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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Fifty Florida schools apply for 'Schools of Hope' grant

Florida House of Representatives

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.

Of 90 schools that could apply, 50 did so. Polk County led the way with eight submissions, followed by Orange County with six. Hillsborough County, which had one of the highest number of "failing" schools in Florida, applied for three schools, as did Pinellas County.

The State Board of Education is scheduled to select up to 25 grant recipients at its Sept. 13 meeting. Here's the full list of schools seeking the money: …

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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."

The superintendent shook his head in dismay as he considered the use of words like "anarchy" and "peer pressure" without any context to help parents understand Deer Park Elementary's goals. The timing was incredibly poor, he observed, given national current events that have generated heated debate over what it means to live in a democracy.

"I have directed that all those posters be taken down in the school, I'll say until ... I want the parent meeting to occur, and then we will assess where we are," he said. "What I am troubled about is, it was just done with little or no communication to parents. If we had, the likelihood of success would have been greater."

Browning contended the underlying effort to encourage positive behavior is "solid." The language, in context with all the other materials, makes sense, he said. …

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

No Nazi at UF Facebook event page

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.

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Florida education news: Student discipline, online learning, solar eclipse glasses and more

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.

Times (2010)

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.

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.

ONLINE LEARNING: St. Leo University sees its enrollment double over 20 years, with most of the students never stepping onto its east Pasco County campus.

SOLD OUT: Parents trying to find eclipse watching glasses for their children to take to school are increasingly out of luck across the Tampa Bay region and state. Many school districts are allowing students to have excused absences to watch the event. …

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After Charlottesville, Judy Genshaft asks USF to "stand together with open minds and open hearts"

USF president Judy Genshaft posed with graduate Matt Jackson in 2015.

EVE EDELHEIT | Times

USF president Judy Genshaft posed with graduate Matt Jackson in 2015.

TAMPA — In a welcome letter celebrating the start of a new academic year, University of South Florida System President Judy Genshaft took a moment to reflect on last weekend's violence in Charlottesville and asked students to unite with "open minds and open hearts."

Genshaft called expressions of hatred and racism a "reprehensible step backward," and reaffirmed USF's core values of diversity and inclusivity. Walking a careful line, she also underscored USF's commitment to the First Amendment guarantee of free speech for all. 

"Critical inquiry … the free and robust exchange of ideas … these are among the pillars upon which our university has been built," she wrote. "By treating each other with civility and respect, we have greater opportunities to learn, to grow and to enrich our lives – as individuals, as a university community, and as a society."

Genshaft's letter followed a hectic week in Florida higher education, as the University of Florida grappled with a potential visit from the notorious white nationalist whose group organized the chaotic "Unite the Right" demonstration in Virginia. …

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Should kindergartners be encouraged to conform to peer pressure? One Pasco school suggests so

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.

Facebook post

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.

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.

"NO child should be labeled an ANARCHIST for running in school," Hendry wrote. "I will not encourage my child to CONFORM by giving into peer pressure. It just gets worse. Read the photos. Seriously. This is real. The principal is standing by the policy."

She stressed that she isn't out to get anyone. Not the "amazing" kindergarten teacher. Not the "amazing" school that she bought her home near to allow her children to attend.

"BUT this, I will not stand for this," Hendry wrote. "This isn't right for ANY child." …

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On move-in day at USF, 850 students call brand-new Village dorms home

A view of an open plaza leading to "The Hub," a student dining hall in the Village, the new $134 million student housing complex set to open in phases at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

University of South Florida

A view of an open plaza leading to "The Hub," a student dining hall in the Village, the new $134 million student housing complex set to open in phases at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

TAMPA — As thousands of University of South Florida students flock to campus for the fall semester, 850 of them have lucked out with rooms in brand-new residence halls.

Two new six-story dorm buildings are throwing their doors open today for the first time, marking a critical boost in housing for a campus at capacity.

Dubbed Beacon and Summit halls, they are part of a new complex at USF called the Village, where three additional residence halls are slated to open next fall. Altogether, 2,000 students will call the Village home.

Also opening today is the complex’s new dining facility, called The Hub. It has nearly 500 seats both indoors and outdoors, plus a coffee shop and an on-site dietician who will give free nutritional counseling to students with meal plans. A wellness center called The Fit, featuring an outdoor pool, will open in early October.

Beacon and Summit will house primarily first-year and other undergraduate students in a mix of suite-style and traditional rooms. It’s located on the north side of campus, a short walk from the Marshall Student Center. A Publix grocery store will soon be built in the area. …

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Florida education news: Creaky air conditioning, hate speech, home visits and more

Aging air conditioning is faltering at some Hillsborough County schools.

Times (2014)

Aging air conditioning is faltering at some Hillsborough County schools.

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.

FREE SPEECH: First Amendment experts say the University of Florida has a tough battle ahead in trying to ban a hate-group leader's speech based on fears of violence, considering the talk has not taken place.

ECLIPSE PLANNING: Hernando County schools will excuse all absences, even those without a note, for Monday's solar eclipse. • Taking no chances, the Jackson County school district will close for the day, the Jackson County Floridian reports.

