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Jeffrey S. Solochek, Times Staff Writer

Jeffrey S. Solochek

Jeffrey S. Solochek writes about schools and education for the Tampa Bay Times. Solochek has covered the school districts in Hernando, Hillsborough and Pasco counties since joining the Times in 2000. He also oversees The Gradebook education blog.

Phone: (813) 909-4614


Blog: The Gradebook

Twitter: @JeffSolochek

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


    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....

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



    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

  3. Fifty Florida schools apply for 'Schools of Hope' grant


    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....

  4. Pasco superintendent 'troubled' by school's new approach to student discipline


    The battle that erupted Thursday on social media over a Pasco County elementary school's new approach to student discipline has left superintendent Kurt Browning questioning whether the program can survive.

    "I'll be real honest with you," Browning said Friday. "I flipped out when I saw it."...

  5. Gradebook podcast: On hate speech at UF, and education reform in the Florida Legislature


    National events hit Florida hard this week, as the white nationalist group at the center of violent protests in Virginia worked to cement plans for a rally in Tally. University of Florida officials said they won't have it on their campus, and now a potential legal battle over First Amendment rights is brewing. Higher education reporter Claire McNeill offers her insights on the situation after a week of coverage. Then, after our podcast with Polk County School Board member Billy Townsend aired, Florida House Republican leadership asked for the chance to offer an opposing view. Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., chairman of PreK-12 Appropriations, speaks with reporter Jeff Solochek on Townsend's views that Florida's education system needs a reboot, and offers some thoughts about the pending HB 7069 lawsuit, the coming legislative session, and more....

  6. For local officials, a charter school story with a surprise ending


    The opening day enrollment for Pasco County's newest charter school set off alarm bells in the school district's administrative offices.

    Pasco MYcroSchool had projected serving 250 high school students in its first year. Yet when classes began Monday, only 11 showed up. The next day, just three more came in.

    The thing is, the district already had given the school $252,152, or two months' worth of state funding, based on 250 students. It also was holding $257,914 from a state startup grant that was rooted in the same projection....

    A page from the Pasco MYcroSchool website contains photos from its first day. The new school was projected to have 250 students this year. But when only 14 showed up initially, Pasco school officials questioned whether the school should receive its total allotment of funds from the state. [Pasco MYcroSchool]
  7. Florida education news: Student discipline, online learning, solar eclipse glasses and more


    STUDENT DISCIPLINE: Everyone wants their child to behave in school. But sometimes defining what that means causes dissention. That was the case this week at a Pasco County elementary school, which posted expectations in classrooms that many parents read to equate conforming to peer pressure as positive — something they vehemently rejected. The superintendent, agreeing the wording was inflammatory, ordered the signs removed, but only temporarily. Whether better definitions might appease some, others said the entire concept would not fly and they would keep fighting....

    A Pasco County elementary school has adopted a new behavior model that encourages cooperation and responsibility. Some parents are upset that it also seems to support giving in to peer pressure.
  8. Should kindergartners be encouraged to conform to peer pressure? One Pasco school suggests so


    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.

    Parent Charity Hendry started the conversation on Facebook. Her child attends Deer Park Elementary in New Port Richey....

    Deer Park Elementary School has posted this chart of student expectations. Some parents have complained about its terms, such as the suggestion that conforming to peer pressure is positive.
  9. Florida education news: Creaky air conditioning, hate speech, home visits and more


    OVERHEATED: Several Hillsborough County schools suffer air conditioning breakdowns during the first days of classes, and maintenance workers are striving to fix the problems as quickly as possible. Superintendent Jeff Eakins is using the situation, a repeat from a year ago, to highlight that state funding for school capital needs has decreased to the point where it's hard to keep up with daily needs. Eakins and other superintendents across Florida have urged lawmakers to increase districts' maximum capital tax rate to pre-recession levels, but so far have not succeeded....

