In the wake of Hurricane Irma, the school district has the go ahead to offer free meals to all students from today through Friday, Oct. 20, Palm Beach County school officials announced Monday.
“Breakfast is always free in Palm Beach County, and for the next month, the District is pleased to be able to provide lunch meals at no cost as well,” according to the notice posted on the district’s website.
The permission comes in the form of a waiver granted because of the storm’s impact across the state. The meals still come under the National School Lunch Program, which means students have to select a complete meal – not pick from an a la carte menu – in order to qualify. Snack items are still available at regular prices.
Palm Beach County school enrollment has hit a record 193,973, according to the year’s first head count. But for the first time in at least a decade, none of that growth happened in charter schools, where instead enrollment fell by 939 students.
Even so, with an overall enrollment of 19,803, charter schools can still claim as they first did three years ago that one in 10 of the county’s students is on their rolls.
Taken on Monday, Aug. 28, the eleventh day count is an in-house enrollment check used to fine tune teacher staffing. An official count for budget purposes is taken statewide in October.
Schools in direct competition with neighboring charters have worked to make themselves more attractive to families in recent years. Some have added programs in robotics, medicine, and the environment.
This year, one elementary has begun to stretch into the middle grades to reclaim lost enrollment.
But more than half of that drop in charter enrollment, 497 students, can be attributed to four closings: Belle Glade Excel, Boca Raton Charter, Learning Path Academy and Riviera Beach Maritime Academy.
Belle Glade Excel and Learning Path Academy tanked after repeated failed grades from the state. Riviera Beach Maritime was pushed into limbo when the landlord, the city of Riviera Beach, ended the school’s lease.
Jim Pegg, director of the school district’s charter school office, said that charter school growth has been “relatively flat for a few years” but that the drop was nonetheless noteworthy.
“These are always parental decisions,” he said. “The parents are making decisions to remain within the district schools.”
Enrollment also fell at the district’s virtual schools, alternative schools and in pre-kindergarten programs.
This year’s overall growth at the district’s 165 elementary, middle and high schools as well as its alternative and charter schools is less than half what it was last year, when nearly 2,900 more students poured in through the classroom doors.
Still, it’s enough to fill 32 of those schools to capacity or beyond, including 10 of 23 high schools.
What schools are most crowded? Have the most students?
Forest Hill High School remains the most crowded school in the district with 2,463 students on a campus built for 1,837. Thanks to a boundary change that siphoned dozens of students out of the school, its rolls grew by only a dozen in August.
Even though John I. Leonard High welcomed 16 fewer students this fall, it is still home to the most students, with an enrollment of 3,591.
Among high schools, Palm Beach Lakes saw the biggest jump in enrollment with 268 additional students – some of those coming from boundary changes at Forest Hill High.
Relief for crowded high schools is, for now, years down the road. The district has two high schools planned in the next 10 years, one off Lyons Road near Lake Worth Road and another west of Royal Palm Beach. A third high school, a West Boynton Beach High, could be in the mix if developer GL Homes gets its wish to build homes in that region of the county.
The district’s largest middle school, Palm Springs Middle, grew by 115 students to an enrollment of 1,636. Wellington Landings Middle saw the most growth among middle schools with 139 additional students.
At elementary school level, Timber Trace in Palm Beach Gardens and Citrus Cove in Boynton Beach gained the most students, with 123 and 111 additions respectively.
Freedom Shores Elementary in Boynton Beach saw an enrollment drop of 109 students.
As for charter schools, after several years of sharp growth, Pegg said a slowdown was inevitable. There’s a natural limit, he said, to the number of parents interested in enrolling children in charters, and this year’s decrease is an indication that the county has reached it.
“There is, for lack of a better term, a cap,” he said. “If you look over the last three years it’s been relatively flat. This year we’re looking at a drop”
Still, he said the overall quality of the county’s charter schools is rising as more low-performing charter schools are forced to close. This summer, two small F-rated charters shut their doors.
The overall quality of the charters will increase, he said, “the more we close the lower functioning charter schools.”
Once again, the summer is rolling to a close that seems to have arrived even earlier than before.
The first day of school in Palm Beach County has indeed crept back one more day on the calendar, making this year’s opening on Aug. 14 the earliest start date in 12 years.
And, in case you’re curious, the date steps backward by one for the next two years, giving us first days on Aug. 13, 2018 and then Aug. 12, 2019 – but each time school starts on a Monday in the third week of August. Even then, the 2005 school year which kicked off on the 10th day of that August marks the earliest first day of school in this millennium.
Before the first bell rings, you will get one holiday – the Florida sales-tax holiday. The tax-free shopping stretch which applies largely to classroom supply lists and clothing, begins Friday, Aug. 4 and runs through Sunday. The big draw this year: computers are eligible for the tax break.
Looking for an actual holiday? The first of the school year, Labor Day, delivers a Monday off in week four.
