Florida schools roundup: Testing, education bills, software deal and more

florida-roundup-logoSchool testing: Is change ahead for the Florida Standards Assessments testing? The Every Student Succeeds Act, which gives states some leeway on how they use standardized testing, could be the catalyst. Lakeland Ledger. The Progressive. Teachers complain about the the pace they’re expected to maintain in curriculum to clear the time devoted to testing. Lakeland Ledger. Testing in core subjects begins today and lasts through May for some students. Martin County school officials say they are not expecting a repeat of last year’s “disaster.” TCPalm.

Education bills: Gov. Rick Scott signs a handful of education bills into law, including one that starts a five-year pilot program in a few counties for competency-based education, in which students can advance through school if they can prove they’ve mastered what they should be learning. Miami Herald. Politico Florida. A look at trends in state spending under Gov. Rick Scott show that education spending is up 6 percent since 2010, but that hasn’t kept up with the 8 percent growth in the state’s population. Tampa Bay Times.

No-bid software deal: When Brevard County school officials decided to upgrade their business software systems, they bypassed the bidding process and ended up with a host of problems that administrators could have foreseen. Florida Today. School administrators didn’t get competing vendors’ proposals when they committed to spending $8 million on new software for payroll and accounting in 2013. Today, the district has frozen payments after spending $4.55 million on a product that is only partially functional and not officially delivered. Florida Today.

Open enrollment: South Florida school officials say it’s hard to predict how open enrollment will affect public schools. Vern Crawford, a lobbyist for the Palm Beach County School District, said he hasn’t heard of widespread change in states with similar laws. “It hasn’t been an overwhelming stampede,” Crawford said. Sun-Sentinel.

Fire-breathing act: The fire-breather whose act went wrong at Atlantic High School says the teacher organizing the event told him to include the stunt in his act. Ricky “Inferno” Charles accidentally ignited his face during the stunt in front of 2,000 students. Palm Beach Post.

Discipline hidden: The Orange County School District does not openly list employee disciplinary actions, unlike other large districts in Florida and in central Florida. School officials use an exemption in state law that says “material derogatory to an employee” shouldn’t be open to inspection until 10 days after the employee has been notified. Orlando Sentinel.

School under fire: Palm Beach Lake High School is one of the county’s poorest schools, and had struggled for years. Lately it’s been rocked by squabbles between the principal and teachers and students. Palm Beach Post.

School success: Four years ago, Lincoln Park Primary School in Pensacola was threatened with closure because of failing academics and dwindling attendance. Under new principal Cassandra Smith, the school has gone from an F grade in 2013 to an A this year. Pensacola News Journal.

Kindergarten readiness: School officials in Panhandle counties are finding that a student’s kindergarten readiness is directly tied to a parent’s readiness. In one Santa Rosa County Pre-K school with 280 students, officials found that no adult had even a high school education in 54 of the families of those students. So T.R. Jackson PreK Center in Milton is setting up GED classes and providing scholarships for those parents who will commit to the process of getting a degree. Pensacola News Journal. The Every Child A Reader in Escambia (ECARE) program is helping pre-K students throughout the county. Pensacola News Journal.

Turnaround specialist: The man hired to turn around several failing schools in St. Petersburg says district leaders need to have “courageous conversations” and confront the reasons behind the schools’ persistent failure. Antonio Burt, 35, says he finds “the greatest thrill in proving what’s possible.” Tampa Bay Times.

Trust for victim: The Palm Beach County School District is setting up a $600,000 trust for a special needs student who was sexually abused on a school bus almost 10 years ago. A jury awarded the girl and her family $1.7 million in 2013, but state legislators had to sign off on the compensation because it exceeded a $100,000 cap on payments from government agencies. The family and school board agreed on the settlement in December. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post.

Anti-bullying campaign: The nonprofit Create Confident Kids to Eliminate Bullying is trying to counter misbehavior in children by teaching them self-love, rather than repeatedly telling them to avoid bullying or acting out. Florida Today.

Laptop initiative: The Martin County School Board votes to go ahead with a plan to buy laptop computers for all incoming freshmen. The district will spend $832,000 for 1,500 laptops. The board also approves adding two support positions — each paying $38,000 annually — to facilitate the laptop program. TCPalm.

Employee honored: Rick Testasecca, a paraprofessional at St. Johns Technical High School, is named the St. Johns County School District’s school-related employee of the year. St. Augustine Record.

Teen court: In Duval County’s Teen Court, the prosecution, defense, defendant, bailiff and jury are all juveniles between the ages of 11 and 17. The only adult participating in the hearing is the judge, a volunteer who is usually an attorney or retired judge. Teen Court handles the bulk of non-arrest civil citations from law enforcement agencies and some code of conduct referrals from Duval schools. Florida Times-Union.

Student pushed out? A woman says she was was pressured by an A-rated Duval County school to remove her son and enroll him in a different school. Nicole Story, a Jacksonville Beach psychotherapist and clinical director, says her son was “bullied” by one or two teachers at Jacksonville Beach Elementary. School officials deny the boy was pushed out. Florida Times-Union.

Election tricks: A candidate for the Duval County School Board takes website domains with the names of three of his opponents. Ricky King says the tactic is effective, and that his rivals would try it if they could. ” … They’re just unhappy that they didn’t think of it before me,” he said. The election is in August. Florida Times-Union.

Opinions on schools: There are at least four reasons Gov. Scott should veto the massive education bill: open enrollment, more breaks for charter schools, the loss of local control and the removal of waiting periods for athletes who transfer. Tampa Bay Times. India, Bangladesh, China, Turkey, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Malaysia all have investment in early learning as part of the national agenda. The United States should follow their example. David Lawrence, Miami Herald. The Indian River County School District gives itself a fair self-evaluation. TCPalm. The success of our public schools can’t depend solely on the money they receive from the government. It falls on corporations and individuals to provide on ongoing commitment of money, ideas and volunteers. Hector Ponte, Miami Herald.

 Student enrichment: A Vineland K-8 Center 10-year-old has inspired his brothers and dozens of others to raise money for the Everglades Foundation. Christopher Ramos’ “Ramos Boys Save the Everglades” campaign has raised more than $7,000. Miami HeraldAlice: The Leader is the first in a series of science-fiction novels self-published by 13-year-old Gabriella Dennany of Palm Coast. The book began as a writing assignment for the eighth-grader at Indian Trails Middle School. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Teams from nine schools compete in 13 events at the First Coast Science Olympiad for elementary students in Jacksonville. Florida Times-Union. Paula Ceballos, Lucie Gibeau and Emma Guitar win the South Florida Business Plan Competition by creating a plan for an all-natural proprietary vitamin formula that can be added to a dog’s water without changing the taste. The girls attend Gulliver Preparatory. Miami Herald.