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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Pasco County schools rezoning hearing wraps up, decision due in about 30 days

Pasco schools superintendent Kurt Browning testifies he had the authority to make rezoning recommendations to the School Board.

Jeffrey S. Solochek

Pasco schools superintendent Kurt Browning testifies he had the authority to make rezoning recommendations to the School Board.

Pasco County school district officials spent much of Tuesday defending their actions in their recent adoption of new attendance zones for west-side middle and high schools.

They faced tough questions from lawyer Robert Stines, who represented several Longleaf parents who allege the district did not follow proper rule-making procedures when redrawing the maps.

Stines grilled district planning director Chris Williams, who oversaw the process, for using the term “rule making” when sending out notices and speaking about the rezoning, yet not following the laws set forth for such a process.

Williams said he was not familiar with the law or district policy, and was following the district’s longstanding model for setting boundaries.

“We just used the same notification we’ve used in the past,” Williams said during questioning.

Stines questioned Williams and others to demonstrate that the district did not publish cost estimates associated with the rezoning, did not set clear guidelines for residents to deal with the rezoning advisory committees and did not make public all the documentation used in the decision-making. …

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Pinellas School Board approved $10.5 million for first technical high school

The Pinellas County School Board approved Tuesday a $10.5 million project to turn Career Academies of Seminole into a technical high school, expected to open in the 2018-19 school year.

Hundreds of students currently commute to the school for two periods of technical classes. The project will make it into a comprehensive high school.

Superintendent Mike Grego said he was “very excited about this project.”

The project includes a new two-story building that will be used for students attending traditional high school classes, plus a cafeteria, kitchen and office space. Some existing buildings also will be remodeled.

District officials are planning to accept 150 freshmen and 150 sophomores in the first year of the new program. Maximum capacity is expected to be between 600 to 700 students. The goal is to keep the high school small.

No students will be zoned for the school. It will be an application-only program. …

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Gradebook podcast: Meet Florida 'recess mom' Angela Browning

Students at North Shore Elementary in St. Petersburg participate in recess in January 2016.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Students at North Shore Elementary in St. Petersburg participate in recess in January 2016.

A year ago, Florida parents could not convince the Legislature to mandate 20 minutes of daily recess in elementary schools. This year, a new recess bill (SB 78) already has passed its first Senate committee and appears on a more promising path. Orlando activist Angela C. Browning, a self-proclaimed "recess mom," has helped spearhead the effort. She spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about the push and the reasons behind it.

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Breakdown delays computer-based FSA testing in Hernando schools

The internet network serving the Hernando County School District has been down since Friday afternoon, forcing the cancellation of computer-based Florida Standards Assessment tests, which had been scheduled to start Monday.
The district has access to email but very few other sites, he said.
“It went down in the worst possible time,” said Joe Amato, the district’s supervisor of technology and information services.

Though he and workers from the state network that serves the dsitrict have been "working around the clock," he said, there is no word on when service will be restored -- or when tests will be rescheduled.

 

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Pasco schools superintendent defends position on contracts, raises

Some Pasco County teachers have continued to air their complaints about the school district's contract talks and pay raises days after they raised similar concerns to the School Board.

One contacted superintendent Kurt Browning to blast him for not agreeing to "our raise" and also for increasing the pay of non-bargaining employees in December.

This time, Browning responded. He noted that the district has offered raises, and suggested the teacher ask the union why the contract deal isn't yet completed.

He took issue with the assertion that district salaries are among the lowest in the state, in that Pasco fully pays employee health benefits while other districts do not. And he did not accept criticism for giving raises to some employees and not others.

"Imagine me withholding something that rightfully belonged to you because someone else objected," he wrote. "I am sure that you would be very unhappy. That is the case with raises for non-union represented employees. The raise was theirs and I gave it to them." …

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Florida education news: School zones, special education, transgender restrooms and more

SCHOOL ZONES: Pasco County parents and school district officials begin to make their cases over whether the district's recent rezoning was valid.

SPECIAL EDUCATION: The Manatee County school district is taking a close look at whether its exceptional student education program is successful, the Bradenton Herald reports.

