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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida Senate keeps Best and Brightest, 'schools of hope' alive for conference

With limited debate, with minutes remaining in a 4-hour meeting, the Florida Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday approved two controversial education measures that have been the subject of scorn from some corners.

The panel reported favorably SB 1552 to expand the Best and Brightest award to include more teachers and, for the first time, school principals. It also moved HB 796 to establish a "high-impact" charter school model and granting priority to certain charters seeking approval. The latter is related to the House "schools of hope" plan.

Chairman Jack Latvala told committee members that accepting the bills was important to put the Senate in position to have conference discussions with the House, which has prioritized both items. These bills were seen as key to the budget debate, which now has risen to the level of House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron.

Read more about the negotiations from the Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau.

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U.S. News and World report ranks Tampa Bay high schools

U.S. News and World Report ranked Hillsborough's Plant High the 22nd best high school in Florida. The school, which has a 96 percent graduation rate and a college readiness score of 69, ranked 228th nationally.

Plant High's website

U.S. News and World Report ranked Hillsborough's Plant High the 22nd best high school in Florida. The school, which has a 96 percent graduation rate and a college readiness score of 69, ranked 228th nationally.

Tampa Bay high schools didn't quite earn top honors in U.S. News & World Report's Best High Schools rankings, but Hillsborough County at least has bragging rights for some of the best schools in the area according to the report's annual rankings.

Released Tuesday, the rankings show Plant High came in No. 22 among the top schools in Florida. The school, which has a 96 percent graduation rate and a college readiness score of 69, ranked 228th nationally.

Only one Florida school cracked the nationwide top 20 list: Pine View School in Sarasota County clocked in at No. 13 and topped the list of best high schools in Florida. Miami-Dade County schools crowded that statewide list, with four schools in the top 10.

Hillsborough's Newsome and Robinson high schools ranked 30th and 39th, respectively, and both earned gold awards. Two Pasco County high schools edged out Pinellas' top schools, with James W. Mitchell and Land O' Lakes high schools ranking 68th and 69th and took home silver awards. …

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Gradebook podcast: Why Florida teachers unions oppose bills to limit added guarantees on annual contracts

Teachers protest a 2011 move to limit new Florida teacher hires to annual contracts.

Times file photo

Teachers protest a 2011 move to limit new Florida teacher hires to annual contracts.

Florida lawmakers continued this week to press forward with legislation (SB 856 / HB 373) to stop school districts from offering guarantees extending annual teacher contracts beyond their one-year term, despite protests by teacher unions and even some district superintendents. More than half of the state's districts have made provisions to automatically renew the annual contracts of teachers who receive evaluations of "effective" or better and have no disciplinary problems on their record. Bill proponents argue the measure clarifies the meaning of "annual contract." In today's podcast, Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association president Mike Gandolfo explains to reporter Jeff Solochek the reasons why educators oppose the proposed limits.

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St. Pete College board of trustees grows to five members

Bridgette Bello

Tampa-Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation

Bridgette Bello

ST. PETERSBURG — As St. Petersburg College trustees prepare to interview candidates for SPC president, the board has quickly grown from three to five members.

On Monday, Gov. Rick Scott re-appointed Bridgette Bello to the board of trustees, where she previously served from 2013 to 2015.

Bello, 46, of Seminole is the president and first female publisher of the Tampa Bay Business Journal. Her appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Last month, Gov. Scott appointed Katherine Cole, a Belleair attorney, to fill a vacancy on the board.

She and Bello join chair Bill Foster, vice-chair Nathan Stonecipher and trustee Deveron Gibbons.

All five face an important task: helping to select the college’s next leader.

According to her bio, Bello has led a decorated career in advertising and media for more than two decades.

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Conflict of interest in Pasco schools rezoning case? Plaintiffs say yes.

Judge Declan Mansfield

Times file photo

Judge Declan Mansfield

Declan Mansfield, the Pasco County judge assigned to hear a Circuit Court case challenging the school district's recent attendance boundary revision process, is married to county Clerk Paula O'Neil.

Dennis Alfonso, the attorney representing the School Board in the matter, counts O'Neil's office among his clients. O'Neil additionally twice conducted the swearing in of school district superintendent Kurt Browning.

These relationships have led James Stanley, a plaintiff in the rezoning case, to request the disqualification of Mansfield. Stanley "fears that Plaintiffs will not receive a fair trial or hearing because of this prejudice or bias," attorney Robert Stines wrote in a recent filing with the court.

Stines cited previous cases as precedent, including a Broward County case where an attorney in a case represented the judge's wife in a separate matter.

Alfonso has opposed the motion, saying it was filed too late -- 84 days after Mansfield was assigned the case -- and that the request did not meet legal requirements for disqualification. He contended the cases cited by Stines were not germane to the Pasco rezoning matter. …

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Florida education news: Budgets, bills, Black Lives Matter and more

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron are at odds over spending.

