Florida schools roundup: Fewer tests, top teacher finalist, choice and more

florida-roundup-logoTesting cutbacks: Hillsborough County elementary students will have fewer tests next school year, and principals and teachers will have more say on what tests are given and when, and how to use the results. Parents and teachers have long complained about the district’s “formative tests,” which measure what children know early in the year, followed by end-of-the-year tests. Tampa Bay Times. WTVT. The tentative contract agreement between the Polk Education Association and the Polk County School District would give teachers the option not to use the controversial district end-of-year exams, instead creating a measurable “student achievement objective.” The school board will vote on the contract next week. Lakeland Ledger.

Top teacher finalist: Precious T. Symonette, a creative writing teacher at Miami Norland Senior High, is one of five finalists for Florida Teacher of the Year. The winner will be announced in July. Miami Herald.

Choice expansion: The school choice movement in Florida was invigorated by the Legislature’s actions during this year’s session, says state Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah. He says there is now a “political will” to continue the expansion of choice. Diaz made the remarks during a luncheon about the benefits of school choice in Florida. Miami Herald.

School district problems: Polk County’s public schools are driving skilled employees and their children out of the county and hurting the economy, says Lakeland Economic Development Council President Steve Scruggs. “High skill, high wage employees won’t put their kids in our schools,” Scruggs said at the city’s annual strategic planning retreat. Lakeland Ledger.

Budget overruns: Despite having just $50,000 left in its police department’s budget, the Broward County School Board signs an agreement to pay the city of Coral Springs $601,000 for police officers in the school. District officials say the money will come from the reserve fund. The board discovered last week that there are $2.5 million in overruns in the police department budget. Sun-Sentinel.

Sales tax increase: Palm Beach county commissioners have cut cultural projects and economic development incentives from the proposed county/schools sales tax hike. The Palm Beach County School District and all the county’s cities will again have to sign off on joining the tax initiative, a process that could take a month or two. Palm Beach Post. The Manatee County Commission and Manatee County School Board are not able to come to an agreement about jointly placing a half-cent sales tax hike on the November ballot. They will continue the discussion at another meeting. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Magnet program: R.V. Daniels Elementary School will get a gifted and talented magnet program, but the plan could change roles or attendance boundaries for five Northwest Jacksonville schools. Some Duval County School Board members aren’t happy with the rezoning changes, and those moves will be discussed at a future meeting. Florida Times-Union.

Customer service: The Lee County School Board is considering a digital feedback system that would allow parents, students, the community and  district staff to voice their concerns about a particular issue and get a response. The key to the system is the automatic routing to a particular team. Fort Myers News-Press.

Superintendent apologizes: Alachua County School Superintendent Owen Roberts apologizes for making what he calls “unintentional mistakes” in taking numerous paragraphs and charts from other authors and using them verbatim in his self-published book. Gainesville Sun.

Bus driver investigated: A Volusia County School District bus driver reportedly turned off the air-conditioning on the ride home from Champion Elementary School in Daytona Beach to punish misbehaving students. Officials are investigating. WFLA.

Guns in schools: Three high school freshmen at Scheck Hillel Community Day School in Miami develop a radio frequency identification technology that triggers an alert when guns are brought into a school. Esther Benasayag, Albert Wolak and Abraham Woldenberg had a budget of just $100. Tech Times.

Notable deaths: Alvin George White, a former Duval County Public Schools educator and assistant superintendent, has died. White began working in the district in 1959 and played a crucial role in the integration of schools. He retired in 1999. Florida Times-Union.

Teacher arrested: Christopher Allen Brooks, a teacher at Palm Beach Gardens High School, is arrested and accused of lewd and lascivious behavior with a minor between the ages of 12 and 16. Palm Beach Post.

Bus driver may be fired: A Palm Beach County school bus driver faces termination for leaving a student on his bus after his route. Patrick Dorcent said he did not see the student board the bus and ended his route before reaching the student’s stop. Palm Beach Post.

Teacher suspended: A Duval County music teacher is suspended for 30 days after telling his intellectually disabled students to “behave as slaves” and be chased by “dogs,” according to school officials. Richard Wright Jr. said the lesson, which took place during Black History Month, was meant to get his Alden Road Education Center students moving and singing. WTLV.

Opinions on schools: Alachua County School Superintendent Owen Roberts owes the district and students an apology for using large chunks of text from other sources in his book without proper attribution. Gainesville Sun. When Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a universal pre-K program, legislators set it up the way Florida runs all its important initiatives: on the cheap. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. Meet the teacher who encouraged then-10-year-old Damon Weaver into becoming a broadcast sensation. Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post. Florida should honor legendary educator Mary McLeod Bethune by naming a new K-12 scholarship program after her. William Mattox, Florida Politics. Now that testing season has begun, parents should understand how high stakes testing dumbs down the curriculum and forces a second rate education on children. Michael Andoscia, Fort Myers News-Press. The Florida League of Women Voters recognizes that the solutions to education problems are complex, but applauds the attention a lawsuit against the state brings to the weaknesses in our educational system. Sue Legg, Gainesville Sun.

Student enrichment: A $250,000 donation will allow Palm Beach Dramaworks to expand its educational programs for young students. Palm Beach Daily News. Summer Van Orman, a senior at Edgewood Senior High School in Brevard County, wins the annual Dr. Nelson Ying Science Competition for outstanding scientific research. Orlando Sentinel. More than 2,400 exceptional education students from four northeast Florida counties work on art projects at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens’ 21st annual Very Special Arts Festival. Florida Times-Union. The Wesley Chapel High School Odyssey of the Mind Division III team is among 800 competing at the finals May 25-28 at Iowa State University. Tampa Bay Times.