The public school schedule has undergone a couple of other significant changes.
The district has nixed all of those half-days. Once intended for teacher training, they were better known as those days that sent parents scrambling for a plan to get kids to school later or bring them home early.
That move made way for another change in the calendar: A week-long Thanksgiving holiday.
The first day of school has long been a contentious topic in Florida, where the school year historically started before the Labor Day weekend – once a common starting point in states to the north. But, by law, it couldn’t start more than two weeks before.
In 2016, when Labor Day fell on Sept. 7, that meant Palm Beach County schools were headed for an Aug. 24 start date – the latest in a decade. Parents and teachers objected to a calendar that pushed the end of the 81-day semester into the weeks after the winter holiday break. While that could’ve been remedied by having fewer holidays in the fall, negotiators didn’t like that either.
In the end, lawmakers that spring changed the law, allowing districts to pick a start date no earlier than Aug. 10.
This year, Broward and Miami-Dade counties are waiting another week, starting Aug. 21. To our north, Martin County schools open Tuesday, Aug. 15. Of the large urban districts, Hillsborough and Pinellas are the only two to begin on the earliest date possible, Aug. 10.
Lake Worth High saw its principal George Lockhart removed from campus last December amid an investigation that eventually concluded among other things that Lockhart asked teachers to do his son’s math work, pressured teachers to change students’ grades and charged students to attend school pep rallies. He’s now working in the district’s charter school office.
Daily recess in Florida’s public elementary schools is now law. What will that look like when the first bell rings in August? It’s still unclear – but it doesn’t have to be outside, according to a one-page memo to superintendents that went out last week.
“This law does not specify the location where recess must be provided. The recess minutes could be provided indoors or outdoors,” the memo from the State Department of Education reads.
It’ll be up to the school district or even principals at each campus to iron out details.
And that’s just the way the parents who pushed for this law for the last two years want it.
“That means excuses like ‘We don’t have the space’ or ‘It’s raining outside’ aren’t an excuse,” said Angela Browning, a mother of three from Orlando and a leader among the so-called recess moms.
“We realized that saying it had to be outdoors wasn’t realistic. We didn’t want to micromanage, we wanted to set expectations and leave implementation to the schools and teachers,” Browning said.
But what truly pleases Browning and her fellow parents who made seemingly endless pre-dawn excursions from Orange County to Tallahassee to advocate for free-play in the school day is another line in that memo – the one that directs each superintendent to sign an assurance that the recess mandate is being met in his or her school district.
That assurance is due to the state by Sept.1 of the school year.
Palm Beach County School District Chief Academic Officer Keith Oswald said he was hoping for more guidance from the state, but the five paragraphs issued Friday may be all he gets.
WHERE DOES RECESS FIT INTO THE DAY? And other questions
Wednesday, Oswald and his staff tried to address some of the biggest questions, including:
How will teachers squeeze 20 consecutive minutes of free play into an already packed day?
The samples manages 20 minutes in a day while still offering , an hour of math, 150 minutes of reading and language arts, a 30 minute lunch, as well as fine arts and P.E. In one schedule recess time was found by shaving 20 minutes from science or social studies on any given day.
Another alternately pulled from science or social studies twice a week and from the hour long writing block three days a week.
“It’s been a challenge. Obviously something’s going to have to give. We don’t want to cut fine arts. We believe in enrichment for the kids, and we need to feed our kids too,” Oswald said. Schools also must contend with state law required 150 minutes a week of PE and requirements for reading and language arts. “That leaves core academics, so we are going to have to look carefully at the quality of time.”
Timing was a common concern Browning and recess advocates heard throughout their campaign.
Their first go at legislation in 2016 failed. And in the year that followed, Browning’s group representing parents in multiple districts went back to their school boards seeking local policy changes.
Three counties: Orange, Pinellas and Manatee acquiesced.
Pinellas’ school day is just as short as Palm Beach County’s and they’ve made it work, said Browning, whose three sons are in elementary school in Orange County, where school is 6 hours and 15 minutes long on every day but Wednesday, when school dismisses an hour earlier.
The failure of any other districts to make change on their own proved to be ammunition for the parents backing recess.
“We were very clear. We felt this should’ve been handled locally, but when they didn’t , that’s when it’s incumbent for our legislators to step in,” Browning said.
IT’S ALL PART OF HB 7069
In the spring, lawmakers delivered the recess guarantee as part of the massive education package known as House Bill 7069, which covered everything from eliminating the Algebra 2 end-of-course exam for high schoolers to teacher bonuses.
When it comes to mandated recess, charter schools are exempt.
But beginning with the new school year, each district-run school must offer 20 consecutive minutes of recess, which must be unstructured free-play as opposed to say games directed by a teacher.