FREE SPEECH: A Bay County teacher is reprimanded two weeks after it became public she had criticized students on a closed Facebook page, the Panama City News Herald reports.

BOARD POLITICS: Manatee School Board member Karen Carpenter wants her board to reconsider the idea of electing members to single-member districts, the Bradenton Herald reports.

GENDER ISSUES: The Collier and Lee school districts will not change their procedures in dealing with transgender students, the Naples Daily News reports.

WHAT'S IN A NAME? Florida lawmakers strip the name of a Miami-Dade girl from a bill aimed at preventing children from leaving school during lunch, the Miami Herald reports.

TEACHER DISCIPLINE: Palm Beach County superintendent Robert Avossa says he didn't want to fire a teacher who didn't promptly report suspected child abuse but he had no choice, the Palm Beach Post reports. …

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Divest from fossil fuels and private prisons, student coalition urges USF

TAMPA — As University of South Florida students cast votes in student elections this week, they’ll also be deciding on a referendum that would urge the university to “divest from fossil fuels, private prisons and companies complicit in human rights violations.”

The referendum is non-binding but would send a renewed message to USF leaders that students care about how the university invests its dollars. It calls for the formation of a “socially responsible investment committee” to oversee a divestment effort.

“As a university, we can clear our conscience and help not only the environment that we live in, but also the people,” said Hafsa Quraishi, a sophomore from Jacksonville involved in the push. “A bunch of universities have already successfully divested from controversial companies like this, and they're still at the top of their game.”

If the divestment effort sounds familiar, it’s because students have waged similar battles several times in recent years. …

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Florida education news: Charter schools, mentoring, sales tax revenue and more

REZONING: A parent protest of the Pasco County School Board's recent attendance zone revisions heads to a state hearing officer.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Florida lawmakers again look at ways to provide more capital projects funding to charter schools, the Miami Herald reports.

MENTORING - THE FALLOUT: A Palm Beach teacher who tried to help a student who seemed troubled winds up poised to lose her job because of her actions, the Palm Beach Post reports.

HIGHER ED: Florida's historically black colleges and universities strive to remain viable and relevant, the Miami Herald reports.

IN COURT: A former Gulf County principal sues the school district alleging he lost his job inappropriately, the Panama City News Herald reports.

TAX REVENUE: Panama City Beach officials want more of the Bay County school district's sales tax revenue spent on schools within the city, the Panama City News Herald reports.

TURNAROUNDS: The Polk County School Board continues to assess its efforts to improve several low-performing schools, the Ledger reports.

STUDENT DISCIPLINE: A Sumter County alternative school gains attention for its positive behavior intervention program, the Daily Commercial reports. …

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ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of Feb.19, 2017

It's been another busy week in Florida education news. Reforms to the state's higher education system took a big step forward in the Legislature, while AP results showed increasing student participation and passage of the accelerated courses and tests. Florida's teachers continued to earn strong marks in their annual evaluations, and state House members talked about urging Congress to just back off on all those regulations. That's just the tip of the iceberg.

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. …

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Florida public school employees deserve Whistleblower protections, lawmakers suggest

Two Democratic Florida lawmakers filed similar bills (HB 1305 / SB 1236) Friday to offer specific protections to school district employees who reveal fraud, illegal activity or other actions that have a negative effect on student or school performance.

Rep. Kim Daniels of Jacksonville and Sen. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg would ensure that any instructional or administration personnel who are fired, demoted, suspended, threatened, harassed or otherwise discriminated against by their employers because of their statements have recourse under the state Whistleblower Act.

The measure would offer job security for a broad range of disclosures, including: 

- Improper use of school district practices or procedures deemed to be school-related fraud,
- A suspected violation of law or rule,
- The dishonest reporting or misrepresentation of the employee’s services, or
- An activity or incident that has had a negative effect on the education of students or a school’s performance.

Also filed Friday was a Senate companion bill (SB 1210)  to a House measure aimed at making it easier to challenge school instructional materials. …

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Gradebook podcast: Federal funding, school rezoning and red sauce

State Rep. Bob Cortes introduces HM 7027 during the Education Committee's meeting Feb. 21.