Times file photo

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron are at odds over spending.

STALEMATE: The Florida House and Senate see budget talks break down. If they cannot reach agreement, several education priorities could fall by the wayside.

ALL ABOARD: The Florida House loads up its testing bill with other education issues it hopes to move to passage in the final days of the spring session. More from the Miami Herald.

UNDER REVIEW: The principal of Pinellas County's Campbell Park Elementary will be moved to a district office while officials investigate her directive that white students be placed together in classes at the mostly black school.

SPECIAL EDUCATION: Manatee County school district officials face parent questions over plans to move toward an inclusion model for students with special needs, the Bradenton Herald reports.

FREE LUNCH: Donors have helped cut the Palm Beach County school district's unpaid student debt for school lunch by more than $7,000, the Palm Beach Post reports.

BLACK LIVES MATTER: A Palm Beach high school student brings awareness to the Black Lives Matter movement with her specially designed prom dress, the Palm Beach Post reports. …

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New principals appointed for three Pasco County elementary schools

Three more Pasco County elementary schools will be getting new principals, with another round of shifts announced Monday.

The changes come as a result of superintendent Kurt Browning's decision to replace Charlene Tidd at low-performing West Zephyrhills Elementary with Scott Atkins from Sand Pine Elementary.

Christine Twardosz is recommended to move from Centennial Elementary to Sand Pine, and Gretchen Rudolph-Fladd to Centennial Elementary from Veterans Elementary.

"We would advertise Veterans Elementary School seeking a candidate for next school year," assistant superintendent David Scanga advised the School Board.

All of the transfers would take place in late May or early June, allowing the principals to complete the current academic year at their existing campuses.

About a dozen other schools got new principals during this spring, as well, due to a mix of promotions, demotions and one unexpected death. Browning has said he is attempting to better match leaders' skills with the needs of each school.

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Campbell Park principal will leave campus

Christine Hoffman, principal of Campbell Park Elementary school in south St. Petersburg, has been called on to resign for sending an email to staff instructing classroom teachers that "white students should be in the same class."

Times files

Christine Hoffman, principal of Campbell Park Elementary school in south St. Petersburg, has been called on to resign for sending an email to staff instructing classroom teachers that "white students should be in the same class."

Christine Hoffman, the embattled principal of Campbell Park Elementary will leave campus while an "administrative review" is conducted, district officials said Monday.

Hoffman created an uproar last week when she sent an email to her school staff about classroom rosters for the coming year and said "white students should be in the same class" with no explanation or context. She later sent out a second email to staff apologizing for "poor judgment," and a letter went home to parents Friday with an invitation to meet with parents Monday morning and afternoon.

Hoffman requested the transfer off campus and will not return, said Lisa Wolf, a district spokeswoman. In her absence, an assistant principal will take over, assisted by a member of the school district's Transformation Zone team. Hoffman will be at district headquarters. It's unclear if she'll be reassigned to another school. 

Parents and community activists have been calling for Hoffman to resign. Pressed by parents to do so Monday, two eyewittnesses said that Hoffman refused and said "I am the best thing that has happened to Campbell Park." …

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Two Florida school districts, two rulings on teacher annual contract renewals

Florida teachers protested when state lawmakers eliminated the option of a continuing contract.

Times file photo

Florida teachers protested when state lawmakers eliminated the option of a continuing contract.

As Florida lawmakers debate how flexible school districts may be in awarding teachers annual contracts, some school district leaders are pushing for clarity.

They have pointed to two special magistrate opinions on the issue that arrived at differing takes on the 2011 law that did away with continuing contracts for any newly hired teachers.

Teachers in St. Johns and Pasco counties went to impasse in contract negotiations over demands that educators who received evaluation ratings of "effective" or better receive guarantees of another year's employment. District officials in each case insisted that the Legislature mandated annual contracts, without strings attached.

Magistrate Louis Imundo Jr. ruled in favor of the St. Johns teachers' request. Magistrate Mark Lurie sided with the Pasco County school district against the demand.

Each cited the law in his finding. …

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Florida House bill on testing becomes latest education train

Like its counterpart in the Senate, the Florida House bill on state testing -- once 8 pages long -- has become its chamber's vehicle to push forward a patchwork of education policy initiatives found in a variety of other measures working their way through the legislative process.

HB 773, which goes before the House Education Committee on Monday afternoon, would balloon to 76 pages with a strike-all amendment filed over the weekend by sponsor Rep. Manny Diaz.

If adopted, the proposal would include much of the original language, plus provisions added into HB 549 last week. Those included the elimination of the Algebra II end-of-course exam, a return to paper-based testing for third through sixth grades, a move of the state testing window, and the publication of certain state tests, among other items.

