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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Pasco County School Board to look into midyear principal transfers

Some Pasco County parents continued Tuesday to complain about the unexpected, quick removal of principals from their schools this week.

"Our school has gone from meh to excellent in the past four years," parent Lynn Moses said of Seven Springs Middle School. "I'm terribly disappointed that we've been told the borders of our school would be changing and ... we're losing our very fine principal."

School Board members heard the concerns, and suggested the district take a closer look at its rules governing midyear principal transfers. They acknowledged they cannot simply overturn an employee move, barring good cause.

Still, board member Steve Luikart lamented that the district has told teachers they can't change jobs without having a qualified replacement secured, "yet we as district transfer folks from the administrative ranks whenever we want to."

A retired assistant principal, Luikart added that a school leader significantly impacts the campus morale and culture, and removing one so close to testing season might have adverse effects. He asked for staff to study how other school districts deal with principal transfers, for possible ideas to improve Pasco's procedures. …

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Pasco County school district ponders student early release days

Concerns that teachers aren't getting enough time to prepare for tougher academic standards and new instructional shifts have prompted Pasco County school district leaders to explore adding regular early release or late start days to the academic calendar.

Still in preliminary stages of review, the idea would go into effect in 2018-19 if district leaders find the potential benefits outweigh the detriments. They'll be surveying principals, teachers and parents, as well as studying districts such as Hillsborough and Manatee that already have early release days in effect.

Assistant superintendent Vanessa Hilton told School Board members that the staff is considering the idea in order to provide common professional development time for teachers, and to reduce the cost of substitutes to get that training done.

"The reason why we would even bother to study this is, we've received lots of inquiries from our schools," Hilton said.

Several issues would need to be resolved before the district could make this move, she noted, including how it would affect student transportation, teacher contracts and other matters. She asked the board for its general support before moving forward. …

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Florida Department of Education looks at tougher passing scores for alternate tests

High school juniors and seniors who haven't yet passed their exit-level language arts Florida Standards Assessment get another crack at the test at the end of this month.

Their chance to retake any failed Algebra I end-of-course exam comes in March.

They might think hard about if and when they want to take one of the state's approved alternate tests, which they can substitute for the state ones as graduation requirements if they score high enough. Because the Department of Education is taking a look at making the passing "concordant" scores higher.

The state also is studying whether the ACT and SAT remain adequate substitutes for the language arts FSA, and the Postsecondary Education Readiness Test is still a good proxy for the Algebra I EOC.

Until any changes are announced, though, students can still rely on the current rules. That wasn't always the case. A few years ago, the state attempted to hold students in limbo until it could upgrade its "concordant" scores to more closely match newer, tougher requirements and expectations, much as they're doing now. …

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Gradebook podcast: State Rep. Ralph Massullo on compromise and 'legislation that works'

State Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Citrus County

[Florida House of Representatives]

State Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Citrus County

Even though he's a freshman lawmaker, Rep. Ralph Massullo hasn't shied from taking on some of the biggest education issues facing Florida's public schools. He's filed bills seeking to change high school graduation test requirements and class size calculations, among other tough topics. Reporter Jeff Solochek spoke with Massullo, who sits on the PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee, about his views.

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Florida education news: Daily recess, lottery funds, school vaccinations and more

PLAY TIME: A state report shows that not all Florida school districts offer similar access to recess.

PRESIDENT SEARCH: St. Petersburg College trustees want public input on the traits to seek in their next president.

LOTTERY FUNDS: The under siege Florida Lottery announces it has raised a record level of contributions for education, Florida Politics reports.

SCHOOL SHOTS: Less than 1 percent of Duval County students did not receive recommended vaccinations, Action News Jax reports.

SOCIAL MEDIA: The Bay County school district stands by its policy of holding teachers accountable for their social media use, after a teacher is disciplined for making comments about students on a closed Facebook site, the Panama City News Herald reports.

SCHOOLS MATTER: Continually poor performance of Jefferson County schools has negatively impacted the local economy, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

GENDER ISSUES: A Santa Rosa high school student gets in trouble, then has her discipline rescinded, for a sign in her car saying "So gay I can't even drive straight," the Northwest Florida Daily News reports.

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Most Florida teachers continue to get strong evaluation ratings

Nearly all of Florida's evaluated public school teachers continued to receive strong reviews in 2015-16, according to newly released data from the state Department of Education.

