Florida schools roundup: Virtual school, dropouts, charter schools and more

Virtual school outreach: More than 20,000 Puerto Rican students displaced by Hurricane Maria will be offered free access to course offered by the Florida Virtual School, whether they’re at home or in Florida. “I am glad that Florida Virtual School has stepped up to help these families as they rebuild their lives,” says Gov. Rick Scott. “The state of Florida will continue to do all we can to help them during this challenging time.” The state is also encouraging all 67 school districts to accept displaced students. Many districts are already see enrollment of students from Puerto Rico and other areas hard-hit by the hurricane. WJHG. WFLA. WESH. WQAMMiami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. WWSB. WPLG. WUSF.

Dropout dollars: For-profit dropout recovery schools in Florida, Ohio and Illinois are aggressively recruiting at-risk students and counting them as enrolled even after they stop attending school in order to keep collecting public money, according to a review of public records and state auditors. Dropout recovery schools are enrolling an increasing number of struggling students who are offloaded by traditional high schools that want to keep test scores and graduation rates up. ProPublica.

Charter conversion: The Florida Department of Education has begun a process that could lead to the transfer of control of the Madison County Central School to a charter company. The state has informed the district it must reassign some teachers and form a community assessment team by Oct. 18. By Nov. 15, the school board would be presented three options: close the school, bring in an approved charter company to take over the school, or hire a charter company that is managed by the district. Superintendent Karen Pickles says the district-managed charter plan is the only acceptable option. Madison County Carrier.

Charter application: The Marion County School Board will vote Tuesday on a charter school application from Charter Schools USA. The for-profit charter company wants to build the Southeast Marion Charter School, which would start at K-6 with 615 students but add a grade in each of the first two years to top out at K-8 and 745 students. The company plans to build the school with state funds. If it fails, the property would be owned by Charter Schools USA. Ocala Star-Banner.

School enrollment: Schools in the Panhandle have significantly higher enrollments this year. Okaloosa County is up by 655 students, Santa Rosa by 333 and Walton by 337. “It’s exciting and scary,” says Okaloosa Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson. “We are very overcrowded in most of our schools and we’re having to figure out ways to move folks around. I was not expecting this this year. It’s unbelievable.” Northwest Florida Daily News.

Teacher bonuses: Some Florida teachers are retaking the SAT and ACT tests with their students in an attempt to qualify for teacher bonuses from the state. Teachers must be rated “highly effective” and score in the top 20 percent on the test to be eligible for the Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program bonuses, which are expected to be about $6,000 this year. Sun-Sentinel.

Teaching degrees: Florida State University now has a dual-degree plan that allows education majors the opportunity to work toward a bachelor’s and a master’s degree at the same time. The university’s School of Education is phasing out the traditional bachelor of science in education major. School officials think the change will boost the number of students who pursue a teaching degree and who are ready to step into a classroom at graduation. “The master’s degree opens doors,” says dean Marcy Driscoll. “Teachers with master’s will command a higher salary.” Tallahassee Democrat.

District sets academic goals: The Duval County School Board has set aggressive academic goals for 2020. Board members are counting on students remaining proficient year-to-year, and more students becoming proficient each year. If the district can meet the goals, “we’ll be the highest-performing urban school system in the state,” says chief academic officer William Mason Davis. Florida Times-Union.

Another flag flap: Spirit week activities at Osceola High School in Kissimmee are canceled after some students wave Confederate flags during lunch. School officials are investigating, though they said no violence was reported. WKMG.

School lockdowns: Record-keeping of school lockdowns in Florida is spotty, with many districts not tracking the number of incidents, but the number of reported Florida school lockdowns for a variety of threats is up 40 percent over the past two years. WPTV.

Contract negotiations: Bay County teachers and the school district begin negotiating a new contract, and pay is the major issue. District officials say they have just $1.5 million available for raises, and they want teachers to pay 7.5 percent more for health insurance. Union officials made no counteroffers, but say the offer is “less than adequate.” Panama City News Herald.

Location, location: The Hernando County School Board and Superintendent Lori Romano are fighting over the seating location of the board’s secretary. After a two-hour debate, board members agreed to move the secretary closer to the board members’ officers and further away from Romano’s office. Tampa Bay Times.

New school: Construction is about to begin on Pinellas County’s first fulltime technical high school. Pinellas Technical High School at Seminole will be known as Tech High and is expected to open in August. Course offerings include building trades and construction design technology, commercial and digital arts, electricity, nursing, veterinary assisting, and game or simulation programming. Tampa Bay Times.

Rezoning options: The St. Johns County School District presents three rezoning options to cut down on overcrowding at some schools. WJAX.

Superintendent apologizes: Palm Beach County School Superintendent Robert Avossa apologizes for calling a local newspaper’s recent report on the proliferation of high-paid administrators “fake news” in a series of Twitter posts. Palm Beach Post.

District PR firm resigns: A public relations firm hired recently by the Sarasota County School District is asked to resign when the head of the company was found to have posted online comments on a newspaper website under multiple names. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Students in trouble: A 13-year-old Gifford Middle School student is arrested after allegedly threatening to shoot another student with a BB gun on an Indian River County school bus. TCPalm. Two Panhandle students face charges over threats made against other students on social media. A 15-year-old Fort Walton Beach High School student is accused of threatening to kill or injure someone, and a Navarre High School student said he would “shoot up the school” today. Northwest Florida Daily NewsPensacola News Journal.

Opinions on schools: Instead of bragging about an Urban Institute report on the number of students who receive tax credit scholarships attending college, my colleagues at Step Up For Students really need to take a long look in the mirror and figure out how to make their students more successful at the college level. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. If Gainesville doesn’t opt for sensible growth to fund high-quality education for all our children, it needs to get serious about finding other ways to raise money for schools and teachers. Dave Denslow, Gainesville Sun. Devastating Hurricane Irma made landfall in Monroe and Collier counties, so there are better places to spend dollars here now than a lawsuit that will be pursued by other school districts anyway. Naples Daily News. It should not matter whether a student attends a school that is public, private, charter, virtual, home or a blend of learning environments. What matters is every student having access to the educational environment that best meets his or her needs. John Schilling, Hill.

Student enrichment: The Lee County School District is getting a $10.2 million grant from the 2017 Magnet Schools Assistance program to boost STEM programs at three middle schools. The district is one of 32 in the United States to receive a grant. Fort Myers News-PressLehigh Acres Citizen. Thirty-nine Sarasota County schools are being given Golden School Awards from the state Department of Education for their community involvement. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Suncoast Campaign for Grade Level Reading celebrates reading gains in Sarasota and Manatee counties. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. A portable trailer at Lake Weir High School is home to the “Rock,” where needy students can stock up on clothes, hygiene products, food and school supplies. Ocala Star-Banner.