PBC charter schools lose students for first time more than a decade

Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa greets students at Washington Elementary School (Photo courtesy of Palm Beach County School District)

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.

Meanwhile, the beleaguered Eagle Arts Academy of Wellington saw its rolls drop by 346 students, leaving its total enrollment at 431.

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.

After years of crowding, Calusa Elementary in Boca Raton, saw relief courtesy of a cascade of boundary changes in the region that dropped enrollment by 117 students.

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PBC schools start Aug. 14, a day earlier than last year – sort of

 

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.

File photo 1999

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.

 

 

 

 

Update: Last of fall school boundary changes OK’d

Update: Boundary changes approved. 

Original post: The school board will get its last crack at changing boundaries for next school year at its meeting Wednesday night.

So far, the board has already approved moves that should relieve crowding at its most over- filled elementary: Calusa Elementary in Boca Raton. Now the board will move to address the situation at Forest Hill High school – a school so packed that at least 24 teachers don’t have their own classrooms.

It will also tackle two middle school changes that at least for next year involve all of about three students – yes three, not a typo.

With that, boundaries will be set for the fall, leaving two district-wide matters looming:

What can be done about crowding at almost every other high school?

When open enrollment was announced, more than one parent griped to see that only three high schools – two of them in the Glades – had enough room to take students from outside their typical boundaries.

Nine of 23 high schools are filled beyond capacity, five more are at 95 percent capacity or beyond.

What does the district do about its emptying middle schools? 

Eight of the county’s 33 middle schools have at least one third of their seats empty, as calculated by the state. Six are closer to half full: Bear Lakes in West Palm Beach, Carver in Delray Beach, Crestwood in Royal Palm Beach, John F. Kennedy in Riviera Beach, Lake Shore in Belle Glade and Odyssey in Boynton Beach.

The district has made some moves to address these matters. Most recently some of these middle schools received grant money to beef up choice offerings and attract more students.

Avossa visits Forest Hill HS on first day. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

It’s a plan that worked for Forest Hill High which was losing students until it opened an International Baccalaureate program and several other magnets.   

This fall, the school built for just over 1,830 students, welcomed more than 2,400.

The relief proposed will transfer an estimated 182 students off the rolls and send them to Palm Beach Lakes High – a campus considerably closer to their neighborhood which sits north of Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard.

Paired with that move is one that aligns where students in the same neighborhood go to middle school. Instead of attending Conniston Middle which feeds to Forest Hill, the handful of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders in this northern reach will instead go to Roosevelt Middle, where their classmates all move on to Palm Beach Lakes High.

Unlike the shuffle negotiated in Boca Raton, these moves in the West Palm Beach area have gone widely unopposed.

Some board members and panelists on the advisory boundary committee have expressed concern that the parents in the neighborhoods concerned may be poor, and may not have the time or the means to come to the meetings or launch large objections if they had any.

The final proposed boundary change involves shifting middle school assignments for neighborhoods in the town of Westlake where no homes have yet been built.

 

Update: PBC schools nix half-days, give kids weeklong Thanksgiving break

A glimpse at the Palm Beach County school system’s proposed 2017-18 school calendar

Update: The revised calendar for the 2017-18 school year was approved by the School Board Wednesday, April 19. Goodbye, half days. Hello, a week of Thanksgiving holiday.

Palm Beach County’s public schools may be getting rid of all those half-days that send parents scrambling to readjust their schedules when their kids go to school late or come home early.

Instead, students and teachers could be getting a full five days off during the Thanksgiving holiday week.

The big changes are part of a proposed new school calendar approved by the school district’s calendar committee and presented to school board members Wednesday.

The board is scheduled to vote on the new calendar on April 19. If approved, it would jettison the county’s long-standing tradition of scheduling half-days throughout the year to give teachers time for training and professional development.

SEE THE PROPOSED CALENDAR HERE

This year, the county’s public schools scheduled seven half-days, in which high school students start late and elementary and middle students leave early.

Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa talks with students at West Riviera Elementary School. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

But Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa said the shortened days are detested by many parents, teachers and administrators, who find them disruptive and inefficient.

