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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Potter teacher training program is on hold -- for now

The Hillsborough school district wants to partner with USF for a teacher leadership academy at Potter Elementary. But funding shortfalls might get in the way.

The Hillsborough school district wants to partner with USF for a teacher leadership academy at Potter Elementary. But funding shortfalls might get in the way.

The Hillsborough County School District announced a lot of ambitious plans for long-struggling Potter Elementary School after it was criticized for staffing the school with inexperienced teachers who fled in droves.

Among the solutions: A teacher leadership academy, run by the University of South Florida with advanced education training taking place right in the school where the teachers work.

"This will support a culture of teacher leadership and ownership that will help keep Potter moving in the right direction," Superintendent Jeff Eakins wrote in a letter to the Tampa Bay Times in March. A similar program already exists at Mort Elementary, with promising results.

The idea has not been scrubbed. But disappointing news from Tallahassee is slowing things down. Professors at USF had expected the program to come to a School Board vote on June 13.

That's not going to happen. …

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The clock is ticking: $82.4 billion budget sent to Rick Scott's desk

The clock starts today for Gov. Rick Scott who has 15 days to decide whether to sign an $82.4 billion state budget -- and just how much of it he wants to veto.

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, on Wednesday is sending the budget bill (SB 2500) to Scott, who faces a June 15 deadline to act on it. And speculation is running wild in Tallahassee that the governor could send much of the budget right back to the Legislature.

After Scott's favored projects, economic incentive agency Enterprise Florida and tourism marketer Visit Florida, were gutted in the budget, the governor has been critical of the spending plan passed by his fellow Republicans in the Legislature.

"I have the opportunity to either veto the entire budget or veto parts of the budget or veto a line item," he said last week.

It's a basic fact. But it's also a reminder to legislative leaders that in his frustration, Scott could veto an entire section of the budget -- for example, the $23.7 billion K-12 education budget -- as well as sweeping policy bills that were pushed through the secretive budget process. …

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Pepin Academies of Pasco seeks confirmation of 15-year contract

Three years after winning a 15-year contract from the Pasco County School Board, Pepin Academies of Pasco is asking the board to reaffirm its agreement.

The charter school for students with special needs is taking the step because its initial offer came with strings attached. The board agreed to the 15-year term only so long as the school took steps to secure funding for a permanent facility that it owns, rather than leases, within three years.

Time's up, and the charter wants to remain. Its leaders submitted documents to the district indicating it has been unable to find a suitable permanent location despite its best efforts. The group continues to look for a site while also considering a build out of its current temporary facilities, charter board chair Natalie King wrote.

In the meantime, board chair Jeff Skowronek wrote that the group's foundation has contributed more than $725,000 toward maintaining its school in Pasco, and committed to the school's growth.

District staff have recommended approval of the charter's request. The School Board is scheduled to consider it on June 6.

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Florida education news: HB 7069, impact fees, dress code and more

Barbara Petersen of the First Amendment Foundation

Miami Herald file photo

Barbara Petersen of the First Amendment Foundation

#HB7069: The Florida First Amendment Foundation takes issue with the way HB 7069 was crafted in private, and calls for a veto.

CONSTRUCTION FUNDING: Apartment developers raise objections to proposed increases in Pasco County's school impact fees.

DRESS CODE: Two Pasco County schools take different approaches as their trial dress code rules expire

CHARTER SCHOOLS: The Palm Beach County School Board asks the Florida Supreme Court to consider the law that allows the State Board of Education to overrule school boards on charter school decisions, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

LEADERSHIP: Pinellas County superintendent Mike Grego changes his mind about who he wants to lead St. Petersburg High School. * The Martin County School Board stalls a proposal to add $417,000 in administrative salaries, TC Palm reports. * Miami-Dade College releases four campus presidents, the Miami Herald reports. * Twelve Clay County schools get new principals, the Florida Times-Union reports. * St. Petersburg College picks a new president on Wednesday.

NOW HIRING: The Bay County school district ramps up its teacher recruitment efforts, the Panama City News Herald reports. …

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In switch, assistant principal Darlene Lebo slated to lead St. Petersburg High

Darlene Lebo, assistant principal of St. Petersburg High, will be promoted to principal of the school this fall pending Pinellas County School Board approval.


Darlene Lebo, assistant principal of St. Petersburg High, will be promoted to principal of the school this fall pending Pinellas County School Board approval.

Pinellas County school superintendent Mike Grego has changed his mind on who should be the next principal to lead St. Petersburg High.

Darlene K. Lebo, an assistant principal at the school, is his new pick to fill the post, according to a School Board agenda posted online late Tuesday.

Lebo, whose colleagues penned a letter to the board in support of her as principal, said she was officially offered the job Friday and was excited about the new position.

"I certainly love a challenge," said Lebo, 48. "I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work."

