You have two more weeks to take advantage of the new open enrollment rules in Palm Beach County’s public schools, which now allow you to apply to enroll your child at participating schools outside of your regular attendance zone.
Seventy-nine county schools are accepting applications. But that doesn’t mean a seat is guaranteed. According to school district records, some participating schools have just a handful of seats available.
The schools with fewest available seats include Lake Park Elementary, with just six seats; Addison Mizner Elementary, with 10 seats; and Berkshire Elementary, with 13 seats.
Less than 48 hours after publicly criticizing President Trump’s proposed education budget, Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent found himself face to face with Trump’s wife, first lady Melania Trump.
Avossa was escorting Trump and China’s first lady, Peng Liyuan, on a tour of Bak Middle School Friday, meaning some time up and close with the first lady.
Avossa didn’t bring up Trump’s education budget or his concerns about the effects of the president’s proposed cuts to federal grant programs for public schools.
But he had a different request – help convincing the new U.S. education secretary to visit the county’s schools.
“I asked if she would support a visit to a school by Secretary of Education (Betsy) DeVos,” Avossa said. “I asked her flat out.”
Avossa said he is worried about DeVos’ familiarity with public schools and said he wanted an opportunity to show her some of the innovative things that the county’s public schools are doing. President Trump’s nomination of Devos was controversial because she has never worked as a professional educator.
“Her experiences are limited,” he said, “and she might take the time to listen to folks who are out in the field.”
The first lady gamely agreed, Avossa recalled, saying that she and President Trump have seen the county’s public school students give musical performances at Mar-a-Lago and Trump’s golf courses and had always been impressed.
“She told me ‘I would love to have her visit schools here,’” Avossa said.
It’s not the first time Avossa has pushed for DeVos to visit. In March, he posted an invitation on Twitter to her and President Trump to visit “next time you’re in town,” and he said he told the first lady Friday that he would follow up with an official letter of invitation.
His goal, he said, is to help DeVos “understand a little bit more about the work.”
Avossa said he was far from convinced that his lobbying efforts would be successful with DeVos, who last week toured public schools in Miami. But he said he though it was worth a try.
The Associated Press has published video highlights of the visit Friday by First Lady Melania Trump and Chinese first lady Peng Liyuan to Bak Middle School of the Arts.
The two first ladies visited the West Palm Beach public school for about an hour. During their visit they chatted with students, listened to musical performances and were interviewed by student journalists.
As we reported Friday, the visit took shape earlier this week with a request from the Trump administration to arrange a visit to a local public school focused on the arts. Peng, a prominent Chinese folk singer and administrator at an arts academy in Beijing, had indicated she wanted to visit an arts school, officials said.
By Wednesday, the school was being scoured by security agents from two separate nations. Students began to get an inkling of who might be visiting when they saw the Chinese security officials.
In the first classroom they visited, 80 female students performed the song Astonishing, from the musical Little Women, according to pool reports. They also listened to a performance by the school’s symphonic band.
In another class, Trump and Peng reviewed students’ international relations projects and spoke with the students who created them.
At one point, Peng speaks in Mandarin with a student of Chinese descent and ends the conversation with a hug.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa today criticized President Trump’s proposed education budget, saying that his plan to eliminate a federal grant program for teacher training and development would hamper efforts to reform the county’s public schools.
Trump, who through property taxes paid $190,000 to the county’s schools and other municipal governments last year, may be putting efforts to improve the schools in peril by proposing the cuts, Avossa said in an interview today with The Palm Beach Post.
“We’re worried,” Avossa said. “We’re worried about cuts to any (federal education) dollars.”
Overall, Trump is proposing to cut the federal education department’s budget by 13.5 percent, or $9.2 billion, including money for teacher training and summer and after-school programs, The Atlantic reported.
Avossa said his primary concern is Trump’s proposal to eliminate a $450 million grant program that distributes money to help struggling public schools better train and recruit teachers.
The program, known as Title II, or the “Supporting Effective Instruction State Grant” program, would be completely eliminated under Trump’s proposed budget for the U.S. Department of Education.
Palm Beach County schools are expected to receive $8.3 million from that grant program next year, with the money used in part to pay the salaries of supervisors and curriculum specialists who help improve teachers’ performance in the classroom.
Though that’s a small portion of the school district’s $2.4 billion annual budget, some of Avossa’s moves to restructure the school district bureaucracy to better support individual schools are financed in part by that money, officials said.
For Palm Beach County in particular, Avossa said, “it’s going to be a pretty big deal.”
According to Education Week, many experts say it is unlikely that Congress, which sets the federal budget, would actually move forward with such a drastic cut to a program that directly affects public schools across the country.
But Avossa said that he is worried that Trump’s proposed education cuts are receiving too little attention amid the debate over other hot political topics.
“I want parents to pay attention,” he said. “I think it’s important that people pay attention.”
