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.
UPDATE: Palm Beach County’s public schools will close Thursday and Friday as the region braces for Hurricane Irma.
The county school district announced the closures this afternoon, shortly the public school districts in Miami-Dade and Broward counties made similar announcements.
The closures affect the county school district’s more than 180 school campuses from Jupiter to Boca Raton.
In a message on Twitter, the school district said that the closures were done “to allow PBC families to prepare” for the approaching Category 5 storm.
“While landfall is not expected until Sunday, we have a responsibility to ensure our personnel have ample time to prepare before tropical force winds arrive in the area,” Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa said in a statement.
All of the district schools’ aftercare programs will be in operation until 6 p.m. Wednesday, but sports events and school meetings scheduled for Wednesday afternoon will be cancelled.
In a news conference this afternoon, Avossa said that the school district is readying 15 school campuses for use as hurricane shelters, which together can house up to 50,000 people. County emergency managers decide when to open shelters, but Avossa said they should be ready to house people as early as Wednesday evening.
A fleet of school buses will also be at the ready for evacuations in the Glades region if water levels in Lake Okeechobee threaten the integrity of the dike.
While the county is not expected to feel any effects from Irma before Friday, Avossa said that it was critical to give families and the school district’s more than 22,000 employees time to prepare.
“I have an obligation to make sure those teacher sand staff have time to prepare their families,” he said.
Avossa said he believed the recent devastation in Houston from Hurricane Harvey helped to raise awareness of a hurricane’s risks.
“People are paying a lot more attention than we have in the past,” he said. “Harvey, I think, helped people pay attention earlier instead of later.”
ORIGINAL STORY: Palm Beach County School District Officials are watching the hurricane forecast closely but have not yet made the call regarding if and when schools would close. An announcement regarding closures is expected at 4 p.m. today.
Shortly after 3 p.m., Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho announced that school district is closing schools Thursday ahead of Hurricane Irma in an abundance of caution.
The Palm Beach County district works closely with the county’s emergency managers in making that call, spokeswoman Kathy Burstein said. Those emergency managers, including representatives from various emergency services, are due to talk to state officials in a conference call at 11:15 a.m. Tuesday.
“As Hurricane Irma moves through the Atlantic Ocean, School District of Palm Beach County leaders are closely monitoring the storm and its track.
“Any time severe weather affects Palm Beach County, the District works with emergency management officials, including the National Weather Service, to determine how school operations will be affected. Our top priority is to ensure the safety of our students, employees, volunteers and visitors.” – PBCSD statement regarding Hurricane Irma
When that call is made the information will be posted on the district’s website and phone calls home to parents. The message will also go out on social media. Follow the district on Twitter at @pbcsd and find it on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pbcsd.
Check back with ExtraCredit for more details as they become available.
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.”
Now that the Palm Beach County School Board has agreed to accept GL Homes’ offer to donate $10 million for a West Boynton Beach High and two pieces of property – one for the high school and another to the south for an elementary school – what happens next?
According to GL Homes, it’s time for both sides to sit down and craft a legally binding contract, because what the board approved last week was merely a “non-binding letter of intent.”
GL Homes officials say that contract would be contingent on the county commission approving its proposal to build more than 2,600 homes in three neighborhoods in Palm Beach County’s Agricultural Reserve.
But Superintendent Robert Avossa said this week that he’s in no hurry to knock out such a contract until he gets a better indication whether the county commission does indeed plan to give GL Homes permission to build in the south county farming region where building is limited by county rules.
Several school board members, also contacted after last week’s 6-1 vote, agree that they want to know if houses are going up before they commit to borrowing the additional millions it will take to build schools for those neighborhoods.
When will the School Board talk about this again?
The next time they are likely to discuss the matter will be Sept. 6, when the board gets its annual review of the district’s 10-year capital plan, Chief Financial Officer Mike Burke said this week.
Until now, that plan had long included mention of building an elementary in the western reaches of southern Palm Beach County, but the district was still shopping for land on which to build. GL Homes’ offer would resolve that issue.
Also in the plans were an elementary and middle school that GL Homes was going to provide land for northwest of the new city of Westlake – but those schools won’t be needed, at least not for a while, if GL Homes succeeds in its bid to scrap developments there in exchange for permission to build in the Ag Reserve.
The plan also anticipates building a high school at Lyons Road near Lake Worth Road and another west of Royal Palm Beach.
