Updated: What PBC students got from $651M of last school sales tax

Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa
Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa

 

In a case of perfect timing,  just as the Palm Beach County School Board considers collaborating with the county to pursue a one penny sales tax, the committee that oversaw spending on the district’s last, now-expired sales tax has released its report on how that one went.

Update: 

Only this month did the Palm Beach County School District close the books on the projects paid for by the half-cent sales tax that expired in 2010. The last project on those books was The Conservatory @ North Palm Beach school which opened a year ago, said David Porter, who served on the independent oversight committee that kept tabs on the projects.

The books closed, the committee, which last met three years ago, moved to reviewing the projects and the process and issued its final report March 4, Porter said. It was a report the committee intended to produce from the beginning, he said.

“We wanted to do that to show the public,” Porter said. That the report comes amid discussions of a new sales tax was both coincidental and fortunate, he said. “It wasn’t planned. We could’ve written it three years ago, but we wanted to wait until all the bills got paid.”

For a school-by-school list of projects refer to the 2005-2009 Five Year Capital Plan.

The board has agreed 5-2 to combine with the county to seek raising the sales tax, but gave the county commission until April 15 to commit to the joint effort.

Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa discussed the 7-page report titled “Promises Made/Promises Kept”at a media briefing before today’s (Wed. March 16) school board meeting.

That sales tax was a 1/2 cent sales tax approved by county voters in 2004 to remain in place for five years or until $560 million was raised.

In the end, the tax expired in 2010 after generating more than $651 million – the additional cash was because the sales tax had to run to the end of the calendar year.

The money was intended for the district’s construction program. Back then the district was rushing to keep up with a growing student body and demands of class size reduction.

According to the committee, 98 percent of the 161 projects were completed, and the four that weren’t got sidelined because by the time they rolled around students had moved and there weren’t enough to fill a new school.

The oversight committee (full name: Independent Sales Surtax Oversight Committee or ISSOC) was comprised of 13 “stakeholders”, most of them not employees of the district.

The committee met for seven years to review each construction project and its costs.

What did voters get for their money?

• 24 New and Replacement Schools • 23 Classroom Additions • 7 Pre-K Centers • 4 Auditoriums • 3 High School Stadiums • 47 Schools received Covered Walkways • 45 Schools received Computer Connectivity • 5 Career Academy Additions • 1 Swimming Pool

 

 

 

Dreyfoos biology teacher lands PBC’s Teacher of the Year; students get one day test reprieve

A 16-year teaching veteran who heads the biology department at Dreyfoos School of the Arts got a surprise visit from the superintendent and a new title: Palm Beach County’s Teacher of the Year.

Stephen Anand has been recognized several times in his career for his good work. He was a Dwyer Award winner once and a finalist two other times. (An earlier version of this post erroneously reported he was a three-time finalist) He was also named the 2011 Teacher of the Year by the National Association of Biology Teachers.

Check back this afternoon to hear what students and colleagues have to say about Anand’s good work.

 

 

From reporter Gurman Bhatia:

Biology teacher Stephen Anand was presiding over an open-book test at Dreyfoos School of the Arts Tuesday morning when Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa and a camera-toting entourage barged in to announce Anand is the county’s Teacher of the Year.

While Anand stood slack-jawed in surprise, his students rejoiced.

“You are the best teacher ever!” the ninth-graders cheered.

“I wish I had showered this morning,” was Anand’s first reaction.

Anand does not run the typical biology class.

A genetics lesson in his hands created walls full of faces – the would-be children that came from a make-believe pairing of students in the class. Each set of ‘parents’ combined their genes on paper and deciphered what the resulting child would look like – and then they drew them.

Anand isn’t just about science. His desk is equal parts puzzle-loving nerd and soccer coach – In addition to scientific decor, adorned with photos of the girls team and their awards.

Teaching runs in Anand’s family. His mother taught at Olympic Heights High west of Boca Raton. And he married a teacher. Lalena Anand teaches at Berkshire Elementary.

