Florida schools roundup: Test waivers, students save bookstore and more

Test waivers request: Districts around the state that have seen spikes in enrollment due to this season’s hurricanes are requesting waivers from the state of the testing requirements for graduation for those students. Without the waivers, officials from the districts say, many students will be held back even though they were on track to graduate from their island schools. “I think that if they were demonstrating on-grade proficiency in Puerto Rico, if they were on track in terms of credits necessary for graduation, if they have met the prerequisites for graduation, then I think a degree of compassion ought to be extended to them and provide them safe passage to the graduation stage,” says Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. More than 8,500 students from the islands have enrolled in Florida schools, and more are expected. The 74.

Students save bookstore: Third-graders at Tomoka Elementary School in Ormond Beach are credited with saving a Barnes & Noble bookstore that was in danger of closing. Students wrote a letter to the company CEO, asking him for help, and he intervened to get the Daytona Beach store’s lease extended. “I thought it was very empowering for our students to learn that their voice can make a significant change,” says Tomoka principal Susan Tuten. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Mental health counselors: St. Johns County School Board members will consider a proposal to place a licensed mental health counselor at every school in the district. School officials say the cost would be covered through “defined member benefits” of individual insurance or government assistance plans. These counselors, also called motivational coaches, would be provided by the Motivational Coaches of America Inc. of Doral. If the board approves the plan, a pilot program will run from January to June at several middle and high schools. St. Augustine Record.

School sales tax: Marion County School Board members are expected to begin a discussion Tuesday about extending the 1-mill school property tax, which brings in about $16 million a year. The current levy runs out in June 2019, and board members want to put it on a ballot in 2018. The current tax was passed in August 2014, and the proceeds can be used for reducing class sizes, restoring music, art and library programs, and providing more vocational programs. Ocala Star-Banner.

Early learning: Officials with the Early Learning Coalition of Santa Rosa County are worried that they will soon be required to merge with the coalitions from Okaloosa and Walton counties. In November, the state Office of Early Learning recommended eight mergers around the state. One of those would combine the ELCs of Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties. Early Coalition Centers help with the School Readiness and Voluntary Prekindergarten programs that provide child care and education for low-income students while their parents work or go to school. Santa Rosa Press Gazette.

Turnaround school: Lake Forest Elementary School in Gainesville ended a streak of five straight F grades from the state when it received a C in 2016. The turnaround began with the hiring of Karla Hutchinson as principal, and the implementation of a plan that focused on analyzing school data, having high expectations, holding Saturday boot camps and more. “Mrs. Hutchinson worked tirelessly to support teachers in their lesson planning and delivery in addition to monitoring the progress of each student,” says Jenny Wise, the Alachua County School District’s executive director of secondary education. WUFT.

Teachers honored: Seven finalists are chosen for the Lee County School District’s teacher of the year. They are: Dante Ciolfi, Fort Myers Technical College; Kathy Cook, Trafalgar Middle; Christiana Deeter, Ida S. Baker High; Andrea DeShazo, Fort Myers Middle Academy; Chasey Niebrugge, River Hall Elementary; Rachelle Resendes, Gulf Elementary; and Tina Werderman, Lehigh Acres Middle. The winner will be announced Dec. 19. Fort Myers News-Press.

New buses request: The Okaloosa County School District scrapped a sales tax increase election after a scandal involving a child abuse investigation. The measure would have put money into infrastructure improvements and new school buses. Now school officials hope that a bill filed in the Legislature will provide them with $1.2 million they need to buy a dozen buses to ease traffic congestion at Florosa Elementary School, which is adjacent to the Hurlburt Field Air Base. WEAR. Local legislators talk about the child abuse case in the Okaloosa school district. Northwest Florida Daily News.

School calendar: The Indian River County school will begin Aug. 13, 2018, and end May 24, 2019, if the school board approves the proposal. The calendar includes a week off at Thanksgiving and a later spring break. TCPalm.

Pushing girls into tech: The Duval County School District has tripled the number of high school students taking computer classes in the past four years, and school officials are working to get more girls interested. The ratio of boys to girls in the classes is 60:40. Teachers say getting girls to take the courses is difficult because many don’t want to be in male-dominated classrooms or careers. Florida Times-Union.

School sold: The Florida Preparatory Academy is sold to a California-based investment company, Newopen USA, which has operated schools overseas. Florida Prep began in 1961 in a Melbourne hotel built in 1926 as an military boarding high school for boys. It now has boys and girls from around the world in grades 5-12. Space Coast Daily.

Employees honored: Five Sarasota County School Board members and Superintendent Todd Bowden are honored by the Florida School Boards Association after completing a master board training program designed to improve leadership and team work skills. WWSB. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Brevard County School District treats 651 district employees and their families to an Orlando Magic basketball game to thank them for their work. Space Coast Daily.

Teachers arrested: A teacher at the Everest Charter School in Tamarac is arrested and accused of having sexual relations with a 15-year-old boy. Sheldon McDonald, 34, picked the boy up as he was walking down a Lauderhill street. He said he thought the boy was 20. WPLG. Miami Herald. A substitute teacher at Clewiston Middle School in Hendry County is arrested and accused of selling marijuana to students. Maria Otilla Rivera-Magana, 35, was named as a source by two students who had to be taken to an emergency room after smoking some of the marijuana they allegedly bought from her. WBBH. Fort Myers News-Press.

Bus stop warning: Santa Rosa County parents are being warned about suspicious people approaching their children at school bus stops. The sheriff’s office says three times since Oct. 24, men have walked up to children at a bus stop. Twice, the men tried to lure students into cars. Pensacola News Journal.

Opinions on schools: Gov. Rick Scott’s 2018 budget proposal will benefit Florida school districts, and despite criticisms, we feel the positives far outweigh the negatives. Citrus County Chronicle. Almost 10 years ago, the state Board of Education adopted new science standards for K-12 schools that explicitly included biological evolution. Opponents warned that thousands of parents would pull their children from public schools if the standards were adopted. They were adopted, and the predicted exodus never materialized. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. The issue of what a tax hike is — an increase in millage rate versus an increase in taxable value — will play a major role in the 2018 legislative session. Gov. Scott and the Senate can’t keep their education promises with another millage rollback. House Speaker Richard Corcoran can’t keep his campaign promise without it. St. Augustine Record. There is special power of speaking greatness to the students we teach and, by doing so, you can capture the heart of your students. If you can capture your students’ hearts, truly amazing things will happen in the classroom and in their lives. Sarasota County teacher of the year William Ivey, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Some issues are best left to home rule, and the question of how school superintendents are chosen is one of them. No other county is harmed, or affected at all, by a fellow county having a different way of securing a superintendent. Jim Ross, Ocala Star-Banner. Local control is a better solution than the state Legislature opening the door to any member of the community who wants to pursue a personal agenda and challenge classroom textbooks, and then requiring the school district to appoint a hearing officer to rule on the complaint. Citrus County Chronicle.

Student enrichment: The Orange County School District collaborates with the Orange County Library System to create a virtual library card for middle and high school students, giving them online access to research materials. Orlando Sentinel. Four Lake County teachers get $2,500 grants from Farmers Insurance’s Thank America’s Teachers program. Daily Commercial.