Florida schools roundup: Suspensions, district choice, DeVos, testing and more

florida-roundup-logoSchool suspensions: Florida Education Secretary Pam Stewart is talking with school superintendents about ways to cut down on out-of-school suspensions and on the disparity of suspensions by race. Almost 165,000 students received out-of-school suspensions in the 2014-2015 school year, and about 43 percent of them were black. Black students make up about 23 percent of the state’s student population. “That’s one of the areas that I think will make a huge impact and make a difference and actually improve education in Florida,” Stewart said. Politico Florida.

District’s last choice: The Florida Department of Education rejects a turnaround plan for Jefferson County schools for a third time. The district now has until Feb. 16 to choose from three offered options: It can close the schools, hire an external operator or let a charter company run the district. Jefferson County has just two schools and 700 students. Tallahassee Democrat. WFSU.

DeVos hearing: In her confirmation hearing to become U.S. education secretary, Betsy DeVos says she will be “a strong advocate for great public schools,” but “if a school is troubled, or unsafe, or not a good fit for a child — perhaps they have a special need that is going unmet — we should support a parent’s right to enroll their child in a high-quality alternative.” Associated Press.

Clay suspends testing: New Clay County School Superintendent Addison Davis suspends all district-level assessment testing, effective immediately. He says he wants to give teachers more time with students in the classroom. “This is nothing that is going to hinder their learning,” Davis told WJAX. “It’s just going to provide more time for our teachers to problem-solve, to have small group instruction and to work with our students one-on-one.” Gradebook.

Reading concerns: Duval School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti is unhappy with the mid-year reading tests results for the district’s third-graders. Only 21 percent are considered proficient, with another 35 percent approaching proficiency. Those numbers are down from last year by 3 and 2 points, respectively. Vitti also listed 48 schools he is concerned about. Florida Times-Union.

Charter wins appeal: The Florida Board of Education rules that the Polk Charter Academy should be permitted to open a school. The Polk County School Board had rejected the application, saying the school would replicate the Winthrop Charter Academy in neighboring Hillsborough County. The state board disagreed. The district has filed a legal challenge with the state Division of Administrative Hearings, and also can appeal the decision in court. redefinED.

Seven-period day: The Santa Rosa School Board sets aside $3 million to hire teachers as a first step toward the return of seven-period school days. The board won’t decide whether to make the move until the Legislature has finalized education spending. If the plan is adopted, it goes into effect in August. Pensacola News Journal.

Contract protest: Manatee County teachers are planning a series of “walk-ins” to protest the lack of progress being made on their contract with the district. In a walk-in, teachers wear red and congregate in a spot outside a school, then walk in together in a show of solidarity. The walks-ins start today and will move to different schools over the next week. Bradenton Herald.

Schools rezoning: The Palm Beach County School Board is expected to decide tonight on new school boundaries for Calusa Elementary School in Boca Raton that would shift 372 Calusa students to five other schools. Calusa was built for 836 students but has about 1,200. Palm Beach PostSun-Sentinel. The Pasco County School Board approves recommendations from Superintendent Kurt Browning on redrawing school boundaries for middle and high schools in the southwest part of the county. Thousands of students are affected. Board member Cynthia Armstrong called the decisions “heartbreaking” but “necessary.” Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. Parents in Seminole County tell the school board that rezonings are disruptive, especially for elementary school students. The board will vote Jan. 24 on a proposal to move about 1,000 children out of their schools to relieve crowding and allow for future growth. Orlando Sentinel.

Employees honored: Greg Barron, who teaches social studies and economics at Mosley High School, is named the Bay County School District’s teacher of the year. WMBB. Pam Cannon, the confidential secretary to the principal at Explorer K-8 School in Spring Hill, is named the Hernando County School District’s school-related employee of the year. Tampa Bay Times.

Financial audit: An auditor declares the Sarasota County School District is in good financial health and in full regulatory compliance. The district’s  chief financial officer, Mitsi Corcoran, also said that the Fitch credit ratings agency reaffirmed the county’s double-A status on its debt financing. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Changes for school: Changes are being made at the Marion Technical Institute in an effort to reverse declining enrollment. The school will offer more courses during the day, as well as in the evening, and students will do their required academic courses at their zoned high schools. The school had about 420 students eight years ago, but has only 220 juniors and seniors this year. Ocala Star Banner.

School construction: The Bay County Commission approves a development plan for 1,700-plus homes, apartments and retail in St. Joe that will include a middle school for 300 students and an elementary school for 600 students. Northwest Florida Daily News. Ground is broken for a new elementary school in south Walton County. The school will probably be K-5 and will be able to take 1,012 students. Northwest Florida Daily News. Pinellas Park Middle School will get a $26 million facelift. Half the campus will be razed and rebuilt. The renovation is scheduled to be completed by summer 2018. Tampa Bay Times.

Clay County priorities: The Clay County School Board’s legislative priorities are to revise the third-grade retention criteria and process, restore the board’s ability to levy up to 2 mills for capital spending, and to provide enough money to put Florida in the top 25 percent of states. Florida Times-Union.

Development groups: The Alachua County School Board reduces the number of elementary-school-level concurrency service areas from nine to three. CSAs are established by schools and enrollments. Developers can’t build in CSAs that are at capacity unless they are adjacent to another CSA that is under capacity. Gainesville Sun.

Notable deaths: Lorenzo Odum, a resource officer for the Palm Beach County School District, dies at age 58. Odum was with the Lake Worth Police Department before moving into the school system. Palm Beach Post.

Traffic accidents: A Buddy Taylor Middle School student is hit by a vehicle while riding a bike home from school, but not seriously injured. The driver was cited for failure to yield to a pedestrian in a marked crosswalk. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Three students and an adult are slightly injured when a Pasco County school bus collides with a semi-trailer truck. Tampa Bay Times.

Opinions on schools: The more school choice options there are, the more opportunity there is for more students to find success. John Legg, Tallahassee Democrat. The tough environment at North Miami High School offered many temptations to do the wrong thing, but the pull of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project was stronger. Price Destinobles, Miami Herald.

Student enrichment: Students at Surfside Middle School are the first in Bay County to receive Chromebooks under the district’s multimillion-dollar 1:1 Go Connect Technology Initiative. Panama City News Herald. Three Pasco County schools will offer the Cambridge program for the 2017-18 school year. The rigorous educational program will be at San Antonio Elementary School, Paul R. Smith Middle School and Anclote High School. Patch. The Glades Education Foundation says the AVID (advancement via individual determination) program is helping students in two Glades County high schools prepare for college. Florida Business Daily. Famed street artist Shepard Fairey, who created the iconic Hope 2008 poster for Barack Obama, will paint a mural for a wetlands project at Jupiter High School. Palm Beach Post. Students from around the state are traveling to Washington for Donald Trump’s inauguration Friday. Naples Daily News. TCPalm.