Academic focus, school threats, financials, murder arrest, SAT leak, security and more

Academic focus urged: The Florida Association of District School Superintendents should turn its focus from improving security and mental health services in schools to academics, says the incoming president. “In the last two years, we have had very little conversation at our meetings about student achievement,” says Pasco County Superintendent Kurt Browning, who takes the post next month. “We need to bring it back into balance.” He said he will present his proposals at a meeting this week. Gradebook.

Upgrading threat assessments: The Florida Department of Education is planning to spend $1.3 million to upgrade the security assessment tool school districts use to report the safety measures they’re taking. The format of the Florida Safe Schools Assessment Tool has been criticized by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission for its question templates. The FSSAT has been used to assess districts’ security since 2014. Politico Florida.

School district financials: The Florida Department of Education has reported financial information about per-student spending, spending on administrators and capital projects, district budgets, teacher-to-student ratios and more to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. Florida Department of Education.

School official accused of murder: An administrator at a Miami-Dade County school has been arrested and accused of murdering a test proctor from Miami Norland Senior High School. Police say Ernest Joseph Roberts, 39, a former assistant principal at Miami Norland, killed Kameela Russell and dumped her body in a canal. No motive is known. Prosecutors say Roberts and Russell had known each other since they were children, and he is the godfather of both her children. WPLG. Miami Herald.

SAT answers leaked: Answers to the June 1 SAT college entrance biology test were posted online for more than half a day before the test was given, according to the National Center for Fair & Open Testing. The group says the questions and answers were posted on, possibly from South Korea. Sacramento Bee.

Security in schools: The Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton County school districts begin hardening their schools to improve security and comply with state law. That includes new school entrances, adding surveillance cameras, reworking classrooms to keep students out of sight from hallways and hiring more mental health professionals to counsel students. In Walton County, the costs are about $416 per student, in Okaloosa $284 and in Santa Rosa $151. Northwest Florida Daily News. Northwest Florida school officials say threats made on social media have become one of their top concerns. Northwest Florida Daily News. Karla O’Dell was a physical education teacher in the Santa Rosa County School District when she decided to switch careers and become a deputy. Now she’s a resource officer at Emerald Coast Middle School. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Mental health help: Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, teachers and school psychologists are being trained to use meditation, imagery and movement to become “mind body ambassadors” so they can help students and others still traumatized by the 2018 shooting at the school in Parkland. Sun Sentinel.

Charter school’s appeal: A charter school that had its application denied by the Volusia County School Board is appealing the decision to the state’s Charter School Appeal Commission. Florida East Coast Charter School, which proposed a K-5 school focusing on project-based STEM education in Ormond Beach, was turned down in April. School board members cited financial and curriculum concerns. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Charter principal resigns: The principal of Mason Classical Academy, a charter school in Naples, is resigning following a Collier County School District report alleging that he had violated federal and state laws. David Hull said his resignation is “by no means an admission of wrongdoing.” Hull’s last day is Aug. 11. He had four years left on his contract. Naples Daily News.

Hepatitis A exposure: Students at a Pasco County school may have been exposed to hepatitis A, according to Florida Department of Health officials. They say one student at Fivay High School has tested positive for the virus, and are urging parents to check their children’s vaccination records. WFLA. WTVT.

Sales tax increase: A survey of Duval County voters shows resistance to raising the sales tax to help replace and repair schools if it gets to the ballot this November. School officials say they need the money to help with nearly $2 billion in work, and want the referendum on the ballot this year. Members of the Jacksonville City Council are resisting, saying the cost is too great and the turnout will be too light, and suggesting November 2020 is a more practical time for it to be placed on the ballot. Florida Politics. Sixty-seven Duval County schools have 438 portable classrooms, and 17 schools have at least 10. Superintendent Diana Greene has vowed to eliminate portables if voters increase the sales tax by half a cent. Florida Times-Union.

Marching for teachers: More than 100 Brevard County students march to school board headquarters in a show of support for pay raises for their teachers. Last week, Superintendent Mark Mullins rejected a recommendation from a special magistrate to dip into the district’s reserves to provide raises for teachers. The union and district have been unable to reach an agreement. Florida Today.

Teacher shortage: The Hillsborough County School District hopes to put a dent in the  723 openings for teachers during a job fair today. The district also needs 24 counselors, four nurses, 66 cafeteria workers and 247 support workers. Gradebook.

New schools: The Palm Beach County School District is building three new schools in the next five years. One is a middle school just west of Boynton Beach and the Florida Turnpike. By rules in place in 2016 the state had to approve the school, and it turned the district down because it felt the district had enough empty seats at schools elsewhere. But this spring the Legislature changed the rules, and because the district plans to use money raised through a sales tax increase it no longer needs state approval. The other schools are an elementary school in Boca Raton and a high school near Greenacres. Palm Beach Post. A temporary school of 80 classrooms is nearing completion just south of Don Estridge Middle School in Boca Raton. It will house Verde Elementary students this fall and Addison Mizner students after that as their schools are torn down and rebuilt. Palm Beach Post.

