Florida schools roundup: Scandal, evaluations, tall high school and more

florida-roundup-logoMiramar High scandal: A 3,000-page report concludes that officials at Miramar High School allowed students to cheat, made questionable grade changes and showed favoritism to football players in 2014. Former principal Brian Faso and current assistant principal Cornelia Hoff deny any wrongdoing and say they will fight any disciplinary action. The football coach at the time, Matt Strout, was fired when the allegations surfaced two years ago. Sun-Sentinel.

Teacher evaluations: Florida officials said a new teacher evaluation system started in 2011 would be a “game-changer.” Five years later, little has changed. Before the new rules were set, 99 percent of Florida’s teachers were rated satisfactory. Under the new rules, 98 percentage of teachers are rated effective or better. Orlando Sentinel.

‘High’ high school: The Orange County School District is considering building a six-story high school in the southwest part of the county to meet the demand of growing school enrollment. One problem: The land the district is looking at is just 50 acres, which doesn’t meet the county ordinance requirements of 65 acres for high schools in unincorporated areas. The school wouldn’t open for at least six years. Orlando Sentinel.

After the storm: Schools in Leon and Wakulla counties will reopen Wednesday. Both counties are still trying to restore power and clean up schools after Hurricane Hermine hit the area late last week. Tallahassee Democrat. WFSU. Jefferson County schools also reopen Wednesday. WTXL. The Manatee County School District may consider using the first days of Thanksgiving week to make up two days lost to the storm last week. Bradenton Herald.

Test participation: The Florida Department of Education’s interpretation of students’ “participation” in state testing is defined and is relevant, its lawyers argue in their appeal of Judge Karen Gievers’ ruling against the state’s policy of retaining third-graders who opt out of testing. “A student who breaks the seal, writes her name, and stares silently while refusing to answer any questions has not ‘participated’ in the assessment, just as a student who is called on in class and refuses to answer a question posed by her teacher has not ‘participated’ in the lesson,” the state’s lawyers argue. Gievers’ opinion? “The statute does not define participation. The children were present on time, broke the seal on the materials and wrote their names, thus meeting their obligation to participate.” Gradebook.

School budgeting: The Manatee County School Board is expected to approve a nearly $700 million budget at today’s meeting. Bradenton Herald. The Broward County School District overpaid some police departments for school resource officers and underpaid or failed to pay others, an audit reveals. The result of the financial mismanagement was a $2.7 million shortfall in the school police budget. Sun-Sentinel.

School repairs: An extra half-cent sales tax passed by Brevard voters in 2014 has brought money into the district quicker than forecast, allowing the district to get started on long-delayed renovation and repair projects earlier than expected. Florida Today.

Homeless students: More than 1,100 Pinellas County students are homeless, but school officials think the number could balloon to as many as 3,500 later in the school year. The district has a homeless education task force to identify and track these students to provide them with whatever help they need to stay in school. Tampa Bay Times.

Help for low-performing: Eight struggling Marion County elementary schools are getting help from a variety of sources. They have a state-mandated extra hour of reading every day, since they were among the state’s 300 lowest-performing schools. The county’s reading intervention program has been upgraded. And a reading intervention specialist has been hired to train teachers on ways to help children read. Ocala Star Banner.

Check-in system: The Volusia County School District begins its second year as an enthusiastic believer in its visitor check-in system. When visitors walk into schools, they hand over their driver’s licenses, which are scanned. The information is stored, a name badge sticker is printed and a background check is performed. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

New schools open: A sports-themed charter school opens near West Palm Beach. SLAM Palm Beach, a middle school, and Somerset Academy Lakes, an elementary school, are in the same building and are run by Academica, a Miami charter management company. Enrollment is 129, though plans are to add a high school and eventually peak at 2,500 students. Palm Beach Post. Billionaire Jeff Greene and his wife Mei Sze open the Greene School for gifted children in West Palm Beach today. The pre-K through 4th grade school starts with about 50 students, and plans are to eventually add grades 5 through 8. Palm Beach Post.

Charter school vote: The Charlotte County School Board votes next week on approving a charter school for the Babcock Ranch community. If approved, the Babcock Neighborhood School will allow open enrollment. The school would open in the fall of 2017, with an emphasis on environmental education. Fort Myers News-Press.

Online academy in peril: The Hillsborough County School Board will decide today whether to close an online charter school for a long list of deficiencies that the district says amounts to “gross neglect.” Florida Virtual Academy at Hillsborough County hasn’t properly recorded routine student information such as enrollment and grades, fingerprinted teachers in a timely fashion, or provided proper guidance for special education students and English learners, among other things. The school has 200 students. Tampa Bay Times.