Grego had previously picked Northeast High assistant principal Robert J. Gagnon for the job, but pulled Gagnon's appointment from the May 23 board agenda because of "new information shared with me" regarding Gagnon's experience in Lake County nearly 20 years ago. Grego later said he would "look at every aspect" before bringing a recommendation back to the board. …

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Two Pasco County schools take opposite steps on dress code

Hudson Elementary School principal Dawn Scilex and her students wear school uniforms of blue or red collared shirts daily.

Times file photo

Hudson Elementary School principal Dawn Scilex and her students wear school uniforms of blue or red collared shirts daily.

A summer ago, two Pasco County schools won School Board approval to conduct test runs of stricter dress codes for their students.

Hudson Elementary School required uniforms of blue or red collared shirts and blue or khaki pants, and even went so far as to provide shirts to every student. Ridgewood High School didn't impose a uniform per se, but it tightened up on the items allowed in classes.

Ridgewood's plan ran into instant complaints from some students and parents. It generated protests, and the administration was later found to have ignored early surveys showing opposition to the idea from the start.

And now it's over.

The school has since gotten a new principal, who has informed the superintendent's office that he will not be asking to extend the pilot. Ridgewood will return to the general school district dress code in the fall.

Hudson's effort, by contrast, proved a success. It faced a small amount of wariness from parents concerned about the costs, but the administration smoothed over most worries during early presentations. It also had an opt-out clause, unlike Ridgewood's plan. …

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Florida education news: Budgets, discipline, charter schools and more

Scott Keeler | Times

BUDGETING: Florida school district officials keep a close eye on their spending plans as they await word on the Legislature's budget. Gov. Rick Scott could receive the budget as early as today.

STUDENT DISCIPLINE: The Pinellas County school district's initiative to reduce out-of-school suspensions is off to a slow start, primarily because of transportation issues.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Hillsborough County School Board members decry state moves to pour more money into charter schools, but increasingly rely on charters to ease district crowding concerns.

PRESIDENT SEARCH: St. Petersburg College has five finalists to become its next president.

VACANCY: A dozen hopefuls apply for Gov. Rick Scott's appointment to an open Manatee County School Board seat, the Bradenton Herald reports.

TEACHER DISCIPLINE: A Manatee County middle school teacher is cleared of any wrongdoing after an accusation he inappropriately touched a female student, the Bradenton Herald reports.

SUMMER WORK: The Lee County school district will keep busy over the summer with construction, budgeting, training and extended education, the Fort Myers News-Press reports. …

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On average, a quarter of Transformation Zone staff not returning next school year

Combined, nearly one in four teachers staffed at eight schools in the Pinellas County school district's Transformation Zone will not return to their school in the fall.

Lakewood Elementary in St. Petersburg will hemorrhage 41 percent of its staff, losing 17 out of 41 instructional staff members. Midtown Academy, Campbell Park Elementary and Melrose Elementary, all of which are also in St. Petersburg, will each lose around 31 percent of their respective staffs.

Lower on the list are Sandy Lane Elementary in Clearwater, which will lose 27 percent, Fairmount Park Elementary in St. Petersburg which will lose 21 percent, and Maximo Elementary in St. Petersburg will lose 17 percent of staff.

High Point Elementary in Clearwater had the lowest rate of turnover among all eight schools by far. Just two teachers are leaving the staff of 64, resulting in a turnover rate of 3.1 percent.

The numbers include staff who requested a transfer and who were recommended for a transfer by their school principal. These eight schools, which are historically low-performing, have received extra support and teacher incentives.

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ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of May 21, 2017

Times file photo

School's out. Graduation day is here. It's time for summer break. And yet, Florida's education news persists. It's about overcoming the achievement gap, the role of charter schools and the need for more dual-language teachers.

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

New Pinellas schools plan touted as 'turning point' that would tackle achievement gap in 10 years, Cara Fitzpatrick and Colleen Wright
"After more than a year of negotiations, the Pinellas County School District has reached a new agreement in a 16-year-old state lawsuit that accused it of shortchanging black students, unveiling a plan Friday to ‘greatly narrow' or close the achievement gap within a decade." …

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Gradebook podcast: Budgets, pre-k, achievement gap and more

Times file photo

As classes let out across Florida, school district leaders continue to analyze how they're going to balance their budgets given the constraints proposed by state lawmakers.  Reporter Jeff Solochek and editor Tom Tobin discuss the concerns district finance officials are raising as they look at the budget while waiting for it to arrive at the governor's desk. They also talk about Florida's ranking in a new national study on prekindergarten programs, and the Pinellas County school district's latest plan to eliminate the achievement gap among students of different races.

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A call for unity at graduation time

Armwood High School graduates line up at the Florida State Fairgrounds

Armwood High School graduates line up at the Florida State Fairgrounds

A longstanding high school graduation tradition is falling by the wayside -- and some say it's about time.

