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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

FSBA focuses on third-grade retention rules

In the aftermath of parents suing over Florida's third-grade promotion law, the Florida School Boards Association has called upon lawmakers to clarify the rules.

To do so, the organization has dropped its previous stance on ending the high stakes uses of state test results from its annual legislative platform.

The group's latest platform, adopted in late October, speaks instead to revising the third-grade promotion law in three specific ways:

• Provide clearly defined alternative pathways for student promotion and retention with a more balanced approach that considers both assessment results and local evidence of student performance;
• Ensure that the final decision on student promotion or retention is made at the local level; and
• Ensure that student promotion or retention is not dependent upon, or denied by, a single assessment result.

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Pasco parents blast school rezoning plan -- if it affects them

Pasco school superintendent Kurt Browning's email inbox has been overflowing with angry messages lately, as a growing number of parents across the county complain about possible plans to change their school attendance zone.

In almost every instance, the letter writers have suggested that some other neighborhood should move instead. Several made accusations of a fixed system, unfairly controlled by one community to the detriment of others.

The committee assigned to draw zones for southwest Pasco middle and high schools did little to counter such concerns, as some members avidly fought to keep the Longleaf subdivision in crowded Seven Springs Middle and Mitchell High even as many others tried to swat down the idea. The group became so divided it wound up offering multiple proposals for next week's parent meeting rather than one, as had been its charge.

Browning expressed disappointment at the committee's inability to do the "heavy lifting" of making a decision for the community to review. He briefly considered canceling the parent session until the panel does its job. Instead, he said the committee did what it did, and will have to work through the process even as pressure mounts. …

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School board election results tonight

Tamara Shamburger is running for the District 5 seat in central Tampa.


Tamara Shamburger is running for the District 5 seat in central Tampa.

Don't forget to look down-ticket today for two Hillsborough County School Board elections.

If you live in central Tampa, your choices are engineer Joe Jordon-Robinson and litigation manager Tamara Shamburger.

All Hillsborough residents can choose between Lynn Gray, a former teacher; and Cathy James, a career accountant, for the at-large seat in District 7. We got them to pose together at a Hispanic heritage festival, where they worked the crowd while middle school children romped around on Bucs-themed play equipment in the hot, hot sun. Who says school board members can't be civil?

We'll have the returns when they come in, along with candidate reactions.

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Florida education news: Bullying, movie roles, school safety and more

BULLYING: Central Florida parents claim their schools underreport bullying incidents, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

ACTION! Some Miami middle school students snag roles in a locally made film with the help of their teacher, the Miami Herald reports.

PRIVATE SCHOOLS: Two Jacksonville Catholic schools will shut down as the diocese builds a new, larger one to serve the community, the Florida Times-Union reports.

CAMPAIGN TRAIL: Palm Beach school employees stump for the district's sales tax referendum, the Palm Beach Post reports. • The Florida Education Association outspends voucher proponents in state legislative races, Politico Florida reports.

SAFETY: Unsubstantiated rumors of violence prompt parents to pull dozens of students out of their Volusia high school, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

HANDS ON: Students at a St. Johns middle school participate in a NOAA buoy research project, the St. Augustine Record reports.

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A race to pay the teachers

TAMPA - The Hillsborough County School District and its teachers have reached a tentative pay deal that rewards long-serving teachers, who have reached the top of the pay scale, with a $200 bonus.

All teachers would also get cost of living raises of $200, which would be built into the pay scale. The raises are retroactive to July 1. And, for about a third of the teachers, there will be a scheduled $4,000 raise, also retroactive.

To receive a year's credit and advance to those higher pay grades, teachers must be rated at least effective or highly effective on their evaluations.Teaching assistants and other support workers in the schools will see their wages increase by about 6 percent, with starting pay of $10.06 an hour.

The deal would need to be ratified by union members and approved by the School Board in a special session.

The catch: It's not entirely clear if the district can get the retroactive payments into teachers' checks by Dec. 31.

That's important to union leader Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, who described lukewarm feelings about the raises among her members. …

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Please move next board meeting, Pasco school employees union requests

United School Employees of Pasco president Kenny Blankenship anticipates a large number of his members attending the Pasco School Board's meeting Nov. 15. They want to talk about pay, benefits and other matters related to negotiations, which are set to resume Wednesday.