As in previous years, about 98 percent of teachers statewide rated either "highly effective" (42.9%) or "effective" (52.0%), with a tiny 0.2 percent receiving "unsatisfactory" marks, 0.7 percent as "developing" in their first three years, and 1.2 percent "needs improvement." Another 28,683 teachers were not evaluated.

For the past five years, these results have been used to guide district decisions on raises and contract renewals, among other key actions. The state also has taken the information into account when determining eligibility for its controversial Best and Brightest bonus.

District leaders, meanwhile, have suggested they would like to see a more meaningful evaluation model that places a heavier emphasis on criteria other than test scores, with an eye toward helping teachers identify areas of excellence and deficits needing more training. Superintendents recently called upon lawmakers to eliminate the value-added model, that incorporates testing results, and allow for more locally driven decisions. …

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Pasco County parents petition to keep principal Chris Dunning (but he's going anyway)

Principal Chris Dunning

Times file photo

Principal Chris Dunning

It took maybe an hour after the news came out Friday for parents to start protesting the reassignment of admired Seven Springs Middle School principal Chris Dunning.

"It goes without saying how much we love Chris Dunning at SSMS...and we​,​ meaning staff, parents and students," community activist Heide Janshon wrote in an email to superintendent Kurt Browning. "The news we all got today is shocking and crushing. We do not want to lose him."

Other messages soon followed, with the words "stunned" and "saddened" prevalent. At least one person suggested the move to Ridgewood High was "politically motivated," noting Dunning and his wife were vocal opponents of the superintendent's plan to rezone their Longleaf neighborhood into different schools next fall.

A petition to keep Dunning at Seven Springs, where he's worked since 2012, quickly appeared online and gained more than 600 signatures by early Monday.

But Dunning told the Gradebook he intends to make the move to Ridgewood, effective Wednesday. …

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Florida education news: Budget cuts, teacher evaluations, A-Plus funds and more

BUDGET CUTTING: Hillsborough County school district officials are hesitant to cut grant-funded programs that help students, even after the money runs out.

IN COURT: A former Pinellas County student who was attacked at school sues the district.

EVALUATIONS: Nearly all Manatee County teachers receive a performance rating of "effective" or "highly effective," primarily because of a contract agreement, the Bradenton Herald reports.

RECOGNITION FUNDS: Florida schools see a 36 percent decrease in state A-Plus money as their student test results decrease, the Florida Times-Union reports.

SICK SCHOOLS? A new report by an environmental group suggests Florida schools might have high lead levels in their water, WGCU reports.

SUPERINTENDENTS: Eighteen people have applied to be Alachua County's next superintendent, the Gainesville Sun reports. • Polk County superintendent Jacqueline Byrd answers five questions for the Ledger. • Palm Beach County superintendent Robert Avossa would be eligible for a raise next year under a new proposal, the Palm Beach Post reports. …

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ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of Feb. 12, 2017

Florida education news always picks up when lawmakers get to Tallahassee, and this week is no exception. They debated testing and other key issues in another round of committee meetings. But there was so much more. The State Board of Education approved tiny Jefferson County to become Florida's first county charter school district, several leaders with ties to education won spots on the Constitution Revision Commission, and some Palm Beach children and parents learned what pressures they face when they decide to speak out against school district actions.

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. …

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Pasco County school district announces several principal shifts

Four Pasco County schools got new principals appointed Friday, as part of a leadership shakeup that began with the death of Crews Lake Middle School principal Adam Kennedy in January.

Brandon Bracciale, principal of Weightman Middle School, will transfer to the same job at Chasco Middle School, where David Huyck led until his move to Crews Lake two weeks ago. Bracciale had applied for the district's assistant superintendent for middle schools position, and was offered the Chasco Middle job after the district post went to Marcy Hetzler-Nettles.

Angie Murphy, principal of Ridgewood High School since 2012, will take Hetzler-Nettles' old job at River Ridge Middle School. Murphy, who lately has run into problems over dress code issues, requested to be reassigned, district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said.

Replacing Murphy will be Chris Dunning, principal of Seven Springs Middle since 2012. Dunning did not ask for a move, but "accepted the challenge," Cobbe said. "A strong principal is what they need" at Ridgewood. …

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Florida lawmakers consider bill urging federal government to back off on education

Almost since the creation of the U.S. Education Department, a conservative position has held that education is local, and no federal interference is necessary.