Avossa is drafting an email to school district parents and will forward a copy to the county’s congressional delegation. He said he would encourage any parents or community members to share their concerns with their congressional representatives.
“We know that many families benefit from Title II programs and we hope to continue to receive the necessary funding to maintain these programs,” Avossa wrote in a draft of the letter he provided to The Post.
Seventy-nine of Palm Beach County’s public schools are accepting extra students next year through the state’s new open-enrollment policy, the school district announced Monday.
The 79 schools include 56 elementary schools, 19 middle schools and three high schools across the county.
These schools are required by state law to accept students because they have large numbers of empty seats. The school district limits open enrollment to schools with more than 10 percent of their seats open.
The application process opened today, and parents have until May 5 to apply, which they can do online at www.mypbchoiceapp.com. At schools where applications exceed available seats, the school district will conduct lotteries to select which students are accepted.
(NOTE: The school district’s initial list included 78 schools. Later in the week, the list was updated to include an extra elementary school, Roosevelt Elementary, bringing the total number of schools to 79. This article has been updated to reflect the change.)
Here’s a list of the 79 schools:
Beacon Cove (3-5)
Dr. M.M. Bethune
K.E. Cunningham/Canal Point
Royal Palm Beach
Village Academy (K-12)
Update, April 19, 2017: Superintendent Robert Avossa gave Jamarion Styles the coveted “Game Ball” award that the school’s boss typically reserves for employees who save the day. Tonight, he gave it to the student who inspired the district.
An armless Delray Beach teen is wowing the world with his lights-out shooting for the basketball team at Boca Raton’s Eagles Landings Middle School.
Thirteen-year-old Jamarion Styles became a sensation Thursday when ESPN aired footage of him nailing two three-point shots in a game this week with his school team at Eagles Landings.
In a subsequent interview, Styles, who lost his arms as a baby due to a bacterial infection, told ESPN’s SC6 that he also plays drums and that making those shots in the game was “a good feeling.”
“I’ve just been practicing. I was just trying to score my first points so I just shot from deep.”
High school teacher Samantha Major gutted through the fallout of an attempt to mentor a troubled student. She suffered through seven months of exile on desk duty in a school bus compound.
Aided by an outpouring of public support, she survived efforts by the school district to arrest her, then fire her, for her handling of the relationship with her teenage student.
Now the 27-year-old teacher has returned to the classroom.
Days after the school district canceled its plans to fire Major late last month, Boca Raton High School’s onetime ‘New Teacher of the Year’ was summoned from her clerical post at the bus compound and assigned to Spanish River High School, where she has taken over teaching sociology classes.
After two weeks in her new classroom, Major said in an interview with The Palm Beach Post that she is relieved to be teaching again. She said the mid-year transition was nerve-wracking and initially overwhelming, but that she has found a new rhythm at the school west of Boca Raton.
“It was emotional, but each day got a little bit easier,” she said. “The faculty and the principal have just been so welcoming.”
The story of how the young teacher went from a rising star at one of the county’s highest-performing high schools to the target of a criminal investigation and termination shocked many residents and other teachers.
Major was a standout second-year teacher and a participant in Boca Raton High’s mentoring program for struggling students when she bonded with an emotionally troubled 15-year-old student in late 2015.
Major told investigators that the girl sought her out to share occasional frustrations about friends and family members but also told wild tales and made repeated false claims.
Among the claims that the girl made to Major: that she had once been raped by another minor while she was in elementary school.
The young teacher later admitted that she waited more than three months to report the girl’s claims of being sexually assaulted.
State law requires teachers to notify state authorities if they have “reasonable cause to suspect” a child is a victim of sexual abuse.
But Major told investigators that she did not believe she had good reason to report the claim, saying that the student had a pattern of lying, that her account of the rape changed over time (first involving a neighbor, then a relative) and that the student said the incident was investigated years beforehand.
Major also texted with the student frequently without the parents’ knowledge and agreed to meet the student one evening in March last year after the girl told her she ran away from home and planned to sleep in the streets, records show.
Pressed to take action by the girl’s parents, the school district barred her from teaching and tried to arrest her last fall for failing to report the abuse claim, a third-degree felony carrying a potential five-year prison sentence. When state prosecutors rejected the case, the district moved to fire her this year.
After The Post published a story on the case, Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa initially defended his decision to fire her but later abandoned the plan amid widespread opposition from parents, teachers and some school board members.
Her return to teaching this month, however welcome, was jarring after months of quiet clerical work, Major said.
She was nervous that her classroom skills might have lapsed during her seven months of desk duty, and the challenge was heightened by taking over the teaching of a new subject toward the end of the year. (The classes’ original teacher moved mid-year, and the class had been taught by a long-term substitute before Major was assigned).