    Aging air conditioning is faltering at some Hillsborough County schools.
  10. Students, staff, parents celebrate opening of two new schools in Pasco


    After months of anticipation, Pasco County's two newest schools made their debuts Monday to largely rave reviews.

    Both Cypress Creek Middle-High School in Wesley Chapel and Bexley Elementary School in Land O'Lakes rose to ease crowding at nearby schools, where subdivision growth pushed the student populations beyond capacity.

    Even with the new schools' arrival, other campuses continued to grow, with overall district enrollment expected to increase by 1,600 children — largely along the State Road 54 corridor....

    Mike Young, 39, arrives Monday with his sons on their first day at Cypress Creek High School in Wesley Chapel. The campus includes a middle school.
  11. Gradebook podcast: Polk County School Board member Billy Townsend on education reform


    Billy Townsend doesn't mince words. He considers Florida's education accountability system a fraud. He's likened the state Legislature to an abusive spouse. And he does it all in public, whether at the board table or on his blog. A former education reporter and editor for the Ledger in Lakeland, Townsend considers himself a beat reporter exposing the truth about education in his county and the state. And he says it's time for change. Townsend spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about his approach to the job of School Board member....

    Polk School Board member Billy Townsend
  12. Pasco County school district outlines email expectations after 'reply-all issues'


    The inability of some Pasco County teachers to "not reply to sender" after receiving a blast email captured the attention of school district leaders, who were amused at the responses but none too pleased at having their in-boxes — not to mention the district's email servers — inundated a week ago with replies to a message about ESOL certification.

    On Tuesday, assistant superintendent Kevin Shibley sent instructions to all administrators on how to properly use email distribution lists, to avoid a repeat of Aug. 9. (See our post, What not to do when the e-mail says, "Do not reply to sender," if you missed the details on the activity that had the district abuzz.)...

    Someone created this meme to poke fun at the Pasco County teachers who replied to everyone in an ESOL email chain.
  13. Florida education news: Leadership changes, school nurses, impact fees and more


    SENATE SHAKEUP: State Sen. David Simmons couldn't abide some of the provisions within HB 7069 during Florida's spring legislative session. So he voted against it, even though it was a House Republican priority — part of a deal with Senate leadership — and even though he was the senator charged with steering it through to passage. Simmons continued to criticize the measure through the summer. On Tuesday, Simmons was removed from his post as PreK-12 Appropriations chairman. • Many of his fans lamented the move, suggesting he was punished for standing on principle. But Simmons, also a successful Orlando-area attorney, said not to worry. "I plan to continue to be very involved in education issues." • Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, a first term senator from Naples, will take over the committee, the Naples Daily News reports....

    Pinellas County schools aim to have nurses, and not just aides, working in their clinics by 2021.
  14. Sen. Simmons plans to remain 'very involved' in education issues


    The general sentiment rising within Florida's public education system over Sen. David Simmons' removal Tuesday as PreK-12 Appropriations chairman could be summed up in one word: "Sad."

    But the Seminole County Republican, who has run the education budget in both the House and Senate during his Tallahassee tenure, said not to worry....

    Sen. David Simmons
  15. Pasco County Commission approves school impact fee increase


    With minimal comment Tuesday, the Pasco County Commission unanimously agreed to nearly double school impact fees over the next three years.

    The fee, placed on newly permitted homes, is designed to support school construction made necessary by the addition of the new homes. It will rise by $2,300 on Jan. 1, 2018, and by $600 on Jan. 1 of each of the following two years.

    Commissioners had not increased the charge in a decade, even as children moving into new subdivisions across southern Pasco filled existing schools beyond their capacities. The School Board has said it needs at least four new schools in the coming five years to cope with anticipated growth from Trinity in the west to Wesley Chapel in the east....

    Hugh Townsend, a member of the Pasco County impact fee advisory committee, encourages commissioners Tuesday to support an increase in school impact fees.