Old school building, new life: The former Escambia County School District headquarters could be resurrected as apartments. The building was built in 1941 and used by the district until the 1990s, and has been vacant at least the last 10 years. Developers are asking the city to approve a plan that would save the building and add new buildings around it. Pensacola News Journal.

School safety moves: A student’s death trying to cross International Speedway Boulevard near Mainland High School has help prompt the Florida Department of Transportation to add two new crosswalk signals. Pedestrians will be able to hit a button that will stop traffic so they can safely cross the busy street. A few blocks from the proposed crossing, 19-year-old Stephanie Boebert was struck and killed by a car on her way to school in 2016. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Fight against vaping: Broward County school officials, legislators and parents announce a coordinated effort to cut down student use of vaping. The school district has amended its discipline policies for vaping offenses, will start more anti-tobacco clubs and will have students produce public service announcements. WLRN.

Lingering animosity: Former Manatee County School District human resources director Sarah Brown implies that her personal animosity with Superintendent Cynthia Saunders led to an internal report criticizing her department. Brown made the inference during an interview for the Bozeman (Mt.) School District superintendent’s job, and also called Saunders ethically challenged. Bradenton Herald.

Personnel moves: Diane Leinenbach, the principal at Oakcrest Elementary School in Ocala, has resigned to take a job with the Florida Department of Education’s Bureau of School Improvement. A replacement won’t be named until after the state’s school grades are issued this summer. Ocala Star-Banner. WCJB. Melissa Kearley is named the principal at Riverside Elementary School in Okaloosa County. Northwest Florida Daily News. Osceola County School Board member Tim Weisheyer has been named president of the Florida School Boards Association for the 2019-2020 school year. Osceola County School District.

Shakeup at school: A St. Johns County School District teacher resigned and a principal was reassigned following an investigation into allegations of misconduct at R.J. Murray Middle School. The inquiry concluded that principal Tom Schwarm didn’t respond with urgency after allegations were made against chorus teacher Fabian Schmidt for inappropriate behavior with students. St. Augustine Record.

District accused of harassment: A lawyer representing a student suing the Sarasota County School Board for wrongly placing her son in a program for students with the most severe learning disabilities now is charging that the district is using “legal harassment” to delay the hearing of the case. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School bus driver arrested: An Alachua County school bus driver is arrested and charged with sexual battery on a victim under 12 years old. Police say John Albert Martin, 27, forced the girl to perform oral sex. Gainesville Sun.

Opinions on schools: Even as they profess support for equality, Florida’s governor and legislators continue to provide state funding for private schools that discriminate against LGBT families and even expel students who say they’re gay. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. If public schools were subjected to the same light-touch regulations on testing that private schools accepting scholarships enjoy, would critics be more likely to support school choice? Research suggests the answer might be no. Patrick R. Gibbons, redefinED. The Florida Legislature recently passed a law that instructs each high school to offer a semester-long financial literacy course, but made it an elective instead of mandatory. They compounded this regressive move by eliminating the financial-literacy content required to be taught in the mandatory economics course. John Pelletier, Orlando Sentinel. The Hillsborough County School District took the appropriate step by halting all summer workouts and athletic activities after a 14-year-old incoming freshman died after collapsing during drills with the football team at Middleton High School in Tampa. Tampa Bay Times. State lawmakers, come to the table to make sure charter and private schools are accountable, providing accommodations and academic services for low-performing students, students with disabilities, special needs students, English language learners students, poverty-stricken students and homeless students. Shandale Terrell, Lakeland Ledger. Our state constitution says public education is a core function of government. The question for our Legislature is why this core function remains consistently underfunded. Citrus County Chronicle. Grades and SAT scores combined can help predict students’ potential for college success. But until schools quit considering standardized tests, any tools that help place those numbers in more meaningful context make sense. Tampa Bay Times. If the Alachua County School District wants to increase academic performance and reduce the achievement gap, improving school attendance should be a priority. Gainesville Sun. After 20 years of school choice scholarships there is no evidence, to my knowledge, public schools have been harmed. The Florida Supreme Court concluded the same. Better yet, Florida’s academic performance and graduation rates have improved dramatically over time. JaDean Stricker, Pensacola News Journal. Civic education could not be more important to the future of this country. R. Bruce Anderson, Lakeland Ledger. Here are seven strategies that can be used to turn around a struggling school. Sarah Sanchez, Education Week.

Student enrichment: Lucas Miner, a rising senior at the Ransom Everglades School in Miami, is one of 15 U.S. students chosen as quarterfinalists for the Jeopardy! Teen Tournament. His episode will be broadcast Tuesday. Miami Herald. The Lake Federated Republican Women’s Club is donating copies of the reference books Student’s Constitution and Student’s Declaration of Independence that will be placed in every 7th-grade civics class in Lake County schools. Daily Commercial. About 100 Florida students get an up-close lesson in civics through the Civics Fellows Program, a year-long program that gives them exposure to local government and public service. WUSF.