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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of Sept. 24, 2017

To take a knee, or not take a knee? As Florida students consider the question, having watched their favorite athletes chime in, school district officials have to decide how they'll react when the first protest pops. Catch up on this story and other highlights of the week's Florida education news below. 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.

Mom says her 6-year-old son was 'silenced' by a teacher after he knelt for the Pledge of Allegiance, Jeffrey S. Solochek
"Eugenia McDowell got the text message late Monday evening, while cooking for her family. Her youngest son, a 6-year-old first grader at Wiregrass Elementary School in Pasco County, had taken a knee that morning as his class recited the Pledge of Allegiance." …

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Pinellas County schools announce two more Hurricane Irma makeup days

Carwise Middle School was used as a Hurricane Irma shelter. Now the Pinellas school district is setting makeup days for the class time missed during the storm.

Chris Urso | Times

Carwise Middle School was used as a Hurricane Irma shelter. Now the Pinellas school district is setting makeup days for the class time missed during the storm.

Reset your calendars, Pinellas County parents. 

Two more dates that children were supposed to be off from school are now back as makeup days for time missed during Hurricane Irma.

The new school days are Jan. 8 and March 12. A committee of parents, staff and others recommended the dates after reviewing several possibilities.

The district had previously announced that Oct. 16 would be a makeup day.

School districts are mandated by law to provide 720 hours of elementary school instruction and 900 hours of secondary instruction each academic year. Education commissioner Pam Stewart waived 10 hours, or two days, to help districts recover from Irma.

If they missed more, though, they had to find the time in their calendars. Many districts, such as Hillsborough, Hernando and Pasco, readjusted daily schedules rather than adding full days back into the mix.

Others including Manatee and Collier curtailed scheduled Thanksgiving or winter breaks to add back the hours.

Pinellas officials followed that path. …

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Gradebook podcast: When students sit out the Pledge of Allegiance, and more

Sugarloaf School in the lower Keys has converted its old cafeteria into a supply center for returning families after Hurricane Irma.

Courtesy of Harry Russell

Sugarloaf School in the lower Keys has converted its old cafeteria into a supply center for returning families after Hurricane Irma.

This week, schools faced the touchy situation of what to do if students decided to kneel during the Pledge of Allegiance or the national anthem, following the peaceful protest model of NFL players around the country. It happened in Pasco County first, where a six-year-old decided to take a knee during the classroom pledge. District officials later told administrators and teachers to allow the students their "non-disruptive demonstrations" and avoid even the appearance of trying to force student participation. Palm Beach County schools took a similar stance, while Manatee County schools did not. Pasco assistant superintendent Kevin Shibley talks with reporter Jeff Solochek about his district's position, which unsurprisingly has drawn both criticism and praise. Then, Harry Russell, principal of Sugarloaf School in the lower Keys, talks with Solochek about his school's role in helping its community return after being hit with the eye of Category 4 Hurricane Irma.

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Is your teacher certified to teach the subject?

Times (2008)

It's a push-pull situation for schools each year. They want to fill classrooms with permanent teachers, not substitutes, yet it can often be difficult to find educators to fill the specific needs.

That can result in schools hiring highly qualified teachers who might not be certified to instruct the subjects they're assigned to. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the areas with the most out-of-field teachers usually coincide with the state's annual list of teaching critical shortage areas.

The Pasco County school district offers no exception.

Its list of out-of-field teachers, which goes to the School Board next week, shows 155 of the district's approximately 5,000 teachers teaching courses they're still pursuing certification for. That does not include those who do not have required English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) endorsements. 

Of the 155 teachers, nearly one in five (17 percent) are for special education, with another 12 percent teaching gifted courses. But the subjects spanned a broad spectrum, including math, Spanish, biology and physical education. …

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Florida education news: HB 7069 lawsuit, free speech, school segregation and more

Hillsborough County School Board chairwoman Cindy Stuart

Hillsborough County School Board chairwoman Cindy Stuart

HB 7069: Citing concerns of cost and relationships, the Hillsborough County School Board decides not to join several other boards in suing the Legislature over the constitutionality of the controversial law that forces districts to share tax revenue with charter schools. "Whether we join or not, this legislation has to be corrected," chairwoman Cindy Stuart said.

