Florida schools roundup: Testing, Bright Futures, teacher absences and more

florida-roundup-logoSchool testing: After a hearing Wednesday, leaders of the Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee say they expect to present a bill this legislative session that will cut down on student testing. “I think that what you’re hearing is that there is a complete consensus among the senators on this committee that there is some common ground that can be reached so we get back to a sense of sanity in this,” said Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs. School superintendents also asked the committee to return to paper-and-pencil testing, arguing that computer-based testing is too expensive and time-consuming; to allow nationally recognized tests like the PSAT, ACT and SAT to stand in for some state tests; and to give school districts leeway to set up their own evaluation systems for teachers. Sun-Sentinel. Orlando Sentinel. Gradebook. WFSU. Politico Florida. Sun-Sentinel. Tallahassee DemocratNews Service of Florida.

Bright Futures: The Florida Senate releases its plan to revise higher education, and one of the key points is an expansion of Bright Futures scholarships. The proposal would increase the scholarships to include all tuition and fees, plus $300 for books per semester. And those who receive the scholarships would be able to use them for summer classes. The estimated cost is $151 million. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. SaintPetersburgBlog.

Teacher absences: Duval County has one of the highest teacher absence rates in Florida and in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. More than half of Duval’s teachers miss two or more weeks during the 2013-2014 school year – almost twice the national average of 27 percent and well above Florida’s rate of 39 percent. Florida Times-Union.

Financial progress: The state auditor general’s three-year audit of the Manatee County School District’s finances shows far fewer problems than the district had in 2014. This audit found just nine operational problems compared to 32 in 2014. And there were no financial findings this time, compared with nine three years ago. “Where we were three years ago was close to an F, so we are getting closer to an A,” said audit committee chairman Joseph Blitzko. Bradenton Herald.

Teachers honored: Five finalists are chosen for the Marion County teacher of the year award. They are: Cacee Ford, West Port High School; Diego Fuentes, Hillcrest School; Annie Shepherd, Dr. N.H. Jones Elementary; Jennifer Thomas, Belleview Middle; and Smokie West, Marion Technical College. The winner will be announced Jan. 27. School officials also said John Liquori, a fifth grade teacher at Stanton-Weirsdale Elementary, is the rookie of the year. Ocala Star Banner.

School rezoning: Residents of two neighborhoods who were zoned out of overcrowded Calusa Elementary School in Boca Raton may get a consolation prize. The Palm Beach County School Board will consider allowing residents from the Casa Bella and Addison Reserve neighborhoods to priority status in the lottery to enter Morikami Park Elementary, a pre-International Baccalaureate magnet school. Sun-Sentinel.

Enrollment growth: The Gulf County School District anticipates enrollment of almost 1,900 students for the next school year, which is about 100 more than the district had two years ago. Officials are hopeful the modest growth represents a turnaround. Between 2004 and 2014, the district lost about 600 students. Port St. Joe Star.

School for dyslexic expands: The Roberts Academy, a private school for children with dyslexia, is expanding. A seventh grade will be added in the fall, and an eight grade in 2018. The school, which is based at and run by Florida Southern College, now has about 120 students in grades 2-6. It opened in 2010. Lakeland Ledger.

Program for mentally ill: Hernando County received a $500,000 grant from the state last year to set up a program for students with mental health issues. But only two of the three classrooms are up and running, and one still doesn’t have a fulltime accredited teacher. District officials say the delays were unavoidable, but State Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, who get the grant, said he is “not happy” about the slow rollout. Tampa Bay Times.

Charter expansion: A California charter school company, iLEAD Schools, is considering starting a K-12 school in Pasco County. It would emphasize science, technology, engineering, the arts and math, and project-based learning. iLEAD, which stands for which stands for International Leadership Enterpreneurial Development Arts and Design, has schools in California and Ohio. Gradebook.

Teacher shortages: North central Florida schools continue to struggle to fill teaching openings. Marion County has 38 open jobs, Alachua County 26, Levy County 10, Dixie County 2 and Gilchrist County 1. WCJB.