Anand, a Florida Atlantic University graduate, started his 16-year career as an English teacher at Dreyfoos and then transitioned to biology. He was awarded the Dwyer Award in 2012 and was a finalist in 2006 and 2008. He was also named the 2011 Teacher of the Year by the National Association of Biology Teachers.

“The best thing about him is that he is really helpful,” said Marilynn Howard, Anand’s colleague and a former countywide teacher of the year. When two teachers were absent Tuesday, Anand stepped in to make lesson plans for all of their classes, she said.

He makes it look easy, even when it’s not.

“It is a profession that is the most rewarding but it is also the most challenging,” Anand said. His advice to those starting their careers: “Stick with it. Find a mentor.”

And maybe, one day, the superintendent will honor them as he did Anand on Tuesday.

“There are a lot of good teachers,” said Avossa. “But very few great and exceptional teachers.”

Anand gets $1,000 along with his new title and he will represent the district in the upcoming statewide teacher of the year competition. Anand’s colleagues celebrated with cake and a lunch. His students got a one-day reprieve from the test.

Norovirus sidelined 250 Boynton students, unlikely to abate soon, says health department

citrus coveThe nasty gastrointestinal bug that sidelined more than 100 Citrus Cove Elementary school students last week has now been identified as norovirus, the quick-spreading scourge that is most notoriously associated with outbreaks on cruise ships.

Palm Beach County health officials confirmed Monday that lab results identified the source of the illness that spiked absences at the school beginning in the middle of last week.

The school, in the Boynton Beach area, typically sees about 60 of its nearly 1,000 students sick on any given day, but last week the number rose to 90 on Wednesday and hit more than 250 by Friday. Monday, 137 were absent and another 49 were sent home, said school district spokeswoman Kathy Burstein

“We don’t feel it’s peaked yet,” O’Connor said Monday. “We don’t want to speculate. But (the outbreak at) Wellington Elementary last year went on for a good 30 days even with a spring break. It came back when the kids came back.

“We’re hoping to get it under control as soon as possible. The school district is being much more aggressive with the cleaning part this time,” O’Connor said.

Principal Laura Green sent a note home to parents urging them to double down on hand washing efforts and keep sick children at home after symptoms abate for at least 48 hours to stop the contagion.

That part is key, O’Connor said. “Any sooner and they can still shed the virus.”

handwash

At the same time, sanitation crews scoured the campus daily cleaning water fountains, bathrooms, rooms in which students were absent and common areas including the cafeteria and library, school district officials reported.

In an abundance of caution, the county’s Supervisor of Elections also relocated two voting precincts in Tuesday’s election. Voters casting ballots in precincts 3138 and 3164 should head to Boynton Beach High at 4975 Park Ridge Blvd. instead.

Norovirus is sometimes referred to as food poisoning or stomach flu, but it’s not actually the flu. Instead, it is a virus that inflames its victim’s stomach and intestines leading to stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea or vomiting. Getting it once does not give you any immunity from getting it again.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports norovirus is the most common cause of “acute gastroenteritis” in the United States, infecting 19 to 21 million a year, and sending from 56,000 to 71,000 people each year to the hospital. It can be fatal, killing 570 to 800 people annually.

It is spread when you touch things already contaminated with the virus and then put your fingers in your mouth. Sharing food, eating off the same utensils and coming into close contact with someone who is already sick can make you sick too.

We hear about outbreaks on cruise ships, but they happen in a variety of closed places including daycare centers, nursing homes and schools, the CDC reports. We’re in the middle of norovirus season – from November to April – when outbreaks are most common.

 

Illness sweeps Boynton area elementary school, prompts voting to be moved

sickThe county’s health officials have been notified and the school district’s cleaning crews have been deployed to battle a gastrointestinal illness that is sweeping through Citrus Cove Elementary in Boynton Beach this week.

The as yet unidentified illness also prompted the county’s elections supervisor to relocate voting precincts at the elementary, moving them to the auditorium at Boynton Beach High for Tuesday’s elections.

