Reminder: Applications due today for PBC’s performing arts schools

Reminder: If you want your child in one of the district’s choice schools for the performing arts next fall, the deadline to submit an application is today, Dec. 2, 2016. You have until midnight to file.

More than 20,000 students are expected to apply to one of the district’s choice schools. But only some have to have their applications in by day’s end. It’s an online application, so no travel is required. 

December deadline is for those applying to an arts program that requires an audition:

December 2, 2016:
Bak Middle School of the Arts (all programs)

The Conservatory School @ North Palm Beach(Symphony Orchestra-grades 6-8)

Boynton Beach High School arts programs (Dance, Digital Media, Music-Band, Music-Keyboard/Piano, Music-Vocal, Theatre, and Visual Arts)

A.W. Dreyfoos Jr. School of the Arts (all programs).


All other applications are due Jan. 27, 2017. Late applications are accepted after that date but don’t get in the March lottery. Instead they are considered after all the wait pool applicants are assigned, the district notes.


Staff asked to come up with another way to relieve crowding at Boca school

Palm Beach Post file photo.
Palm Beach Post file photo.

UPDATE:  District staff will go back to the drawing board to come up with another alternative to relieve crowding at Calusa Elementary – and the plan is likely to involve more students in the shuffle. That’s because the boundary advisory committee wants to see something that brings the school within capacity faster.

The school needs to drop about 300 students from its rolls to return to levels the campus was built to accommodate.

The meeting was attended by about 80 residents from the affected neighborhoods, who spoke against various aspects of the plans.  The committee will meet again Oct. 18.

While boundary committee meetings set aside limited time for comment, any plan that moves out of this phase is then presented at community hearings with more time for residents to comment.

Original post: Once again Calusa Elementary is among the five most crowded schools in the county, but Thursday night a district advisory committee will review two plans to redraw boundaries to relieve the problem.

Whittling the population at the one school will require a shuffle of hundreds of students that will have ripple effects in at least five others in the Boca Raton area.

Calusa Elementary, at 2051 Clint Moore Rd., counted 1,197 students on the 11th day of classes, 357 more than the school was built to hold. The district has planted 14 portable classrooms on the campus – three of them now considered outdated because they are wooden. But even with that additional space, the school is at 119 percent of its capacity.

The meeting is open to public, with 30 minutes set aside for comment. It begins at 6:30 p.m. at Palm Beach County School District headquarters at 3300 Forest Hill Blvd.

“This is the very beginning of the process,” said Jason Link, the district’s manager for enrollment and demographics. The committee will hear comment and discuss and refine these proposals before the next step: community meetings. Those meetings will give parents more time to ask questions and comment on the suggested boundary shifts.

Two proposals are up for discussion Thursday.

Plan 1 would move 412 students total this way:  

138 students move from Calusa to JC Mitchell

85 from Calusa to Whispering Pines

82 from JC Mitchell to Addison Mizner

18 from JC Mitchell to Boca Raton Elementary

89 from Whispering Pines to Sunrise Park

This  plan would bring the enrollment numbers within Calusa’s capacity as counted with the portable classrooms and keeps other schools within their limits as well.

Plan 2 shuffles 443 students this way: (italics indicate moves different from those in Plan 1)

138 from Calusa to JC Mitchell

93 from Calusa to Pine Grove 

45 from Calusa to Whispering Pines – 40 fewer than Plan 1

82 from JC Mitchell to Addison

18 fro JC Mitchell to Boca Raton Elementary

67 Whispering Pines to Sunrise Park – 22 fewer move than Plan 1


The committee will also discuss crowding at Forest Hill High School, Western Pines Middle and Jupiter Elementary, though no specific boundary changes have yet been proposed.



i-Ready or not? $5.6M software targets reading, math but doesn’t play on tablets yet

computerIdeally, i-Ready, the school district’s new $5.6 million software program, can hone in on why Johnny can’t read this passage or do that math and then give him lessons and tasks to build the missing skills.

But in the weeks since school began, a message went out to some parents that not only would the schools be using this technology, but students would have to spend time using it at home as well.  According to some reports, the message to parents  was this is a “mandate.”

And this is where trouble began. The program, at this moment, doesn’t run on tablets or phones, only desktop and laptop computers.

District administrators say there is no use-at-home mandate.

This was a case of miscommunication.

“We can’t, we wouldn’t require this at home. It’s an equity in access issue,” Deputy Superintendent David Christiansen said.