The county’s high schools are exceedingly crowded, with 12 of 21 filled or beyond capacity. The new schools would help, but the district was also considering expanding Olympic Heights, Park Vista and John I Leonard high schools to relieve crowding, Avossa said.
A new school could eliminate the need to make those big schools even bigger he said.
But much of this planning is contingent on the county’s next move.
GL Homes is due to make its presentation to the county’s planning and zoning advisory board in December. The proposal would not come before county commissioners until early next year.
“The whole thing is very uncomfortable…I want to ensure our interests are taken care of, but I don’t like being used as part of the plan to develop community support,” board member Erica Whitfield said. “I’d be more comfortable to know where the county is going first.”
Board member Karen Brill echoed those sentiments, “I don’t know if there’s any urgency in bringing a final document. My biggest concern is that neither side of the Ag Reserve zoning argument use what we’re doing to leverage what they’re doing.”
Brill said accepting the letter of intent, however, was a “no brainer.”
“We have all this building going on. The schools are getting full. Where are the middle school kids going to go when they graduate?” said Brill, whose district encompasses the land in question and who sees high schoolers in that region commute all the way to Boca Raton’s Olympic Heights High because only one other high school, Park Vista, is nearby and it’s full.
Barbara McQuinn, the school board member representing the county’s northern reaches, cast the sole dissenting vote on the letter of intent. “I really wanted to have a talk about it in terms of our capital budget. This wasn’t in our plan. I understand from boundaries (experts) that ultimately we will have kids who need (a high school), but it wasn’t in our plan.”
Should the board follow the letter of intent, the board would accept 30 acres on the west side of U.S. 441 on which to build a long-planned elementary school. It would also take 75 acres and $10 million to build a high school farther north. The latter would be included in the district’s capital budget by 2022 and built by 2024.
Building a high school can cost anywhere from $60 million to $100 million depending on how many students the campus is designed to serve.
“It’s so early in that process,” Chairman Chuck Shaw said. “Until staff has time to start the planning, it’s really too early to decide what we’re doing. Number one is, where we get the money. Then there’s site approvals. ”
Should thousands of homes go up in the county’s south end, the Palm Beach County School Board does not want to be caught without land on which to build schools, and so Wednesday night it voted 6-1 to accept a developer’s promise of more than 100 acres and $10 million towards those needs.
The acceptance came with the caveat that the vote should not be read as an endorsement of GL Homes’ controversial proposal to build in the county’s Agricultural Reserve.
“If the deal’s on the table, we need to take it,” said board member Frank Barbieri, whose southernmost district would get 35 acres on which to build a needed elementary. “We absolutely need this land. Again, I’m not suggesting for a minute I want to get involved in the zoning changes. I want what’s best for the children.”
Barbara McQuinn, who represents the county’s northern reaches, cast the sole dissenting vote, saying that the matter came up swiftly and that she felt like a vote was a statement of commitment.
GL Homes has been behind the building of four other schools in southern Palm Beach County, but this is the first time it has offered to contribute to a high school that would likely become West Boynton Beach High.
A solution to crowding? It wasn’t in the plan.
The high school, not in any district construction plan already, could help chip away at near-crisis crowding on most of the county’s high school campuses. It also puts a high school in a region sorely lacking one.
The land would come in two parcels both on the west side of U.S. 441 — 75 acres for the high school and another 30 acres down the road for an elementary school that has been anticipated for years, but for which district staff is still shopping for property.
“We always try to work with the community and we are hearing this is what they want. They’d like a high school,” GL Homes Vice President Kevin Ratterree said.
The offer from GL was spelled out in a “letter of intent”. With board approval, both sides will move to draw up a legally binding contract that would be contingent on GL Homes getting the County Commission’s permission to build, GL Homes officials said.
The letter notes that this offer does not preclude the developer from paying impact fees.
The developer wasn’t required to donate land or money, though other developers have made similar grants, said the district’s Chief Financial Officer Mike Burke.
Plans for community in the Ag Reserve opposed by some
GL Homes could use all the goodwill it can get, as its plans seem to be dividing county commissioners and have been opposed by the Coalition of Boynton West Residential Associations and the Soil and Water Conservation District, both of which raise concerns about the strains on traffic and resources should so many homes rise on land preserved for mostly farming purposes.
