School in Manatee, Somerset Arts Conservatory School in Broward and Design and Architecture Senior High School in Miami-Dade.Full Story
Woodbridge Elementary Principal Christine Hanjian, Bryant Elementary students Vance Tomasi and Chase Hartman, Woodbridge Media Specialist Nicole Rideout
We heard this week from a grassroots organization called readrepeat.org about a generous gift from children to children.
Fifth grade students Chase Hartman and Vance Tomasi from Bryant Elementary School in Westchase held a book drive over the summer that generated 800 books for Woodbridge Elementary School in Town 'N Country.
"Our teachers will be so appreciative to expand their classroom libraries," said media specialist Nicole Rideout, according to the announcement.
The boys recruited classmates, members of their Cub Scout troop and their younger brothers to sort thousands of books into age-appropriate categories. Their parents helped them build the website and make deliveries.
Their goal is to distribute 20,000 books by the end of February to schools, hospitals, libraries, nursing homes and other organizations that can use them.
Many of the books came from a business called 2 Swell Guys. More donations are welcome. Check out this website or look for them on Facebook.Full Story
Twice during Tuesday's special Hillsborough County School Board meeting on the capital improvements plan, top district officials mentioned the next phase of the Gibson Consulting Group report.
Transportation chief Jim Beekman mentioned it in an aside before the meeting. Facilities chief Chris Farkas mentioned it during the meeting.
Have they seen it?
Not the full report, district community relations chief T.G. Taylor said Thursday, insisting that the document has not yet arrived. Rather, he said, district officials have seen data that is being passed back and forth as the efficiency consultants verify it for accuracy and prepare the report.
What exactly will Phase II include?
This contract spells it out.
Essentially, Phase II is a deeper dive into the topics covered in Phase I, which recommended the district phase out 1,700 jobs in the clerical, custodial, transportation and teaching divisions. …Full Story
Hillsborough County Schoool Board chairwoman April Griffin has not responded to the Tampa Bay Times' requests to speak with her about issues affecting the school system.
But she did make a brief statement on her Facebook page. Under her new profile picture, she wrote this caption: "You can only burn a source so many times. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me 10 times..."
No explanation was given as to what she meant by those 10 times. In a humorous gesture, she posted the photo against a "Where's Waldo" backdrop.
The post was quickly liked by Griffin's friends, including Alan Clendenin, a former candidate for the School Board and First Vice Chair of the Florida Democratic Party.
As always, the Times will provide vigorous coverage of the school system and its elected officials. Full Story
Rep. Kathy Castor
Hillsborough Community College will receive a huge boost to its STEM education opportunities, especially for Hispanic-American students, thanks to a new grant of nearly $6 million.
“Higher-wage jobs for Tampa-area graduates are an important part of growing an economy that works for all of us,” U.S. Rep Kathy Castor said in a statement announcing the grant on Wednesday.
Investing in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) in the Hispanic community, Castor said, will translate to better jobs, better wages and better futures.
“Today’s STEM students are the researchers, scientists, doctors and engineers of tomorrow,” she said in her statement.
The five-year grant from the Department of Education is the largest in its history in this category, according to the statement. HCC plans to use it to beef up its STEM pipeline, from developmental math up to four-year degree completion.
As the only Hispanic-serving institution in Tampa Bay, HCC has built a “track record for diversity,” Castor said. …Full Story
Scott Keeler, Times Staff
The Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association has endorsed Joanne Lentino in the Pinellas County School Board District 1 at-large race in the November general election.
Back in April, the Pinellas County teachers' union liked two School Board candidates so much, they endorsed both in the four-candidate race on the August primary ballot.
And both of those picks for the District 1 at-large countywide seat, Joanne Lentino and Matt Stewart, survived to go head-to-head in a runoff in the November general election.
That forced the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association to issue a second endorsement -- and this time they went with Lentino.
"We know that she's 100 percent all ours," said PCTA president Mike Gandolfo, who called Lentino, a retired Gulfport Elementary teacher, an activist who is a union member and is passionate about human rights. "Basically she's on every one of our issues...There really is no reason why we wouldn't endorse one of our own."
But Gandolfo had nothing bad to say about Stewart, a deputy director at Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Office and an adjunct professor at St. Petersburg College, who squeezed into the the runoff race with about 1,500 votes over longtime Northeast High teacher and coach Bill Dudley. Lentino led the pack with 32.3 percent of the vote. …Full Story
It’s rankings season, and the University of South Florida St. Petersburg has two new reasons to celebrate.
USFSP placed No. 1 in Florida and No. 14 in the nation among top environmental science schools, according to rankings published by EnvironmentalScience.org.
And USFSP’s MBA program nabbed a No. 3 position in the state on CollegeChoice.net, right behind the University of Florida and the University of Miami.
Rankings, as many have written, are not always the best bellwether of a school’s merit. Often, they’re quite subjective. Here are the methodologies for these two surveys:
The environmental schools rankings pulled together public and private four-year schools with more than 1,000 students. Evaluated were published surveys, student data, and “other school and career data sources.” Some factors included location, commitment to environmental causes, teaching methods and research.
Here’s the key: Schools were sorted in order of the highest percentage of students graduating with an environmental science degree. …Full Story
Tyler Woodland has never had a problem with reading.
His test scores at Pasco's Richey Elementary School showed him consistently at or above grade level, with his comprehension accuracy regularly above 90 percent. The fifth grader earned a 3 on his Florida Standards Assessment in language arts last year.
His school, however, didn't perform as well overall. It landed among the state's lowest 300 on reading, and as a result had to add an hour of daily reading instruction.