Students are more likely to skip school on those days, he said, and some schools dealt with the shortened days by scheduling 20-minute classes.

“What are you going to do in 20-minute periods?” Avossa said. “Over time, (the shortened days) may have lost their focus.”

Indeed, a school district analysis found that students were far more likely — sometimes more than twice as likely — to be absent on half-days than on regular days..

The revamped school calendar, which has been endorsed by the teachers union, turns those half-days into full days and offsets the extra time by closing school during the entire Thanksgiving holiday week.

Why do PBC schools have half-days anyway? It began at Gardens High, says McQuinn

The new calendar has one less school day (179 days instead of this year’s 180) but slightly more instructional time.

“It’s more consistent instructional time,” said Amity Schuyler, the school district’s communications chief, who oversaw the efforts to redraw the calendar.

Classes would begin Aug. 14 and end June 1 under the proposal.

As part of the plan, students would no longer have Veterans Day off, but officials say part of the day will be dedicated to lessons about the history of the nation’s military.

By reducing the school calendar by a day, school district officials estimate they will save $175,000 in gas and electricity costs. Schuyler said she thinks the weeklong Thanksgiving break could be a selling point for job candidates as the district looks to hire teachers.

If a day or two are lost to hurricane cancellations, the school district would likely not make up those days since the school year already includes more instructional time than the state requires.

But if a hurricanes caused extensive school cancellations, the schools would make up the lost time by adding on makeup days at the end of the school year, Schuyler said.

School Board Chairman Chuck Shaw cheered the plan, which he said “meets a lot of our needs.”

“A lot of the absenteeism that the schools experience on those half-days will go away,” he said.

Kindergarten ‘Round Ups’ have begun in PBC

The next school year doesn’t begin until Aug. 14, 2017, but for the parents of soon-to-be-kindergarteners it is time to get acquainted with your child’s school. ‘Tis the season of the “Kindergarten Round Ups” where your child can visit his or her school, meet teachers and the principal.

A handful of schools have already held their meet-and-greets, but the majority will host events in April and May.

Registration forms are on hand and

A school visit by Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa in 2015. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

can be completed at the school. (More than 50 elementary schools offer choice programs open to students who apply through a district-wide lottery. The application deadline for those schools has passed.)

Aren’t sure which is your neighborhood school: Enter your address here.  

For the round up schedule, go here. 

 

Some insight into the pursuit of the ‘right’ elementary school for kindergarten from last year’s archives: 

The scramble by parents to get their children in the right school was once part of a conversation about college or maybe high school, but these days it’s just as likely to be about elementary school.

The internet is rife with stories of parents tackling kindergarten choice with the mentality of an NFL recruiter, reducing options to spreadsheets and calculating moves from their child’s first play group. There is no shortage, also, of advice to parents on these quests and even research to assure them this is indeed an important decision.

One Harvard study found academic performance in kindergarten was among several factors that correlated to future earnings. The resulting headline in the Christian Science Monitor: Why Kindergarten is key to Financial Success in Life.

Choice in Palm Beach County schools began in 1989 with three magnet programs intended to integrate predominantly black schools suffering from cases of white flight. Only one of those was an elementary: S.D. Spady, a Montessori school in Delray Beach.

By 2005, the choices had grown to 13 elementary schools. And by this fall, that number hit 33 schools with more than 2,400 students vying for some 800-plus seats.

For the full story, read here. 

Goodbye helmet, pads; high school football players try tailored suits instead

Boynton Beach High football players suited up last weekend, but no pads or helmets were in sight. These suits had lapels and are to be worn with something other than cleats.

An organization called Suits for Seniors delivered the tailored attire to 20 boys who completed an eight-week program that hits on lessons of leadership, healthy lifestyles and more. For more about the program and who’s been helped so far, read this story from Palm Beach Post’s Boynton Beach reporter Alexandra Seltzer.

