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Jeffrey S. Solochek, Times Staff Writer

Jeffrey S. Solochek

Jeffrey S. Solochek writes about schools and education for the Tampa Bay Times. Solochek has covered the school districts in Hernando, Hillsborough and Pasco counties since joining the Times in 2000. He also oversees The Gradebook education blog.

Phone: (813) 909-4614


Blog: The Gradebook

Twitter: @JeffSolochek

  1. Some want to change Florida education — by amending the state Constitution


    One Floridian wants the Bible and prayer in the state's public schools. Another seeks to prevent state funds from going to any institution that promotes religion.

    One resident calls for all school district superintendents to be appointed, while another says they should all be elected. A third would do away with the job altogether.

    These were among the more than 700 public proposals for changing Florida's Constitution, with dozens of them weighing in on how the education system should change. The input is part of the process for the Constitution Revision Commission, which convenes every 20 years to consider what amendments — if any — to send to voters....

    Education is one area officials will explore in depth over the coming months as they weigh whether to put changes in the state Constitution before Florida voters. Members of the Constitution Review Commission will review many ideas, but some are urging them to proceed with caution. The Constitution is so hard to change that any amendments should be considered "permanent or semi-permanent," said Department of Education deputy general counsel Judy Bone. []
  2. Florida education news: VAM scores, board battles, social media threats and more


    FORCED OUT: Five teachers at Hernando County's Moton Elementary School are transferred out because of their value-added measure (VAM) scores. The school has struggled with state testing and received low marks in the state grading system, prompting the move....

    This formula is causing some Florida teachers to lose their positions.
  3. ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of Oct. 8, 2017


    School start times matter. Leaders of the nation's eighth-largest school district are trying to change theirs, and have run into pushback as they move toward adoption of a plan that would more closely align with what experts recommend. 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

    Seven Springs Elementary principal Todd Cluff took over the school's turnaround effort in early 2017.
  4. Gradebook podcast: On mental health, early education, tax credit scholarships and more


    After a hiatus lengthened by Hurricane Irma, Florida lawmakers returned to Tallahassee this past week to begin their committee work leading to the 2018 session. Much of the time was spent listening to presentations and overviews, but along the way priorities emerged. Among them, a newly proposed scholarship for bullied students and heightened interest in transforming struggling district schools to charter status. Reporter Jeff Solochek recaps the week's highlights....

    Parent Elizabeth Moya, also a legislative aide, addresses the Committee on Early Grade Success during its first meeting this week in Tallahassee.
  5. Florida education news: Turnarounds, state rules, pets' mess and more


    TURNAROUNDS: Seven Springs Elementary School, once one of Pasco County's highest performing elementary schools, looks for a way back to better academic results after its student demographics change. • State education leaders step in to help Moton Elementary, Hernando County's long struggling campus....

    Seven Springs Elementary principal Todd Cluff works with second grade teacher Jennifer Kalo and her students.
  6. No advance list planned for Florida 'Schools of Hope' recommendations


    Attempting to satisfy public school backers who were leery about pouring state money into a new charter school system, Florida lawmakers set aside $51.5 million this spring for up to 25 district "Schools of Hope."

    The criteria were well established, although the guidelines to win the $2,000 per student award were less so. Fifty of the ninety eligible schools applied, with the recipients slated to be announced at the State Board of Education's meeting Oct. 18....

  7. Two charter school applicants seek to enter Pasco County


    Two charter school operators seeking to extend their reach in Pasco County will ask the School Board for approval to open new campuses in 2018.

    Plato Academy, based in Pinellas County, has applied to open its second school in the county. Planned to serve children in kindergarten through eighth grade, the school proposes to open with 288 students and grow to 728 students within five years....

    Pinellas County-based Plato Academy is expanding into surrounding communities.
  8. Florida Department of Education names schools to get relief from some state rules


    Hundreds of Florida public schools learned late Wednesday that they will not have to follow state rules regarding class size, reading instruction and daily start and end times for the next three years.