Adds curriculum director Diana Fedderman, “We’re taking this opportunity to clarify that that expectation is not realistic. We know we have children who don’t have devices at home.” The option may be available in the coming months.

Still, the backlash reached the ears of School Board Vice Chairman Frank Barbieri. And while acknowledging a “miscommunication” fueled this conversation, he said he still has concerns:

Why did staff go with a program that isn’t compatible with the most popular handheld devices? If the program was intended to be used only in the classroom, was that the right investment?  Couldn’t the district leverage the size of its impending purchase to make sure the company, Curriculum Associates,  delivered on promises to make it compatible in the coming months?

“I’m kind of discouraged that this information was not presented to the board,” said Barbieri, adding that if the program had been presented to the board’s academic advisory council these concerns would’ve been addressed before the board voted.

Christiansen and instructional staff at the district offices say they hear Barbieri’s concerns. They say they believe they have chosen the right program and are optimistic that by mid-school-year, it will deliver tablet and phone access at home.

(Note: Even software that works on all devices won’t resolve the huge issue of lack of Internet services to homes of the district’s poorest students.)

Some 33 elementary schools already had i-Ready in some classrooms in some grades last year.

They paid for it out of their own budgets. And while they used i-Ready, other schools used similar technology, each a little different from the other with names like iStation or Reading Plus.

They are all in a class of what’s called “adaptive” technology. Such technology is supposed to detect students’ strengths and weaknesses, plotting the next question based on how the last was answered.

All the while, these programs churn out reports to teachers and schools about student abilities and suggest lessons to direct the student to mastering the skills.

Because not all schools used i-Ready in the same way or in the same grades, the district doesn’t have a pile of data on how it worked across those schools, Christiansen said.

Still, Jeff Pegg, who served as principal at Wynnebrook Elementary for the past 16 years, gives i-Ready high marks.

As principal at the A-rated West Palm Beach school where more than 9 of every 10 students can’t afford lunch, Pegg used $7,200 in Title 1 money to put the program in his grade 3, 4 and 5 classrooms.

The program does have educational game apps that can be played on tablet or phone, but the full experience, including lessons and feedback that report back to the teacher, is available only on a desktop or laptop for now.

To give Wynnebrook students other opportunities to log on, the school library and  computer labs were available after school, Pegg said.

“We loved it because it lined up with the standards,” said Pegg, now an instructional superintendent.

To Pegg, the district’s move to buy the same program for all elementary schools and all grades from kindergarten through fifth grade delivers equity of opportunity for students and saves money by buying in bulk.

It also puts all the schools on the same page. Previously, 47 different computer-based programs were running in the elementary schools, the district reports.

“Many were not connected to what kids needed to learn. They weren’t standards aligned,” said Christiansen, who is working toward the district’s long-term goal of improving third grade reading scores.

Nearly half of the county’s third graders did not pass Florida’s English language arts test last spring.

The district is requiring students spend 45 minutes a week in class on i-Ready’s language program and another 45 minutes in the math program.

This is done during what teachers have long referred to as “center time” or “rotations” when the class is broken into small groups, Pegg said. The teacher works with one small group, while others are at computers or other stations throughout the room.

In August, i-Ready became one of three adaptive technology programs Florida approves to be used as a route to promotion from the third to fourth grade when a student fails the statewide English language arts test, known as the FSA.

In today’s world of online reviews of everything, i-Ready has both critics and defenders.

Criticisms, some to be taken with the proverbial grain of salt because they are keyed in by students who have difficulty avoiding run-on sentences, range from glitches during use to lame graphics.

On one teacher forum, a Hagen Road Elementary teacher that commented his students liked it. While a teacher at Waters Edge Elementary pined for more classroom computers on which to run it. But commenters also list concerns about fitting such programs into the school day and the advisability of 90-minute mandates.

Barbieri said he has assurances the approval process will be more inclusive next time. His conclusion on the program: “I believe the administration made the right decision with i-Ready.

(Due to an error in information provided, a previous version of this story stated the purchase was $5.3 million).

Avossa backs down on PLCs: ‘You can’t mandate what’s not in people’s hearts’

Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa
Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa

Superintendent Robert Avossa short-circuited the ongoing dispute with teachers about how they plan by announcing Wednesday night that he was withdrawing a requirement that teachers meet to collaboratively plan 90 minutes every five to seven days.

“I’ve changed my mind on this, I’ll tell you the truth.  What I’ve come to realize, you can’t mandate people do what’s not in their hearts,” Avossa told school board. To teachers: “You know what? You don’t want to be there? Don’t go.”

