School board politics and endorsements, free meals for students extended, and more

Around the state: Gov. Ron DeSantis’ endorsement last week of 10 local school board candidates has increased the visibility of the previously under-the-radar, nonpartisan board races, several conservatives get into the races for four Palm Beach County School Board seats, Congress passes a three-month extension of the free universal meals program for students, a preschool in Starke has been closed and had its license suspended after five allegations of child abuse, a technical school in Hernando County will be named after a state senator, and the Duval school district’s athletic director has been named the national athletic director of the year. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Linton Fowler, who founded Calusa Preparatory School in Miami, helped start the Florida Christian School and served as a longtime teacher, principal, athletic director and high school basketball, baseball, football and track coach at several county schools, died June 19 at the age of 87. “He was an early pioneer for Christian schools being competitive in sports,” said Rich Hofman, a fellow educator and coach. Miami Herald.

Palm Beach: Four school board seats on the primary ballot Aug. 23 are being contested by 14 candidates. Three school board incumbents are trying to retain their seats while one, Debra Robinson, said she was “burning out” and that “it’s just time to go.” Many of the challengers are conservatives drawn to the races by low student achievement, the mask mandate and concerns over issues of racial equity. Sun-Sentinel. In District 4, parental rights activist Angelique Contreras is challenging seven-year incumbent Erica Whitfield. Whitfield, who has been supportive of school leadership, has backed expanded mental health services for students and LGBTQ+ students, and is the only board member with a child in district schools. Contreras said her top priorities are codifying parents’ rights in education, removing “anti-American” materials from the curriculum and equipping police officers to protect schools. She attended the Jan. 6 protest at the Capitol, but said she didn’t enter the building and has not been charged. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: School district athletic director Tammie Talley was named the national athletic director of the year last week at the annual National High School Athletic Coaches Association awards banquet in Iowa. Talley was one of eight finalists for the award. She began her career as a teacher and coach at the Paxon School for Advanced Studies in Jacksonville about 30 years ago, and now oversees athletic programs for more than three-dozen schools. WJXT.

Leon: Mark Feely, a former physical education teacher, athletic director and football coach at Leon High School who retired less than two months ago after more than 30 years in the school district, died Sunday of multiple myeloma. He was 58. “He had a huge love for Leon and was truly all about Leon,” said Riley Bell, who succeeded Feely as Leon’s AD. “He played such a big role at the school. He is going to be missed.” Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. WCTV.

Hernando: A technical school that is scheduled to open in March 2025 in Brooksville is being named the Wilton Simpson Technical College, after the state legislator who was most recently president of the Florida Senate. “Mr. Simpson has been a driving force for the technical center. We appreciate his unwavering support for Hernando County schools,” said Superintendent John Stratton in urging the school board to approve the name. The school, which had been called the Dennis Wilfong Center for Success, will be located on an 18-acre site adjacent to the Brooksville Tampa-Bay Regional Airport. Hernando Sun. Hernando Today.

Citrus: The four candidates for the District 5 school board seat — incumbent Linda Powers, Deborah Daniels, Joe Faherty and Mary Seader — talk about their beliefs, what they have to offer and their plans if elected. Citrus County Chronicle.

Bradford: A preschool in Starke has been closed and had its license suspended after five allegations of child abuse. Starke police said the Bradford Preschool & Learning Center, which had been under investigation since August 2021, was closed after video evidence showed an employee physically abusing toddlers. “I will say there has been a pattern that is very concerning to the members of the Starke police department and the Department of Children and Families,” said police Lt. Michael Rooney. WCJB. WJAX. WJXT. WTLV.

Colleges and universities: John F. Stack Jr., who was a professor and dean at Florida International University in Miami for 46 years, died last week, two years after being diagnosed with peritoneal cancer in 1976. He was 71. “He was a legend, an institution at FIU,” said Frank Mora, director and professor of the FIU Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center who had worked directly with Stack since 2013. Miami Herald. An $825,000 state grant will allow Tallahassee Community College to double the number of nursing students in its program. School officials will use the money to 10 more employees and expand the simulation center, increasing the number of students in the program from 67 to 130. WTXL.

School board politics: Gov. Ron DeSantis’ endorsement last week of 10 local school board candidates has increased the visibility of the previously under-the-radar, nonpartisan board races, and ventured into the territory that has traditionally been occupied by more local organizations such as newspapers, civic organizations, churches, local homeowners associations and others. That, in turn, has elevated the public profile of candidates. “It (a school board endorsement) has changed over the years, certainly,” said Andrea Messina, chief executive officer of the Florida School Boards Association. “You know, it evolves over time. As more and more segments of the population become interested and involved in public school issues and governance and races, then you start to see more types of endorsements coming out.” Florida Phoenix. Politico Florida.

Around the nation: Congress approved a bill Friday that will extend funding for free, universal school meals for students through the summer. The program, which had been scheduled to end Thursday, was extended for three months. About 30 million students can get the meals, regardless of their family’s income. Politico. Associated Press.

Opinions on schools: Selectively editing what information students receive through censorship and forcing through legislation the acceptance of conservative talking points that are not universally embraced seems to accurately fit the definition of indoctrination – “the process of teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically.” Carrie Seidman, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Actions taken by state officials may end up damaging both the academic reputation of the University of Florida and the great education students can get there, no matter how much funding lawmakers approve. Nathan Crabbe. Gainesville Sun. It’s been said there’s no Republican or Democratic way to pave a pothole. The same principle applies when it comes to matters like reviewing teacher salaries or determining whether it makes more sense to start the school day at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. TCPalm.

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BY NextSteps staff