Christopher Thomas, an offensive lineman for the Boynton Beach high school football team, tries on his new, free tailored suit during a Suits for Seniors ceremony at the school. Damon Higgins/ The Palm Beach Post
Christopher Thomas, an offensive lineman for the Boynton Beach high school football team, tries on his new, free tailored suit during a Suits for Seniors ceremony at the school. Damon Higgins/ The Palm Beach Post

First day of school so far: High five for one on-time arrival, crossing fingers for all

6th grade, here I come!
6th grade, here I come!

UPDATE: A child was hit by a car near Egret Lake Elementary in West Palm Beach this morning. Our morning breaking news reporters will be checking for more details. This is what we know so far. 

Superintendent Robert Avossa’s first school stop this morning was West Riviera Elementary, where he high-fived the librarian when she reported her daughter’s bus arrived promptly at 6:30 a.m. Last year, mom had to drive daughter to Palm Beach Gardens High for two weeks. We’ll have a better update about 10:30 a.m.

The district is hoping to avoid bus woes by ditching the new technology it bought for last year. 

Avossa has two children who head off to school today. He said he’ll being doing the parent drop-off thing next week. They were still asleep when he left the house today.

 

 

ORIGINAL POST: As thousands of students head back to school, we’re headed out too. (That’s me headed out to school in… 1970-something.)

We’re asking you to be our eyes and ears out there and let us know how the first day is going. Did your child’s  bus show up on time? Did back-to-school traffic snarl your commute? Let us know.

Not only will parents and students be headed to the district’s 187 campuses, Superintendent Robert Avossa and Deputy Superintendent David Christiansen will be out and about too.

Follow me on twitter @sonjaisger to get a glimpse into the first day of school at several campuses, including West Riviera Elementary, Forest Hill High and Christa McAuliffe Middle.

PBC teachers accuse school district of cutting their planning time

SAVE-classroom

Palm Beach County public school teachers are crying foul after teachers at several schools were told that they must give up more than an hour a week of classroom planning time to attend mandatory staff meetings.

As teachers prepare for Monday’s start of school, the teachers union says that a push for mandatory team meetings could wreak havoc in classrooms, with teachers forced to reduce the hours they spend grading papers and communicating with parents.

Administrators say it’s an attempt to get teachers to help each other improve. But union officials call the new countywide initiative a violation of the teachers’ contract and threatened to file a federal unfair labor practice complaint if it isn’t rescinded.

“This will cause them to have to do even more things outside of their contracted hours, or they won’t be as prepared as they should be,” said Kathi Gundlach, president of the county’s Classroom Teachers Association.

But Deputy Superintendent David Christiansen defended the mandate and said administrators had no plans to drop it, pointing out that many schools have already implemented it. Increasing teacher collaboration has been proven to raise student achievement, he said.

“More than half (of county schools) are doing it and doing it well,” he said. “We are not going to back off that high expectation.”

Rejecting the argument that the teachers’ contract bars the district from mandating the meetings, Christiansen said he would work with principals to make sure that teachers have a say.

“We do expect collaboration,” he said. “It is non-negotiable for teachers to collaborate. But the ‘how’ is really at the school level. We very clearly communicated that this is a process, and it is our expectation that principals work with teachers and teacher leadership and define the ‘how.’”

As they returned to school Tuesday, teachers at several schools said they were told by principals that as much as an hour and a half of their planning time each week would be usurped this year by department meetings.

The department meetings are intended to allow teachers who teach the same subject or grade to get together to talk about best teaching strategies.

But teachers say that mandating those meetings at the expense of classroom-planning time is a mistake.

“Time that could be used to reach out to parents will instead be spent analyzing reams of data in a throwback to the worst days of Art Johnson and Jeffrey Hernandez,” said Mike Dowling, a sixth-grade teacher at Emerald Cove Middle School in Wellington, making reference to two top school district administrators who briefly imposed a test-heavy academic program in 2011.

District leaders had raised the idea of requiring more teacher collaboration during last year’s contract negotiations, but the proposal was eventually dropped, the union said.

Still, Christiansen sent a bulletin to principals in April calling for more collaborative meetings between teachers at all schools.

“There is an inordinate amount of research that supports teacher collaboration,” he wrote, citing a study that found that “successful cases of school reform efforts involve teacher collaboration.”