    They're identified as "Schools of Excellence" through a program the Legislature created in the spring, in HB 7069. Lawmakers said they wanted to make it easier for highly successful schools to operate....

  9. Florida education news: Anti-bullying voucher, board battles, enrollment and more


    ANOTHER CHOICE: Suggesting that bullied children shouldn't have to remain in the schools where they've been victimized, Florida House Republican leaders propose a new tax credit scholarship to allow those students to transfer to another public or private school of their choice. "When you put a kid in a good, safe learning environment, good results happen," Speaker Richard Corcoran said. Early reaction to the idea was mixed, with backers praising the expansion of options and critics wondering why not punish the bully rather than encourage the victim to leave. Senate leaders said they were open to the proposal, the Times-Herald Tallahassee Bureau reports....

    Pasco Middle School students wear Tough Guys Wear Pink T-shirts during Pink Out Day, promoting peace in school.
  10. Florida House leadership announces plan for new student scholarship


    A bill that won't likely be filed for another 30 days rose to the top of the Florida House's education priorities Wednesday, as Speaker Richard Corcoran and the chairmen and vice chairmen of all education committees gathered to announce the "Hope Scholarship."

    Modeled after the corporate tax credit scholarship, which allows donors to contribute to private school scholarships for low-income children, the proposed new system would let students who report being victimized at school to transfer to a different public or private school without cost. They would become eligible 15 days after filing their complaint. ...

    State Rep. Byron Donalds introduces the Florida House "Hope Scholarship" concept during a news conference Wednesday.
  11. Florida lawmakers set forth education funding priorities


    Chairing her first meeting of the Florida Senate PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee, Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, asked her panel's members to list their priorities for the coming session, and then she offered some of her own.

    Passidomo, who noted she has not served on an education committee previously, said she planned to turn the subcommittee's attention to mental health issues -- something Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, said had been near the top of superintendents' agenda for several years....

    Sen. Kathleen Passidomo is the new chair of the Florida Senate PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee.
  12. Florida education news: School bells, MLK Jr. Day, Confederate flag and more


    STARTING TIMES: After months of debate, Hillsborough County schools superintendent Jeff Eakins proposes new school bell schedules for 2018-19. Among the surprises, he shifts direction and calls for high schools to begin at 8:30 a.m., as many experts recommend. Hear the district's reasoning for its changes in a 10-minute podcast. Why aren't others doing this? Pinellas County school officials are looking into it. ...

  13. Gradebook podcast: How Hillsborough came up with its new school bell times


    After months of debate, including time for surveys and public meetings, Hillsborough County superintendent Jeff Eakins on Tuesday proposed a new set of bell times for all 200-plus schools in the nation's eighth largest district. The model, which still requires School Board approval, contains a major change for high schools -- an 8:30 a.m. start time, aligning more closely to what experts on adolescent sleep recommend. In today's podcast, district chief operating officer Chris Farkas talks with reporter Jeff Solochek about how and why the proposal came out as it did. Also read reporter Marlene Sokol's developing story for more details....

  14. Florida PTA joins call for increased funding as schools take in Hurricane Maria refugees


    The Florida PTA has lent its voice to the growing request that the state's public schools get adequate funding to serve students and teachers fleeing the devastation of Hurricane Maria, which slammed Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

    Gov. Rick Scott has waived rules making it easier for the children and educators to find places in the school system. But the rules for getting more money into the schools, delivered to districts on Friday, have raised questions among several lawmakers, who want to ensure that state funding covers the needs....

  15. Florida education news: Teacher shifts, Schools of Excellence, Bright Futures and more


    TEACHER SHIFTS: A Pasco County elementary school plans to reassign teachers with low VAM scores to different posts within the school, rather than transfer them out, to avoid mid-year disruptions that other turnaround schools in the state have faced. Florida lawmakers have mandated that schools in turnaround status remove teachers with poor results in the controversial measure....

    Gov. Rick Scott signed HB 7069 in June, creating the "Schools of Excellence" program.