FREE SPEECH, PART 1: The Pasco County school district tells staff and parents that it will not punish students who kneel during the Pledge of Allegiance or the national anthem.

FREE SPEECH, PART 2: White nationalist Richard Spencer is now set to speak at the University of Florida in three weeks. University officials had tried to stop him from appearing on campus, saying they feared a violent backlash. …

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Allow students to kneel for anthem, Pasco County schools advised

A growing number of NFL players took a knee during the anthem this past weekend, possibly leading to similar actions at high schools.

Times

A growing number of NFL players took a knee during the anthem this past weekend, possibly leading to similar actions at high schools.

After receiving a memo Wednesday from the district office telling them to view kneeling during the Pledge of Allegiance as an acceptable action, several Pasco County middle and high school principals called in with a concern.

They weren't so much worried about what to do about the pledge as about how to handle it at football games if students take a knee.

Assistant superintendent Kevin Shibley gave the same advice there: Let it be.

"If students choose to engage in non-disruptive demonstrations (like kneeling) during the Anthem, we are recommending that you allow them to do so," Shibley wrote in a follow-up memo.

[Related coverage: Mom says her 6-year-old son was 'silenced' by a teacher after he knelt for the Pledge of Allegiance]

Shibley explained to the Gradebook that the district does not want to see incidents blown out of proportion, or to have anyone's rights be violated. It's better to let any situation unfold naturally, and handle it afterward with appropriate consideration.

Most games kick off at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Everyone's waiting to see what the moments before might bring.

Read on for Shibley's full memo on the national anthem:

"Hello Administrators, …

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How far can $3.3 million stretch in Pasco school contract talks?

Pasco school employee contract talks broke down in 2016 over pay and related issues. Officials hope to avoid a repeat.

Times (2016)

Pasco school employee contract talks broke down in 2016 over pay and related issues. Officials hope to avoid a repeat.

In a year where no money was thought to be coming for pay raises, Pasco County schools superintendent Kurt Browning recently announced $3.3 million could be cobbled together for salary additions.

But how exactly would that money, which has been equated to around 1 percent, be spread around? That remains subject to contract negotiations.

Browning told the Gradebook that he wanted to take into account the bonuses that teachers will get from the state through HB 7069 when considering the issue. Although they don't count toward state pensions, the one-time payments will boost teachers' paychecks for the year.

Other staff employees were not similarly recognized by lawmakers in HB 7069, Browning observed.

"I want to make sure all district staff see some sort of raise," he said.

A year ago, Browning and the School Board created hard feelings by authorizing pay hikes for non-bargaining workers while teachers and school-related personnel covered by collective bargaining hit an impasse, delaying added funds for several more months. …

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Florida education news: Pledge of Allegiance, segregation, career training and more

Pasco County parent Eugenia McDowell said she would not allow the school system to silence her first-grade son when he chose to kneel during the Pledge of Allegiance.

Jeffrey S. Solochek

Pasco County parent Eugenia McDowell said she would not allow the school system to silence her first-grade son when he chose to kneel during the Pledge of Allegiance.

TAKE A KNEE: A Pasco County mom has problems with the way her 6-year-old son's first grade teacher responds when the boy decides to take a knee during the daily Pledge of Allegiance. The district later tells all schools that non-disruptive forms of non-participation are acceptable, and reminds staff not to intimidate or coerce children into taking part in the pledge. • The Palm Beach County school district won't punish students who decide to kneel during the national anthem, the Palm Beach Post reports.

DIVERSITY: A new study shows that Florida's public schools are becoming increasingly segregated, the News Service of Florida reports.