He said that much of the tension was stirred by misunderstandings about what these meetings actually are.

“They are not an administrative meeting,” Avossa said, explaining that professionals from lawyers to engineers collaborate and that when teachers collaborate a good teacher influences not 18 students but 100s, by working with his or her peers about how to best convey their lessons.


Avossa said he’s decided he’s not going to require the so-called PLCs  because when you require people to do things they sit in a room with their arms crossed, not open to working.

He noted one teacher at Acreage Pines told him collaborative planning has actually cut the time she spends on planning because it’s a group effort.

Avossa said his intention is to restate the memo to schools to say the PLCs are “recommended.”



He said he didn’t want to continue to get mired in this argument because, “I’ve got too many other things that folks expect me to do.”

When it came time for public comment, Avossa’s words, prompted the president of the teachers union to scrap pages of her speech.

Instead, Kathi Gundlach thanked Avossa for his decision. She agreed that cooperative planning is a good practice, but it should be led by the teachers. She disagreed that the meetings aren’t administrative, when schools would require attendance and minutes be taken.

“Teachers have always worked together,” Gundlach said. “We’re having issue with teachers having to collaborate.”

Gundlach said she’d be looking for a revised memo to this effect.



PBC teachers accuse school district of cutting their planning time


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


PBC school starts Aug. 15, earliest in a decade; Here’s your calendar

Does it feel like the summer was a tad short this year? Like school shopping came up earlier than in the past? You are not wrong.

Palm Beach County students will return to the classrooms Monday, Aug. 15, 2016.

That is two days earlier than last year and the earliest start date since 2005, when they headed back on Aug. 10.  (That start in 2005 was also the earliest start date in this millenium.)

Already hoping for a long weekend? Fourth week of school begins with Labor Day Monday. Ready to mark up the next 11 months? Here’s the PBC school district calendar for the 2016-17 year.

Need to buy those supplies? The tax free holiday starts Friday and runs through Sunday.

2016-17 calendar


2016-17 holidays

How should student accountability work in Florida? FDOE taking public input

surveyNow that No Child Left Behind has been scratched and new federal rules adopted in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Florida must revisit its education accountability plan to meet the new rules.

To that end, the Florida Department of Education is collecting the public’s input through July 22 on how the state’s plan should look.

When the comment period is over, the DOE will use the input to draft a state plan that it will post online for 30 days during which it will take public comment. The goal is to give the State Board of Education information to build a legislative platform that details needed changes in the law by September.

The passage of ESSA moved the burden of figuring out how to ensure schools prepare students for college and careers from the federal level to the states.

It continues to require annual statewide testing in math and English language arts in grades 3 through 8 and once again in high school, as well as testing in science three times. (Florida law currently extends testing beyond that list.)

And scores must still be parsed by schools and also by various “subgroups” of students, including racial minorities, English learners and those living in poverty.

States must decide how to define schools that are failing and how to fix them.

Up for discussion, adopting measures of student success other than testing, how to use money set aside for the schools performing in the bottom 5 percent and how to address the progress of English-language learners.


The FDOE timeline for ESSA: 

June 20 to July 22, 2016: FDOE will begin taking public comment online to receive input on what Florida’s state plan should include, based on ESSA.

• September 2016: The State Board of Education will adopt the legislative platform, which will include any statutory changes needed to comply with ESSA.

• By the end of 2016: FDOE expects to receive final regulations from USED.

• At a date yet to be determined, Florida’s ESSA state plan will be posted for public comment for at least 30 days, prior to its due date to USED.

• Early 2017: ESSA offers an opportunity for FDOE to consolidate federal programs funding applications. We anticipate providing training on a new application.

• Spring 2017: During the 2017 Legislative Session, any necessary legislative changes will be pursued.

• Summer or Fall of 2017: If necessary based on any legislative changes, the State Board of Education rule making process will commence.

The department has said the dates could change.

FDOE is taking questions about ESSA at


Florida test scores, end of course exam results due this week

cap-and-diploma-533027-mSchool may be out for summer, but final grades for most high schoolers are not. They can’t be calculated until the scores come back on Florida’s various end-of-course exams, which by law must account for 30 percent of a course grade.

The courses:  Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Geometry, Biology, U.S. History and Civics.

By law, those scores (and the Florida Standards Assessment results) are supposed to be released this week – the week of June 8.