More than 100 are likely to come, Blankenship said.

Yet the School Board recently began more strictly enforcing the fire code maximum capacity in its meeting room. The maximum allowed is now 99 people. No standing along the walls permitted.

Blankenship has asked the board to consider moving to a larger space -- a bigger training room down the hall or, if that doesn't work, a larger room in Land O'Lakes High School across the parking lot.

He cited a 2008 Florida Attorney General's Opinion that states, "public boards and commissions should take reasonable steps to ensure that the facilities where the meeting will be held will accommodate the anticipated turnout."

Board chairwoman Joanne Hurley sent Blankenship a note saying she'd look into his question with the administration.

"I'm waiting to hear back from the School Board," Blankenship said. "It's their meeting." …

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Gibson reports are on the district site too

In addition to our running list of documents pertaining to the Hillsborough County School District's financial situation, the district has posted the Gibson reports on its website. To find them, go to the Superintendent page, Resources tab, and scroll down. Or click here. 

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No resolution in southwest Pasco attendance rezoning effort

This is one map the rezoning committee is considering for southwest Pasco middle and high schools.

Pasco County School District

This is one map the rezoning committee is considering for southwest Pasco middle and high schools.

Southwest Pasco County families hoping to know where their children might go to middle and high school next fall got no answers Monday from the committee assigned to set new attendance boundaries for the region.

At odds over which neighborhoods to take out of crowded, growing Mitchell High and Seven Springs Middle, the committee decided to bring five options to a Nov. 14 community meeting for more input.

"I think it will help us as a group come to a decision," said parent Derek Delgardo, representing Gulf Middle School on the panel.

The committee is set to reconvene on Nov. 17 to settle on a map, using community input as a guide.

But parents who watched the committee deliberate were far from optimistic. They've watched their neighbors fight over the rezoning since August, when news of the changes first surfaced, and hoped for some solid plan to discuss.

"They've managed to pit two portions of our community against each other," observed Christine Stahl, a Trinity area parent active in the effort.

"It's Longleaf vs. the west side," another observer suggested. "Who will be louder?" …

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Here are the Gibson reports...

... and other documents in Tampa Bay Times files, pertaining to the ongoing cost-cutting efforts at the Hillsborough County Public Schools. This list will be updated.

July 2015

Moody's report to investors

Fitch's report to investors

Superintendent Jeff Eakins' Powerpoint to principals

August 2015

Times article about Jeff Eakins' remarks to the editorial board

September 2015

Tampa Bay Times article about Gates foundation withholding $20 million of the $100 million grant

Report to School Board about $142 million spending "hole"

Contract with Gibson Consulting Group

October 2015

"Sticker Shock," the Times wrap-up story about the Gates experiment

December 2015

Report about Hillsborough school transportation from Council of the Great City Schools

February, March 2016

Updated investor reports from Moody's, Fitch, and Standard and Poors

April 2016

School accounts are closed early

June 2016

* Gibson Phase I

July 2016

Memo about clerical cutbacks

September 2016

Travel freeze letter

How the district saved $121 million from the general fund last year

October 2016

* Gibson Phase II

Gibson communication plan

Emails about hiring freeze and redeployment


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Florida education news: Teacher transfers, math lessons, dropout prevention and more

COST CUTTING: Hillsborough schools move hundreds of support teachers into classroom jobs.

CAMPAIGN TRAIL: Pinellas voters want to know where nonpartisan School Board candidates stand on Clinton vs. Trump. • A campaign for Palm Beach School Board centers on charter school issues, the Palm Beach Post reports.

#PASCOMATH: Pasco's senior math specialist uses social media to enhance math lessons for district students.

READING INSTRUCTION: A reading program that Alachua schools spent $1.2 million on had little to no positive effect, the Gainesville Sun reports.

BEYOND THE CLASSROOM: South Florida universities encourage student entrepreneurship, the Miami Herald reports.

HISTORY LESSONS: The Manatee school district promotes historical women in its media centers, the Bradenton Herald reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: A Bay charter group breaks ground on its newest school, the Panama City News Herald reports. • Charter Schools USA prepares to open its eighth school in Jacksonville, the Florida Times-Union reports.

