Florida PTA supporting HB 311/SB 788 and HB 427

Florida PTA supporting HB 311/SB 788 and HB 427

PTA puts students first!

Floida PTA Communication 01-18-2018I was excited today to receive Florida PTA’s ‘Welcome to Legislative Session 2018’ communication.  Florida PTA is a well-respected organization that advocates for the needs of our public school students and families.

In the communication Florida PTA shared their support for these bills which I believe are vital to students, HB 311/SB 788 and HB 427/SB 1324.

HB 311/SB 788 – Alternative High School Graduation Requirements sponsored by Representative Dr. Ralph Massullo and Senator Bill Montford.  This bill states if a student fails to satisfy the grade 10 ELA assessment or Algebra I EOC assessment graduation requirements, the student may be eligible to complete an alternative pathway to graduation.​  Allows a student to graduate by earning an industry certification or providing a portfolio containing quantifiable evidence of subject mastery.

HB 427/SB 1324 – Instructional Personnel and School Administrator Salary Schedules sponsored by Representative Rene Plascenia and co-sponsored Representative Dr. Ralph Massullo and Senator Debbie Mayfield. This bill authorizes districts to set their own salary schedule; Authorizing, rather than requiring, the adoption of performance salary schedule (merit pay). This would reduce the amount our students are tested as there are many assessments given to students just to evaluate teachers.

Thank you, Florida PTA, for supporting our students and these important legislative bills.

Follow this link to read entire Florida PTA communication: https://thomastalks.org/5u0B1

New Citrus Blessings Video debutes

New Citrus Blessings Video debutes

I am honored to serve on the Board of Citrus County Harvest,Inc. a non-profit that operates Citrus Blessings.
Citrus Blessings program is dedicated to silencing the weekend hunger of local children in need. Each week during school year participants receive a bag of food to take home for the weekend. The food distributed is supplied through community donations and purchased items from the Community Food Bank of Citrus County.
Recently, Blessings producted a new video sharing about our community’s needs.

New Year in education, what might we expect

New Year in education, what might we expect

Learning-Tree-Colour-high-resWith the New Year brings concerns, but also hope, in public education in Florida.

The Florida Legislature begins the 2018 Regular Session on Tuesday, January 9th, 2018. The 2017 session gave us some improvements to Florida education laws, but it also gave us some new challenges. In the end for Citrus County, I feel we have stepped up to the new challenges. I am encouraged about some legislation filed for the 2018 session and hope they lead to continual improvements. First and foremost, I am most encouraged by the Alternative High School Graduation RequirementsHB 311 sponsored by Representative Ralph Massullo, MD (R) along with the Senate companion bill SB 788 by Senator Bill Montford (D). These bipartisan bills may just be the biggest positive improvement in public education in decades. These bills would empower schools to use individual student portfolios when students do not pass high stakes Florida state assessments. It means that students daily work will again mean more than a single test on a single day. (Read more about HB311/SB788 in my blog – Bipartisan Alternative High School Graduation Requirements). I am also most encouraged about, Instructional Personnel and School Administrator Salary SchedulesHB 427 by Representative Rene “Coach P” Plasencia (R) and co-sponsored by Representative Dr. Massullo. This bill would end the state mandate of teacher merit pay, where teacher’s pay is based on student’s test scores. It would instead give local school boards the local control to decide whether to include student’s test scores as part of the teacher evaluation. For the record, I do not and have never supported tying teacher’s evaluation to student’s test outcomes. I do not believe there is any clear evidence that doing so improves student learning.

What concerns me greatly in 2018 is the apparent use of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) to politically impact Florida public education. It concerns me that there is a clear effort underway to substantially erode more local control from public education and shift it to the State. I have always believed that public education is best decided at the local level. There are several CRC proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution that target public education and those that represent it. No other single group has been targeted in this way as public education has. The CRC convenes every 20 years to review and recommend any needed changes to Florida’s Constitution. The CRC is comprised of 37 members, including the Florida Attorney General and individuals appointed by the Governor (15 members), Speaker of the House (9 members), President of the Senate (9 members), and Florida Supreme Court (3 members). Any recommended changes to the Florida Constitution will be placed on the November 6, 2018 General Election ballot for consideration by voters, and must pass by 60% of the voters.

