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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Who will oversee Pasco County's middle schools?

The post of assistant superintendent for middle schools is the one remaining vacancy in Pasco County superintendent Kurt Browning's reorganized administration, as former area superintendent Todd Cluff has moved to a school principal's job.

Half of the candidates come from within the district, with the others living outside Florida. Browning, who likes to promote from within, said he will consider the out-of-state applicants, but acknowledged they would have to demonstrate a strong understanding of Florida's education system.

Up for the post are internal applicants Land O'Lakes High principal Ric Mellin, Gulf Middle principal Jason Joens, Weightman Middle principal Brandon Bracciale and River Ridge Middle principal Marcy Hetzler-Nettles; and external candidates Bret Gibbs, superintendent of an Iowa school district; Christina Stanley, principal of a California high school; Joanne Leichman of Ohio; and Therese Hernandez, no added information available.

Browning is conducting interviews this week, and said he hopes to have the spot filled in time for School Board consideration on Feb. 7.

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Gradebook podcast: Florida's need for better math, science education

FSU physics professor Paul Cottle

[Florida State University]

FSU physics professor Paul Cottle

Florida State University physics professor Paul Cottle is one of the state's most outspoken advocates for improved math and science education in Florida schools. He writes about the issue on his blog, Bridge to Tomorrow, and also advises school districts on how to make the idea a reality in their classrooms. Cottle speaks with reporter Jeff Solochek about the importance of STEM lessons to Florida children's future success.

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You know you wanna...

Gasparilla road races last for two days. The 5K event, in which the Hillsborough County school district is fielding a team, is at 9:15 on Feb. 25.


Gasparilla road races last for two days. The 5K event, in which the Hillsborough County school district is fielding a team, is at 9:15 on Feb. 25.

Ex-jocks and weekend warriors in the Hillsborough County school system now have one less excuse to sit out the upcoming Gasparilla road race.

The district is fielding a 5K team -- and offering free training.

"Going For Gold" has several goals -- to promote fitness, build camaraderie, and build the buzz around Hillsborough's "90BY20" campaign to boost the high school graduation rate to 90 percent by 2020.The district is moving in that direction, having jumped three points this year to 79.1 percent.

Lynn Gray, an accomplished marathoner who joined the School Board in November, is leading coaching sessions to help new runners prepare. One is scheduled this Thursday from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in the area around the school district's downtown Tampa headquarters and Rampello K-8 School.

More information can be found here. Tick tick -- the race is Feb. 25.

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Gov. Rick Scott seeks to refocus Best and Brightest bonus in his 2017 budget plan

Times file photo

Taking up where the Florida Board of Education left off in the fall, Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday revealed his proposal to recast the state's controversial Best and Brightest teacher bonus into a broader range of recruitment and retention incentives.

His $24 billion education budget would zero out the Best and Brightest, which goes to teachers who earn a "highly effective" evaluation rating and scored in the top 20 percent of SAT or ACT takers. Instead, he would direct $43 million toward new initiatives, including:

- $10 million for a one-time hiring bonus for teachers testing in the top 10 percent of the Subject Area Examination in the subject they teach in 2017-2018;
- $5 million to increase the diversity of the teachers in critical shortage and high need areas;
- $5.9 million to recruit Bright Futures Scholars who major in education and commit to four years of teaching in the rural district from which they graduated high school;
- $16 million for districts to implement targeted recruitment and retention initiatives that meet their needs; and
- $6.1 million to reward great teachers in low performing schools. …

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Florida education news: Immigration, school budgets, Florida vacations and more

CAMPUS PROTEST: University of South Florida students rally against President Trump's immigration orders. • Florida Institute of Technology issues a travel warning to its students, Florida Today reports. • Florida State University raises concerns over the administration's new policy, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

TOP HONORS: Pasco High School nurse Margaret Polk is named Florida's 2017 School Nurse of the Year.

SCHOOL SPENDING: Florida Gov. Rick Scott plans to unveil his 2017-18 budget, which does not account for increasing student enrollment, the News Service of Florida reports.

