Florida schools roundup: Bonuses, testing, bullying, fitness, loans and more

florida-roundup-logoTeacher bonuses: Almost 7,200 Florida teachers will receive bonuses of about $6,800 under the state’s Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program, the Department of Education announces. That’s 1,800 more than the number who got the bonuses last year, and represents 4 percent of the state’s teachers. First-year teachers can qualify if their SAT or ACT scores were in the top 20 percent, and experienced teachers need a highly effective evaluation too. The formula for qualifying has been criticized, and may be revised in the legislative session that starts in March. Orlando Sentinel. Bradenton Herald.

Testing targeted: Methods, times spent on assessment tests and the number of tests are all on the agenda as the Senate Education Appropriations Committee meets for the first time in 2017. House leaders say they’re open to an “honest conversation” about streamlining testing, but they’re focused more on school choice. Tampa Bay Times.

Bullying decline? An analysis of reports of bullying in Florida schools indicates just 0.1 percent of students were bullied in 2015, compared to 22 percent nationally. Just 3,000 incidents were reported, down from 6,200 in 2010. Experts and even some local school officials say the numbers are greatly underreported. In south Florida, for instance, almost 600 schools reported no incidences of bullying, Sun-Sentinel.

Fitness test bill: State Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Lecanto, files a bill that would end a personal fitness test as a substitute for the required Health Opportunities through Physical Education (HOPE) class. Instead, students could fulfill the requirement by being on a varsity or junior varsity team for two full seasons. Gradebook.

Loan forgiveness: A bill is filed in the Florida Senate that would forgive up to $16,000 in student loans for teachers of science, technology, engineering and math who work for eight consecutive years in public schools. The bill, introduced by Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, is aimed at encouraging those teachers to stay in Florida. News Service of Florida.

Superintendent honored: Orange County School Superintendent Barbara Jenkins is appointed to the board of directors of the National Board for Education Sciences. She and 12 others were appointed to four-year terms by President Obama. The board advises the Institute of Education Sciences, which is part of the U.S. Department of Education. Jenkins was recently named Florida superintendent of the year and is a finalist for national superintendent of the year. Orlando Sentinel.

Superintendents’ contracts: The Lake County School Board is expected to approve a contract today for new Superintendent Diane Kornegay. She will be paid $195,000 a year and be eligible for $35,000 more based on her leadership and the performance of students. She begins the job March 11. Daily Commercial. Orlando Sentinel. Monroe County School Superintendent Mark Porter’s proposed contract extension no longer includes mention of how many board member votes are necessary to fire him. Originally, Porter wanted to require a super majority of four of the five members agreeing to any termination. But he has since rescinded his request. Keynoter.

Board attorney: The Brevard County School Board is considering whether to hire a fulltime attorney. The board has been working with outside counsel for more than two decades. Florida Record.

Legislative agenda: Polk County school officials present their agenda to the Polk legislative delegation. The list includes more money per student, for turnaround schools and for construction; help with the teacher shortage; and reinstating a special diploma for students with disabilities. Lakeland Ledger.

Teachers honored: The Volusia County School District will name its teacher of the year Friday. The finalists are: Susan Dodig, Sweetwater Elementary; Jason Kester, Mainland High; Jessica Ruppen, Starke Elementary; Gina Marie Walker, DeLand Middle; and Robin Lynch Weiss, Champion Elementary. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Teachers thanked: Former NFL players thank teachers at the College Football Playoff Foundation’s “Extra Yard for Teachers Summit.” The summit was one of the activities around the college national championship game between Alabama and Clemson tonight in Tampa. Tampa Bay Times.

Hero saves teacher: A Broward County teacher in the luggage area at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport Friday was saved when a man used his body to shield her as the shooter approached her. Annika Dean says she was on the ground about 30 feet from the suspect when Tony Bartosiewicz covered her. Miami Herald. Sun-Sentinel.

Graduation rate: Volusia school officials say an improved graduation rate is the result of new programs that help identify and help at-risk students. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

New school planned: The Volusia County School Board is expected to approve paying $1.2 million to an architect to design the replacement of Chisholm Elementary. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Textbook choices: Researchers at the University of Southern California say the choice of elementary math textbooks has a significant impact on student performance. But they say most most school districts take a haphazard approach to choosing them. Education Week.

Notable deaths: Elmer Jenkins, a member of the Escambia County School Board for 16 years, has died at age 88. Pensacola News Journal.

Sports choice: Students at charter schools, Florida Virtual School or who are home-schooled may play sports at schools other than the one they are zoned to attend during the 2017-2018 school year, according to a new state law. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Brain injury deaths: Two dozen high school football players in the United States died between 2005 and 2014 from traumatic brain or spinal cord injuries, according to a study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Associated Press.

Firing accusation: Former Hillsborough County School District spokesman T.G. Taylor says he was fired when he refused to disregard a public records request about school board member Susan Valdes’ travel expenses. Superintendent Jeff Eakins denied the charge. Gradebook.

Aide may be fired: A school bus aide could be fired this week for striking an autistic student several times for misbehaving. Bobbie Alexander, 60, reacted after the 18-year-old student hit her with a bag of cereal and reached toward another student in October 2015. Palm Beach Post.

Opinions on schools: The Constitution Revision Commission should provide a pathway for the public’s input into the constitutional review process of making laws that will move our state forward in education and other areas. Pamela Goodman and Charlotte Nycklemoe, Naples Daily News. By embracing a mission of service and educational outreach, the Florida Orchestra is expanding its legacy and helping secure its future. Tampa Bay Times. If education officials and lawmakers really wanted to ensure that the best and brightest educators teach in Florida rather than in other states, they would raise the pay of all teachers so they aren’t among the lowest-paid in the country. Gainesville Sun. Florida’s teacher-bonus program, known as the “Best and the Brightest,” might be better called “The Arbitrary, the Useless and the Downright Ridiculous.” Daytona Beach News-Journal. Children need support from both faculty and parents to combat school bullies. Thomas Nooft, Orlando Sentinel. The advantages of electing members of the School Board of Manatee County by individual districts rather than countywide make the possible change appealing. Bradenton Herald. New Sarasota County School Board member Eric Robinson is asking the right questions about fiscal accountability, but in the wrong way. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Student enrichment: Acacia Woodley, a 10th grade Florida Virtual School student, speaks about bullying at a Pennsylvania elementary school. Woodley started the company Tiny Girl Big Dream to combat bullying, and has spoken more than 230 times on behalf of Friendship Benches being placed at schools. The Kittanning Paper. A free GED program is being started at the George Stone Technical Center in Ensley. Pensacola News Journal. Fifth-graders at St. John Catholic School make scarves and tie them to poles for people in Panama City with a note urging anyone who is cold to take them. Panama City News Herald.