I am also encouraged about the positive impact taking place in our local Citrus County high schools. In recent School Board meeting, I talked about challenges students and families struggle with planning and mapping out their high school courses and post-secondary goals. I asked for Board and Superintendent to work with our high schools to develop an easy to understand High School Pathway/Program of study Guides. These guides will provide the expected courses track a student would take to achieve a desired pathway, such as Dual Enrollment, International Baccalaureate, Health Academy, Academy Environmental Science, Computer Academy, WTC, University, job force, etc. I am excited that the high schools are now developing these tools that can greatly empower students and families to know how to plan better for their academy paths. Beginning this fall’s 2018-2019 school year, Citrus County high schools will transition from a block schedule to a traditional 7-period school day. The move to a 7-period day follows a trend by a majority of high schools in Florida to move away from block schedules or other alternative schedules. I believe these guides will be even more helpful and relevant during this transition. (Read more about 7-period transition in my blog – 7-Period High School Schedule).

Regardless of the positives or challenges, we have and will face in the coming year, we will continue to put students first and be successful for them, so that they have the tools and environment to be successful for themselves.

I am excited about the coming months and look forward to sharing with you and keeping you informed.

Concerns over new Florida law on grad rates and alternative programs

Concerns over new Florida law on grad rates and alternative programs

26167438_1687976191265332_4668911915730708501_nThis is another example of why it is vital that we must have in Florida educational laws a local option for the use of student portfolios at the high school level to demonstrate mastery of high school standards just like we have available for 3rd graders.

This past legislative session a new law is impacting now how our high school students are classified when graduating from alternative diploma programs, and thus it is impacting the availability of those programs which were essential to some students.

The Chronicle recently reported on this in an article, ‘New law could translate into lower grades’.  Follow this link to read article: http://www.chronicleonline.com/news/local/school-board-member-new-law-could-translate-into-lower-grades/article_23af7fca-e9dd-11e7-bd0b-177b3056a8fe.html

Also, Bay News 9 interview me recently on the subject.  Follow this link to interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9rV2a97HdF4

Chronicle: State meddles in local control of schools

44382-10Chronicle: State meddles in local control of schools

New State law creates new challneges and cost for disticts.

Chronicle shares concerns of ever changing state laws governing curriculum selection in schools.
Parents very much should (and do) have a voice and choice in students’ curriculum. We must be careful about laws that over empower special interest on either side of issues, and of those trying to control the curriculum vital for our students to learn. While it is important to have public input, new statutes are costing some school boards and taxpayers as they are being tied up with numerous appeal processes and records requests. As exampled in this editorial, in Nassau County, Florida, a resident has challenged the teaching of evolution– the resident claims life was created by and possibly planted by SPACE ALIENS.

Read Chronicle Editorial Board’s Column publiched 12/11/2017 – ‘State meddles in local control of schools

7-Period High School Schedule

7-Period High School Schedule

This column was published in the Citrus Chronicle on 12/10/2017

imageRecently the principals from all three high schools in Citrus County released letters to all students and their families explaining that beginning with the 2018-2019 school year, Citrus County high schools will transition from a block schedule to a traditional 7-period school day.  The move to a 7-period day follows a trend by a majority of high schools in Florida to move away from block schedules or other alternative schedules.

To understand this decision, it may help to know the history behind our county’s scheduling. For over a decade our Citrus County high school students have taken their high school classes based on a 4×4 “block” schedule.  This meant a high school student took four high school classes/credits for the first semester (from Aug-Dec) and then four other high school credit classes in the second semester (from Jan-May). (Each of the four classes in a block schedule are 90 minutes in length for approximately 90 days.  This is similar to a college schedule.)  The only Citrus County program that did not follow the 4×4 block schedule was the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at Lecanto High School.  The IB students took their eight classes over 180 days on a “A-day” and then “B-day” rotation.  This meant IB students took four classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and then four different classes on Tuesday and Thursday. This schedule existed because the IB organization mandates that IB courses be taught with concurrency not be divided into separate sets of “block” courses each semester.

