Make us your home page
Instagram

Gradebook

Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

In Hernando, more than 8,000 kids skipped school for solar eclipse

More than 8,000 students — nearly 40 percent of Hernando County’s enrollment — skipped school today after the district last week told kids they could stay home for the solar eclipse.

Perhaps in preparation for the large number of absences, some teachers in the district used the days leading up to the rare phenomenon as an educational opportunity, some even documenting their hands-on lessons on Twitter.

Pine Grove Elementary assistant principal Nicholas Pagano tweeted on Friday photos of fourth grade teacher Glenda Shea’s darkened classroom, where students used flashlights and a small globe to simulate an eclipse. That same day, he shared more photos of student drawings depicting views of the eclipse from Earth.

There were, of course, eclipse-related activities on Monday, too.

Michael Maine, principal at Spring Hill Elementary, tweeted out a video showing how teacher Traci Athanason’s fourth grade class celebrated “The Great American Eclipse.” The song Walking on Sunshine played over a stream of photos of students wearing the special glasses used to view the eclipse. …

Full Story

Look for new Pasco County middle school by 2019, superintendent says

Cypress Creek Middle-High School opened this month with students in sixth through eleventh grades. Plans call for a separate middle school on the site as the community continues to grow.

Jeffrey S. Solochek

Cypress Creek Middle-High School opened this month with students in sixth through eleventh grades. Plans call for a separate middle school on the site as the community continues to grow.

Approval for increased impact fees in hand, Pasco County schools superintendent Kurt Browning said he plans to "fast track" construction of a new middle school serving Wesley Chapel and surrounding areas.

"My hope is to get that up and open by 2019," Browning said of the school, which would rise on Old Pasco Road alongside Cypress Creek High, which currently is serving as both middle and high school.

The School Board already has approved an architect for the project, potentially trimming the amount of time needed to ready the school by about six months. The site work to prepare the land was completed, as well, during construction of Cypress Creek.

The rise of a new school would require another attendance zone revision for the east Pasco area that fought hard over the new boundaries put in place for this academic year.

Browning, who came under fire for his handling of the changes, said certain aspects of the next rezoning appear settled. The children currently assigned to Cypress Creek would not be moved, he said, and the bulk of crowding relief would come from John Long Middle. …

Full Story

Florida school districts learn how much state money they'll get for construction, maintenance

Times files

They said it wouldn't come close to being enough.

Florida school district leaders fought during the 2017 legislative session for permission to increase their local tax rate for capital project funding, anticipating they would have to share with charter schools, knowing they had more projects than revenue, understanding the state's portion had been low for years.

Late last week, superintendents learned exactly what their piece of the $50 million Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) allocation would be. For some of the larger districts, it might get them close to paying for a new classroom wing. In the smaller ones, it might not even pay for air conditioning repairs.

Now they have to submit a request for authorization to encumber the money. If the work isn't under contract by the end of January 2020, the money can revert back to state coffers. Few districts anticipate anything like that happening.

Here's the breakdown, by county:  …

Full Story

Florida education news: HB 7069, solar eclipse, courtesy bus rides and more

Eve Edelheit | Times

DISCORD: Employees of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association accuse the union of "less than fair and equitable" working conditions.

MIXED MESSAGE: At the same time they threaten to sue over HB 7069, the Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach school boards seek added funding through one of the law's signature programs, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Lauded as alternatives to traditional public schools, many charter schools aren't making the grade in state rating systems, ABC Action News reports.

SPECIAL EDUCATION: A Jacksonville Catholic school adds a wing to provide added services to students with special needs, the Florida Times-Union reports. …

Full Story

ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of Aug. 13, 2017

Times (2013)

 

With the reopening of schools came all sorts of school related stories -- busted air conditioning, behavior expectation battles, enrollment projection errors and more. Catch up on the week's highlights 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.

Should kindergartners be encouraged to conform to peer pressure? One Pasco school suggests so, Jeffrey S. Solochek
"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."

Hillsborough leaders ask for patience as multiple schools still suffer from broken air conditioners, Marlene Sokol
"Hillsborough County school superintendent Jeff Eakins and his facilities chief appealed to parents Wednesday to be patient as the district works through chronic air conditioning problems - and to advocate for more state funding." …

Full Story

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: …

Full Story

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. …

Full Story

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.

Full Story

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. …

Full Story

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. …

Full Story

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." …

Full Story

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. …

Full Story

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. …

Full Story

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. …

Full Story

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.

Full Story