Anti-fraud policy: The Clay County School Board delays a vote on an updated anti-fraud policy that’s intended to shield whistleblowers. The teachers union raised concerns about some of the language in the proposed policy. Clay Today.

Notable deaths: Orlando Police Sgt. Debra Clayton, who was killed early this week when she confronted a murder suspect, was a former school resource officer and student mentor at Dr. Phillips High School. Orlando Sentinel.

Charter school theft: A former administrator at a Lakeland charter schools company is arrested and accused of embezzling more than $100,000 from the school. Ginger Collins, who was assistant director of academics at the McKeel Schools, was hired by the charter schools system in July 2015. The missing money was discovered in September, and Collins, 45, was arrested earlier this week. Lakeland LedgerWFLA. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP.

Old school to be torn down: The old Hallmark Elementary School, which has been closed since 2011, will be torn down soon. The school was built in 1928. The permit for the demolition was issued Tuesday. Thursday, the Pensacola City Council discussed creating a review process before any “historic or significant” buildings built before 1940 could be torn down. Pensacola News Journal.

School board member hurt: Palm Beach County School Board member Erica Whitfield is recovering from a broken back suffered after falling off a hoverboard Dec. 26. Palm Beach Post.

Two teachers fired: Two Palm Beach County third-grade teachers who were accused of giving their students hints during the state math exam last spring have been fired by the school board. Maria Marrero Rios was fired from Melaleuca Elementary in West Palm Beach and Ilissa Sanders was dismissed from Citrus Cove Elementary. Palm Beach Post.

Principal’s demotion: Former Manatee Elementary Principal Deborah Houston was demoted after she borrowed a motorcycle from a teacher’s aide in March, kept it for two months, returned it damaged and didn’t pay to have it repaired. Houston was placed on administrative leave in November, and she is working in an administrative position for the rest of this school year. Bradenton Herald.

Guns at school: A Vanguard High School student is arrested for bringing a loaded gun to school. The 17-year-old senior was charged with charged with possession of a firearm on school property, improper exhibition of a firearm and possession of a firearm by a minor. He told police he had the gun for protection against people who had been threatening him and his family. Ocala Star Banner.

Student hit by car: A Bear Lakes Middle School student is hit by a car Wednesday morning in front of the school. Palm Beach Post.

Opinions on schools: Something happened in Tallahassee on Wednesday that was sensible, constructive and a little bit courageous. A panel of school superintendents spoke their minds about Florida’s glut of standardized tests. Even more remarkably, senators seemed to listen. John Romano, Tampa Bay Times. We may disagree with a substitute teacher’s judgment in assigning 12th graders to read a racy short story, but banning a teacher from substituting in every district school over one complaint seems an extreme response, especially in light of the challenges associated with stimulating today’s students. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. After-school programs are an investment that pays dividends in decreased juvenile crime, improved school performance and the better job prospects that result. The financial problems faced by two groups offering after-school programs should be enough to alert everyone to these programs’ benefits and the need to keep them going. Gainesville Sun.

Student enrichment: With the help of a $2,000 grant, Leesburg High School AP environmental science students will be conducting water quality tests at Lake Louisa State Park, Leesburg Canal Street Waste Water Treatment Facility and Bourlay Historic Nature Park. Daily Commercial. Polk County students can compete in the annual SlingShot competition, at which they will present one-page business for a STEM-related venture. Lakeland Ledger. Palmetto Ridge High School’s marching band raises the $135,000 it needs to travel to Washington to play in the inaugural parade Jan. 20. Naples Daily News. Students from Sarasota Military Academy and Sarasota School for Arts and Sciences thank the city’s police officers with letters and handcrafted ornaments. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Chiles High School orchestra is invited to compete in the 2017 National Orchestra Festival in Pittsburgh. Tallahassee Democrat. Hillsborough County students pepper the school board with ideas on improving schools at the annual high school forum. Tampa Bay Times.