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.

Fire eater, cheerleaders for Clinton: A look back at 5 Avossa headaches

Avossa InterviewToday’s the last day of school for Palm Beach County’s 183,000 or so public school students. It also winds up the first school year for the district’s new Superintendent Robert Avossa. We take a look back on some of his biggest headaches this year:

West Boca High Principal Mark Stenner giving this year's graduation speech.
West Boca High Principal Mark Stenner giving last year’s graduation speech.
  1. Plagiarizing principal: Before the school year even began, Avossa faced a question about West Boca High’s Mark Stenner, the principal whose graduation speeches were nearly verbatim material from another speech – for two years in a row. A committee of Stenner’s peers recommended five days of suspension, but Avossa wasn’t happy with that, saying he wanted a 10-day suspension without pay. Then he reconsidered again and opted to remove Stenner from his job.

“I have to be honest with you, I’m not happy with the process.”  The question, he said, is can this process be viewed by the public as “people protecting colleagues”?

File photo (Meghan McCarthy/The Palm Beach Daily News)
File photo (Meghan McCarthy/The Palm Beach Daily News)

2. School bus crisis from Day 1Nearly 40 percent of the 630 school bus routes were late or didn’t show up at all. The superintendent showed up at Grassy Waters Elementary on the first day of school in August, but none of the school’s six buses did. Little did he know there was a big problem, and it was to last about six weeks. Avossa later called transportation officials “tone deaf” and criticized them for not heeding bus driver warnings about a new software program that rejiggered all the routes. He was furious they did not raise flags the new routes and being short staffed with drivers earlier.

 

“No one came and said the Titanic was sinking,” he said

Suncoast High students at Tuesday's rally for Hillary Clinton
Suncoast High students at Tuesday’s rally for Hillary Clinton

3. Suncoast cheerleaders, band play at Clinton rally: He got the heads up from Twitter. Avossa said he saw the Tweets and knew someone had violated district policy about political activity.  It was a Hillary Clinton rally at the Port of Palm Beach. Suncoast High cheerleaders and the band played for about 600 supporters as former President Bill Clinton stood in for his wife. Avossa said he was dismayed that a soon-to-retire veteran principal, Linda Cartlidge,  didn’t know better.

“Quite frankly, I’m disappointed,” Avossa said. “It’s clearly against district policy to be engaged in any political activity.”

Former stuntman Ricky "Inferno" Charles in the Atlantic High School gym, March 17, 2016, in Delray Beach, Florida, runs while on fire. (Photo provided)
Former stuntman Ricky “Inferno” Charles in the Atlantic High School gym, March 17, 2016, in Delray Beach, Florida, runs while on fire. (Photo provided)

4. Atlantic High fire-breather stunt: Kids packed the gymnasium at Atlantic High on St. Patrick’s Day for a pep rally featuring Ricky “Inferno” Charles breathing flames as another performer raced over them to dunk a basketball. The dunk worked out fine, but then screams erupted as 2,000 teens saw Charles’ face on fire. As Charles was taken the hospital, video of the flames lit up the Internet. Turns out Atlantic wasn’t the first high school in the county to host the fire-breather, but after his burns, Charles say he’s retiring from the fire business.

Meanwhile Avossa was “shocked.”

It’s “just common sense not to have any kind of fire in a school. When you put fire in a building, this is a problem.”

Palm Beach Lakes student Joseph Trahan, left, addresses the Palm Beach County School Board with teacher Malik Leigh at his side, March 16, 2016, at the school district in West Palm Beach. (Palm Beach County School District)
Palm Beach Lakes student Joseph Trahan, left, addresses the Palm Beach County School Board with teacher Malik Leigh at his side, March 16, 2016, at the school district in West Palm Beach. (Palm Beach County School District)

5. Teachers let go, geometry subs all year: Turmoil at Palm Beach Lakes: It started with a visit by high school teachers to a school board meeting to complain of a “toxic” atmosphere at Palm Beach Lakes High under Principal Cheryl McKeever. Then a student appeared in March, saying he and his honors classmates had a series of  substitutes teaching their geometry class for most of the year and they were worried they couldn’t pass end-of-year exams because they learned the bulk of the subject matter from watching videos. Malik Leigh, a teacher from the law academy, came with them.

The next day, children were called to the office and questioned. McKeever told the kids and their parents that they had run the full-time teacher out. A few months later, Leigh filed suit after his contract wasn’t renewed. His suit claimed McKeever had retaliated against a number of teachers by not hiring them back for next year. A week later, Leigh was suspended because his final exam was “inappropriate,” including questions about Donald Trump and being “screwed” if he’s elected.

 

BREAKING: PBC Commission, school board members approve new sales tax plan

Palm Beach County Commissioners vote 5-2 to eliminate economic development incentives and construction projects at cultural institutions from the split of money collected by a proposed sales tax increase during a public hearing at the Palm Beach County Governmental Center in West Palm Beach, Florida on March 1, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Palm Beach County Commissioners vote 5-2 to eliminate economic development incentives and construction projects at cultural institutions from the split of money collected by a proposed sales tax increase during a public hearing at the Palm Beach County Governmental Center in West Palm Beach, Florida on March 1, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

During a joint meeting to smooth over differences, Palm Beach County commissioners and school board members agreed on a joint plan to raise the county’s 6-cent sales tax by a penny on the dollar.