RIPPED OFF: Two people are arrested on charges of stealing more than $500,000 worth of gas from the Palm Beach County school district, the Palm Beach Post reports.

VISIT FLORIDA? A British dad will argue in court that Britain's rules fining families for unapproved absence from school — in his case to vacation in Florida — is flawed, the Telegraph reports.

IN COURT: Two former administrators sue a Bay County charter school group alleging gender discrimination and retaliation, the Panama City News Herald reports. …

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Pinellas School Board, Juvenile Welfare Board, County Commissioners meet for joint workshop today

The Juvenile Welfare Board and Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners will join the Pinellas School Board at a joint workshop today to discuss at-risk youth, school nurses and homelessness.

The workshop, which begins at 10:30 a.m. at the school district's Largo headquarters, will feature presentations on those four categories.

Powerpoints posted online show that the Juvenile Welfare Board spent more money on resources in south St. Petersburg in fiscal year 2014-15, spending $9.4 million to serve 4,500 people.

The school district received funding for eight more licensed practical nurse positions for the 2016-17 school year, but officials make a case there still aren't enough school nurses as the number of students with health needs is on the rise.

Local organizations continue to battle rising rates of homelessness, including youth and unaccompanied minors. According to the Housing and Urban Development inventory count, 248 family beds and 60 single beds were lost in 2016.

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New challenges arise to Pasco County school rezoning effort

Times file photo

Families from eastern Pasco County have joined their west-county counterparts in challenging the School Board's recently approved attendance zone revisions.

Using the same attorney, the Wesley Chapel area residents have made similar arguments contending that the board did not follow statutory requirements on rulemaking as it considered the rezoning proposals. They claim that the district did not properly advertise the public hearings, provide answers to questions from the public or give affected people adequate time to make arguments on the issues under consideration.

They have filed their complaint with the Division of Administrative Hearings. To support the effort, the group has launched a page seeking financial donations.

"The time to act is now," they wrote. "Our community is fighting back."

The west side families, meanwhile, added to their DOAH petition by filing a civil complaint in circuit court. They are claiming members of the district's advisory committee had secretive meetings outside the public eye, making the process unlawful. They also argue that the zoning changes would create irreparable harm to their children's emotional and educational well being. …

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HCC's Atwater on DUI bust: 'No injury, no property damage'

Arrest mug for Kenneth Atwater

Arrest mug for Kenneth Atwater

Hillsborough Community College Kenneth Atwater released a statement Monday about his Saturday DUI arrest.

“I take this matter very seriously, have retained a personal attorney, and am confident this matter will be resolved through the legal system,” Atwater said in the statement, released by his attorney, Eddie Suarez of Tampa. “There was no accident, no one was injured and no property was damaged. As always, I remain focused on and committed to HCC, its students, our faculty and the community at large.”

What kind of disciplinary action Atwater will receive, if any, was still unclear Monday. College spokeswoman Ashley Carl said the college’s District Board of Trustees was still in the process of gathering facts about the incident.

A clause in Atwater’s contract states that he can be fired for certain types of misconduct outlined in Florida law, but it was unclear Monday if a DUI could be grounds for dismissal. …

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Key state senator files bill to offer 'alternative pathways' to high school diploma

Florida Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat who heads the state superintendents association, submitted legislation Monday to give high school students more chances to earn a standard diploma if they don't pass state-mandated algebra and language arts tests.

Unlike a similar measure in the House, Montford's bill [SB 584] would not allow students to skip the state exams and substitute them with a portfolio, industrial certification or alternate test. Rather, the students would have to fail the 10th-grade language arts Florida Standards Assessment or the Algebra I end-of-course exam before becoming eligible for the other options.

Montford said he considered going the other way. But he had doubts about getting the idea of eliminating the tests through the Legislature. And he said the need to give teens a path to a diploma rather than a certificate of completion is too great to saddle the concept with a battle over opting out.