DROPOUT PREVENTION: Homestead High in Miami-Dade County turns around its poor graduation rate with its Diplomas Now program, the Miami Herald reports. …

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The Hillsborough teacher pay plan: What happened?

The Tampa Bay Times received several questions from teachers and others who want to know what happened to the pay plan that was rolled out during the Gates reform years.

Why the difficulty in signing a new contract?

The teachers' union is a far better source of answers, and they have been working through the weekend to sort out the ongoing transfers.

But, to provide some history, here is a question and answer sheet that the union posted when the new pay plan was first offered. 

Pay special attention to the second question on the third page: "How will the district pay for all of this?" It sheds some light on the dilemma.

In that answer you will learn that: …

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ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of Oct. 31, 2016

With elections near, Florida education news became rather hushed, particularly on the policy front. That didn't stop all the activity, though, as teachers continued to negotiate contracts, students protested their new dress code and districts began adopting new open enrollment rules to meet the latest state requirements. Visit the Gradebook daily for the latest Florida education news.

Partnership gives high school students a taste of the teaching profession, Jeffrey S. Solochek
"As children arrived at Hudson Elementary School for classes on a recent Tuesday, a befuddled bus line volunteer approached principal Dawn Scilex with a puzzled look on her face. ‘There are a bunch of high-schoolers getting off a bus,' the volunteer reported, asking what to do with the 40 or so teens. Scilex chuckled and said not to worry. She had been expecting the group from River Ridge High School's New Teacher Academy, which recently partnered with her perennially struggling school, and guided them to her office." …

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'Recess moms' want to keep you informed

First and second graders have recess at Sexton Elementary School in St. Petersburg in December. Pinellas "recess moms" have created a website to keep parents informed on where local politicians stand on school health issues.


First and second graders have recess at Sexton Elementary School in St. Petersburg in December. Pinellas "recess moms" have created a website to keep parents informed on where local politicians stand on school health issues.

There are many education issues that aren't in the presidential election limelight such as testing, recess and school nurses.

Pinellas County parents Christie Bruner and Stephanie Cox, the self-proclaimed "recess moms" who last year lobbied for mandatory daily recess in elementary schools statewide, have created a website with information on where local candidates stand on school health issues. posts interviews from School Board, Florida state senate and representative candidates on daily recess, the school nursing shortage and high-stakes testing.

"Our goal is to make this information accessible and relevant to more parents," Bruner said. "And to encourage everyone to be educated about their local races."

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Florida education news: Dress code, school choice, gun lessons and more

DRESS CODE: A Palm Beach County teen is disciplined after wearing a "Hillary for Prison" t-shirt to school, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

SCHOOL VIOLENCE: Duval County schools have the most reported incidents of school violence in Florida, News 4 Jax reports. • A fight at an Alachua high school sends one student to the hospital, the Gainesville Sun reports.

CHOICE OPTIONS: The Palm Beach County school district adopts a new open enrollment policy to accommodate for new law permitting cross-district transfers, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

GUNS: A Duval mom is upset her son's elementary school taught an NRA-affiliated gun safety lesson in class, Action News Jax reports.

PUBLIC COMMENT: The Miami-Dade School Board limits speakers' right to criticize district workers, NBC Miami reports.

DRINKING WATER: Leon County superintendent Jackie Pons apologizes for his lack of communication amid reports of lead in school water fountains, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

CAMPAIGN TRAIL: The race for Escambia County schools superintendent features the same candidates for the third straight time, the Pensacola News-Journal reports. …

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Florida Department of Education approves another alternate test for third-grade promotion

The number of alternative tests Florida third graders can use to gain promotion to fourth grade continues to grow.

The Department of Education announced Thursday that Istation is now an accepted option for children who do not earn a passing score on the Florida Standards Assessments in language arts. It is the seventh exam on the list, which also includes more well-known tests including SAT-10 and the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.

Students would have to pass at the 50th percentile or higher on the Istation, as well as most of the others, to qualify for promotion, according to the DOE. The cut score for the SAT-10 would be the 45th percentile.

Some lawmakers and school district officials have suggested that the state do away with the FSA, which generated controversy early on, and instead simply rely on these national assessments. That idea has not won overwhelming approval, though, as stakeholders debate the use of standardized exams in schools. …

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