ESCAPING MARIA: Hillsborough County schools prepare for an influx of children from Puerto Rico. • Lee County schools also are expecting arrivals, the Fort Myers News-Press reports. • Central Florida colleges and universities will offer in-state tuition to students from Puerto Rico, the Orlando Sentinel reports. …

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Winners and losers under H.B. 7069

Edison Elementary in East Tampa stands to lose nearly $300,000 in anti-poverty funds under the controversial state law HB 7069.

TWITTER

Edison Elementary in East Tampa stands to lose nearly $300,000 in anti-poverty funds under the controversial state law HB 7069.

To hear the rhetoric, no one wins under the sweeping Florida education law known as House Bill 7069.

School district leaders in Hillsborough County signed scathing letters to first the legislators and then Gov. Rick Scott, challenging how the law was written, how many different topics it covered and what they considered over-reach in the way it directed them to spend money.

A day of workshops is planned Thursday to help School Board members understand the law and decide whether to join others who want to sue the state.

Defenders say the critics are playing politics, and that it just makes good sense to send federal anti-poverty money directly to the schools and give charter schools a greater share in the capital funds.

Details should emerge on Thursday as to how exactly Hillsborough will be affected.

Here is some of the school-by-school information about one of the bill's more alarming provisions -- the restrictions on federal Title I funds.

It compares the old way of doing things -- shown in the blue columns -- with the new way, under H.B. 7069. …

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Children from Puerto Rico are expected in Hillsborough schools

It's safe to assume that when residents of Puerto Rico begin leaving the island in large numbers, many will take up residence in Florida.

But what part of Florida, and where will they go to school?

Hillsborough County is an obvious destination, with the second largest Puerto Rican population (114,555 in 2014) after Orange County.

And the schools have a lot of seats. Districtwide, there were 27,000 vacant seats as of a few months ago, when district officials wrote up their five-year capital plan. Schools in the Town 'n Country area -- where many Puerto Rican families now live -- have a lot of those seats.

But extra teachers are another matter, as Hillsborough has been adjusting staffing levels to save money. And there are more questions pertaining to funding.

Here are some of the issues, laid out this week in a School Board finance committee meeting:

Damages from Hurricane Irma will likely lower property values around the state, and some homeowners will appeal their property assessments to reflect those damages. This will probably happen in counties such as Dade, Lee and Monroe more than Hillsborough. "That could be an issue to our revenue," said chief business officer Gretchen Saunders. …

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Mom says her 6-year-old son was 'silenced' by a teacher after he knelt for the Pledge of Allegiance

Eugenia McDowell is taking issue with the way her 6-year-old son was treated when he took a knee during the Pledge of Allegiance at Wiregrass Elementary School in Pasco County on Monday.

[JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK | Times

Eugenia McDowell is taking issue with the way her 6-year-old son was treated when he took a knee during the Pledge of Allegiance at Wiregrass Elementary School in Pasco County on Monday.

WESLEY CHAPEL — Eugenia McDowell got the text message late Monday evening, while cooking for her family.

Her youngest son, a 6-year-old first grader at Wiregrass Elementary School in Pasco County, had taken a knee that morning as his class recited the Pledge of Allegiance. It wasn’t something planned — the boy never told his parents he might do so — but in their household, it wasn’t completely out-of-the-blue, either.

The child’s two older brothers had dropped to their knees a year ago during the national anthem at their high school football game. He and his family avidly follow football, where the topic of silent protest mushroomed over the weekend after President Donald Trump’s pronouncements on the subject. And they regularly watch and discuss the news, including stories about racial justice.

What bothered McDowell, an operations manager who moved to the area three years ago, was the teacher’s response, which she considered biased, condescending and on the verge of threatening. …

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Pinellas, YMCA sign joint agreement for possible St. Petersburg middle school

Pinellas County school officials have announced plans for a new school at a the former site of Riviera Middle School, seen here in 2009 when it was being razed. The school would be for grades 6-8 and contain a YMCA facility.

