Florida schools roundup: Retention, construction, back to school and more

florida-roundup-logoRetention issues: A judge says she may rule this week in a lawsuit brought against the state’s third-grade retention policy. Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers did not grant the request to immediately promote third-graders who did poorly on the state reading test or opted out of taking it, saying she wanted to give the state and the six districts named in the suit time to respond. Associated Press. News Service of Florida. Many school districts in the state offer alternative ways for third-graders to advance even if they do poorly on the state test or opt out of taking it. Gradebook.

Maintenance issues: Palm Beach County school officials say 40 of its 196 schools are in unsatisfactory or poor condition, and seven need to be torn down and rebuilt. Mold, leaks, broken equipment and more are reported. The district and the county are asking voters to approve a 1-cent sales tax in November. Half the proceeds would go for school construction. Sun-Sentinel.

School construction: Almost two years after Broward County voters approved an $800 million school renovation program, no work has been done. School Superintendent Robert Runcie says the district has had a “little bit of a rough start getting out of the box.” There have been errors in assessing needs, confusion about advertising for bids, problems in the purchasing department and troubles following Florida’s Sunshine Law that caused the district to repeat work. Some costs are running 57 percent above original estimates. Despite the problems, Runcie says the work will be completed by 2022, as originally estimated. Sun-Sentinel.

Back to school: More Florida school districts open their doors to students today. Florida Times-Union. Palm Beach Post. Tallahassee Democrat. Lakeland Ledger. TCPalm. TCPalm. Gainesville Sun. WFLA. Duval County School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti is criticized by school board members for a late and potentially confusing letter going out to parents. The letters inform parents of their “assigned” schools, which could be different from the schools parents have chosen. Board members say the letters are confusing, and were also unhappy that about 265 letters just went out Thursday. School starts today. Florida Times-Union. The Orange County School District opens the Wedgefield K-8 School today. It has room for about 1,200 students. Orlando Sentinel. Volusia County officials start the school year today with a goal of reducing chronic absenteeism by 10 percent. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Grading protest: The Florida Parents Against Common Core says the state’s grading system is a failure, and its leaders are calling for an end to it. The A through F grading system for schools has been in place since 1999. Sunshine State News.

School clinics: Monroe County School Board members approve $75,000 to keep health clinics operating at six Monroe County schools. The clinics are run by the Health Education Center, and had more than 7,000 visits last year. Keynoter.

Meeting mandate: Palm Beach County school officials are not backing off a weekly, mandatory one-hour meeting for teachers, despite the teachers union’s complaints that it’s a violation of the contract and cuts planning time. District officials are urging principals to let teachers help plan the meetings. Palm Beach Post.

Busing changes: The school bus-routing technology that caused problems at the beginning of school last year in Palm Beach County is being replaced by a homegrown system. Officials hope the low-tech solution will cut back on problems, even though it will not include options that allow parents to track their children’s bus via GPS or by cell phones. Palm Beach Post. Leon County students can now ride StarMetro buses fare-free seven days a week. The collaborative effort by the city commission and the school district opens ridership to all K-12 students. Tallahassee Democrat.

Gifted racial divide: Palm Beach County school officials are trying to find a solution to the racial imbalance in the gifted programs, especially at lower grade levels. In kindergarten, for instance, 70 percent of the gifted students are white, although only 33 percent of the elementary school population is white. Blacks make up 28 percent of the elementary population, but only 4 percent of the gifted kindergartners. Palm Beach Post.

Homeless students: The Volusia and Flagler county school districts reaches out to offer education to homeless students. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Online learning: The Leon County high school graduation rate has improved in the past five years, in part due to online learning. School Superintendent Jackie Pons is enthusiastic about the online programs, but some critics call them a “diploma mill.” WFSU.

Superintendent’s goals: Desmond Blackburn reflects on his first year as Brevard County school superintendent, and says this year he aims to reform the district’s disciplinary process and school testing. Florida Today.

His urgent mission: The new chief of schools in Hillsborough County has a sense of urgency, saying “we have to act with haste, and be swift, when kids aren’t learning.” Harrison Peters, 42, see great promise in the system, but also great pockets of neglect. Tampa Bay Times.

Lottery money: A Q&A provides details on how Florida Lottery money is used in Collier County schools and around the state. Naples Herald.

Laptops in schools: Orange County school officials say the 73,000 laptops being distributed to students this year are “virtually theft-proof.” They’re encrypted, engraves and have tracking technology. Students at 32 schools, including all 19 traditional high schools, will receive a laptop when they return to school today. Orlando Sentinel. About 29,000 Lee County students are getting school-issued Chromebook laptops this school year, joining the 18,000 who received one last year. Fort Myers News-Press.

Testing stagnation: Treasure Coast school districts showed significant declines in state testing scores this year, and school officials say they are trying to improve by focusing more on teaching students the basics of the test format and subjects. TCPalm.

Teaching methods: Students at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind will be taught exclusively using American Sign Language while also learning to read and write in English. It’s a bilingual-bicultural approach initiated by president Jeanne Prickett. St. Augustine Record.

Charter schools: Tennis legend Andre Agassi and his partner are selling a K-8 Cooper City charter school they started in 2013. The Florida Charter Foundation is paying $20 million for the Franklin Academy, which has room for about 1,300 students. Real Deal. Charter school growth continues around the state, but not in Pinellas County. In 2012 the district received 19 applications to create schools, and had to start a new department to process them. A dozen applications followed in 2013 and eight in 2014, but only one has been filed in the past two years. Gradebook. The pressure is on at the Visible Men Academy charter school in Bradenton. The school for low-income students has received an F grade from the state the past two years, and faces closure if it doesn’t improve this year. Bradenton Herald.

School lunches: Duval County students will have healthier options for school lunches this year as the district emphasizes locally grown produce and more grains and greens. WJAX.

School elections: All the candidates for the Lake County School Board agree that more money should be spent in the classrooms to boost student achievement. Daily Commercial.

Opinions on schools: The real breakdown of Florida’s long-running debate over testing is that the children get lost in the argument. Tampa Bay Times. There’s good news for believers in solid public health practices. The number of properly immunized kids is growing even with an increase in the number of religious exemptions. Beth Kassab, Orlando Sentinel. Polk County lost out on a worthwhile idea of providing academic coaches for athletes at two high schools in Haines City. Lakeland Ledger. Outside groups are pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into Collier County School Board races on top of what the candidates are raising and spending on their own. Brent Batten, Naples Daily News. With back-to-school around the corner, now is the perfect time to ask ourselves what we hope our children will gain from their education this school year. Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Let’s hope the Marion County School Board gives proper consideration to the good idea of putting a civic center on the site of Booster Stadium. Jim Ross, Ocala Star Banner. The start to the Volusia County school year offers two new elements: more harmony and different tones. Daytona Beach News-Journal. It will take the coordinated efforts of teachers and school leaders at every level to make the professional development and organizational shifts necessary to move our system from a mass production model to a mass customization model. Chris Colwell, Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Student enrichment: Courtney Scott raises money to donate more than $1,500 worth of school supplies to Manatee Elementary School in Melbourne in memory of her son Carsyn. He drowned 2012 when he was 15 months old. Florida Today. The Foundation for Leon County Schools awards more than $110,000 to educators for projects such as butterfly gardens, weather balloons, hydroponics and music performances. Tallahassee Democrat. About 1,000 Bay County students received supplies at the annual Back to School Bash at the Panama City Mall. Panama City News Herald.