This latest amendment would bring in recommendations from several other bills, as well. Among those: …

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Interview dates set for St. Pete College president search

St. Petersburg College

Times files

St. Petersburg College

ST. PETERSBURG — Now that the pool of potential St. Petersburg College presidents has been narrowed to five, the college’s board of trustees will bring each finalist to campus for interviews.

The board’s four members plan to make their final decision at a special meeting on June 9.

The candidates will replace outgoing president William Law Jr., who is retiring this summer after seven years at the helm. A search committee was tasked with sifting through more than 50 applications to settle on the final five for the board to consider, but some tension emerged during that process.

The one-hour interviews will all take place at 4 p.m. in the St. Petersburg/Gibbs campus music center, located at 6605 5th Ave. N. They are all open to the public. Here’s the schedule:

May 4 —  Edward Bonahue, provost and vice president for academic affairs, Santa Fe College (Gainesville)

May 9 — Stan Vittetoe,  provost, St. Petersburg College (Clearwater)

May 16 — Tonjua Williams, senior vice president, student services, St. Petersburg College

May 22 — James Henningsen. president, College of Central Florida (Ocala) …

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Florida education news: Classroom diversity, science lessons, education funding and more

Campbell Park Elementary School

Campbell Park Elementary School

DIVERSITY? The principal of Campbell Park Elementary in Pinellas County, a school with mostly black students, lands in hot water over a directive to place the school's few white students in the same class when possible.

LOVING SCIENCE: A Pasco County teen becomes the first home-schooler to win the NSTA's best female middle school science student award.

STALEMATE: Senate President Joe Negron deems education funding the Florida Legislature's most vexing problem of the session, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

SHAKEUP: Marion County's superintendent changes principals at almost half the district's schools, the Ocala Star-Banner reports.

EARLY EDUCATION: Manatee County schools see an increase in prekindergarten students with special education needs, the Bradenton Herald reports.

SICK SCHOOL? Manatee County officials examine whether the old Bayshore High School building caused cancer in former students in staff members, the Bradenton Herald reports. …

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ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of April 16, 2017

Times file photo

It's not all about the Legislature in Florida education news. We've seen a principal tell her staff to place all white children together in classes, a district ban D and F grades for its youngest students, and school board members say they welcome charter schools to help deal with crowding. Read all about it below.

You can keep up with our conversation on Facebook, hear our podcast, and follow our blog to get all the latest Florida education news. All tips, comments and ideas welcome. Know anyone else who'd like to get this weekly roundup or other email updates? Have them send a note to jsolochek@tampabay.com.

Legislature vows transparency on negotiating education policy. History says otherwise., Kristen M. Clark
"Conference is a common annual process for the budget, but lawmakers in recent years have shied away, in most cases, from using it as a vehicle to pass drastic policy reforms that are otherwise amended, debated and voted on on the House and Senate floors. By comparison to the day-to-day legislative process, conference committee proceedings typically are not transparent and are more unabashedly a display of a preordained outcome." …

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Northeast High's principal is a finalist for Principal of the Year

The principal of Northeast High School is a finalist for Florida's 2017 Principal of the Year award, state officials announced Friday.

Kevin Hendrick, who has been Northeast High's principal for eight years, is one of three finalists for the honor. Other finalists include: Earl Johnson, principal of Matanzas High School in Flagler County and Rachel Shelley, principal of Booker High School in Sarasota County. The winner will be announced during a ceremony June 21. 

Hendrick is credited with developing a finance academy at the school, which allows students to earn industry certifications. Under his leadership, Northeast High also has increased the number of Advanced Placement classes, seen an increase in the number of students who enroll in college, and an uptick in the average ACT score.

The 2017 Principal of the Year will get a $5,000 cash prize and $1,000 for their school. 

Candidates for the awards were nominated by their superintendents.

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Sides closer to contract agreement in Pasco County schools, union rep says

Pasco County school district and union officials continued to negotiate in December even after declaring impasse in contract talks.

Times file photo

Pasco County school district and union officials continued to negotiate in December even after declaring impasse in contract talks.

Special magistrate recommendations in hand, representatives from the United School Employees of Pasco and the county school district met this week to determine whether they could reach a final agreement on pay and other outstanding issues.

With significantly different interpretations of the district's finances coming from the two magistrates, the need for a compromise became more clear. The one who heard the school related personnel case sided more closely with USEP, while the officer who reviewed the teacher contract took the district's position.

USEP operations director Jim Ciadella acknowledged to the School Board that the goal was to avoid asking the board to make the final determination.

"That may come to you guys at some point," Ciadella told the board Tuesday. "We are hoping it doesn't come to that point."

On Friday, Ciadella said the sides are "very close" to getting things worked out. "We're trying to work out the final details," he said, without offering any specifics. …

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