As written, he said, "I think this bill has an excellent chance of passing. It's the right thing for these students who do all the work and are very successful," yet just cannot pass the tests. …

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Rocco Gandolfo, son of Mike Gandolfo, remains in coma after Jan. 13 crash

Rocco Gandolfo, the 23-year-old son of Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association president Mike Gandolfo, is on his 17th day of being in a coma since he was injured in a car crash earlier this month

Mike Gandolfo posted a message on his Facebook page Sunday updating friends and family on Rocco's condition. He shared that message with the Times:

"So Rocco was not able to get the tracheotomy the other day and tomorrow will mark 17 days in a coma. All the prayers and love being sent to this boy are keeping Liz and I from total despair. We are tackling each day one at a time. They have rescheduled the procedure for tomorrow (Monday) morning and we are remaining optimistic. I am confident that once this procedure is done, and they back off on the sedation, we will be able to communicate with our son. …

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Florida university presidents weigh in on Trump order; noon protest at USF

Kent Fuchs, president of the University of Florida

[Associated Press]

Kent Fuchs, president of the University of Florida

The presidents of two of Florida's largest universities have weighed in on President Trump's executive order on immigration as protests over the action moved to college campuses Monday -- including the University of South Florida.

Tampa Bay Times higher education writer Claire McNeill is at a noon rally on USF's Tampa campus. Follow her at @clairemcneill for updates.

In a statement Sunday, University of Florida President Kent Fuchs affirmed the school's support for international students, faculty and staff. He said UF has about 7,000 international students, including about 200 from the countries affected by the order. He said the school is advising those students "not to travel outside the U.S. in the immediate future."

Fuchs also said: "Embracing all members of our community and maintaining a welcoming environment for talented students and faculty from around the world are central to our values and identity as a university. It is also critical to excellence in education, research, economic development and other contributions to society." …

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Pasco County high school students left wondering about class rank, GPA

Even after Pasco County schools distributed their first semester report cards nearly two weeks late, problems with the documents did not end.

Some high school parents and students quickly noted that the district changed the way it reported grade point averages, leading to confusion as many seniors prepare their college applications.

Instead of providing the district-level cumulative GPA, which includes only courses taken at high school, the schools listed students' state GPA, which includes all high school-level courses that students have completed. The school district uses the local GPA to determine class rank, and in the past had posted it on report cards.

It's not that the information was wrong. The district's report card vendor had fixed all the problems with incorrect data that caused the postponement. It's just that the report cards were different than they had been to this point.

Still, superintendent Kurt Browning noted in a message to staff, that "does not explain away the miscommunication."

So on Friday evening, the district ended up sending out a mea culpa to high school parents, explaining the discrepancies and pledging to avoid the same going forward: …

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Florida education news: School zones, teacher awards, lunch recipes and more

REZONING: Pasco County high school students aren't all thrilled with plans to make them switch schools.

TOP TEACHER: Veterans Elementary School fifth grade teacher Rob Patterson is Pasco County's 2017 Teacher of the Year.

SCHOOL LUNCH: The Florida Agriculture Department is holding a contest to find the state's best student chef, the Associated Press reports.

LANGUAGE LESSONS: The number of students needing English as a Second Language instruction grows in the Treasure Coast region of Florida, TC Palm reports.

ARRESTED: A Palm Beach County elementary school principal is arrested an accusations she pawned school-owned computers, WFTV reports. * A Duval County middle school student faces third-degree felony charges of battery on a school employee, the Florida Times-Union reports.

LEGAL MATTERS: Former Manatee High School football coach Joe Kinnan heads to court in his lawsuit against the Manatee County school district, the Bradenton Herald reports.

SCHOOL CHOICE: Critics say Alachua County's magnet school program is not accessible to enough students, the Gainesville Sun reports. …

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Gradebook podcast: Florida lawmakers take on testing, teacher pay and more

The first day of the 2016-17 school year in Sandra Rivera's fourth-grade class at Hudson Elementary.


The first day of the 2016-17 school year in Sandra Rivera's fourth-grade class at Hudson Elementary.

Editor Tom Tobin and reporter Jeff Solochek debut the Tampa Bay Times' Florida education podcast with a discussion about some of the latest ideas coming from state lawmakers. Hot topics this week include a proposal to scale back testing requirements for high school, and the controversial Best and Brightest teacher bonus. Tune in, and send us your feedback.




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