“While we need a high school in west Boynton, this is not the right location,” COBWRA’s past President Dagmar Brahs told the board Wednesday night. She argued the property offered is not in the thick of students, and she decried building on land long reserved for agriculture. She echoed the sentiments of COBWRA’s President Myrna Rosoff, who when learning of the offer Tuesday said, “If this is permitted, it will be the end of the Ag Reserve.”
Nikki Descoteaux, a resident in the region, wondered whether GL Homes wasn’t putting the cart before the horse, making deals to build schools before it has the OK to build homes. She also asked that the board at least make certain its decision wasn’t later characterized as an endorsement of the proposal, and each who voted in favor said just that.
This is GL Homes’ alternative to building west of The Acreage
GL Homes’ supporters so far have been those who would rather see the developer build in the south than on property west of The Acreage, where development was originally approved.
Two other high schools, one in suburban Lake Worth and another west of Royal Palm Beach, are already in the district’s long-term building plans. While what would be West Boynton Beach High is not, that’s not to say one isn’t needed, according to the district’s boundaries and enrollment expert, Jason Link.
If GL Homes gets its wish, it would build 2,600 homes spread over three neighborhoods. By the School District’s estimate, that would mean at least 1,100 elementary, middle and high school students moving in — but maybe as many as 1,900 because GL Homes communities have been so popular with families in the past, Link said.
That number wouldn’t fill a high school — most high schools are built to take about 3,000 students. But it would add to the existing demand.
Of the district’s 21 high schools, 12 are filled close to capacity or beyond, including south county’s Park Vista, Atlantic and Spanish River. One school not filled is Olympic Heights near Glades Road west of Boca Raton. It is the only high school that serves students living west of Florida’s Turnpike from its perch on Lyons Road north to near the Hypoluxo Road line.
“That’s where we do have a huge geographic gap” without a high school, Link said.
Building a high school wouldn’t kill or delay plans for the other high schools in the works, Burke said. But it could end the need to build an addition to Olympic Heights, he said. And it would also offer room for predicted growth in the region, Link said.
High schools do not come cheap, and a $10 million donation covers only a fraction of the cost to build. By comparison, the district estimates it will spend $95 million to build a school for more than 2,500 students on Lyons Road.
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.
The Florida Department of Education has released school grades for the 2016-17 school year, and is touting “significant improvement over last year”.
The number of A- and B- rated schools statewide is up and the number of failing schools has been cut by more than half, DOE reports.
Palm Beach County School District held on to its B rating, as did each of Florida’s other six large urban districts, including Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
Districts earn scores in 11 100-point categories that include student performance on the state’s English, math, science and social studies tests, the high school graduation rate and the number of students enrolled in advanced courses. And on that scale, while all the state’s big districts earned a B, Palm Beach County earned the most points.
To our north, Martin County’s district was among 11 statewide to land an A. St. Lucie County joins Palm Beach in a group of 37 statewide to score a B.
When you rely on high school seniors for wisdom on the path ahead or reflection on the steps already taken, be prepared for some bumps in the road – a not-so-wise education reporter.
Two senior quotes that made it to print in the Boca Raton High School yearbook prompted a recall of the annual tome this month and, at least for now, spell the end to senior quotes moving forward.
Principal Susie King said despite the editing process, two bits of ill-advised reflection got by – one quote was sexual in nature, the other made references to drugs. The mistakes and the effort it takes to keep them out of the book is not worth it, she said in an email to The Palm Beach Post.
Not every school in the county permits seniors to say a few words. Forest Hill High does. Suncoast doesn’t. Like Boca Raton High, Dreyfoos School of the Arts did – but students say they’ve been told next year it won’t.
District officials say it’s up to schools and their principals to make that call.
Mary Stratos, principal at Forest Hill High, likes a good quote as long as it holds with the school’s code – no condescension, no sex, no drugs. “I plan to continue as long as appropriate precautions are in place.”
Stratos’s favorite missive this year came from senior Natalie Abreu quoted The Little Prince: “It is only with the heart one can see rightly: what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
While Abreu tapped literature, other class of 2017 alum in Palm Beach County went the pop culture route, quoting everyone from Spongebob Squarepants – “You will never know the true value of a moment until it becomes a memory” – to Justin Bieber, “I don’t recall.”
Megan Hostetler, a junior at Dreyfoos, said the senior quote is a rite of passage she and her friends have been preparing for since they arrived as freshmen, “Every single funny thing you say, it would be like, ‘Oh, ha ha. Keep that for your senior quote.’ “
Hostetler said she was thinking of quoting herself and referencing her gift for gab: “You don’t need to understand me to listen.”