Some have expressed concern for some of the more than 12,000 students who graduated in recent weeks. Right now, their transcripts are stamped “unofficial.” Are they able to proceed to college courses this summer without a final grade?

Palm Beach State College spokeswoman Grace Truman says they can at PBSC.

“We give them an override for two semesters because they can enroll now for the fall as well,” Truman said. “We don’t wait for them to have it in hand. In the past, we’d make them wait until Summer B (the second session of summer classes), but we don’t even do that now.”

Truman said PBSC, which began summer classes May 16, counts nearly 21,000 students enrolled this summer, a four percent growth over last year. That is contrary to what she said was a statewide trend of lower enrollments.

Florida Atlantic University officials say they too are OK with graduates enrolling in summer with unofficial transcripts.

Is there a statewide policy for the institutions in the state university system? No. Each university is handling it locally. “Our feedback from the universities admissions directors is that this is not an issue – they work with the student,” a spokeswoman from the State University System of Florida said in an email Thursday morning.

Palm Beach County schools: Five stories this week you can’t miss

The St. Andrew's School in Boca Raton. (Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)
The St. Andrew’s School in Boca Raton.
(Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)

A lot happened in Palm Beach County schools this week, from an assistant principal accused by students of sexual harassment to a principal being removed from her position.

Here are the top five stories you need to read in education from this week:

  1. St. Andrew’s School: Worker’s ‘boundary breaches’ prompted sex abuse probe

    1. St. Andrew’s School, embroiled in controversy over a secretive sex abuse inquiry, revealed Thursday that one of its employees had “breached student boundary policies” but said it was unaware of any students who had been sexually abused.
  2. Students say Pahokee High assistant principal sexually harassed them
    1. An assistant principal at Pahokee Middle-Senior High School faces termination after accusations that he groped a female student and asked another one to send him pictures of her legs.
  3. Palm Beach Lakes High principal reassigned from school
    1. Embattled Palm Beach Lakes High School Principal Cheryl McKeever has been transferred from the school after a year of acrimonious battles between her and many of the school’s teachers.
  4. Palm Beach County educator embellishes record, gets top Pittsburgh job

    1. After 18 years as a Palm Beach County school administrator, Anthony Hamlet won the top job in Pittsburgh’s public school system last month with a resume boasting a series of successes at turning around struggling campuses. But some of Hamlet’s claims about his track record in the county’s schools appear to be misstatements or exaggerations, The Palm Beach Post has found.
  5. Report: Palm Beach County schools need $1.2 billion in “critical” repairs

    1. It will cost Palm Beach County’s public school system nearly $1.2 billion to make all of the “critical” repairs needed for its growing backlog of deteriorating buildings and equipment at 196 school facilities, a new school district report concludes.

Feds direct schools: Allow transgender students to pick restroom

The Obama administration has written the most sweeping school restroom pass in decades, telling public schools across the nation Friday to permit transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that fit their chosen gender, according to reports that appeared first in The New York Times.

“There is no room in our schools for discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against transgender students on the basis of their sex,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement accompanying the directive, which is being sent to school districts Friday.

Forcing students to use facilities based on the sex they were at birth as opposed to the gender they identify would be sex discrimination and a violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, according to the joint guidance release by the U.S. Deparments of Education and Justice.

The directive comes amid a battle between the federal government and North Carolina.

It also comes a day after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a civil rights complaint against the Marion County school district in Ocala, Florida over a new transgender policy that dictates students use the restroom that matches their sex at birth.

pbc student handbookThe Palm Beach County School District has not waded in to any debate about who can use which school restrooms. In the student handbook, the district states that it “prohibits harassment or discrimination against students for any reason including gender expression and/or gender identity, race, color, religion, national origin, age, disability, marital status, ancestry, ethnicity, gender, linguistic preference, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or social/family background.”

According to a USDOE press release, the guidance issued Friday details schools’ obligations to:

·         Respond promptly and effectively to sex-based harassment of all students, including harassment based on a student’s actual or perceived gender identity, transgender status, or gender transition;

·         Treat students consistent with their gender identity even if their school records or identification documents indicate a different sex;

·         Allow students to participate in sex-segregated activities and access sex-segregated facilities consistent with their gender identity; and

·         Protect students’ privacy related to their transgender status under Title IX and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

The schools can take offer “additional privacy options to any student for any reason. The guidance does not require any student to use shared bathrooms or changing spaces, when, fore example, there are other appropriate options available; and schools can also take steps to increase privacy within shared facilities.”