Florida schools roundup: Teacher bonuses, opt-out, name a baby and more

florida-roundup-logoTeacher bonuses challenge: A Florida administrative judge hears arguments in a challenge to the state’s teacher bonuses program. The case of Cordelia Brown may hinge on the judge’s definition of a teacher. Brown is a speech-language pathologist at Brentwood Elementary School. She contends she is a teacher, while the Sarasota school district says she is instructional personnel, not a teacher, and therefore is ineligible for the bonus. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Opt-out threats? Some Hernando County parents say school officials are threatening their third-graders with retention if they opt out of Florida Standards Assessments testing. A district spokeswoman says school officials are not threatening anyone, just following state law. Tampa Bay Times.

Naming contest: Early in the season, the baseball coach at Heritage High School told his players that if they won 14 games, they could name his new child, who is due in September. The team is now 13-6 with six games left. The players have voted and say if they win a 14th game, they want Rob and Julia Querry’s new son to be named Benjamin Smalls Querry. It’s the combination of two names from the players’ favorite baseball movie, The SandlotFlorida Today.

Turnaround proposal: The Pinellas County school district’s plan to boost teacher pay by up to $25,000 a year and extend hours at five failing elementary schools still has to be negotiated, says the president of the teachers union. Mike Gandolfo says the district seems “to be in a rush to do this and I’m not in a rush to agree to it.” He worries about the effect of a longer school day on teachers and students. Gradebook.

Superintendent evaluation: The Duval County School Board rates Superintendent Nikolai Vitti as an effective leader in his annual evaluation. Vitti received 41 of a possible 60 points, which puts him on the high end of the effective category and five points from being rated highly effective. Four board members graded Vitti at 44 or higher, and the three board members who have been critical of Vitti graded him in the low end of the effective category. Florida Times-Union.

Lawyers/mentors: A group of black lawyers in Pinellas County is providing mentors for children at five predominantly poor and black elementary schools in St. Petersburg. The lawyers spend about an hour a week with a selected student. Dyril Flanagan, one of the mentors, says his student doesn’t “see many professionals, many black male role models in his neighborhood. I think if he sees that, it will make a difference.” Tampa Bay Times.

Adapting to cuts: Three years after the Pasco County School District eliminated media specialists to save about $5 million a year, the county’s schools continue to adapt. Other districts around the state and nation have made the same hard decision, as tight budgets increasingly are forcing school districts to choose core course teachers over media specialists. Tampa Bay Times.

New schools: A new high school proposed for south Tallahassee is almost a year behind schedule because of delays in getting the Department of Education’s approval. The DOE questioned the need for the school in a letter to the district. The district is under investigation by the FBI and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for its handling of school construction projects dating to 2007. Tallahassee Democrat. The Bay County School Board will vote Monday on an agreement with the St. Joe Co., which would donate 45.56 acres for a new K-5 school in Panama City Beach. Panama City News Herald.

School rezoning: Parents of Rogers Garden Elementary School students voice concerns about how their school will change when it absorbs students from a closing school. On April 12, the Manatee County School Board will be formally presented with the rezoning plans prompted by the closing of Orange Ridge-Bullock Elementary. Bradenton Herald.

Out of the race: Willie Spears is withdrawing from the race for Escambia County superintendent just 10 days after entering it. Spears was fired as the Escambia High School football coach on the recommendation of the current superintendent, Malcolm Thomas, for using ineligible players in a game. Pensacola News Journal.

Principal scrutiny: The principal at Grove Park Elementary is being investigated after a parent says he pushed her 11-year-old son. Eric Gross, a principal for six years, was dealing with some misbehaving students on a bus. He remains in his job during the investigation. Palm Beach PostSun-Sentinel.

Teacher fired: The Hillsborough County School Board votes to uphold the firing of a veteran middle school teacher who received two straight unsatisfactory evaluations under the previous system of peer observations. Noel Patti challenges the findings of the evaluations, which were part of the Gates Foundation agreement, and says she may take the issue to federal court. Gradebook.

Teacher arrested: Brenda Morris, a kindergarten teacher at Lincoln Park Primary School, is arrested and accused of committing child abuse on a developmentally delayed child. Pensacola News Journal.

Opinions on schools: The biggest problem with Escambia County schools is parents who are not taking an active role in their children’s education. Randy Hammer, Pensacola News Journal. Collier County School Board elections are five months away, but the teachers union is already politicking against some members in ways that border on being violations of state laws. Brent Batten, Naples Daily News. It’s fine if states continue to require students to take algebra. Just don’t make passing it a graduation requirement. Jac Wilder VerSteeg, Sun-Sentinel. Despite the hard feelings all this standardized testing, or overtesting, has created in our schools and homes, we cannot abandon having some yardstick to hold both students and those who educate them accountable. Lakeland Ledger. The idea of serious differential pay to work with the neediest children should not be limited to Pinellas County. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: Gavin Smith, a fifth-grader at San Antonio Elementary and the Pasco eSchool, places third in the western region of Florida in a nationwide Braille contest. The Braille Challenge challenges students’ vocabulary, reading and writing skills and reading comprehension. Tampa Bay Times. Merritt Kendzior, a junior at Bradenton Southeast High School, organizes a walk to raise money to help the engineering program at Bashaw Elementary School. Bradenton Herald. A Spruce Creek High School history teacher brings the Vietnam war to life in his portable classroom.  “I want to create an atmosphere where the kid wants to be here, because 90 percent of them don’t want to be at school,” says Chase Tramont. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

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BY NextSteps staff