[Florida House of Representatives]

State Rep. Bob Cortes introduces HM 7027 during the Education Committee's meeting Feb. 21.

This week, Jeff Solochek and editor Tom Tobin take a look at the Florida House measure urging Congress to dramatically change the way the federal government doles out funds to the state for low-income and special education students. They also discuss a Pasco County parent lawsuit that could change the way Florida school districts redraw school attendance zones.

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Florida education news: Transgender students, school boundaries, food trucks and more

GENDER ISSUES: Tampa Bay area school district officials say the Trump administration's latest rule on treatment of transgender students won't change their actions protecting students. The same holds true in south Florida, the Sun-Sentinel reports. Central Florida, too, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

REZONING: Challenges to the Pasco County School Board's recently adopted attendance boundaries head to a hearing next week, where parents hope to get the revisions overturned. • The Nassau County School Board reassigns hundreds of students to ease crowding, Action News Jax reports.

HIGHER ED: A proposal to revamp Florida's college and university system heads to the state Senate floor.

NO STRINGS: The Florida House calls upon Congress to remove restrictions attached to federal education and health care funding, Watchdog.org reports.

TESTING: The opt-out movement gains little support in St. Johns County, the St. Augustine Record reports.

SCHOOL SPIRIT: One Leon County middle school cheerleader continues to perform even after her teammates quit, the Tallahassee Democrat reports. …

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Pinellas School Board to vote on $10.5 million project for technical high school

The Pinellas County school district needs its School Board to approve a $10.5 million project for the district's first technical high school at Tuesday's board meeting.

Without it, Career Academies of Seminole, where hundreds of students currently commute to every day for two periods of technical classes, can't transition into Career Academies of Seminole Technical High School. Officials originally planned for an August 2017 debut but are now setting their sights on the 2018-19 school year.

"The selection of architects and construction plans and things like that didn't go as quickly as we hoped," said Mark Hunt, the district's executive director of career, technical and adult education. "We'd rather delay it rather than open it."

Of the $10.5 million total project cost, about $7 million will come from the bond market to pay for a new two-story building to house traditional high school classes as well as a cafeteria, kitchen and office space.

The rest will come out of the district's capital outlay fund to pay for infrastructure such as parking lots, bus ramps and renovations to existing buildings. …

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Florida lawmaker seeks to make it easier to challenge school instructional materials

Every few years, a Florida lawmaker fixes on the topic of school materials that might offend, and how to root those out.

Three years ago, Sen. Alan Hays proposed removing the state from the book selection process, so local leaders could better control the books read in area classrooms.

This time it's Rep. Byron Donalds' turn. Donalds, a Naples Republican, has filed a measure [HB 989] that would more tightly define the criteria for acceptable classroom instructional materials, and make it easier for the general public to access and challenge the items. A Collier parent group challenged four school library books in 2015.

The bill would require school boards to ensure all instructional materials meet these guidelines:

a. Be research-based and proven to be effective in supporting student learning;
b. Provide a noninflammatory, objective, and balanced viewpoint on issues;
c. Be appropriate to the students' ages and varying levels of learning;
d. Be accurate and factual;
e. Be of acceptable technical quality; and
f. Be free of pornography or content otherwise prohibited 120 pursuant to s. 847.012(3).
 …

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USF leads nation in producing prestigious Fulbright Scholars

USF's Fulbright Scholars for the 2016-2017 year put it ahead of other top research institutions.

Times files

USF's Fulbright Scholars for the 2016-2017 year put it ahead of other top research institutions.

With 12 faculty members named as Fulbright Scholars in the 2016-2017 year, the University of South Florida led the nation in producing winners of the prestigious awards.

USF’s number is double last year’s, putting it in the top spot among research institutions nationwide, according to data released this week by the U.S. Department of State and Institute of International Education, and highlighted in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Behind USF are Ohio State and Penn State with 10 scholars, the University of Michigan with nine and the University of Southern California with eight. See the full list here.

Faculty who get the competitive award travel and conduct research abroad, then incorporate their experiences into their curriculum and domestic research. To USF, that just brings the phrase ‘global citizens’ to life. …

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