SALES TAX: Revenue from Brevard County's local sales tax for schools exceeds projections, Florida Today reports. …

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Hernando schools will excuse absences without a note for solar eclipse

Following suit of other Tampa Bay-area school districts, Hernando County will grant students an excused absence for Monday's solar eclipse should they want to stay home to watch it. But unlike schools in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas, those in Hernando will not require a note.

A memo put out by the district Wednesday says students who do come to school Monday will only be allowed to watch the eclipse via NASA live stream, available here to "ensure that all students have the safest viewing experience."

Students who have to leave a school building to switch classes or go to lunch during the eclipse, set to be visible in the area from 1:15 p.m. to 4:15 p.m., will be given instruction on how to "exercise care" and told to avoid staring directly at the sun, the memo said.

After-school activities, including athletics, will be held inside until the eclipse has passed, and students who are picked up from school by car will be required to remain indoors until their ride arrives. …

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Gradebook podcast: Polk County School Board member Billy Townsend on education reform

Polk School Board member Billy Townsend

Polk School Board member Billy Townsend

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.

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Pasco County school district outlines email expectations after 'reply-all issues'

Someone created this meme to poke fun at the Pasco County teachers who replied to everyone in an ESOL email chain.

Someone created this meme to poke fun at the Pasco County teachers who replied to everyone in an ESOL email chain.

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.)

"In light of last week's situation regarding the ESOL Certification e-mail chain, and the "Reply-All" issues we experienced after the message went out," Shibley opened, "I wanted to take a moment to establish the expectations around the use of the Office 365 distribution lists and any other mass-email services that may be in use."

First, he suggested, when using a large delivery list, put it in the blind copies circulating (BCC) field, NOT the "To" or "CC" field. That should eliminate the reply-all problem, he wrote. …

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Florida education news: Leadership changes, school nurses, impact fees and more

Pinellas County schools aim to have nurses, and not just aides, working in their clinics by 2021.

TImes (2016)

Pinellas County schools aim to have nurses, and not just aides, working in their clinics by 2021.

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.

HEALTHY SCHOOLS: The Pinellas County school district aims to have a licensed nurse in every school by 2021.

CONSTRUCTION COSTS: The Pasco County Commission unanimously agrees to increase school impact fees for the first time in a decade. School district officials plan to use the revenue to build at least four new schools in five years, to cope with surging enrollment. …

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Sen. Simmons plans to remain 'very involved' in education issues

Sen. David Simmons

Sen. David Simmons

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.

"I have the same love and passion for education. Nothing changes there," Simmons told the Gradebook. "I've been given another responsibility, which I'm going to, obviously, have a great opportunity doing those things, to deal with general government appropriations and all the water issues."

Simmons was named chairman of general government appropriations and placed on the environmental preservation and conservation committee. He was removed from education appropriations, but remains on the education policy committee and the overall appropriations committee.

"I plan to continue to be very involved in education issues," Simmons said. "They need not worry about any reduction in my passion to assist in the dealing with the issues of education appropriations or education policy. We're in good shape." …

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FSU president John Thrasher on Charlottesville

Florida Sen. Chris Smith, D- Ft. Lauderdale, hugs then-Sen. John Thrasher, R- St. Augustine, at the conclusion of the 2014 Florida Legislative session in May 2104, just sx months before Thrasher became the 15th president of Florida State University.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Florida Sen. Chris Smith, D- Ft. Lauderdale, hugs then-Sen. John Thrasher, R- St. Augustine, at the conclusion of the 2014 Florida Legislative session in May 2104, just sx months before Thrasher became the 15th president of Florida State University.

John Thrasher, the president of Florida State University, weighed in today on last weekend's events in Charlottesville, Va.

"Florida State University recognizes freedom of expression as a constitutional right, and we are dedicated to protecting it for everyone," his statement said in part. "We do not, however, condone the expression of ideas that infringe upon the rights of others or lead to violence."

Before becoming FSU's president in 2014, Thrasher served in the Florida Senate, was a former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida and was speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.

Read his full statement here.

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Senate shakeup impacts education budget panel

Sen. David Simmons, who openly questioned this year's big education bill, loses his key education budget post in the reorganization.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Sen. David Simmons, who openly questioned this year's big education bill, loses his key education budget post in the reorganization.

Reshaping his leadership team for his final year in office, Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, shook up the Senate power structure in a big way Tuesday as he stripped some veteran Republicans of key committee assignments and rewarded others with new, high-profile assignments.

The sweeping, highly unusual changes follow a year in which Negron faced private criticism from some GOP senators who felt he too often acquiesced to the demands of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, and Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a key piece of Negron legislation on higher education. In June, in an uncharacteristic public display of frustration, the affable Negron lashed out at a "fake narrative" that he guaranteed senators' votes to seal a deal between Scott and Corcoran on key legislation to bring the rocky 2017 session to a close.

"In an era of term limits, I believe it's important for each senator to be considered for additional opportunities to participate in the committee process," Negron told the Times/Herald. …

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