“You’re lesson planning and grading into 9 and 10 o’clock at night sometimes,” she said. “It was overwhelming after not having to do that for seven months.”
Major’s settlement with the school district prevents her from teaching at Boca Raton High while her former student, now a junior, attends the school. That could allow Major to return to the school — where she starred on the soccer team as a student and had been named “New Teacher of the Year” — in August 2018.
But while she feels a strong link to Boca High, she said she has been embraced by the administrators and teachers at Spanish River and said the change has made her a better educator.
“It’s sometimes good to be stretched out of your comfort zone,” she said.
Black and Hispanic students with promising test scores are far less likely than similarly skilled white students to be enrolled in college-level classes in Palm Beach County’s public high schools, a disparity that school district leaders blame in part on “implicit bias” in the schools.
Black male juniors and seniors whose test scores indicate they could do well in college-level courses are excluded from those courses at twice the rate as white males, a school district analysis of PSAT scores shows.
And while 82 percent of white females with promising test scores were enrolled in college-level high school classes this year, just 64 percent of similarly performing black females were enrolled.
Similar but smaller gaps exist between the enrollments of high-achieving white and Hispanic students, and there is a substantial disparity between male and female students, with high-achieving girls more likely than boys to be enrolled in college-level classes.
The so-called “opportunity gap” has existed for decades in the county’s high schools and nationwide, educators say. But it has received new attention locally under Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa, whose administration flagged the issue last year and is pushing principals to address the disparities.
“Students who have potential, why are they not in the courses?” Deputy Superintendent David Christiansen said. “There’s a significant gap there that we want to start to close.”
‘Turn a blind eye’
Administrators now track the gap throughout the year and push school-level information about it to principals. They say that although the disparity remains, the new focus has contributed to increases this year in participation in college-level classes, including Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, dual-enrollment and AICE (Advanced International Certificate of Education) classes.
The efforts also have cast new attention on the sometimes-murky methods that schools use to select students for college-level classes.
The process for inviting students to take such classes, in which students can receive college credit, varies from school to school. But educators say it generally includes a review of students’ test scores, grades and recommendations from teachers. For some programs, it can also include a formal application process.
Using multiple sources of information is intended to give administrators and guidance counselors a holistic view of each student’s potential. But educators say it makes the process more subjective, leaving it susceptible to differing ideas of what qualifies a student to be in an Advanced Placement class.
“People have a lot of different profiles of what an AP student looks like,” said Geoff McKee, an assistant regional superintendent who until recently was Boca Raton High School’s longtime principal.
In some cases, he said, teachers’ perceptions of student qualifications can be affected by their demeanor, the way they speak, their behavior in class — even their physical appearance.
“You kind of need to turn a blind eye to those appearances,” he said. “They need to take a backseat to what the numbers are saying.”
For a more neutral look, administrators are leaning more heavily on a tool called “AP Potential,” which tracks students’ performance on the PSAT exam, which students now take in 8th, 9th and 10th grades.
The “AP Potential” tool — created by College Board, which develops and administers the PSAT, SAT and AP exams — uses students’ performances on the PSAT to predict how well they would perform on particular AP exams. Students take the PSAT, or Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test, as preparation for the SAT college entrance exam, and the scores are used to identify students for scholarships.
The school district is now using the tool to measure how individual schools are assigning students to college-level classes. The data, they say, revealed massive disparities.
“What we’re trying to do is put it in front of everyone so they can’t ignore it,” Christiansen said. “It shouldn’t be teacher-pleasing behavior that ought to determine this.”
This school year, for example, 81 percent of white female juniors and seniors deemed to have potential for success in AP classes were enrolled in some sort of college-level class. But only 51 percent of black males deemed to have potential were enrolled. Just 64 percent of similarly situated Hispanic males were enrolled.
The disparities do not always cut neatly across racial lines, and the picture is complicated by the consistent gaps between females and males. Promising Hispanic females, for instance, are more likely than similarly qualified white males to be enrolled in college-level classes.
Christiansen said many factors are likely at play in the disparities, including some students’ aversion to taking the classes, reliance on non-academic indicators like student behavior, and “implicit bias.”
At some schools, he said. “there are some hidden rules” about who is deemed eligible for these classes, so the school district’s focus is on efforts to “make it more of an objective process.”
“These are students who can do it, they’ve shown that,” he added. “We just want to give them a shot.”
But he said addressing the disparity is not as simple as using a single test score. Soft factors like students’ engagement and behavior still matter, he said.
Even College Board, which created the “AP Potential” tool, warns users that “it should never be used as the sole criterion for placement in AP courses.”
“Sometimes you do have to look at skill and will,” Christiansen said.
Palm Beach County is hardly alone in confronting the disparity. Education scholars say awareness about inequities in access to college-level classes is on the rise.