One by one, some schools have abandoned the practice of dressing graduates in gowns of contrasting colors, white for honors students, or those with a high grade point average; and a darker color for the rest.

"I have brought up the issue at church and at work and I could see the visible facial trauma of those adults who told me their high school had different robes based on GPA," former School Board candidate Cathy James wrote in a letter to Supervisor Jeff Eakins. "Graduation should be a time of celebration, not segregation. Each member of a graduating class should remember their graduation ceremony as a unification with their classmates, not another example of how we divide each other."

A quick spin through the webast videos shows that some high schools -- Gaither and Armwood, for example -- still use contrasting robe colors.

Others have abandoned the practice in recent years. At Wharton High School, principal Brad Woods made the break in 2013. "It looked like two different graduating classes,'' he said.  …

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Veto community college budget cuts, St. Petersburg College leader urges Gov. Scott

Dr. Bill Law of SPC

Times files

Dr. Bill Law of SPC

The president of St. Petersburg College is calling on Gov. Rick Scott to veto a proposed budget cut that slashes community college funding in a time of declining enrollment and tuition revenue.

State lawmakers cut funding for the Florida College System’s 28 community colleges by $25 million. SPC stands to lose $1.8 million.

The could mean fewer class offerings for students and fewer support services like tutoring and career advising, SPC said in a news release. It could mean students take longer to graduate.

“Delaying that graduation makes life very difficult for everyone,” said SPC President William Law, who will retire this summer. “When money is coming back to the state, it’s hard for us to understand why the state wouldn’t find a way to put a few dollars in the Florida College System and keep us whole. ... Any reduction in funding that threatens those support systems is detrimental to students.”

Community college enrollment works in tandem with the economy. During hard times, people head back to college. Now, as the economy is rebounding, enrollment is down, which means less revenue for colleges like SPC. …

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Former Campbell Park Elementary principal Christine Hoffman will retire

Former Campbell Park Elementary principal Christine Hoffman will retire pending School Board approval. Hoffman created an uproar in April when she sent an email to staff directing them to keep white students in the same class when creating classroom rosters.

Times archives

Former Campbell Park Elementary principal Christine Hoffman will retire pending School Board approval. Hoffman created an uproar in April when she sent an email to staff directing them to keep white students in the same class when creating classroom rosters.

Former Campbell Park Elementary principal Christine Hoffman, who was under investigation for sending a directive to her staff that said white students should be in the same class when creating classroom rosters, has chosen to retire.

Pinellas County school district superintendent Mike Grego announced her retirement in an email sent to School Board members on Friday. Board members will hold a vote to approve her resignation at a June 6 board meeting. 

Grego said Hoffman's retirement ends an internal school district investigation that stemmed from her April 18 email.

"It is our practice to close administrative investigations without findings if an employee retires or resigns before an investigation is completed," he wrote.

Hoffman requested to be transferred off campus until the investigation was complete. Grego also called in a third-party investigator to look into the incident. 

The St. Petersburg branch of the NAACP, which had called on Hoffman to resign, released a statement that the organization was "pleased to learn" of Hoffman's decision to retire.  …

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District finals won't count for Pasco County students

Times file photo

Scores from the district finals Pasco County students took in recent weeks will not count toward their semester grades or grade-point averages, superintendent Kurt Browning said Friday.

"After hearing from a number of teachers and parents who are concerned with the outcomes, we need to step back and take a look at the results across the district and review the tests that were offered," district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe explained.

Browning and School Board members have received a steady stream of emails complaining that the district-created exams, put in place to evaluate teachers, did not match course curriculum and standards. Several have pointed out that even honors-level students were failing the tests, which the district was going to count as 10 percent of their grades.

"Based on the grades for the seniors I had in my Pre Calculus classes ..., I believe that NO item analysis was done," River Ridge High math teacher Doug Howery wrote to Browning. …

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Florida education news: Sales tax, school buses, a Civil War prop and more

Times file photo

BACK-TO-SCHOOL: Gov. Rick Scott authorizes a three-day sales tax holiday for back-to-school shopping.

TESTING: Two Tampa private school students earn perfect ACT scores.

PRIORITIES: Duval County's new interim superintendent wants to see improvement in third grade reading performance and high school graduation rates, the Florida Times-Union reports. • New Flagler County superintendent James Tager talks about student discipline, community relationships and other issues he will deal with as a first-time district leader with

SCHOOL BUSES: The Palm Beach County school district inspector general raises concerns about school bus safety, WPEC reports.

OOPS: A Manatee County teacher's Civil War lesson prop leads to a lockdown as word spreads of a weapon on campus, WTSP reports.

SCHOOL LEADERSHIP: Thirteen Collier County schools get new principals as the district seeks to better match skills and needs, the Naples Daily News reports.

DOUBLE STANDARD? Palm Beach County residents raise questions after two school treasurers are accused of stealing from their schools, but only one is charged, the Palm Beach Post reports. …

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