Florida schools roundup: Bonuses, science instruction, choice and more

Teacher bonuses: The Florida House education committee approves a revamped teacher bonuses program that would broaden the qualifying requirements and also make principals eligible. Rep. Manny Diaz, Jr., R-Hialeah Republican who chairs the House’s education budget committee, says the House could approve spending up to $125 million for the Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program. That’s about half of the amount the Senate is proposing. Miami Herald. WFSU. Politico Florida. Orlando Sentinel.

Teaching science: State Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, says his bill that sets criteria for classroom instruction materials is meant to require “quality instructional material” meeting Florida standards, and to provide a way for the public to challenge classroom materials they deem inappropriate. And, he notes, any curriculum changes would have to be approved by the local school board. Critics say the bill opens a door for climate change and evolution critics to influence how those issues are taught, or if they are taught at all. Naples Daily News.

Call for school choice: Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York City is calling for a nationwide school choice bill. Dolan, writing in the Wall Street Journal, urged President Trump to“push Congress to make scholarship tax credits available to working-class families.” Seventeen states have tax credit scholarship programs, including Florida, and Dolan said children in the other states “deserve the same opportunities.” Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the Florida program. Crux.

Teacher honored: Six Lee County School District teachers win Golden Apple awards. Thirty-one teachers were nominated. The winners are: Jesse Bryson, an JROTC instructor at Fort Myers High; Patty Gair, who teaches ballet and Advanced Placement seminar at Cypress Lake High School Center for the Arts; Vanessa Lynch, a seventh-grade language arts teacher at Harns Marsh Middle; Richard Romano, a language arts and robotics teacher at North Fort Myers Academy for the Arts; Milagros “Millie” Sowers, who is a teacher leader at East Lee County High and runs the debate program; and Mariah Washington, a third-grade teacher at Bayshore Elementary. Fort Myers News-Press.

Slow improvement: After Potter Elementary School received its fourth straight F grade from the state, Hillsborough County School Superintendent Jeff Eakins was given two years by the Florida Department of Education to bring the school grade up to a C. Eakins vowed to turn things around, but the early returns are disappointing. The school had five teaching openings unfilled on the first day of school and 16 teachers quit during the first half of the year. Tampa Bay Times.

Student information system: The Polk County School Board will decide this week whether to hire a St. Petersburg company to provide a new student information system. The current one is outdated and a security risk, say school officials, who want to hire Focus School Software at a cost of $4.1 million over five years. Lakeland Ledger.

Testing changes: The St. Johns County School District will swap fixed-form testing for a more individualized approach to prepare for the Florida Standards Assessments in the 2017-2018 school year. The district will use i-Ready, a computer-adaptive assessment program that has diagnostic abilities to assess students’ areas of need. St. Augustine Record.

Dropout prevention program: The Hernando County School District is ending its contract with a company that provides dropout prevention programs for struggling students. District officials are unhappy with the Catapult Academy’s high dropout and low graduation rates, and say they have improved their own program for at-risk students. Tampa Bay Times.

Contract negotiations: Contract talks between the Polk County School District and the Polk Education Association resumed Friday. The union, which represents teachers, para-educators and secretaries, said no progress was made. Teddra Porteous, associate superintendent with the district, said, “I thought we made good progress.” Most of the discussion was about health insurance. Lakeland Ledger.

Teacher shortage: Bay County school officials say there are nine subjects with a critical shortage of teachers, and the district will recruit college students with a background in those subjects even if they don’t have an education degree or even a degree in that particular field. The subjects are biology, chemistry, physics, secondary math, secondary reading, autism, Latin, visually impaired and hearing impaired. “A bachelor’s degree in almost anything can be parlayed into a teaching certificate,” says Sharon Michalik, the district’s human resources executive director. Panama City News Herald.

STEM careers readiness: The Seminole County School District continues to lead Florida in STEM career readiness, according to an index calculated by the Florida Department of Education. Brevard County was second. Bridge to Tomorrow.