From the beginning there have been pros and cons to the block schedule.  While there were opportunities for students to take extra credits, to accomplish this classes had to be compressed into a single semester.  This meant classes moved fast which was challenging for many traditional learning students, but especially for ESE and educationally-challenged students.  To accommodate yearlong learning under the block some courses needed to “double up” (e.g., taking two classes of the same subject area such as Calculus Honors in semester one and AP Calculus in semester two or US Government Honors in semester one and AP US Government in semester two). It also meant that students would take state-mandated assessments or Advanced Placement (AP) tests (which are often required to be taken in May) months after the students had completed the courses and were no longer attending the class.    In other situations, there was as much as a year and a half between a sequenced course which is particularly challenging for subjects like mathematics and foreign languages. In addition, in order to have the block schedule, it takes more teachers (approximately 10% more) than the 7-period schedule; it takes even more teachers to have a “A-Day/B-Day” schedule.

This past year, several issues made it necessary to take a serious look at whether the block was best serving our students.  This fall the High School Directions Committee included moving to a 7-period day as one of its items to address. This committee is made up of every high school principal, head guidance counselor, curriculum assistant principal, directors from secondary/elementary education/ESE/technology curriculum/Research and Accountability, district subject area curriculum specialists, a teacher from the Citrus County Educational Association, Assistant Superintendent, a School Board member, and other curriculum personnel.  I serve as the School Board representative on this committee. During the decision-making process I couldn’t have been more pleased as a Board Member and as a parent of a high school freshman at the amount of work and thought that went into this review.  The committee agreed that a 7-Period schedule tended to be more effective for our traditional students and struggling learners. The 7-period schedule still provides our students with additional options for elective credits in such things as dual enrollment, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate while providing needed yearlong instruction for all students in Citrus County schools so they can be more successful. This schedule also provides that each of the 7-periods classes would gain approximately 1,000 minutes of additional instructional time.  This time would be of great benefit to those students having to take a state-mandated high-stakes assessment.  Furthermore, the committee reviewed the impact of the current teacher shortage on Citrus County high school classrooms.  Because of this situation, there are classes across the district where a long-term, non-certified teacher is the only individual available to serve as the instructor.  Student assessment results have shown that this has significantly influenced student learning and success.  We must maximize the number of certified teachers in our most critical and hardest to find areas of English Language Arts, mathematics and sciences. A 7-Period schedule would improve this challenge.

The committee discussed whether it should be an option for one high school or program to have a separate schedule different from the other district high schools.  It was unanimously agreed that all the schools and programs should be under the same schedule.  There were too many disadvantages and challenges to have different schools on different schedules.  As part of the process principals gathered input from high school teachers and School Enhancement Advisory Councils. The overwhelming consensus was that while the block schedule provided some benefits in the past, going to a 7-period high school schedule at this time was in the best interest of our students today and into the immediate future.

The most important question we must always ask when making tough decisions in educational leadership is, “What is best for the students?”  I am grateful that the dialogue and decision regarding the move to a 7-period schedule in our high schools was centered on the needs of our students.  I support this decision as I believe the best education experts and stakeholders have spent a great deal of time analyzing this issue from every angle.

Change is never easy.  High school administrators, guidance counselors and program coordinators are available to address students’ and families’ questions regarding the transition to the 7-period schedule. We encourage you to please reach out to them to find specific information about your students’ academic plans.  In addition, soon our high schools will send out next year’s course request forms that lead to the 2018-19 student class schedules. This is the critical first step in developing next year’s high school schedule and is why this decision needed to be made when it was.  We again encourage students to get with their individual guidance counselors to begin this planning process.  My personal experience has been that these family meetings with high school counselors and teachers have been invaluable and go a long way to easing concerns.  I know our family will be scheduling one soon.

Additional Resources on High School Scheduling