Best and Brightest repeal advances, Miami-Dade district honored, violence in schools and more

Educator bonuses repeal: A bill that would repeal the state’s Best and Brightest educators bonuses program was unanimously approved Monday by the Florida Senate Education Committee. The bill aligns  with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposal to do away with the program in favor of his own $300 million bonuses plan, which would provide extra money for teachers and principals working in improving low-income schools. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said: “I think we are all excited about having a conversation this session about teacher compensation … freeing up these dollars and making them available is part of the first step of that conversation.” News Service of Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. WFSU. Three seniors from Armwood High School in Hillsborough County appeared before the Senate Education Committee to lobby for a change in the law to allow English language-learners to graduate even if they can’t pass the required 10th-grade reading test. Committee members approved the bill after amending it to make the waiver optional for districts. Tampa Bay Times.  More than three-dozen local education bills got the approval of the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee at a meeting Monday. Another 30 will be reviewed on Thursday. Florida Politics.

District, educators honored: The Miami-Dade County School District has been chosen as the nation’s school district of the year by the online educational publication Education Dive. The district was honored for its high achievement, continuing improvement and innovation, community involvement and for embracing and adapting changes brought on by the school choice movement.  Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said the district works closely with the school board to send a “clear message of stability to the community.” Education Dive. East Lee County High School’s Melissa Robery has been named the Lee County School District’s principal of the year, and Jackson Morgan of Lehigh Elementary has been chosen as assistant principal of the year. Fort Myers News-Press.

Violence in schools: A push for inclusion has put unstable children into school classrooms without the support those students need, and they are injuring teachers, bus drivers and employees in Broward County and thousands more across Florida, according to records. In just the past 18 months, more than 100 students across Florida have threatened to kill their teachers, classmates or themselves, according to records from 10 major counties. Almost half had histories of mental problems, and more than half had access to weapons. And state and federal laws make it difficult to remove these students.  Sun Sentinel.

Baker Act and students: The rate of involuntary commitments of students in the Tampa Bay area under the Baker Act are up 35 percent in the past five years, and in Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties the rate rose more than 75 percent. Tampa Bay Times. The Baker Act law was written in 1971 by Maxine Baker, a first-year legislator from Miami-Dade County as a way to improve protections for people with mental illnesses. Tampa Bay Times.

Cost of ‘flasher’ costume: Wearing an flasher costume to work at Halloween could mean a demotion for the Broward County School District’s director of procurement and warehousing services. Superintendent Robert Runcie is recommending that Mary Coker, 46, be moved to the position of manager of materials and logistics for wearing the costume that consisted “only a black coat and hat, with a tight fabric underneath which replicated a naked female body” and for “flashing” children, staff, and colleagues at a work brunch. If the school board approves the recommendation, Coker’s pay will be slashed from $154,286 to $110,702. Sun Sentinel.

Board-certified teachers: Just four Florida teachers earned certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards this year. That’s the same number that earned it in 2018, and puts the state 42nd in the nation. The number of state teachers applying for the prestigious designation has dwindled since 2015, when legislators stopped paying for the training and the bonuses teachers who completed it used to get. Florida remains second among states in the total number of board-certified teachers with 13,552, and Broward, Miami-Dade, Hillsborough and Palm Beach are still among the top 10 districtsGradebook.

Board considering appeal: The Sarasota County School Board is meeting today to consider whether to appeal a judge’s ruling that that district must pay for private school for a student who missed out on the standard lessons from 3rd-9th grade because he was wrongly placed in a program for children with severe cognitive disabilities. The cost of doing that could be $100,000, and board members worry that the more than 100 other students who were not disabled and were also placed in the program could sue for the same remedy. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School mental health services: The Lee County School District and Lee Health are collaborating on a one-year program to provide “health navigators” to work at Ray V. Pottorf and Colonial elementary schools. The navigators would be hired by Lee Health and work under the supervision of Kids’ Minds Matter, which raises money for pediatric behavioral health. The navigators would provide mental health services guidance for students and their families. Fort Myers News-Press.

