Florida schools roundup: Recognition money, water tests, politics and more

School recognition money: Hundreds of Florida schools will split more than $123 million in state recognition money for student performance based on school grades. Schools that receive or maintain an A grade from the state are eligible, as well as those that improve a letter grade. Schools receive an extra $100 per student, which they can use for bonuses, supplies or temporary workers. Traditionally, most of the money goes to employee bonuses. If school employees and advisory councils can’t agree on how to use the money by Feb. 1, the money is split among all the teachers at the school. Gradebook.

Testing for lead: Thirteen water sources at nine Polk County schools have higher levels of lead than the federal threshold for safe drinking water, according to school officials. Faucets and pipes with the contaminated water have been repaired, and will be retested before the schools are allowed to use them. Water in a dozen other schools tested under the EPA’s 15 parts per billion standard for safe water. The district began the voluntary testing after neighboring Hillsborough County found lead in the drinking waters at schools last summer. Lakeland Ledger.

Education and politics: While Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum wants to direct more money toward K-12 education, his Republican opponent, Ron DeSantis, believes there’s plenty of money but that school districts are wasting what they have through “bureaucratic waste and administrative inefficiency.” He wants 80 percent of all educational money directed into classrooms. But is the answer that simple? Most district officials don’t think so. “I don’t know how you restrict us to 80 percent of the money having to be instructional when we have little control of the money that comes to us,” says Olga Swinson, the chief financial officer for Pasco County School District. Tampa Bay Times. More about the differences in the education platforms of DeSantis and Gillum. Orlando Sentinel.

Help after the storm: Jinks Middle School suffered heavy damage from Hurricane Michael, but remains a hub for people in need in Panama City. The parking lot is a donation center, and Jinks employees and students handle distribution. Panama City News Herald. Eight employees of the Volusia County School District have been sent to the Panhandle to help other districts clear debris to prepare schools to reopen. The district is also starting a campaign to raise $70,000 by Friday to help in the recovery. “It was kind of our duty as another school district to go help our brothers and sisters in another county,” says Russ Tysinger, Volusia’s director of maintenance and operations. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Active-shooter drills: The Pinellas County School District is offering parents advice on how to talk to their younger children about active-shooter drills at schools. The School Safety Parent Tool Kit, provided by John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, suggests discussions should be general and focus on safety instead of danger. Gradebook.

City’s technical charter school: Somerset Academy Inc. is chosen by the Port St. Lucie City Council to develop a vocational-technical career academy for grades 6-12. The charter school is expected to cost about $18 million to build. If it’s approved by the St. Lucie County School Board or the Florida Department of Education, the school would train students for jobs in health care, manufacturing, construction trades and other occupations. TCPalm.

Tax hikes for schools: Hillsborough, Lee and Alachua county school districts are trying to convince voters to approve an increase in the sales tax to replace faulty air-conditioners and make other school repairs. WUSF. Lee County voters are being asked to approve a half-cent increase in the sales tax for new schools, maintenance, school safety and technology. Here are five things to know about the issue. Fort Myers News-Press.

Educators honored: St. Lucie West Centennial High School principal Andrea Popwell is named principal of the year for the St. Lucie County School District, and Dan McCarty Middle School assistant principal Samantha Piscopo is named assistant principal of the year. Both now enter the state competition. St. Lucie County School District.

A day in the life: Shadowing Lori McLain, a science teacher at the Babcock Neighborhood School near Fort Myers, for a day is a lesson in time management, creativity, passion and commitment. “It’s a lot of work,” says McLain. “Our families give up a lot of time. Teachers spend a lot of their own money. I don’t think (people) realize the amount of time and the amount of commitment that our families make for us to do what we love.” Fort Myers News-Press.

Personnel moves: Brent Gaustad, who became principal in January at the struggling Moton Elementary School in Brooksville, says he’s retiring as of Oct. 31. Assistant principal Patti Martin will replace him. Gradebook.

School lunches: About 47 percent of Sarasota County students get free or reduced-cost lunches at schools, say district officials, which is down from the 54 percent a year ago. But that number is expected to climb. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Trouble for employees: A teacher’s aide at a Pinellas County elementary school could be out of a job after giving a student a wedgie, announcing it to the class and then refusing to work. Dominique Diamond Armstrong, 25, an aide at Mount Vernon Elementary in St. Petersburg, had been accused three other times of using excessive force since being hired in March 2017. Superintendent Michael Grego is recommending to the school board that she be fired. Tampa Bay Times. A former Hillsborough County teacher is facing 353 more counts of video voyeurism, production of harmful material of a minor and possession of child pornography. Mark William Ackett, 49, had been arrested Sept. 11 and accused of hiding cameras in dressing rooms of a fashion design classroom at Bloomingdale High School. A search of the cell phones led to additional charges. Tampa Bay TimesWFLA. Bradenton Herald. WTSP.

Opinions on schools: The Florida Department of Education and its cheerleaders regularly brag about the performance of the state’s high school students on Advanced Placement exams. And the state is indeed a national leader in AP social science, English, the arts and world languages exams. But in AP math and science subjects, Florida is merely average. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. Organizationally, the culture of public schools must change. Do not assume the capacity of a parent to advocate or have the language to get the help that some children need. Schools have the knowledge and the tools to get these children evaluated and services when the need is apparent. So why aren’t they doing it? Tiffany Kelly, Orlando Sentinel.

Student enrichment: Students at the Pine Ridge High School’s Advanced Manufacturing Academy are using an engraver to put the state seal on a variety of materials for display at Volusia County schools. A new law requires all schools to display the state logo, “In God We Trust,” which is on the state seal. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Singers from Pensacola’s Washington High School are preparing for a performance at Carnegie Hall. WEAR. Chisholm Elementary kindergarten teacher Rekia Beverly writes a book about a fictional teacher’s first day of school. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

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BY NextSteps staff