Florida schools roundup: Charter district, tests, home-schooling and more

Charter district: The Jefferson County School Board agrees to turn over operations of the district’s struggling schools to the charter school company Somerset Academy. The proposed deal will be taken to the Florida Board of Education today for approval. If the deal is approved, Jefferson would become the first charter district in the state. In its application, Somerset said it will operate an elementary, middle and high school on a single campus led by a single principal, bring in a rigorous curriculum, including Advanced Placement classes, pay teachers 7 percent more than they can get in surrounding counties, pay competitive benefits, and work to bring students attending the alternative school back into the traditional schools. redefinEDWFSU.

Testing debate: The debate over the state’s standardized testing intensifies at a Senate Education Committee meeting Tuesday. Supporters of former Gov. Jeb Bush are backing a moderate revision of the current system, while others want more significant changes, including fewer tests. Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, who is leading the committee in the medical absence of Chairwoman Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, said no decision has been made on what direction the bills will take, and that Hukill will make that call. News Service of Florida.

Help for home-schoolers: Students who are home-schooled would have greater access to college classes and career education courses offered by school districts in a bill approved by the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee. Districts also would be required to accept home-education registrations as long as parents and their children meet the state’s requirements. redefinED.

Religious expression bill: The Florida Senate moves the so-called “religious expression” bill to a third and final reading. If approved, the bill would be sent to the House, which has a slightly different version. The bill would give students more freedom to express religious thoughts in public schools. Gradebook. News Service of Florida.

Monitoring pre-K gains: The Florida House PreK-12 Innovation subcommittee approves a bill that would standardize the state’s pre-K screening tool and make the results, both before screening and after, available to parents. Gradebook.

School bus safety: The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passes a pair of bills intended to improve school bus safety. One would increase the penalties for drivers who strike and kill anyone at a school bus stop, and the other would stiffen the penalties for drivers who pass school buses on the side that children enter and exit. WFSU.

Board making preparations: The Duval County School Board meets today to discuss its next steps if Superintendent Nikolai Vitti leaves the district to become superintendent of the Detroit school system. He is one of three finalists, and a decision is expected in a few weeks. Vitti was hired in 2012, and his contract was recently extended to 2019. Florida Times-Union.

School board districts: The Lee County School Board abandons plans to redraw school board voting districts after the board attorney warns doing so could put the district at risk of a lawsuit. The board was considering a plan by the local NAACP to redraw boundaries as a way to give minorities a better chance at winning a board seat. But board attorney Keith Martin said a recent ruling by the Supreme Court says race can’t be a motivating factor in creating legislative districts. Fort Myers News-Press.

Contract negotiations: Contract talks between the Santa Rosa County School District and its teachers union will move in two directions. Both sides agreed last week to present their cases to a special magistrate, who would make a nonbinding recommendation. The union also filed paperwork with the Public Employees Relations Commission to take the impasse to a federal mediator, who would make a nonbinding ruling. The union wants a pay raise of 2.77 percent, while the district is offering 1.8 percent. Pensacola News Journal.

Discrimination policy: The Sarasota County School Board won’t vote on a revised discrimination policy that includes protections for transgender students until it gets more information and community input. Most board members thought district officials have been doing a good job dealing with gender issues on a case-by-case basis. The board did approve the first budget of new Superintendent Todd Bowden. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Special education vouchers: While many parents appreciate vouchers and scholarships many states – including Florida – make available to students with disabilities, some say they aren’t necessarily a good solution for everyone. “School vouchers are great in theory,” says Lynn Ambert of Port St. Lucie. “But implementation is where they lack, because they don’t accept everybody.” Florida has two programs: The John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program, and the Gardiner Scholarship Program. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the Gardiner program. Education Week.

Exchange students’ views: About 90 percent of foreign exchange students think U.S. high schools are easier than the ones in their own countries, according to a survey from the Brown Center on Education Policy with the Brookings Institution. The exchange students think the U.S. classes are easier, with less homework assigned and a much higher importance is placed on sports than at their own schools. Associated Press.

Teacher shortage: Citrus County school administrators will travel to job fairs in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Boston and Minneapolis to recruit teachers. The district has 42 teaching positions and 16 support positions open. School officials hire 80 to 100 teachers a year to fill slots open through retirements and resignations. Citrus County Chronicle.

Pushing AP exams: Under the leadership of principal Julie Lueallen, East Ridge High School in Lake County is making Advanced Placement course available to more students. In 2002, the school offered three AP classes to 65 students. In 2016, the school offered 23 AP courses to 1,060 students. Superintendent Diane Kornegay calls Lueallen is a “champion for making sure underrepresented students are not overlooked” for access to AP courses. redefinED.

Administrator keeps job: The Broward County School Board decides not fire an administrator who is accused of exploiting his position while having an extramarital affair with a subordinate district employee, saying the punishment was too severe for the transgression. Instead, the board told the administration to find a different job for Israel Canales, who has supervised operations of the K.C. Wright administrative headquarters in Fort Lauderdale. Sun-Sentinel.

Bus decision criticized: About two-dozen parents criticize the Martin County School Board for its decision to eliminate busing for students who live within 2 miles of their school. Two miles is too far to walk for many students, they say, especially ones in elementary schools. The district will save $81,000 by eliminating the so-called courtesy busing, which was offered to fewer than 1,000 students this year. TCPalm.

Alternative school: Pinellas school officials are considering adding an alternative school option for middle and high school students with behavioral or legal problems. The Catapult Academy would be run by the school district. Neighboring Hillsborough County has a Catapult campus, though nearby Hernando County just terminated its agreement with the academy, citing low graduation and high dropout rates. Gradebook.

Ad draws attention: A TV commercial for Booking.com has drawn some negative feedback from a Palm Beach County teacher. Alana Milich, a teacher at Palm Beach Central High School in Wellington, says the ad, which shows a frazzled teacher in a chaotic classroom saying “there’s nothing more important to me than my vacation,” is teacher-bashing. The company responded by saying the commercial “was only intended as a light-hearted bit of fun.” Palm Beach Post.

Opinions on schools: In order to build the skilled workforce we’ll need to maintain the economic strength of our nation, investment in quality early education programs is a must, as is an increasingly collaborative relationship between businesses and their communities. Richard Hazleton, Naples Daily News. The Legislature should take advantage of all of the innovation horsepower available at the local level by abandoning its Best and Brightest plans and instead initiating a grant program for the state’s school districts. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: Equality Florida is partnering with the Contigo Fund to expand its Safe & Healthy Schools project to support LGBT students, with an emphasis on minorities. LGBT Weekly. Rapper Lizzie G performs a concert for North Miami Middle School students that promotes anti-bullying and the importance of education. Lizzie G is of Haitian descent, as are most of the students at North Miami Middle. Miami Herald. Six Palm Beach County schools raise about $200,000 for the Children’s Miracle Network with dance marathons. The money will go toward pediatric cancer research and new medical equipment. Palm Beach Post. Teddy Steelman, a 17-year-old senior at All Saints Academy in Winter Haven, is named a finalist in the National Merit Scholarship Program. Lakeland Ledger.