Personnel changes: George Tomyn, former superintendent of the Marion County School District, is elected executive director of the Florida High School Athletic Association. He replaces Roger Dearing, who is retiring. Lakeland Ledger. Ken McAteer, principal at West Port High School, is named the Marion County School District’s director of secondary education, and Holly Gerlach, a program specialist, is the new director of elementary education. Ocala Star Banner. A Hillsborough County elementary music teacher who was suspended in June after she allegedly helped students with an end-of-year exam will be back in the classroom March 20. Vanessa Lewis was suspended from Westchase Elementary School and will return at Morgan Woods Elementary. Tampa Bay Times.

Open enrollment: Open enrollment will be limited in Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties next year, as few schools have openings for transfer students. TCPalm.

Alcohol punishment: The Marion County School Board is considering requiring principals to make an announcement once a month warning students that giving alcohol to friends could lead to expulsion for a semester. Ocala Star Banner.

Notable deaths: Angie Blasi, a longtime Citrus County educator who most recently was dean of students at Citrus High School, has died at the age of 56 from cancer. Citrus County Chronicle. Ryan Keith, football coach at Providence, Eagle’s View Academy and Trinity Christian, dies after a long battle with ALS. He was 38. Florida Times-Union. WJAX.

Crime Stoppers app: The Citrus County School District loads the P3 Crime Stoppers app onto every students’ iPad. The app allows online reporting of reporting crimes or anonymous tips about criminal activity. Citrus County Chronicle.

Can students return? The Duval County School Board will reconsider whether two brothers can return to the SALTech High charter school, after charges that they brought a gun to school were dropped by prosecutors. A half-brother still faces charges. The mother of the two boys wants them back at SALTech, but principal Michael LeRoche is opposed. Florida Times-Union.

Teacher falls asleep: The Florida Department of Children and Families is investigating a Hobe Sound day-care center after a teacher of 2-year-old children reportedly falls asleep in class. Two teachers were in the class with the five students, but one went to the bathroom and the other dozed off, an official at the Dunbar Center confirmed. WPTV.

Opinions on schools: Moving the Adult and Community Education program may have been the right thing to do, but Leon County School Superintendent Rocky Hanna could regret surprising the school board with his decision. Tallahassee Democrat. Relocating students and staff is never an easy thing to do; however, in this situation, it is absolutely the right thing to do. Superintendent Rocky Hanna, Tallahassee Democrat. The  pie-in-the-sky belief that simply getting more computers in kids’ hands and more app-development elective courses in schools will make the future bright is an oversimplification of a complex issue. Esther Cepeda, Daytona Beach News-Journal. Without free religious expression proposed in Senate Bill 46, we are in fact establishing a state-sponsored religion — secular humanism. State Sen. Dennis Baxley, Ocala Star Banner. Redistricting is not the only answer to providing all students of Lee County an equitable education.  But removing gerrymandering barriers that have discounted the voices of the Lehigh and Dunbar areas will allow for the immersion of diversity into the curriculum and school policy. Cynthia Lott, Fort Myers News-Press. The Constitution Project’s goal is to put a copy of the document into the hands of every Florida fifth-grader. Janet Caruthers and Joseph Cofield, Naples Daily News. Parrish is a beautiful area, but there’s nothing especially distinctive about it, either. So there’s really nothing of note after which to name a new high school. Chris Anderson, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Local universities and the Alachua County School District should coordinate spring breaks, and election official should move spring elections away from that week. Nathan Crabbe, Gainesville Sun.

Student enrichment: Denis Estimon. a senior at Boca Ration High School, starts a club called We Dine Together to make sure no student eats lunch alone. CBS Evening News. Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp survivor Gene Klein shares his experiences with students at Hinson Middle School in Daytona Beach. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Wellington Landings Middle School students raise about $3,500 at a “Move-a-Thon” for Shands Hospital in Gainesville. Palm Beach Post. Comedian and game show host Wayne Brady is inducted into the Orange County School District Hall of Fame. Brady, 44, graduated from Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando. Orlando Sentinel.