President Donald Trump has suggested getting rid of the department. A Kentucky member of Congress has a bill in committee now to terminate it.

Observers have suggested that the scope of the agency's work, such as enforcing anti-discrimination laws, makes elimination unlikely. But that doesn't mean its influence can't be pared back.

Some Florida lawmakers have that idea in mind.

Through the state House Education Committee, they've put forth Proposed Committee Bill EDC 17-01 calling for Congress to turn Title I funding, used to support low-income children, and IDEA Part B funding, used for programs for children with disabilities, into block grants that states could spend as they see fit for those groups of students. …

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Gradebook podcast: Testing, recess and more

Anitere Flores, president pro tempore of the Florida Senate, announces the "Fewer, Better Tests" bill in the Capitol on Wednesday.

[The Florida Channel]

Anitere Flores, president pro tempore of the Florida Senate, announces the "Fewer, Better Tests" bill in the Capitol on Wednesday.

This week, some key Florida lawmakers introduced legislation to move the state reading and math tests to the final three weeks of the year, among other changes toward what they're calling "Fewer, Better Tests." A parent proposal to require all elementary schools to offer 20 minutes of daily recess also began to gain traction, but also some cautions along the way. Reporter Jeff Solochek and education editor Tom Tobin talk about these and other Florida education issues making the news this week.

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Florida education news: State tests, Sunshine Law, Facebook posts and more

TEACHER PAY: Florida teachers react to new teacher incentive proposals from Tallahassee by saying they'd prefer raises rather than gimmicks.

HARD WORK: Struggling Marion County schools strive to ensure their students are prepared for looming state tests, the Ocala Star-Banner reports.

FLORIDA MODEL: U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos cites Florida's school choice system as a leader for the nation, Education Week reports.

SUPERINTENDENTS: The Flagler County School Board asks for public input as it searches for a new superintendent, the Palm Coast Observer reports.

SUNSHINE: A Collier County Republican lawmaker proposes allowing two members of a local school board or other elected body with more than five members to privately discuss government business or policy, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

FREE SPEECH? A Bay County teacher is investigated for making negative comments about students on a closed Facebook page, the Panama City News Herald reports. • A Collier County teacher is removed from her classroom after supporting mass deportation on social media, the Naples Daily News reports.  …

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Poynter panel lets Pinellas school officials tell their own story about school turnaround

Pinellas County school district officials say they want to write their own story.

In front of dozens of local dignitaries and journalists who traveled across the country to learn about school segregation, they told one Thursday about how their most struggling schools are turning around. It starts with the right leadership, passionate teachers, warm and welcoming learning environments -- and positivity.

Six panelists were invited to speak and answer questions from the audience as part of a day-long seminar called "Separate -- And Still Unequal" hosted at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg. The focus of the panel hinged on the quality of public education and closing the achievement gap between white and minority students especially in St. Petersburg, and was inspired by the Times' Failure Factories series, which documented the decline of five once-average schools after the School Board abandoned integration efforts.

St. Petersburg College president Bill Law and St. Petersburg deputy mayor Kanika Jelks Tomalin spoke about the merits of having a strong public schools. …

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Plan your supply purchases in the Hillsborough County schools

Need to buy copy paper? Crayons? Folders?

If you work for the Hillsborough County schools, you'll need clearance.

Principals have been asked in recent weeks to consult with their staff and plan all their supply purchases through the end of the school year.

This isn't a sign of any kind of economic crisis, said district spokeswoman Tanya Arja.

Rather, she said, it's a step district leaders want to take to encourage planning and avoid having schools over-order supplies they don't need. As the eight area superintendents are collecting the lists, they can encourage schools to share their surplus supplies with nearby schools that are running short.

"Read the document carefully, review your actuals, and frugally project out needed expenses," Chief of Staff Alberto Vazquez wrote in memo that came with a spreadsheet. "All remaining dollars not needed will be retrieved once your completed sheet is submitted and reviewed."

Arja said the exercise is also better than what happened toward the end of the last school year, when the district "swept" school accounts earlier than usual and caught some teachers and department heads by surprise.

This way, she said, there should be no surprises. …

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