Concerns were raised Wednesday when absences at the school hit near 90 – far above the average 60 at the campus of nearly 1,000 students. Thursday, absences went up further to 117, said Tim O’Connor, spokesman for the state Health Department in Palm Beach County.

The health department was contacted and an effort began to sanitize rooms daily where students reported to be sick. The common areas including the cafeteria, library and water fountains are also being sanitized daily, Principal Laura Green told parents in a letter home this week.

The symptoms of this illness include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. The department continues to investigate the cause. It does not appear to be the flu, which is a respiratory illness.

The school’s doors remained open for class Friday, but parents have been reminded that hand washing with soap and water is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of the illness.

If a child becomes ill, officials are asking parents to keep him or her at home until they’ve been symptom free for 48 hours.

No other school in the district has reported a similar outbreak.

Questions? Call the Epidemiology at Florida Department of Health in Palm beach County at 561-671-4184 or call the school.

 

 

The Trump gets fact-checked on the Common Core

Donald Trump (Bill Ingram/ The Palm Beach Post)
Donald Trump (Bill Ingram/ The Palm Beach Post)

At the GOP debate in Miami Thursday night, Donald Trump said Common Core is “education through Washington D.C.”

In this election season he isn’t the first to vilify the education standards that have been adopted by 42 states. Florida adopted Common Core standards in 2010 and then tweaked and renamed them the Florida State Standards in 2014 after public opposition. 

Which brings us to Trump’s declaration that Washington and the federal government are behind the Common Core standards.

The fact-checking website PolitiFace that rates the accuracy of statement by politicians rated this one False.

In their analysis, the fact checkers go to the history of Common Core – state education officials who wanted to create standards that set the same academic goals for students across states — so teachers would aim to impart the same knowledge and skills to students in Florida as they would in California or Massachussetts.  (Theirs has more detail.)

They also note that it’s been up to states to then adopt the standards.

When it comes to the feds, Politifact said:

Washington has done a bit to encourage states to adopt the standards. President Barack Obama’s signature education program, Race to the Top, gave states that have adopted a set of standards extra points (40 of a possible 500) when competing for grants.

But the federal government didn’t help create the standards, and has no control over how they’re implemented. Even states that have adopted the standards are still free to set their own curricula.

In short, it doesn’t matter who the president is because there’s not much the federal government can do about Common Core.

 

 

 

Is your kid getting the 150 minutes of PE state law requires?

recess
Recess at Limestone Creek Elementary, (Damon Higgins / Palm Beach Post)

The bill to require 20 minutes of recess a day seems unlikely to make it through the last days of the Florida legislature. Update: It failed.  At least kids still have PE, right?

Florida law already requires physical education class for 150 minutes a week in elementary school. But do students actually get the full 150? Most parents look at the schedule the school sends home with their children, add up the minutes and say, ‘No.’

Take Limestone Creek Elementary in Jupiter, for example.

Like most schools, Limestone has a number of courses its students cycle through one  per day, called “the wheel”. The wheel is a seven-  or eight-day rotation that includes five subjects in a given semester: art, music, PE, computers and either media (the library) or guidance. PE is in the rotation more than once, the administrators explained, so that each student gets PE via the wheel three times a week for 35 minutes a day.

That’s 105 minutes.

Look at the wheel schedules as at other schools collected from parents across the district, you see the same thing. A half hour three days a week. Thirty-five minutes on Day Four.

“I don’t know one wheel that would get to 150 minutes,” said the district’s Chief Academic Officer Keith Oswald.

Instead, each school is charged with creating schedules that have classroom teachers cover the rest of those minutes either inside or outside the classroom, Oswald said. These additional minutes are not to be confused with recess, which is encouraged by district policy, but not required, Oswald said.

PE is defined by Florida law as “physical activities of at least a moderate intensity level and for a duration sufficient to provide a significant health benefit to students”  in a program reviewed by a certified PE teacher.

