Florida schools roundup: No homework, school choices, recess drive and more

florida-roundup-logoNo homework: Mandatory homework is out at Henry S. West Laboratory School, a public K-8 in Coral Gables. School officials say students will no longer be graded on homework or penalized if they don’t finish the optional assignments. Principal Barbara Soto Pujadas says the school’s families are overstressed and overscheduled. Miami Herald.

Neighborhood schools: The concept of neighborhood schools is shrinking, as school choice, magnet schools and charter schools give students and their parents more options than the school around the corner. More than 130,000 south Florida students are now in charter schools, which is double the number from a decade ago. And next year, parents can send their children to any public school in the state that has space available. Sun-Sentinel.

Recess for schools: Duval County parents start a petition drive to have 20 minutes of recess every day in every elementary school in the county. Superintendent Nikolai Vitti is resisting, saying he doesn’t want to force the requirement on teachers even as he is encouraging them to accept research that says students do better academically if they get free time. Florida Times-Union. Associated Press.

School spending: The Clay County School Board approves a nearly $380 million budget that calls for reserves in the range of 3 to 3.9 percent. Clay has been below the state-required 3 percent reserves since 2012. Florida Times-Union.

Energy savings: An emphasis on saving energy is paying off for the Sarasota County School District. The district was ninth-best in the state last year in energy spending, and has saved almost $40 million since 2007. The initiative began with an expansion of thermal energy storage, and now is widening use of LED lights. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School pickup app: PikMyKid, an app that helps schools and parents manage the pickup process, gets a capital infusion of $980,000 from Orlando’s FAN fund and Florida Founders for product development. Pat Bhava of Tampa developed the app after his frustrating experiences picking his child up from school. Tampa Bay Times.

School properties: The city of Marathon is lobbying the Monroe County School Board to come up with a plan to do something about the old Marathon Manor, which the school district bought 11 years ago. It sits beside the town’s high school. Keynoter. A renovated Lockhart Elementary School in Orlando combines modern amenities with features of the school that was built in 1936. Orlando Sentinel. The Catholic Diocese of Orlando is planning to build an elementary school on property the church bought in 2001 in Sanford. Orlando Sentinel. The Rhoda Martin Early Learning Center is expected to open next month in Jacksonville Beach for children as young as 2. Florida Times-Union.

Anti-bullying policy: The Hernando County School District adopts a new anti-bullying policy that is broadened to include cyberbullying and “private humiliation.” Hernando Sun.

Unexcused absences: Twenty-one percent of Okeechobee County students had nine or more unexcused absences last year, and 42 percent of the district’s students have missed at least one day so far this year. Okeechobee News.

Teacher sick days: Volusia County School Board Member John Hill claims that teachers took 50,000 sick days last year, a statement that prompts the district to re-form a school attendance committee. According to district records, teachers took 42,919 sick days, or about 9 per teacher. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

School testing: The Bay County School Board approves a schedule for standardized testing. Panama City News Herald.

New tone at school: Nikita Reed sets a no-nonsense yet nurturing tone as the new principal trying to turn around Melrose Elementary School in St. Petersburg. Melrose is one of five city schools labeled “failure factories” after years of neglect by the Pinellas County School District. Tampa Bay Times.

Pep talk: “School can be young, fun, sexy and hot,” famed educator Ron Clark tells 1,200 Polk County educators during a Southeastern University’s Forum Speakers Series. “People look at teachers as tired… I want to change the way people view education.” Lakeland Ledger.

Volunteering: Principals at five struggling Polk County middle schools are issuing wish lists for volunteers. The schools are under state-approved plans to improve or be taken over after years of underachievement. Lakeland Ledger.

Charter closes: Newpoint Pinellas Academy closes its doors, becoming the fourth charter school to close this year in Pinellas County. The middle school was run by Newpoint Education Partners, which has now closed nine of its 15 Florida schools. Gradebook.

Makeup days: Hillsborough County students won’t have to make up the two days lost to Hurricane Hermine. School officials say there’s enough time already built into the schedule to absorb the classroom time lost. Gradebook.

Teacher honored: Patrick Whelan, an AP world history teacher at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School in Bradenton, is one of three U.S. teachers chosen to appear in instructional videos to help train AP world history teachers on making the material interesting to their students. Bradenton Herald.

School elections: A former Martin County principal now running for the school board face possible sanctions from the state for allegedly failing to report a child abuse allegation in a timely manner. Larry Green denies the allegation by the Department of Education and will appeal any sanctions. TCPalm. A Monroe County School Board member who was defeated in August is now asking the board for an appointment. Ed Davidson wants to work on behalf of school employees to find affordable housing options in the county. Keynoter.

Employee arrested: A Polk County School District employee is arrested and accused of stealing $1,000 from a coworker. Fontello Joboham, 47, works at the school board’s Florida Diagnostic and Learning Resources System. WTVT. WFLA.

Six students arrested: Six students are arrested after a brawl at the A. Quinn Jones Center in Gainesville. Police say the fight was gang-related. Each of the students was suspended for five days from the alternative school, where students with emotional and behavioral disorders are sent after being removed from their schools. Gainesville Sun.

Opinions on schools: I am proud to have served as the communications director for the Florida Education Association — the Florida teachers union — from 1990 to 1992. That’s why I remain stunned and so saddened by the union’s misguided lawsuit to kill the successful corporate tax credit scholarship program. Ron Sachs, Sunshine State News. How I learned to stop worrying and love Common Core math. Beth Kassab, Orlando Sentinel. The Duval County School Board needs a culture change. Florida Times-Union. The renewal of a half-cent sales tax for Manatee County schools merits voter approval. Bradenton Herald. Please, newly elected Marion County School Superintendent Heidi Maier, don’t betray our trust. Turn our schools from ordinary to extraordinary. Pete Anderson, Ocala Star Banner.

Student enrichment: Alex Martinez spent the first five years of his life homeless with his mother in St. Louis. Now he’s living with his father in Leesburg, and is determined to help those in need. The 8-year-old has created a blessing box outside his home that is filled with food, drinks, clothing and toiletries for homeless people. And he’s working with his school, Leesburg Elementary, to help keep the box full. Orlando Sentinel. Summer camp boosts the reading abilities of third-graders in Highlands County. Highlands Today. Mark Gauthier II graduated from Plant High School in Tampa this summer, but not before establishing the Plant Panther Outdoorsmen Alliance to perform community service. Tampa Bay Times. Female students get a special lesson in a science, technology, engineering and mathematics workshop sponsored by the Women’s Foundation of Palm Beach County. Palm Beach Post. Two elementary school teachers form the the Giving Closet in Duval County. The group collects clothes to give to needy students. Florida Times-Union. Lee County students learn about mosquito biology, prevention and disease control during a week-long education program from the Mosquito Control District. Fort Myers News-Press. Fort Walton Beach High School biomed science students are designing a hospital emergency room to cut waiting time and congested hallways. The project will be presented this week to officials at the Fort Walton Beach Medical Center. Northwest Florida Daily News. Groveland Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Kayla Coxe initiates a drive to improve the school’s playground. Daily Commercial.

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BY NextSteps staff