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Gradebook

Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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 FlagerLive.com.

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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Gov. Scott approves three-day back-to-school sales tax holiday

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For the second straight year, Gov. Rick Scott has approved a three-day sales tax holiday for back-to-school shoppers.

Scott signed the legislation (HB 7109), which included several other tax breaks, into law on Thursday.

The school shopping tax holiday is set for Aug. 4-6. It applies to clothing, school supplies, personal computers, and personal computer-related accessories. The tax exemptions do not apply to sales within a theme park or entertainment complex.

Until 2016, Florida's sales tax holiday for school shopping ran 10 days. Lawmakers scaled it back to three days, and temporarily exempted computers, amid tighter budgets last year. 

Scott said cutting taxes is good for Florida's businesses and families. "Every time we cut taxes, we are encouraging businesses of all sizes to create opportunities for families across the state and more money is put back in taxpayers' pockets."

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International Baccalaureate program to expand in central Pasco schools

Pine View Elementary School in Land O'Lakes has won approval to become a Primary Years International Baccalaureate school, extending the rigorous program down to the K-5 level in the central Pasco County feeder pattern leading to Land O'Lakes High.

The elementary will be an official candidate school in 2017-18.

The acceptance marks the full expansion of IB from elementary to middle to high school. Pine View Middle began its transformation to the Middle Years program in 2015, while the high school enrolled its first pre-IB students in 1999.

The idea has been to create a continuum of services for children who want to progress to the highest levels of IB. The program in the younger years does not require application as the high school model does. It is expected to be an attractor, though, while aiming to keep students in the school system.

It's similar to the effort to offer the Cambridge program in the San Antonio Elementary-Pasco Middle-Pasco High feeder zone. District officials have been working to make the schools more attractive to families, as charter school enrollment has grown. …

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Florida education news: Prekindergarten, charter schools, online education and more

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EARLY EDUCATION: Florida's Voluntary Prekindergarten program continues to get high marks for access but low ratings for quality and funding in the National Institute for Early Education Research's annual review.

#HB7069: The feedback to Gov. Rick Scott on the controversial HB 7069 is breaking even now that school choice supporters have begun a more aggressive push in support of the measure.  • Parents seeking continued growth of the Gardiner Scholarship for students with special needs back the program, which was woven into the bill, the Associated Press reports.

BAD ACTS: A Hernando County middle school monitor and coach is arrested on accusations of sexually assaulting a student. • A Pinellas County middle school teacher is arrested on allegations he molested three students.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Somerset Academy prepares to officially take over the Jefferson County school district, the Tallahassee Democrat reports. Half the district's teachers are let go in the move, the Tallahassee Democrat reports. • A financially struggling Lee County charter school's board votes to close down, and upset parents aim to raise money to keep the school going, the Fort Myers News-Press reports. …

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School choice contributes to increasing segregation of Florida, southern U.S. schools, researchers say

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A new report from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA says that schools in Florida and the rest of the south are slipping back into segregation of black and Hispanic students, with school choice playing a role.

From the report: "Several generations of students were educated in the region's diverse schools, but much of the progress is eroding as the South undergoes another shift toward a triracial region where no one group comprises a majority of students. Instead of leadership to successfully prepare schools for this new demographic reality, many Southern states have passed laws making public schools less welcoming for students from immigrant families. States across the region are also establishing multiple means for students to leave public school districts, either through charter schools or expanding voucher programs for private schools."

The group's data points out that, in 2014, 34.6 percent of Florida's black students and 32.1 percent of Hispanic students attended schools with 90 percent or more minorities. The overall student population was 22.3 percent black and 30.9 percent Hispanic.

Florida also has one of the highest charter school expansion rates, the report notes. …

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Letter from 'many' St. Petersburg High faculty, staff to Pinellas School Board pushes for assistant principal to be next principal

Darlene Lebo, an assistant principal at St. Petersburg High, is supported by "many" school faculty and staff to be the school's next principal, according to a letter sent to the Pinellas County School Board.

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Darlene Lebo, an assistant principal at St. Petersburg High, is supported by "many" school faculty and staff to be the school's next principal, according to a letter sent to the Pinellas County School Board.