District policy has long recommended, but not required, schools offer daily recess. By parent accounts the reality varied from class to class and school to school. They have told the school board that teachers have leveraged recess, threatening to withhold it for bad behavior or offer it only as a treat for good behavior, etc. That is no longer an option.
But this year the ante was upped big time. Both of this year’s winners just got a free leased BMW.
In addition to their $1,500 cash prizes, Evangeline Aguirre of Palm Beach Central High School and Jane Winters of Beacon Cove Intermediate School drove off Thursday evening from an award ceremony at Braman Motorcars in West Palm Beach with their own luxury vehicles.
The complimentary two-year leases, donated by Braman Motorcars, were a surprise to both women. At the ceremony each was given a pink box with a set of keys and told they could leave with the car that their key worked with.
A Port St. Lucie teen has been arrested after police say he compiled an 18-name “hit list” of students and staff at his high school and told classmates he intended to shoot the people on it, authorities reported Monday.
The 14-year-old, whose name was withheld by authorities because he is a minor, attends Somerset College Preparatory Academy, a charter school, and now faces a felony charge for the written threat, according to reports released by Port St. Lucie Police spokesman Sgt. Frank Sabol.
The teen was taken into custody Friday, three days after the school police officer was tipped to the list by another student, according to the arrest report.
That tip sent the investigator and school staff sorting through the garbage where classmates said the 14-year-old tossed the ripped page after telling them it was a list of people he was going to kill, the report said.
They found a lot of little pieces and eventually reconstructed a list that named not only students, but also the principal, the school police officer and other staff, the report said.
When interviewed the teen referred to the paper as his “Hit List”, but said it was a joke. According to the police report, he said “the names on the list were his friends and he didn’t mean it.”
Investigators said the paper held more than a list, however.
The paper also had a faint drawing of the campus layout. On the back, investigators reported, the teen wrote he was going to kill the school’s receptionist, execute anyone in the office and hold the principal at gunpoint, ordering her to excuse the “Code Red”.
Also, beside each name was a Roman numeral, which one student told the investigator indicated that was how many round the teen planned to put into each person.
Police interviewed two students whose names were on the list. They recalled the teen calling it his “Kill List”.
The students reported the teen also spoke of making Napalm out of laundry detergent and gasoline. When questioned by police about his access to weapons, the teen said that his father had guns and ammunition.
According to the report, the teen told one student not to come to school May 15 and said, “I’m warning you.”
While both school district and federal authorities report they have been in contact with families of children identified in the investigation, they continue to seek others.
Thursday afternoon, the Palm Beach County School District said it will be posting additional counselors at Howell L. Watkins Middle School, where Corey Perry, 33, taught science and computing. The counselors are there for those who may have been a victim of abuse.
Perry taught in the district since 2005, beginning as a fifth grade teacher at Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary and then moving to Howell L. Watkins in 2010.
In its announcement, the district reached out to high schoolers and graduates as well:
High school students who feel they may have been victims of the acts allegedly committed by Corey Perry during his time at H.L. Watkins Middle are urged to immediately contact the FBI at (754) 703-2000 and contact their school counselors for support.
Those students who have already graduated from the School District of Palm Beach County should notify the FBI at (754) 703-2000.
Students who want to discuss their concerns about the allegations against Mr. Perry should contact their school counselors for support.
Both lost their jobs during the course of the investigation.
William Barham, 45, was fired – a process that was sped by the fact he’d been hired just a year ago to work in the school’s Junior ROTC program. Vocational teacher Laura Field, 28, quit, district officials report.
The principal of the Boca Raton school alerted parents of the matter March 2, after the two were no longer employed.
Investigators were tipped off on Feb. 24., according to reports released this week.
It appears Barham’s wife spotted a text message to him on his Apple watch. The message said, “This was a stupid flying(sic) we should have never done this. I’m going to lose my job for having sex with you at school. And for leaving school to have set together. Everyone knows.”
Barham’s wife took a picture of the message and contacted not only school officials, but the boyfriend of the teacher she suspected sent it.
That boyfriend gave investigators photos of the messages he took off Field’s phone from a contact she labeled “captainamerica” that further supported the accusations, according to the report.
His victims are “numerous” and so far at least a handful of them are students who are in the district’s schools now, Superintendent Robert Avossa said Wednesday.
The teacher, Corey Perry, is on the run.
Avossa couldn’t speak to the details of the investigation, but he had these words to the man and the crime:
“As a life long educator I am disgusted at what I have learned. He has hurt innocent children.
“This individual has embarrassed his school, his community and his entire profession by harming the most important thing entrusted to him – our students.
“He broke a sacred and professional code and I cannot and will not forgive him for that.
“I want the community to know that our district is bursting with fantastic teachers who have dedicated their lives to protecting our students. They go above and beyond each and every day to make sure our kids have everything they need to be successful in school.
“So do not judge the dedicated professionals by the actions of one.”