Superintendent’s goals: Lee County School Superintendent Greg Adkins talks about his plan for the district’s future, called Values 2020, and educational paper he’s been working on since 2012, called “The Education Revolution: A Theory for Action,” which outlines 15 steps to reform public education. Fort Myers News-Press. Newly re-elected Martin County School Superintendent Laurie Gaylord says improving early language literacy is one of her top priorities. TCPalm.

District’s plan: The Alachua County School Board will discuss its strategic plan at today’s meeting. Among the goals are updating the salary schedule, creating a plan to recruit and retain teachers, improving struggling schools and addressing the needs of at-risk students. Gainesville Sun.

School safety: New safety measures are adopted after three students are hit by cars at Creekside Middle School in Port Orange. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Superintendent search: Today, the Sarasota County School Board begins sifting through 48 applications from educators who want to replace retiring Superintendent Lori White. An advisory committee has sent a list of eight favored finalists to the board, but the recommendations are nonbinding. The board expects to make a final decision Oct. 18. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Top principal: Earl Johnson, principal at Matanzas High School in Palm Coast, is named Flagler County’s principal of the year. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Heroic teacher: Lhisa Almashy, a 49-year-old teacher and coach at Park Vista High School, jumps into the Atlantic Ocean at Delray Beach and saves a man who was floating face down after being caught in a rip current. Palm Beach Post.

Paperwork problem: A paperwork mistake made 17 years ago is keeping a St. Thomas Aquinas High School senior from receiving a scholarship to Boston College. When Minaldy Cadet and his family migrated from Haiti to Florida 17 years ago, they hired a man to file an application for asylum. He filed the wrong application, and now Cadet is ineligible for permanent residency. Without that, the college cannot give him the $64,000 in scholarships and financial aid. Miami Herald.

School elections: Voters have removed Ed Davidson, the biggest critic of Monroe County School Superintendent Mark Porter. Davidson, who lost his school board seat to Mindy Conn, had questioned Porter’s integrity and criticized his search for another job. Keynoter.

Employee sanctions: Two former Highlands County educators face state sanctions this month. Adam Smehyl, a Hill-Gustat Middle School guidance counselor, cut short a state testing exam, which forced the students to retake it. And Sarah Norris, a former coach at Lake Placid High School, falsely reported a school laptop was stolen from her car. Highlands Today.

Sinkhole at school: A small sinkhole crumbles a stretch of sidewalk in front of Liberty Middle School in Ocala. The 5-foot-deep sinkhole is expected to be filled in today. Ocala Star Banner.

Opinions on schools: Hernando County School District officials look like bullies who, unable to defy a judge in the case against the state’s policy on retaining third-graders, are picking on a weaker target: fourth-graders. Tampa Bay Times. Jeers to the state statute that requires the revocation of charter school contracts should the publicly funded but privately operated school receive two consecutive F grades from the Florida Department of Education. Bradenton Herald. While it’s impossible to clone people like FSU’s Travis Rudolph to assist at schools around the country and we can’t expect much improvement in the behavior of middle school kids, “lunch bunch” programs can be a lifeline for kids who eat alone. Laura McKenna, Atlantic. By turning to proven leaders and seasoned teachers, and by devoting resources to challenges beyond the classroom, school officials are demonstrating a greater understanding of what will help failing schools succeed. Tampa Bay Times. Public schools need our support. Why aren’t you volunteering? Rick Christie, Palm Beach Post. For the past 52 years, the Pinellas County School District has promised black parents a better outcome for their children, and failed. All these years later, we’re fighting the same battles again. It’s a sin. And a tragedy. So how do we allow it to continue? John Romano, Tampa Bay Times. Finland is taking the anti-Common Core approach to education reform. And it’s working. William Doyle, Florida Today. As our children head back to school, parents need to remember that we are the directors of our children’s education. Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The One Mill tax for Alachua County schools is up for renewal in November. This tax has benefited many students but those benefits have been disproportionate, reinforcing a system where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Brianna L. Kennedy-Lewis, Gainesville Sun. Newly elected School Superintendent Heidi Maier wants to move the Marion County Public Schools forward, but she should do it with prudence and patience. First, she has to learn just how big the job she has won really is. Ocala Star Banner.

Student enrichment: The Mosley High School Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps is selected as one of the top 10 percent of Marine Corps JROTC programs in the United States. Panama City News Herald.