That state mandate has Tyler's mom, Cathy DiBona, up in arms.
"I go and pick him up every single day" when the extra hour begins, she said. "He's not going to spend one second in that after-school reading. It's a huge inconvenience on my family. But I am just doing what I believe is right."
DiBona said she makes the daily drive, despite its interruption of her work schedule, because the school won't let him take the bus home with children in kindergarten through third grade, who do not have to attend the added instruction. District officials have made clear that they will not violate state law, which allows children in the "L-300" schools to opt out only if they earned a 5 on the FSA. …Full Story
THIRD GRADE: The Hernando County school district rethinks its policy on testing and third-grade retention.
EDUCATION MATTERS: Former Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy encourages hundreds of Pinellas students, many of whom were black males, to take advantage of their education to improve their future options.
CALENDARS: The Orange County school district sets its 2017-18 calendar so first semester exams come before winter break, the Orlando Sentinel reports.
SECURITY: Hundreds of Rockledge High students stay home from school after a threatening message surfaces on social media, WESH reports. * A court rules that a Sarasota student's online threats against his school are not a crime, the News Service of Florida reports.
LAND DEALS: The Manatee School Board frets over the future of a tiny parcel it owns, the Bradenton Herald reports.
LEGAL FEES: Citrus School Board members spar about how much to pay district lawyers, the Citrus County Chronicle reports.
TURNAROUNDS: One of Marion County's lowest performing schools gets a new principal, the Ocala Star-Banner reports.
HANDS ON: A Bay high school's pre-med program experiences rapid growth, the Panama City News-Herald reports. …Full Story
True to his word, Hillsborough Chief of Staff Alberto Vazquez is watching spending carefully as the district seeks to save another $130 million this year in its general fund.
To that end, Vazquez this week ordered a freeze on out-of-county travel, with some exceptions:
1. If the travel is covered by an outside entity,
2. If the travel is covered from personal funds, and
3. If there is an internal school account that can cover the trip. This is money that comes from school fundraisers, and not the taxpayers.
"The freeze will continue through the end of the fiscal year June 30, 2017," says the memo from chief business officer Gretchen Saunders.
A second email followed, clarifying the first.
"For example," Vazquez wrote, "a conference that is not mandatory or can be posponed that requires district funds will not be approved."
For students, however, trips that have already been approved will be allowed to continue - for example, a Florida Orchestra Conference that requires chaperones.
But even under these scenarios, schools must get permission from Vazquez's office.
Pinellas County Schools
Pinellas school superintendent Mike Grego at Tuesday's School Board meeting unveiled a new format detailing how the school district will work to close the achievement gap on standardized tests between black and non-black students.
Pinellas County school superintendent Mike Grego had an idea to share at Tuesday's School Board meeting.
He called for "listening sessions" to be held in the evenings out in the community to gather feedback on the district's plan to bridge the achievement gap between black and non-black students. District officials created handout versions of plans to be passed out to the public detailing how the district will reach those goals, which include graduation rates, student achievement, participation and performance in accelerated coursework, discipline and Exceptional Student Education (ESE).
Here are the first four scheduled meetings, which will all be from 6 to 7:30 p.m.:
Tuesday, Oct. 4 - Largo High School, 410 Missouri Ave N, Largo
Tuesday, Oct. 18 - Boca Ciega High School, 924 58th St S, Gulfport
Tuesday, Nov. 1 - Gibbs High School, 850 34th St S, St. Petersburg
Tuesday, Nov. 15 - Tarpon Springs High School, 1411 Gulf Rd, Tarpon Springs
1411 Gulf Rd, Tarpon Springs
Twenty seven children were aboard this school bus from Bryant Elementary School. A year later, parents are beginning to sue.
TAMPA - More than a year after Lenoir Sainfimin drove a school bus into a lake outside Westchase, the parents of two of the Bryant Elementary School children on board have filed a lawsuit in Hillsborough Circuit Court.
Michelle Etman and Tom Fugatt, on behalf of their 8 and 11-year-old children, are alleging "pain and suffering, disaility, mental anguish, loss of capacity for the enjoyment of life" and other damages as a result of the accident on Sept. 17, 2015.
With 27 children on the bus, there are other potential lawsuits, with a limited amount of money available. Because the Hillsborough County school district is a government entity, a state cap limits the awards to $200,000 per person or $300,000 per incident. It would take Legislative approval to go over that cap.
In the days after accident on Nine Eagles Road, the district released records that showed the bus had been driven nearly 300,000 miles but passed a safety inspection. Sainfimin, who was brand new to the district but had experience driving a school bus in Washington, D.C., was fired. The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office cited him with careless driving. He pleaded not guilty, and the case is pending. …Full Story
April Griffin is chairwoman of the Hillsborough County School Board. The Tampa Bay Times would like to talk to her.
This is a public invitation to April Griffin, chairwoman of the Hillsborough County School Board, to speak with the Tampa Bay Times' education reporter.
It is unusual to put in an interview request to an elected public official in this fashion. But conventional methods - such as email and telephone - have been almost entirely unsuccessful in recent weeks.
The Times and its website have 1.8 million readers. Many of these readers voted for Griffin in the 2014 school board election. Even those who did not are interested in what she has to say as their elected representative. Topics of interest include race and the racial disparities in the schools, budget and the ongoing struggle to maintain school air conditioners, job cuts, standardized tests, religion and its place in the public schools, teachers' concerns and the state of affairs in the district's administrative ranks.
Marlene Sokol has covered the Hillsborough school district for the last five years.
She can be reached to schedule an appointment at (813) 226-3356.Full Story