Are Palm Beach County schools committed to new West Boynton High? Not so fast

This is where GL Homes wants to build communities and the land it offered for 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.”

Opposition mounts to GL Homes’ plan to build in Ag Reserve

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.”

Karen Brill

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. ”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Board will take cash, land for West Boynton High if new homes OK’d

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.”

GL Homes offered 30 acres for elementary north of Winner’s Cir. west of U.S. 441

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.

GL Homes offered this 75-acre parcel for West Boynton High. It is west of U.S. 441 and north of 92nd Pl. S.

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

Ten PBC schools to open Aug. 14 with new principals

Avossa visits Forest Hill HS on first day of 2016/17 school year. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

Ten Palm Beach County public schools will not only welcome new students when they open Aug. 14, they will welcome new principals.

The 10 schools and their new principals: 

  • Boynton Beach High School: Guarn Sims
  • Forest Hill Elementary School: Scott McNichols
  • Freedom Shores Elementary School: Dan Smith
  • Jeaga Middle School: Anthony Allen
  • Jerry Thomas Elementary School: Jeff Eassa
  • Jupiter Elementary School: Patricia Trejo
  • Lake Worth High School: Elvis Epps
  • Turning Points Academy: Kevin Gatlin
  • Woodlands Middle School: Enrique Vela
  • West Riviera Elementary School: Robin Brown

The number of changes is shy of the marks set in 2015, when 16 schools got new principals, and 2016, when than number was 13.

For Boynton Beach and Lake Worth high schools, the change in leadership has been a very public affair.

District officials said veteran administrator Guarn Sims would replace Fred Barch at Boynton Beach High after student achievement faltered and community activists began calling for a change.

Guarn Sims, has been tapped as Boynton Beach High School’s new principal. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

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.

Lake Worth High Principal Elvis Epps

The district tapped Elvis Epps from its Office of Professional Standards to step into the job as interim principal in February and now the ‘interim’ is dropped from that title.  Learn a little more from this  Palm Beach Post Q & A with Epps. 

We also have Q & As with Dan Smith at Freedom Shores Elementary and Jeff Eassa, the new principal at Jerry Thomas Elementary.

 

 

 

 

 

Where would recess fit? See Palm Beach County’s sample schedule

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.

>> RELATED: Ah, free time! School recess should be mandatory in Florida schools, not just folded into P.E.

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 elementary school day in Palm Beach County is six hours and five minutes long – the brevity of which has been a sore point for Superintendent Robert Avossa.

>> RELATED: Munoz: Mandatory recess, long overdue for elementary school students

Oswald offered principals two sample schedules.

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.

The law, however, is in the crosshairs of public educators, including Avossa, because of  what they contend is its generosity to charter schools at the expense of district coffers.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Florida grades: 41 PBC schools improve, district keeps B rating

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.

Read our full story here.

Some quick highlights from Palm Beach County’s schools, including charters:

41 schools went up at least one grade.

2 schools went up two grades: Grove Park Elementary and the charter Glades Academy Inc.

Washington Elementary leaped forward three grades from F to a B.

No schools moved down more than one grade, but 21 schools did slip that one.

At the high school level, only two grades changed. Boynton Beach High went from a D to a C. Olympic Heights in Boca Raton moved from a B to an A.

Martin County highlights: 

7 schools increased by one letter grade, including all of the traditional high schools.

Crystal Lake Elementary went from a C to an A.

The district earned an A and has a score among the top 10 in the state.

A more detailed look at Palm Beach County schools: 

The statewide highlights include:

  • The percentage of schools earning an “A” or “B” increased to 57 percent (1,834 schools), up from 46 percent (1,531 schools) in 2015-16.
  • Elementary schools saw the largest percentage point increase in “A” schools, with 30 percent (542 schools) of elementary schools earning an “A” in 2016-17, up from 21 percent (386 schools) in 2015-16.
  • A total of 1,589 schools maintained an “A” grade (660 schools) or increased their grade (929 schools) in 2016-17.
  • The number of “F” schools decreased by more than half (61 percent), dropping from 111 schools in 2015-16 to 43 schools in 2016-17.

 

Low-Performing Schools

  • 79 percent of schools that earned an “F” in 2015-16 improved by at least one letter grade in 2016-17.
  • 71 percent of schools that earned a “D” or “F” in 2015-16 improved by at least one letter grade in 2016-17.
  • 71 percent of the low-performing schools for which turnaround plans were presented before the State Board of Education in July 2016 improved to a C or greater.

When senior quotes go awry: Boca High recalls yearbooks

Boca High students take selfie before their graduation ceremony Saturday. (Bruce R. Bennett / The Palm Beach Post)

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.