Last year, after a federal report revealed a lack of availability of calculus courses in high schools predominately attended by minority students, then-U.S. Education Secretary John King said that children of color are “not getting the same opportunity to learn” as white students, The Atlantic magazine reported.
The key to fixing the disparity is examining assumptions about “who is ‘AP material,’ and dispelling that myth,” said Ashley Griffin, director of K-12 research at the Education Trust, a Washington, D.C., non-profit that studies efforts to raise student achievement.
“There are a lots of students who are falling in the gap between who is perceived to have potential and who actually can handle these courses,” Griffin said.
One frequently cited barrier is the students themselves and their families. Students from low-income families or immigrant communities may often be less attentive to the advantages of college-level classes and more wary of the extra rigor, educators say.
Christiansen and McKee, both former high school principals, recalled working frequently to persuade reluctant students and parents to switch from regular classes to the college-level versions.
“You think, who’s blocking these kids?” McKee said. “And one of the surprising blocks is the kids themselves.”
Griffin said that efforts to include more students of color need to start well before the students even take the PSAT. Classes in earlier grades should prepare them to begin thinking about their academic interests and dispelling myths that the students themselves may believe about who belongs in such classes.
“Do we have students who maybe aren’t participating because of their misperceptions?” Griffin asked rhetorically. “How do we think about those who may or may not be prepared?”
Christiansen said putting the issue at the forefront is showing signs of working. Enrollment of promising black males in college-level classes is up four percentage points from last year, and the rate for Hispanic males is up by six points. But he said closing the gap will take years.
“We’re not there yet,” he said. “We’re certainly not going to go out and throw a parade or anything, because we still have work to do.”
Same potential, different results
The school district examined how many high school juniors and seniors deemed to have the potential to take college-level courses ended up enrolling in them. The results show black and Hispanic students are far less likely to be enrolled than whites.
Black females: 64 percent
Black males: 51 percent
Hispanic females: 77 percent
Hispanic males: 64 percent
White females: 82 percent
White males: 74 percent
Source: Palm Beach County School District analysis
Lake Worth High School’s principal has been removed from the campus and an assistant principal has been transferred in fallout from the school’s handling of a student who attacked the assistant principal last month, The Palm Beach Post has learned.
School district officials this week ordered longtime Principal George Lockhart to stay off campus amid a probe stemming from the Nov. 22 attack, the handling of which has divided school staffers since it happened.
The incident came to the attention of top school district leaders this month via a scathing email from the wife of the attacked assistant principal, who claimed that the offending student was allowed to return to school days later without undergoing a mandatory student-transfer proceeding.
The female student punched, scratched, bit and kicked Assistant Principal Terence Hart on Nov. 22, according to Hart’s wife, Ayana Hart. A copy of her email to school district leaders was obtained by The Post.
The attack, she said, should have prompted the student to be considered for a transfer to another school under the school district’s student code of conduct.
Instead, she claimed that Lockhart allowed the student to return to campus days later, a decision that she argued put students and school workers “at risk of a violent attack.”
It was not clear whether Lockhart’s removal was directly related to his handling of the incident. An official familiar with the case told The Post that human-resource investigators were reviewing separate allegations that emerged in a probe of the matter.
In further fallout, Terence Hart, the assistant principal injured by the student, was reassigned this week to a position at Turning Points Academy, an alternative school for high-risk students.
Together, the moves leave the school largely leaderless as district officials work through events that have divided the campus for nearly a month.
After the Nov. 22 incident, the Hart family removed their two daughters from the school, concluding they were not safe there, Ayana Hart said.
“This student physically and aggressively attacked my husband,” she wrote, “and I know that this is not the first time this student has attacked someone at the school.”
“But it seems as though the principal doesn’t care about how this student is putting other students, as well as the administrators and staff, at risk of a violent attack,” she continued.
Hart and his wife declined to comment, while Lockhart did not respond to messages seeking comment. Two people familiar with the case told The Post that Lockhart and Hart had been involved in an ongoing feud that predated the attack.
A school district spokeswoman declined to comment on the case, other than to confirm that Lockhart had been temporarily removed from the school pending an investigation.
The incident comes amid widespread pressure on principals to cut the rates of suspensions and expulsions on their campuses, a national movement sparked by concerns that school discipline disproportionately affects male and minority students.
But some teachers have expressed worry that refraining from disciplining students who commit violence creates an unsafe environment for teachers and administrators.
“If the student is allowed back on campus, you’ve sent a message to the other students that you can attack with impunity,” said a person familiar with the details of the campus incident.
Ayana Hart, in her email, suggested that allowing the student to return was part of a larger cultural problem at the school that encouraged letting students escape punishment for physical altercations.
“How are the students supposed to feel safe and protected when this type of behavior is cultivated at the school?” she wrote. “It’s as though the students know that the principal is not going to discipline them or provide any consequences for their actions!”
The investigation into the incident continues, a district spokeswoman said.