Florida schools roundup: Teacher wins Tony, spelling bee, security and more

Teacher wins a Tony: Melody Herzfeld, the one-person drama department at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who saved 65 students during the shooting rampage at the school Feb. 14 by barricading them in a closet, wins a special Tony award for educators. The award is given annually to U.S. teachers who have “demonstrated monumental impact on the lives of students and who embodies the highest standards of the profession.” She wins $10,000 and a pair of tickets to the Tony ceremony and gala. Sun-Sentinel. New York Times. Associated Press.

National spelling bee: Two Florida students spell their way into Thursday’s finals at the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C, before being  eliminated. Simone Kaplan, a 12-year-old 6th-grader from Davie who attends St. Bonaventure Catholic School in Broward County, was eliminated in the ninth round when she spelled the word carmagnole as carmagnol. Marisa Langley, a 14-year-old home-schooled 8th-grader from Tallahassee, was eliminated in the eighth round when she spelled the word hausen as housen. The champion is Karthik Nemmani of McKinney, Texas. The 519 spellers who started the competition included 31 students from Florida. Associated PressScripps Howard Spelling Bee. Miami Herald. Sun-SentinelPalm Beach Post. TCPalm.

School shooting developments: Six times, Coral Springs paramedics asked permission to enter Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and treat the victims after the shootings on Feb. 14. Each time they were denied by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, according to a report by the deputy chief for Coral Springs fire-rescue. “I’m not saying the [Rescue Task Force teams] would have made a difference and I’m not saying they wouldn’t have made a difference, but it would have been more medics and more hands helping out,” says Coral Springs Fire Chief Frank Babinec. Sun-SentinelMiami Herald. A Stoneman Douglas campus monitor says he chased confessed school shooter Nikolas Cruz just before the shootings broke out. “I’m telling you I knew who the kid was,” Andrew Medina told investigators. “Because we had a meeting about him last year and we said, ‘if there’s gonna be anybody who’s gonna come to this school and shoot this school up, it’s gonna be that kid.’ ”

Sheriff criticizes teacher: Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods says Forest High School teacher Kelly McManis-Panasuk put her students at risk by allowing a former student to enter her classroom April 20. Sky Bouche had already shot one person in the leg, Woods said. Bouche had put a gun on the ground in the hallway when McManis-Panasuk let him in to talk with him. Bouche was arrested a few minutes later without incident. Ocala Star-Banner.

School security: President Trump’s Federal Commission on School Safety, led by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, makes its first field visit to a Maryland elementary school, where it learns about positive behavioral supports and interventions. The panel is looking at effective methods used by some schools and how they can be applied at other schools. Three more field trips are planned. Education Week. Washington Post. The state and the Jefferson County School District agree the district needs three school resource officers: two for the Jefferson Somerset campus, which includes elementary, middle and high schools, and one to cover the alternative and adult schools. ECB Publishing.

Superintendent search: The Brevard County School Board formally launches its search to replace Superintendent Desmond Blackburn, who announced a few weeks ago that he was resigning to become chief executive officer of the national nonprofit New Teacher Center. The board has already said it was forgoing a national search because of the cost, length of time it would take and the belief that it has qualified internal candidates. But it will also consider candidates from smaller Florida districts. Applications will be accepted through June 8, and the board hopes to have the new superintendent on the job by early July. Florida Today. Space Coast Daily.

Superintendent’s contract: The Duval County School Board approves a four-year contract for its new superintendent, Diana Greene. Greene, who is currently the superintendent in Manatee County, will receive $275,000 a year in base pay, plus benefits. She begins July 1. The board also extends the contract for interim superintendent Patricia Willis to Aug. 3 to help with the transition. WJXT. Florida Times-Union. Bradenton Herald.

Charter school appeals: The Tallahassee Classical School is appealing the Leon County School Board’s decision to deny its application to open. In its appeal to the Florida Department of Education, charter school officials say the board’s decision is “void of any competent or substantial evidence to deny” the request. They also argue that board used the denial to make a political point. Tallahassee Democrat.

Rock star math tutor: Darnell Boursiquot, an online math tutor for Algebra Nation, has become a celebrity for his instructional videos that include jokes and dancing. Algebra Nation is a program that’s used by every school district in Florida and in other states. “I still get weirded out by the whole celebrity thing,” says the 26-year-old Boursiquot. “But it’s phenomenal that these kids are getting this excited about math.” Education Week.