A St. Petersburg High teacher sent a letter on the behalf of "many" school faculty and staff to the Pinellas County School Board and school district superintendent Mike Grego in support of appointing their assistant principal, Darlene Lebo, as principal.

The letter, which you can read here, was dated April 25, almost a month before Northeast High assistant principal Robert J. Gagnon had been selected for the coveted position pending School Board approval at a board meeting held Tuesday, but it was not sent to the school district until May 21. Grego pulled the recommendation Monday, citing "new information shared with me" regarding Gagnon's experience in Lake County nearly 20 years ago. He promised to review the matter  "to gain a full understanding before proceeding with a personnel recommendation for this position."  …

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Florida prekindergarten access among nation's best, but funding among worst

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When Florida began its voluntary prekindergarten program, the criticisms began that it aimed to serve many youngsters but with little quality.

It's been 15 years since voters put the system in place, and the reviews have yet to change.

In a report released Wednesday, the National Institute for Early Education Research found Florida second of 44 pre-k programs nationally when it comes to service, but 40th in terms of per-student funding, and meeting just three of 10 quality measures.

For 2015-16, the state served 76 percent of all eligible four-year-olds -- more than 169,000 in all -- with only the District of Columbia having a better rate.

But its per-student funding amount of $2,353 was less than half the national average of $4,976. By achieving three of the NIEER's quality measures, Florida outperformed just two states, and was far behind nearby Alabama (10 of 10), North Carolina (9) and Arkansas (7). …

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Florida education news: Achievement gap, testing, bilingual teachers and more

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ACHIEVEMENT GAP: The Pinellas County School Board approves a plan to improve the education of black students in the district.

TESTING: Just 10 percent of Florida twelfth graders pass their retake of the state exit-level language arts test.

#HB7069: An ad calling for a veto of HB 7069 distorts lawmakers comments, the Miami Herald reports. • More leaders, including Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, take a position on the bill. More from Politico Florida. • Provisions within HB 7069 would allow the Bay County school district to move ahead with plans to build a new school it had put on hold, MyPanhandle.com reports.

SPANISH SPOKEN HERE? A group of parents and students complain the Orange County school district does not have enough bilingual educators, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

CONSTRUCTION COSTS: The Manatee County School Board seeks to raise impact fees on new homes, the Bradenton Herald reports.

SCHOOL LEADERSHIP: The Leon County school district announces six new principals, the Tallahassee Democrat reports. …

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More leaders weigh in on HB 7069

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam speaks with Gov. Rick Scott

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Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam speaks with Gov. Rick Scott

No, Gov. Rick Scott has not yet received HB 7069, the massive education conforming bill, or the education budget it's attached to.

That's giving everyone more time to continue offering their views on what he might do with the measures when they come to him for consideration.

The Central Florida Public School Boards Coalition, a group of 13 school districts, sent Scott a letter joining many others asking him to veto HB 7069, which includes provisions ranging from expansion of Gardiner scholarships for disabled children to the creation of a new set of charter schools.

The group cites the budget's reduction in base student allocation as a key concern, noting that decrease will make it difficult for schools to meet inflationary cost increases or to give employee raises.

While HB7069 includes some provisions that were advocated for by superintendents and school board members; our primary objection to the bill is that the vetting process by legislators and the public was completely circumvented," coalition leaders Andy Ziegler and Linda Kobert wrote.

State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, now running for governor, also joined in the criticism. He also focused on the method. …

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Pasco County teachers should not be surprised by district finals, superintendent says

Pasco County superintendent Kurt Browning

Pasco County superintendent Kurt Browning

Pasco County teachers and parents continue to raise complaints about the school district's local final exams in several courses.

They're suggesting the passing rates are way too low, and the scores count for too much on a student's report card.

"What research has been done to insure that this test is fair, non discriminating and that it accurately reflects the spirit of the standards, etc.?" one parent wrote to superintendent Kurt Browning, referring to a sixth grade world history test her child failed. "The district has advocated for less 'high stakes' testing and then presented the kids with this type of test that the teachers didn't even really know how to prepare the kids for."

Browning stressed that he does not want to minimize the concerns coming in. However, he said, the test content should not be surprising to teachers, who should be prepared.

They have the course description developed by the state, Browning said, and they have the standards attached to the courses. Moreover, he added, the district also provides blueprints of each course. …

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