Florida schools roundup: DeVos Q&A, teacher evaluations, projects and more

DeVos Q&A: U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos talks about undocumented students, the variety of education options, Title 1 funding, bilingual education and more in a question and answer session during a visit to Florida last week. Miami Herald.

Teacher evaluation changes: The Brevard County School District is making changes in the way it evaluates teachers and administrators. The district is eliminating the Professional Growth Plans, cutting back on classroom observations and killing the deliberate-practice portion in evaluations of administrators. “We think there are much better ways to evaluate and assess instruction while giving teachers more time to focus on our babies,” says Superintendent Desmond Blackburn. Florida Today.

Making over schools: The Miami-Dade County School District is about halfway done with a $1.2 billion project to update the looks of schools and their technology. Glass walls, open spaces, interactive whiteboards and wi-fi are in, while rows of desks in boxy classrooms, narrow hallways and dim cafeterias are out. The changes are financed by a bond voters approved in 2012. Miami Herald.

Bond projects database: The Broward County School District is launching a website in May that will have details about every school construction project in the district’s $800 million bond program. Listed will be projected costs, a completion date and any changes for every school project. Voters approved the bond to repair schools and update technology in November 2014, but construction still hasn’t started on many projects that were scheduled to begin in 2015. Sun-Sentinel.

Programs changing: The Duval County community group Jax Journey is phasing out funding to an alternative school for students who otherwise would be suspended. The Alternative to Out of School Suspension program gets $195,945 this school year, down from $244,931, and will get nothing next school year. The reason? A decline in suspensions means the program is helping fewer students. Florida Times-Union. Jax Journey is also increasing spending on improving literacy in after-school programs and summer camps for four struggling elementary schools. Florida Times-Union.

Single-sex classes: Teachers of two single-sex fourth-grade classes at the South McKeel Academy in Lakeland say discipline issues are down and students are better prepared to learn. The charter school plans to continue the classes next year, but hasn’t decided how many or in what grades. Florida had 77 all-boy classes and 72 all-girl classes in 28 public schools in 10 school districts in the 2015-16 school year, according to the Florida Department of Education. Single-sex classrooms have been controversial. In 2014, at the urging of the ACLU, the U.S. Department of Education agreed that single-sex classes were okay if there were a clear objective to academic improvement, voluntary enrollment and no reliance on gender stereotypes. Lakeland Ledger.

Open enrollment: The Clay County School Board approves its open enrollment plan. Schools at less than 85 percent capacity are open to transfers. There are 11 that meet that criteria and may take transfers under the new state law. Students and their parents have until May 5 to apply. WJXT. WOKV.

School traffic safety: Five schools in Palm Bay were chosen for state-funded traffic improvements over the Odyssey Charter School, which lost fourth-grader Anders Grooms last week when he was struck and killed by a truck as he rode his bike home from school. City officials say they weighed complaints from residents, and school board and city staff recommendations in compiling the list. Florida Today.

School transportation: Twenty-one new buses and new routing software for all buses are expected to help accommodate growth in the St. Johns County School District and improve efficiency in dropping off and picking up students. St. Augustine Record.

School food: South Florida schools are phasing out meat loaf, mashed potatoes and sloppy joes in favor of such items as kale salads, green beans, rainbow trout sandwiches, vegetarian chili, chicken teriyaki, beef teriyaki dippers over brown rice and vegan salad with beans. Even some old standbys, such as  hamburgers, cheese pizza and chicken nugget, are now being made with 100 percent whole grains. “It’s a perception that we all have of school cafeterias. You’re thinking of the old lady with the bonnet on her head serving slop,” said Rudy Poindexter, Broward’s chef consultant. “We’re really trying to change that in the sense of giving kids fresh and vibrant vegetables.” Sun-Sentinel.

Visit from first ladies: American and Chinese first ladies Melania Trump and Peng Liyuan draw attention to the importance of fine arts education during a visit Friday to the Bak Middle School of the Arts in West Palm Beach. Orlando Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Palm Beach County School Superintendent Robert Avossa says he asked Melania Trump for a favor during her visit: to help convince U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to visit a county public school. Trump said she would. Palm Beach Post.

Personnel changes: Shannon Treece, principal at Oasis High School in Cape Coral, beats out 163 other applicants to be named principal at a new K-8 charter school, the Babcock Neighborhood School in the Babcock Ranch development just northeast of Fort Myers. Fort Myers News-Press.

Lawsuit settled: The Bay County School District agrees to pay $350,000 to James and Julie Hale to settle a lawsuit the couple filed against the district and several officials. James Hale, the former football coach at Arnold High School, and his wife Julie Hale, the school’s former athletic director, claimed in the suit that they were forced from the jobs and defamed over false allegations that they were recruiting players. Panama City News Herald.

Counselors at school: Counselors will be available today for students at St. Lucie West Centennial High School who are grieving the drowning death Saturday of a popular sophomore. Venel Vaillant, a defensive lineman on the school’s football team, was apparently caught in a rip current near Jensen Beach, says the Martin County Sheriff’s Office. TCPalm.

School vandalized: Three teens are arrested and accused of vandalizing Fairglen Elementary School in Sharpes. Deputies say the three – ages 14, 15 and 16 – stole laptops, ransacked offices and spray-painted walls. Florida Today.

Opinions on schools: The Florida Legislature wants to make religious devotion public school policy – and that’s a constitutional no-no. Fabiola Santiago, Miami Herald. The argument for recess: “Play is where children learn that they are in control of their life,” says psychologist Peter Gray. “It’s really the only place they are in control of their own life. When we take that away, we don’t give them the chance to learn how to control their own life.” Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post. President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos seem concerned less with measuring whether schools help students learn and more with whether parents have an opportunity to pick a school for their children. They have pledged billions of dollars to that end and visited private schools in Florida to underline their support for funding private-school tuition through tax credits. Emma Brown, Washington Post. As the Leon County School Board continues to rightfully assert its authority, we hope it will recommend one final ballot initiative on this matter – making the school superintendent’s position an appointed one. Tallahassee Democrat. Lawmakers should abolish the cost-differential calculation for school funding, which punishes low-income counties for factors they can’t help. Unfortunately, attempts at repeal are usually blocked by “winner” counties, which thus far have had more influential legislative delegations. Daytona Beach News-Journal. We sympathize with Bay County School Superintendent Bill Husfelt and his peers when they have to decide whether to close schools for anticipated severe weather, and would ask that all such decisions continue to be made with children’s safety in mind and not worries about whether parents will be upset. Panama City News Herald.

Student enrichment: Music students at Frances Tucker Elementary School will receive new electronic keyboards thanks to a donation from the New York nonprofit 42nd Street Development Music and the Brain Grant. WTVJ. Twenty-six students in an anthropology and archaeology class at Milton High School are helping with an archaeological dig in a Milton backyard on the Blackwater River. Pensacola News Journal. Fifteen Manatee County high school students are chosen as winners of Golden Herald awards for their achievement in specific areas of education. Bradenton Herald.