The union responded in July with a “cease-and-desist” letter alleging that such a push “constitutes a unilateral change in the terms and conditions of employment.”

“Absent negotiated agreement, the planning time changes proposed in the bulletin cannot be unilaterally imposed on teachers,” wrote Theo Harris, the union’s executive director.

In the letter, the union warned that requiring the meetings “establishes grounds for filing a charge of Unfair Labor Practice against the district.”

The union contract guarantees teachers a certain amount of classroom planning time, which varies depending on the grade level, Gundlach said. The union contends that the time to plan is protected by the contract.

“Normally we contact parents, we put in grades, we grade tests,” said one middle school teacher who asked not to be named. “That planning time is really important to us. And now they’re taking two a week. It’s going to cause a great problem in the workflow that they don’t realize.”

“They seem to think that on our planning time we’re sitting in the teacher lounge gossiping and drinking coffee,” the teacher added.

Teachers at many schoools already spend some of their planning time discussing classroom strategies, a practice that Gundlach agreed has been shown to raise student achievement.

But the union said mandating those meetings across the board could create far-reaching unintended consequences.

“If teachers want to plan together, that’s fine,” she said. “But to say that it has to be a certain way and it has to conform to what (administrators) want is not the purpose.”

Christiansen said he plans to meet with principals and union leaders later this month to discuss the plan further.

“I think it’s an interpretive issue and you know, I take responsibility,” Christiansen said. “It wasn’t for lack of effort. “

 

Schools add new items to menus: Watch the taste test

Watch out, iceberg. Romaine is gaining on you. Tips on buying and storing romaine. Illustrates LETTUCE (category d), by Candy Sagon (c) 2004, The Washington Post. Moved Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2004. (MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Julia Ewan.) ORG XMIT: ORG XMIT: MER0705111205175978
Romaine lettuce is a new feature in school cafeterias this year.

The school district is adding some new cuisine to school menus this school year, which starts Monday. The items are meant to reflect the diversity among students and what they eat at home, district officials say.

One difference this year is salads. Romaine lettuce will replace iceberg, to increase nutrition. Here’s how the district’s taste test went:

Here’s the full list:

  • Asian green beans
  • Spanish rice
  • Beef & Bean Fiesta Burrito
  • Italian Sub Combo (Freshly made Sub w/ baked chips)
  • Ham & Cheese Sub Combo (Freshly made Sub w/ baked chips)
  • Turkey & Cheese Sub Combo (Freshly made Sub w/ baked chips)
  • Pepper Jack Mini Cheeseburger Twins
  • Romaine lettuce will replace iceberg lettuce in salads to increase nutritional value

 

District invites 75 more students to Dreyfoos, Suncoast; buses prep for 1st day

Seventy-five students were called two weeks ago and given what many in the district consider golden tickets to seats in two of the most in-demand high school programs in the county.dreyfoosdance

District administrators gave the green light to open 25 more seats at Alexander Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach and 50 additional spots at Suncoast High’s school’s various programs including the coveted International Baccalaureate.

The space had been available at those schools, but money for the necessary additional teachers had not until now, said Pete Licata, director of the district’s choice programs.

Superintendent Robert Avossa announced the additions in his back-to-school press conference Monday morning, a week before students return to school.

Most of those seats went to freshmen and some to sophomores chosen by lottery from the waiting pool created after last spring’s original lottery, Licata said.

Avossa also noted that the district will be opening new choice programs next week. Details on that to come.

Monday also saw the second mock run for the district’s buses.

(Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
(Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

Avossa said the second go in two weeks was intended to work out potential routing problems. Other efforts to avoid last year’s debacle include 60 new buses and 100 more drivers than last year, when the year started with a shortage of 50 drivers. As a result, this year begins with the bus compound full staffed with drivers and 50 “on the bench,” he said.

“The first 10 days of school is always going to be a challenge,” Avossa said.

Parents and students will be able to see where their bus stop will be picking up and dropping off when the Find My Bus Stop site goes live Wednesday, Aug. 10.