By district policy, PE is supposed to be an activity in which students practice motor skills and social skills.

It includes “individual activities as well as competitive and non-competitive team sports,” according to policy.

These days, every Palm Beach County elementary school has at least one PE teacher, some have two – one, in the Glades, has three, said Eric Stern, who is in charge of physical education curriculum for the district. That’s more than were in school about a decade ago, he recalls.

But it’s not enough for every student, every day.

So the district relies on classroom teachers for the rest.

The district has given them training in a variety of ways to do PE,  Stern said.

“It could be indoors or outdoors. It could be a jump rope lesson, relay races, a modified game of kickball. That’s what it could be,” Stern said.

The district has created physical activity packets with 100 suggestions that require little or no equipment. Teachers can also tap into resources such as GoNoodle, an online trove of activities and games to employ in the classroom. (According to GoNoodle’s monthly report, more than 1,800 teachers tapped into the site and played more than 25,000 “physical activity breaks”. Allamanda Elementary was a top user this month with 930 breaks played.)

Every minute, in every classroom is not monitored by the district, however.

Each school submits its plans to the district as part of its “master board” of scheduling. But that board does not drill down to each teacher’s room. It’s up to the principal to be sure each teacher has scheduled that time for his or her students, Oswald said.

“It is challenging. Principals and teachers are frustrated because there are not enough hours in the day to get everything on there that is required,” Oswald said.

They aren’t the only ones frustrated.

Sharon Owen, a mother of two, questioned how much playground time her children were getting. A proponent of the failed required recess bill, she looked at her children’s schedules and didn’t see 150 minutes of PE either.

“I’ve spoken to my school about this and they’ve used recess to get to the 150 minutes of PE. They’re telling me recess is structured with a teacher. They say recess is the same thing. To me, they’re not following the law.

“People need to know they’re kids aren’t getting recess. People say kids are getting PE, but are they? Pick one. It’s recess or it’s not.”

Missed the story on recess?

Joy Kastanias wants to be clear: Her daughter is getting recess at school daily, but in the Jupiter mom’s circle of friends, the girl seems to be the exception.

So many people told the parent activist, “I don’t know why my kid isn’t getting recess,” that Kastanias started asking around. Eventually, she found herself seated before the Palm Beach County School Board armed with a fistful of woe and advocating for a law to do what many teachers can’t – find time for children to play.

It shouldn’t be so hard, Kastanias argued. The district’s own wellness policy“encourages” daily recess in the lower grades.

Yet it has become urgent enough that like-minded parents have managed to forward a bill during this legislative session that would demand 20 minutes of recess daily for every elementary student in Florida.

Read more… 

 

recess

 

 

FBI: Bomb threats to Jupiter, John I. Leonard high schools solved

handcuffs

Authorities have arrested the person they believe responsible for emailed bomb threats to Jupiter and John I. Leonard high schools and an unnamed Palm Beach County elementary school – and the culprit is not a student.

FBI officials said Tuesday that the threats, all madefrom late December to mid-February,  trace back to a 25-year-old man from Georgia who was stalking a woman who moved here.

They say Preston Alexander McWaters was using technology to pin the threats to the woman and her boyfriend. (Schools weren’t his only target, according to the FBI. Read the full story.)

That still leaves several threats to schools, including two called in to Wellington High in January, unsolved.

But Superintendent Robert Avossa said Tuesday that investigators continue to pursue those hoaxes and warned anyone who considers these mere pranks that they are, in fact, crimes.

 

 

VIDEO: Coral Reef Ele. worker Glorene Jacobs shocked to win award

Glorene Jacobs of Coral Reed Elementary is surprised to learn she is the school district's school-based employee of the year.
Glorene Jacobs of Coral Reed Elementary is surprised to learn she was selected as the school district’s school-based employee of the year.

Glorene Jacobs, an administrative assistant at Coral Reef Elementary, clearly didn’t expect anything out of the ordinary as she walked down a school hallway Monday morning.