Now her focus will be on the artsy “signature” students can design to go with their yearbook photo. But she’ll miss the quote.
Tuesday Dermagosian noted for all: “Yes I was born on a Tuesday. No, my brother’s names aren’t Wednesday and Monday.”
Omotola Omotnugbon summed up her gradeschool experience: “I’ve learned to say here when the teacher hesitates while taking attendance.”
Or this from Jenna Allen: “When I die, I want the people I did group projects with to lower me into the ground so they can let me down one last time.”
Much closer to home, at Treasure Coast High in Port St. Lucie, senior Savanna Tomlinson got the most distance in the media with her sign off: “Anything is possible when you sound Caucasian on the phone.” The line did not play well, however, with her mom, according to the young black woman’s Twitter feed: “Update: My Mom is furious that I put that as my quote LMAO.”
Parental wrath is strong when the senior quotes go awry, referencing drugs, alcohol, sex and race.
A mom in Texas is threatening a lawsuit after the young man whose yearbook mug sits just to the right of her son’s used his quote to insert an arrow to his classmate’s name with the words “dis man is ugly.”
Back in Boca Raton, no one was disciplined in the matter of the rogue words, principal King said. The students said they didn’t submit those quotes and the school couldn’t be certain who was responsible, she said.
The offending quotes prompted a recall of the 843 yearbooks sold. All but about 100 came back, principal King reports. At first, the entries were covered by stickers, but in the end the school shipped 468 back to the publisher to have the pages replaced.
In the age of escalating anti-testing sentiment, in a state that has sought to pare the relentless scheduling of state- and district-wide exams, certain Palm Beach County high schools asked their best students to take not one, but two final exams this spring.
The request wasn’t so much for the sake of the students’ grades as it was for the schools.
Jamie Howard, a junior at Jupiter High, was among them.
But I’m taking AP/IB/AICE
This year, Howard opted to enroll in AP U.S. History instead of the standard high school U.S. History course. That means she’s a smart student who is not taking the state’s exam.
In recent years, state legislators specifically changed the law so that when a student takes these kinds of advanced courses and their accompanying tests, they don’t have to also sit for the state’s test.
But therein lies the rub.
When those students don’t take the EOC, all those points are lost.
The school does get some credit – 10 percent of its score is based on the percent of students taking advanced courses.
But the loss was enough for Jupiter High to make a concerted pitch to get Howard and others like her to take the EOC too.
Jamie and her classmates were handed a sheet of paper one day in class and asked to sign off on taking both tests. The incentive? A privilege period for those who will be seniors next year and the opportunity to earn “scholar” designation on their diploma.
Jupiter’s pitch to students
“What this really comes down to as far as I’m concerned is schools using their best students to bolster school grade,” said Jamie’s father, Michael Howard – a longtime testing opponent.
Howard talked to the principal and school district administrators to object to the way this decision was presented to students. He said the students were seated in a room, handed a paper outlining the incentives and asked to sign off on taking the test within the classroom period – no take home to parents, no discussion of their rights. He also posted his experience on Facebook.
Jupiter’s principal hasn’t responded to a request for comment. Howard said the two talked earlier this month. “She was understanding and let me know my child would not be required to take the EOC. She also hopes to do a better job communicating in the future.”
Jupiter High is not alone is its efforts to get students to take both exams.
Howard heard reports which The Post independently confirmed that this also happened at Spanish River High School in Boca Raton. It also appears from Howard’s conversations that Atlantic High did this as well.
Chief Academic Officer Keith Oswald confirmed, “As part of the scholar designation, schools do offer this to students.” He didn’t know how many did it or how many students agreed to take additional tests.
What benefits does a “scholar designation” convey? Oswald said, “Recognition.”
Howard said he gets the school’s predicament.
“A school would be remiss for not trying to use students to bolster their U.S. History score,” Howard said. “Considering the pressure on schools to have improving school grades, I would be surprised if there were a school at which this wasn’t happening.”
But Howard questions how fair the formula is, when students get counted for both taking advanced courses and also taking the standard exam. “Those students are counting twice in the school grades.”
As for the students?
The coursework in the AP class does not exactly mirror that in the traditional high school version. So Jamie’s AP class took time out to prep for the stuff they didn’t cover that would be on the state’s EOC, Howard said.
In the end, Jamie Howard opted to skip the state’s test.