Florida schools roundup: Turnaround schools, recess, unions and more

‘Schools of hope’: The House Education Committee approves a bill that would tighten the timetable for districts to turn around low-performing public schools, and start a new program to bring well-regarded charter schools – called “schools of hope” – that have a history of success with large numbers of low-income students into areas with persistently struggling schools. There are 115 schools that have been in the state’s mandatory turnaround plans for four or more years, according to the Department of Education. “We have to change the way that we do things and have a new approach,” said Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater. The bill calls for a $200 million grant program to help those schools recruit teachers, pay for longer school days, buy buses and cover other costs. Loans would be available to help pay for facilities. redefinED. News Service of Florida. Associated PressWFSU. Politico Florida.

School recess: The Florida Senate approves the bill that calls for daily recess for elementary school students. The final reading is next week. The Senate bill is being called “the good one” because it maintains a requirement of 20 minutes of daily recess. The House bill removed that requirement. Gradebook.

Union bill passes: The House passes a bill that could make it more difficult for public-sector unions to maintain certification. The bill would require unions for teachers and other public employees – except for firefighters, police and corrections officers – to have more than 50 percent of the workers they represent paying dues or face decertification. Opponents call it a “union-busting” bill. Miami Herald. Florida Politics.

Job-training bill: A bill is filed in the House that would create a new committee within the Department of Education to analyze career education standards and propose ways to improve job-training programs. It’s sponsored by Rep. Al Jacquet, D-Delray Beach. Florida Politics.

School choice rankings: Florida leads the nation with five school districts named among the top 25 on the Brookings Institution’s 2016 Choice and Competition Index. Pinellas (10th tie), Duval (17th tie), Lee (17th tie), Seminole (17th tie) and Broward (23rd tie) counties made the list, which ranks districts by such criteria as the breadth of school choice options, availability and access. redefinED.

Teacher evaluations: The president of the Pinellas County teachers union complains about the teacher evaluation process in a letter to administrators. Mike Gandolfo says there are far more teachers who should be rated highly effective by measuring the progress of their students than the number who actually are rated highly effective. The ratings help determine teacher bonuses from the state. Gradebook.

Special needs students: Educators and parents of students with special needs are concerned that the bill repealing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act makes no mention of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which guarantees a free and appropriate education for children with disabilities. Florida Weekly.

Superintendent finalists: Fine finalists are recommended by a search committee for the Flagler County school superintendent’s job. Two of the candidates have local ties: Atlantic High School principal James R. Tager and former Flagler assistant superintendent Phyllis Ann Edwards. The others are: Ronnie A. Dotson, superintendent of the Carter County School System in Grayson, Ky.; Geneva A. Stark, human resource administrator with Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, Ky.; and Jeff Umbaugh, administrator with the Clay County School District. Superintendent Jacob Oliva is leaving to take a job with the state Department of Education. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

TB case: Pasco County health officials tell staff and parents at three Pasco County schools that someone at their school has been diagnosed with tuberculosis. The department’s letter advised those from Deer Park and Cotee River elementary schools, and Marchman Technical College who might have been exposed to get tested. Gradebook. WFLA.

New union: A group of Santa Rosa County teachers officially form a new union. The Santa Rosa Education Association files paperwork to challenge the Santa Rosa Professional Educators, which has been the bargaining agent for district teachers since 1975. An election will be held for teachers to choose which union they want to represent them. Pensacola News Journal.

School calendar: The Palm Beach County School District is working on a new school calendar that would eliminate five early-dismissal days, seven late-start days and extend the Thanksgiving break. The school board will consider the proposal in April. Sun-Sentinel.

Valedictorian dispute: A Pasco County School District mistake in calculating grade point averages leads to a dispute over who should be the valedictorian at Fival High School. Tampa Bay Times.

Teachers in trouble: A Tampa teacher is arrested and accused of spitting in a student’s face, then slamming his head on a desk. Luis Rizo, a sixth-grade social studies teacher at Adams Middle School, has been pulled from the classroom as Hillsborough County school officials investigate. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. Clifford Sherry, a Chiles High School history teacher, is on administrative leave pending an investigation into allegations of inappropriate conduct with a former student. Tallahassee Democrat. Two Palm Beach County teachers who lost their jobs for having sex at Olympic Heights High School were turned in by the wife of one of the participants, who saw a message on the man’s Apple phone. William Barham, 45, worked in the school’s Junior ROTC program. He was fired. Vocational teacher Laura Field, 28, quit. Palm Beach Post.

Girl attacked at school: A mother is arrested after she reportedly beat up her daughter’s rival at Carol City High School. Miami Gardens police say Ernstlatta LaFrance, 30, hit the girl, knocked the cell phone out of her hand and took it, then broke the girl’s finger and attacked the girl’s car with an ax when the girl came to her home to get her phone. Associated Press.

Students arrested: Two students at Seabreeze High School are arrested after allegedly bringing ammunition and part of a gun to school. Police say the boys, 15 and 14, had plans to take the weapon when they burglarized two beach hotels. Both are suspended pending further investigation. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Two Coconut Creek middle school students are arrested and accused of bringing marijuana-laced gummies to Lyons Creek Middle School to sell. Christine Arguelles, the mother of one of the students, was also arrested and charged with possessing marijuana with the intent to sell it, two counts of child neglect and three counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Miami Herald. Sun-Sentinel.

Opinions on schools: Dear Florida Legislators: We were quite upset when we learned that the Florida Senate’s PreK-12 Education Committee has proposed cuts to the $60,000 Challenge Grants for the Gifted. We are gifted children, and so are most of our friends. We know first-hand that our schools need more funding for gifted services, not less. Please do the right thing, and give more money for gifted education! Breanna and Brooke Bennett, South Florida Times. Recess helps students perform better in class, and could help students in lower-performing schools, too. Giving kids a daily 20-minute breather to recharge and refocus is a no-brainer. Sun-Sentinel. Florida legislators who care about education should put money where their mouths are, and where they claim their morals are. Citrus County Chronicle. If Florida legislators really want to learn how to attract students into teaching, they should visit my classroom and listen to my students. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: South Florida-based 1308 Productions donates keyboards and amplifiers for students in the music class at Ruth K. Broad/Bay Harbor K-8 Center in Bay Harbor Island. Miami Herald. The Community Foundation of Tampa Bay is donating $128,000 to 10 educational programs. Gradebook.