U.S. push for choice: President Donald Trump and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos pushed school choice at an educational summit in Washington, D.C. Trump praised Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who attended, for promoting choice initiatives, and said “people want school choice.” Trump and DeVos are lobbying for a $5 billion federal tax credit program, similar to the one in Florida that’s administered by Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, that would provide scholarships for students to attend private schools or expand their education options. Politico Florida.

Construction updates: Alachua County school officials are holding a community forum Wednesday to provide an update on the district’s construction progress and timetable. More than $10 million has been collected so far from a half-cent sales tax increase for school facilities that was approved by voters in 2018. Gainesville Sun.

Schools taking applications: Destin High School, a charter school that is scheduled to open in the fall of 2020 for 9th- and 10th-graders, has begin accepting applications. The deadline is Feb. 15. Northwest Florida Daily News. Tallahassee Classical School, a charter school that’s expected to open next fall, has begin accepting applications for enrollment. The deadline is Jan. 16, and a lottery will be held the following day to select the 504 K-8 students. District officials say the school also has been approved for a $689,000 from the U.S. Department of Education for the “assistance for the planning, program design, and initial implementation” of startup charter schools. WFSU.

Superintendent search: Martin County School Board members will be looking for a superintendent who communicates well with the board and the community, they decided at a meeting Monday. Other qualities board members want are a master’s degree, 10 years of experience, including at least five years in an executive leadership position and someone who will be an advocate for students with disabilities and early childhood programs. They want to hire someone by September so she or he can work with Superintendent Laurie Gaylord until she steps down in November. The salary will fall between $145,000 and $190,000. Voters decided in 2018 to switch from an elected superintendent to an appointed one. TCPalm.

Personnel moves: Marion County School Board attorney Paul Gibbs will leave for his new job with the Brevard County School Board on Jan. 6, which is about two weeks earlier than expected. Ocala attorney Suzanne Green, who works for the Bice Cole law firm, will serve as interim board attorney. Ocala Star-Banner.

Old school, new use: Twenty-three years after the old Sarasota High School closed, it will be reopened this weekend as the Sarasota Art Museum of Ringling College. The renovation cost about $22 million. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School bus drivers needed: At least five central Florida school districts are short of school bus drivers and actively looking for candidates. School officials from Orange, Lake, Osceola, Volusia and Marion counties all say the number of applicants is down and the number of openings is up. WFTV.

Student struck, injured: A 7-year-old boy on his way to his school bus stop in Immokalee was struck by a vehicle Monday morning and seriously injured. Troopers say Carlos Cortez Jr. was trying to cross a street with his mother when he ran in front of a Jeep Renegade. He was airlifted to Lee Memorial Hospital. Naples Daily News.

School board sued: A student’s mother has filed suit against the Brevard County School Board, claiming the school district failed to protect the boy from alleged bullying and sexual abuse by a classmate at Audubon Elementary on Merritt Island. Florida Today.

Employees disciplined: A Collier County teaching assistant who is accused of having sex with students and providing them drugs and alcohol has been fired, according to district officials. Kirstie Rosa, a 27-year-old teaching assistant at the Phoenix Naples alternative program, was arrested last week . Naples Daily News. One Pasco County school employee has resigned and several others are being investigated for allegedly misstating their incomes in order to qualify for free and reduced-price school lunches under a federal program. Gradebook.

Students and the law: A 16-year-old Orange County student has been arrested and accused of taking a loaded handgun to Jones High School in Orlando. Orlando Sentinel. A 16-year-old Broward County student is arrested and accused of making threats to commit violence at Cypress Bay High School in Weston. It’s the third such arrest in Broward since Thursday. Miami Herald.

Opinions on schools: Lake County school Superintendent Diane Kornegay won the top award from the consortium of 64 county school foundations in Florida by making her school district’s foundation a real partner in filling roles for which the school has no money, and that’s making real, verifiable change in the lives of Lake’s students. Lauren Ritchie, Orlando Sentinel. Perhaps competition from charter schools could motivate Charlotte County district schools to improve so that they would be more attractive to parents. Harvey Goldstein, Charlotte Sun.

Student enrichment: Students in the construction program at South Lake High School in Lake County have built 20 beds that were donated to the Sleep in Heavenly Peace Orlando West organization, a nonprofit that provides beds for needy children. Daily Commercial.