District chief’s dispute: Palm Beach County School District officials dispute Police Chief Lawrence Leon’s claim that he’s been reappointed, two months after they told him he was being replaced. “Larry has not been reappointed,” says Amity Schuyler, district chief of staff. “That position has been eliminated. You can’t be reappointed into a position that’s been eliminated.” Palm Beach Post.

Graduation dates, rates: The Pasco County School Board is considering pushing 2019 graduation ceremonies into June as part of a plan that ends senior week off and moves final exams to later in the spring. Board members have already signaled support for the move. The vote is Tuesday. Gradebook. A year-long “bunker” strategy of intensive instruction pays off when 126 students from two Flagler County high schools who were not expected to graduate received diplomas. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Education podcast: With budget problems and low reading scores, the Hillsborough County School District has plenty of issues to resolve. So the latest sniping between school board members raises this question: Will the voting public have enough confidence in the district to approve a tax referendum if it’s asked? Gradebook.

Christian, private schools ties: A company affiliated with a small Christian college in the Florida Panhandle is one of the largest suppliers of materials for private schools and home-school students in the United States. Abeka Academy Inc. is named after Beka Horton, who with her husband Arlin founded Pensacola Christian College in 1974. Orlando Sentinel.

Catholics and discipline: A new report finds that students in Catholic schools are less disruptive and more self-controlled than similar students enrolled in both public and other private schools. The study by two University of California-Santa Barbara researchers, commissioned by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, suggest attending a Catholic school may help foster self-control in students from all kinds of demographic and religious backgrounds. redefinED.

School expansion: A $15 million expansion begins at Clearwater Central Catholic High School. Three older buildings will be replaced by five new buildings with more than 53,000 square feet of space that will house 24 classrooms, a Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, a free-standing chapel, a leadership center and a football field house. Gradebook.

After-school program: The Pasco County School Board is being asked to approve a new after-school program at Rushe and River Ridge middle schools. If it’s approved, it would be the first time in 20 years the district has offered middle school students such a program. Beyond the Bell, which would operate four hours after school ends, would have teachers on hand to help with school work and offer activities such as music, art, robotics, sports and languages. Gradebook.

District audit committee: Fifteen people are named to the Manatee County School District’s Citizens’ Financial Advisory Committee, a group of volunteers who will oversee the distribution of the money generated by the voter-approved hike in property taxes. The committee was created by the school board just before the election. Bradenton Herald.

Ex-teacher sentenced: Rafael Yepez, who taught math and coached soccer and cross country at St. Lucie West Centennial High School, is sentenced to 22 months in prison after being convicted of sexual activity with a student. He was arrested in November 2015 after the mother of the student told her about the affair. He was 27 at the time, and the student was 17. TCPalm.

Ex-principal back in class: Lecanto Middle School principal Brian Lancaster, who was suspended in May for three days for alleged inappropriate communications with a teacher and later resigned, will be reassigned to a teaching position. Citrus County Chronicle.

Students hospitalized: Two Boynton Beach High School students are hospitalized after eating a chocolate bar laced with liquid marijuana. Officials aren’t saying how the candy became tainted. Miami Herald.

Student arrested: An Olympic Heights High School student is arrested after making a threat to his school on Snapchat, according to Palm Beach County deputies. Deputies say he posted a photo of cars in the school parking lot with the caption: “I’ve strapped C-4 to every car in the student parking lot. If you try to leave early it will detonate.” Jose Calderon, 19, told deputies it was “funny and a joke.” Palm Beach Post.

Opinions on schools: In its haste, the Legislature made mistakes, and public schools and prisons are feeling the effects. Mark Lane, Daytona Beach News-Journal. A property tax hike for school safety in Lake County is competing for a spot on the November ballot with a gas tax hike for road repair. Lauren Ritchie, Orlando Sentinel. In replacing Superintendent Diana Greene, Manatee County School Board members should use the evaluation process to begin prioritizing the qualities its members, the teaching staff and the community desire in an education leader. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The highest priority in K-12 education for the state of Florida should be increasing the number of talented individuals who are attracted to teaching careers and then retaining them in the profession. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: Three Bay County high schools – Deane Bozeman School, Moseley High and North Bay Haven Career Academy – are included in the U.S. News & World Report rankings of the nation’s best high schools. Panama City News Herald.