But after turning a corner, she found Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa waiting for her with flowers — and a roomful of co-workers and school district officials cheering behind him.

Jacobs, who has worked at the school west of Lantana for four years, was selected as this year’s school-based employee of the year for Palm Beach County’s public schools.

Watch the surprise announcement here.

Students must wait until mid-May for SAT results – but they liked the changes, says College Board

testingStudents aren’t due to get the results of last week’s new SAT until mid-May. But the College Board is reporting the results of a survey of some 8,000 of those test-takers Saturday.

According to the College Board:

  • 71% of students said the test reflected what they’re learning in school.
  • By a 6 to 1 margin, students said they preferred the format of the new SAT over the previous version of the test.
  • 75% of students said the Reading Test was the same as or easier than they expected.
  • 80% of students said the vocabulary on the test would be useful to them later in life, compared with 55% in March 2015.
  • 59% of students said the Math section tests the skills and knowledge needed for success in college and career.

 

And if you longingly missed all that obscure vocabulary that once littered the college admissions exam, here’s a fun read: The College Board’s announcement when it ditched the ‘recondite’ litany.

 

New York — Throughout its 100-year history, the abstruse vocabulary words of the SAT® have engendered prodigious vexation in millions of examinees annually. On Saturday, Jan. 23, students across the country participated in the terminal transpiration of the SAT in its habituated gestalt.

To adumbrate the changes to be manifest in future administrations of the assessment: The new SAT will be more trenchant and pellucid, and the format will no longer pertinaciously reward students who punctiliously engage in the antediluvian praxis of committing idiosyncratic words to memory.

College Board President David Coleman promulgated, “Your invectives and maledictions have been heard. Clemency has been granted.”

Many within the College Board and the academic community expressed a paucity of maudlin or mawkish emotion in response to the announcement.

“This is a new beginning for the SAT. Gone are obscure vocabulary words and tricky logic questions that are disconnected from the work students do every day,” said Stacy Caldwell, vice president of the SAT Program at the College Board. “Moving forward, students will encounter a test that focuses on the few things that matter most for college, work, and life. We believe these changes will benefit students and educators alike.”

 

 

 

Avossa: New plan will help schools teach “all students, not just some”

Avossa Dais
Superintendent Robert Avossa speaks Friday at the Education Forecast 2016 event at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach (Photo courtesy of the Palm Beach County School District)

Citing statistics showing deep disparities in how students fare in Palm Beach County’s public schools, Superintendent Robert Avossa unveiled a new strategic plan Friday that he said would help schools to provide a “world-class education for all students, not just some.”

Speaking before about 800 educators and business and political leaders at the Kravis Center in downtown West Palm Beach, Avossa said that schools’ money and resources would be redirected to focus on four new goals approved by the school board Wednesday.

Those goals are: raising the portion of third-graders reading at grade level from 51 to 75 percent, raising the high school graduation rate for district-operated schools from 85 to 90 percent, and increasing high school and post-graduate readiness.

To illustrate the disparities, he laid out several statistics that illustrated what he called telling markers of which students succeed and which don’t.

Third-graders who score in the highest level on the state’s reading test have a 98 percent chance of graduating, he said, while those who score in the lowest level have just a 64 percent likelihood.

Eighth-graders who receive three or more suspensions in a year have only a 1 in 3 chance of graduating, he said.  And less than 60 percent of students who speak English as a second language go on to graduate high school on time.

While Palm Beach County is the highest-performing of Florida’s large school districts by many measures, he said that too many students struggle. The most challenged group: poor male students who grew up speaking a language other than English, he said.

If you’re a student in Palm Beach County schools who happens to fit that profile, “you’re in trouble,” he said. “We’ve not found a way to meet your needs.”

Plans for tackling the new goals are still being worked out, he said, but include concentrating more resources on teaching reading in students’ early years, identifying at-risk students before they are suspended, revamping teacher training, and expanding Pre-K programs for some of the county’s neediest students.

The event was hosted by the Education Foundation of Palm Beach County and the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County.