Commissioners and school board members had previously agreed on the broad outlines of the tax increase, which would generate $2.7 billion over 10 years for repairs to roads, bridges, schools and county buildings. School board members expressed concern, however, when commissioners changed the plan, stripping out a combined $161 million in funding for cultural projects and for economic development incentives.

On Tuesday at Palm Beach State College’s Lake Worth campus, commissioners and school board members agreed to a revised plan, which includes a provision to end the tax early if $2.7 billion is generated earlier than 10 years.

What projects could be funded with from sales tax revenue?

Palm Beach County-wide projects, including county buildings

Municipalities’ projects, including roads and bridges

Palm Beach County schools, including repairing aging school buildings

>>RELATED: Full coverage of the proposed sales tax

Check with http://www.mypalmbeachpost.com later for more on this story.

-Wayne Washington

Student to school board: We’ve had a math sub all year, we want an education

 

Palm Beach Lakes student Joseph Trahan and teacher Malik Leigh.
Palm Beach Lakes student Joseph Trahan and teacher Malik Leigh. (see video here)

 

See our updated coverage of this story including what happened to these students at school the next day here.  

A sophomore from Palm Beach Lakes High and four of his classmates, all eyeing careers in the justice system, came to seek a piece of that from the school board Wednesday night. They say they have gone the entire year without a regular geometry teacher.

Joseph Trahan told the board members and superintendent that they’ve been led by a series of substitutes, who regularly relied on YouTube math videos to deliver lessons.

“We’re just given busy work and grades for our busy work,” Trahan said.

He said the group is struggling to learn the concepts. Trahan said they did horribly on the district-designed mid-term, but are getting passing grades by benefit of extra credit points that come by buying the teacher sweets or drawing pictures.

“The current sub says stuff such as, ‘I am not a teacher. I’m here to babysit you and give you grades,’ “ Trahan said. “This isn’t what we want. We want a higher education. We demand more out of ourselves… When the EOC (end of course exam – designed by the state) comes around. we’re not going to be prepared.

“Time is not something you can get back. We’ve already lost so much time. We’re so ill-prepared.  And we are looking to you for help.”

When Trahan finished, board chairman Chuck Shaw asked the area superintendent to meet with the students.

Deputy Superintendent David Christensen said after the meeting that the matter will be investigated. “We are going to immediately address it and make sure there is a certified teacher for them.”

The students, a mix of freshmen and sophomores – boys and girls – from West Palm Beach, said they have high aspirations and reached an “Ah-ha” moment not while sitting in math class, but in their Legal Concepts and Comprehensive Law class in the school’s legal academy.

They were talking about contracts and negligence, said Lemuel Gadson, 16. Gadson and the others all had to sign a contract to enroll in the legal academy and then they wondered if the school was holding up its end of the bargain.

Their legal teacher, Malik Leigh, who both teaches and practices law full time, accompanied them to the board meeting.

“Nobody can do more about themselves than they can,” Leigh said.

But they weren’t alone in their fight.

Celena Trahan said she called her son’s guidance counselor, who simply noted that Joseph was carrying a B in the class – even though Joseph said he hasn’t earned it. Trahan also called an assistant principal, but got no action, she said.

Michelle Jackson said she was willing to forgive a staffing problem for the first couple weeks of school, but by the end of first semester she worried the gap was going to cause problems for her son Marques dragging down his GPA and his readiness to take college admission tests.

“My son has now lost a whole year of his math education,” Jackson said.

Didn’t pass Alg 1 EOC (or the 10g FSA )? Here are your options

questions

 

Update March 2017: The testing season is in full swing with Alg 1 testing possible in Palm Beach County from April 17 through May 12, 2017. Expect results in early June.

The Alg 1 end-of-course exam (EOC) is the only state-required EOC a student must pass to graduate. Students must also take EOCs in Geometry, Alg. 2, biology and US History. The scores must weigh 30 percent of the calculation of a course grade, but a passing score is not required. (Legislation this spring proposes to cut some EOCs, but any testing changes would not be in effect this year.)

The other must-pass test for graduation: 

The 10th grade FSA ELA – that’s Florida Standards Assessment in English language arts, is the other state-mandated test students must pass to graduate.

So, let’s say you don’t pass…

WHAT’S NEXT?

Didn’t pass the Algebra 1 end-of-course exam or the 10th grade English/language arts test? These are your alternatives:

Take the same test and pass. Retakes are given several times a year.

Algebra 1: Get a comparative score of 97 on the Postsecondary Education Readiness Test or PERT mathematics assessment.

10 grade English/language arts:

Take the same test and pass. Retakes are given during the school year.

ELA: Get a concordant score of 430 on the SAT reading or 19 on the ACT reading.

Source: The Florida Department of Education.