And who can’t appreciate un bon mot?

The best of senior quotes everywhere

Senior quotes are internet faves. Pinterest has 25 of the best. Buzzfeed scoured social media to find its top 33 for the class of 2017. They include:

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parent: 2 final exams for the same course? Blame school grades formula

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.

But performance on the state exam in U.S. History is 10 percent of the school’s grade. Another 20 percent of that grade is based on student scores in biology and math – either Algebra 1 or Geometry. So in all, 30 percent of the school’s grade relies on student performance on these statewide exams – that some of the brightest students in the school wouldn’t typically take because they are in accelerated courses such as Advanced Placement, IB or AICE.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Palm Beach County boy’s service dog gets own yearbook photo

 

A boy and his dog  have landed in the pages of Frontier Elementary’s yearbook, and mom is so thrilled she’s giving the Palm Beach County school a shout-out on Facebook.

Ethan Amara sits in a blue polo, grinning, every hair in place. His service dog, Ketch, a yellow Labrador retriever, sits one school photo away, blue harness in place, also grinning, tongue out.

“You want to know how I know that my son goes to the BEST school in the Palm Beach County? I picked up his yearbook yesterday and this is what I see! I’m so very thankful for everything that Frontier Elementary School does for my son and his service dog. The staff embraced them from the minute they stepped foot (and paw) on the campus and for that I’m truly indebted to them,” reads the post by Christina Amara and shared on the school district’s website. She goes on to say the boy’s last school wasn’t as welcoming, but now he’s found one that is “heaven sent and it’s where we were meant to be!”

Ketch has been with Ethan for two years, and his super power? Smelling when Ethan’s blood sugar is too high or too low – something he can sniff out from a football field away, says mom Christina Amara.

Ethan, 8, was diagnosed a few years back with type 1 diabetes, sometimes referred to as juvenile diabetes. This is the kind of diabetes that happens when your immune system destroys the cells in your pancreas that make insulin – not the stuff of bad diets.

Ketch was born in California and trained from very young to know exactly Ethan’s scent.

He arrived while Ethan was in the middle of his kindergarten year at another Palm Beach County school that Amara isn’t calling out by name.

“From January to June, we had problem after problem with that school. If the principal could find a problem with that dog, he would,” Amara lamented. “Legally, yes, he was required to allow the dog, but he didn’t do anything else. He just made life difficult.”

Then they moved to Loxahatchee and changed schools.  And the family has never been happier.

“They’re the kind of principals that know the kids. I’ve never seen them in a bad mood ever,” Amara said.

This isn’t Ketch’s first appearance in the yearbook – he was at the end of yearbook last year, mom said. But this time Ketch’s  mug is right next to Ethan’s. Ketch even inherited the Amara name.

“The fact that they put his last name with the dog – Ketch Amara – Ethan thought that was just amazing.”

Frontier isn’t the only school to embrace a four-legged companion.

A Virginia High School also made the news this week. when Alpha, a black Labrador service dog appeared in the pages of Stafford High School alongside junior Andrew “AJ” Schalk, 16.

The teen has type 1 diabetes and the dog can tell when his blood sugar is getting too high or too low and alert his human 20 to 40 minutes before problems develop. “He has save my life multiple times already, by waking me up in the middle of the night to extremely low blood sugars, which are very dangerous,” Schalk told reporters.

 

 

 

 

54 percent of PBC 3 grade pass state reading test – and that’s an improvement

Palm Beach County’s third graders have made gains on Florida’s statewide reading exam, but they still aren’t passing at the rates of their peers across the state and almost half didn’t pass and will have to prove themselves in order to be promoted to fourth grade.

The school district landed a 54 percent passing rate on what is known as the Florida Standards Assessment of English language arts, a two point gain over last year that still leaves it short of the improved state average of 58 percent, according to data released Friday by the state’s Department of Education.

The test is a gatekeeper to fourth grade, and state officials said they released the scores early so that districts can make promotion decisions and plan summer camps for students who didn’t pass.

While the exam is the primary route to promotion, the state allows schools to consider other material when they decide a student’s fate.

Students can be promoted if a portfolio of their work indicates they are proficient enough to move on. They can also be promoted based on scores from other tests, including the computer-based diagnostics of iReady, a tool now used in classrooms across the county.

Of more than 130 elementary schools in the county, including charter schools, 16 had passing rates at or under 25 percent.  That includes four of seven traditional public elementary schools in the Glades communities and several other schools outside that region with high poverty rates.

Pahokee Elementary turned in the poorest performance in a district-run traditional school, with only 14 percent passing.  That’s down 20 percent from last year – the biggest drop in any school passing rate.

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