Times files

Pinellas County school officials have announced plans for a new school at a the former site of Riviera Middle School, seen here in 2009 when it was being razed. The school would be for grades 6-8 and contain a YMCA facility.

The Pinellas County school district and the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg have agreed to ground rules for how both parties will work toward opening a partnership middle school and YMCA facility on the old Riviera Middle lot in northeast St. Petersburg.

The agreement, approved by the Pinellas County School Board and signed last week, divvies up financial responsibilities for the district and the YMCA. Both parties will use the same design professional, which will be selected through the school district's process.

"It’s just a promise that we will both do our part to get to that result, which is a school and Y in 2021," said Clint Herbic, the district's associate superintendent of operational services. 

The YMCA will be responsible for the cost of the design and construction of the gymnasium, cafeteria/multi-purpose space (excluding a commercial kitchen), pool and a space for activities like robotics or woodworking, said David Jezek, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg. Some of those spaces will be used exclusively by the school during the school day. …

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Florida education news: Student discipline, gender pronouns, ESSA and more

The Florida Constitution Review Commission

WMFE

The Florida Constitution Review Commission

CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS: The Florida Constitution Revision Commission extends its deadline for public proposals.

STUDENT DISCIPLINE: Hernando County's Parrott Middle School finds successes with its Positive Behavior Support system.

HB 7069: Hillsborough County School Board officials reveal little interest in joining a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Florida's latest controversial education law. • The Clay County School Board votes 3-2 to support the suit, the Florida Times-Union reports. • Miami-Dade County superintendent Alberto Carvalho urges lawmakers to amend HB 7069 at the same time they hold a special session on Hurricane Irma relief, if that occurs, WLRN reports.

GENDER ISSUES: A Leon County teacher who caused a stir by asking fifth graders to use gender-neutral pronouns in class is transferred to an adult education program, the Tallahassee Democrat reports. "Given the complexity of the issue, we both agreed a different environment would be best for Teacher Bressack's educational career and for the young students at Canopy Oaks," superintendent Rocky Hanna said in a statement. …

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Pinellas officials meet today to discuss hurricane make-up days

The Pinellas County school district's calendar committee will meet at 3 p.m. today to discuss how it will make up school days missed due to Hurricane Irma.

Florida's Education Commissioner waived two of the seven school days Pinellas missed between Sept. 7 to Sept. 15. The school district already announced classes will be held Monday, Oct. 16, originally a non-student day designated as a hurricane make-up day on the 2017-18 district calendar. Officials say schools may have enough instructional hours to cover the two more days.

That leaves two more days to make up. It's possible Pinellas' week-long Thanksgiving holiday will be affected. Monday, Nov. 20 is listed on the district calendar as another possible hurricane day.

About half of the Pinellas calendar committee's 38 members are district administrators. The committee also includes three parents, two students, representatives from each worker union as well as Rabbi Daniel Treiser from Temple B'nai Israel in Clearwater and Watson Haynes, president of the Pinellas County Urban League. 

Whatever the committee decides will be announced by Friday. …

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From Hillsborough school officials, some arguments against suing over H.B. 7069

We're two days from the Hillsborough County School Board's first public discussion on House Bill 7069 and the planned lawsuit against the state.

But, when the issue came up at a meeting Tuesday of the board's finance committee, there didn't seem to be much appetite for a suit.

Gretchen Saunders, the district's chief business officer wondered, instead of suing Tallahasse, "Why is it that we just can't we just go up there and talk?"

Board member Melissa Snively agreed. "It's completely appropariate to have a conversation and it's a lot less hostile."

Member Susan Valdes pointed out, "we have a really good relationship" with lawmakers.

Valdes said if the district wants to take a gamble, she'd rather pursue a sales tax referendum. And if so, she said, "I really think it has to be on the ballot in 2018."

No vote was taken, and no vote will be taken Thursday either, as the setting will be a workshop and not a formal board meeting. Members will hear a presentation at 9 a.m. on the law's practical implications. In the 1 p.m. session, they'll discuss the matter of the lawsuit. …

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