Florida Loosens Rules, Collects Items for Schools
Some Florida schools have been closed this school year more than they’ve been open, which means the succession of hurricanes in the state might end up making a direct hit on student achievement.
In response, state Commissioner of Education John Winn announced last week a chance for hard-hit schools to appeal their school letter grades, which the state will issue next June based on student test scores.
Florida issues the letter grades each year. The grades are used to determine teacher bonuses, while students enrolled in the state’s consistently lowest-rated schools are eligible for tuition vouchers they can use in private schools or out-of-district public schools.
The announcement came after Mr. Winn agreed last month to allow some flexibility with testing deadlines and class-size reduction in schools that were especially affected by the storms. ("Storm-Weary Fla. Schools to Seek Policy Waivers," Sept. 22, 2004.)
MacKay Jimeson, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Education, said that only a handful of schools may need to request the changes to their school grades in 2005.
The appeals will allow the state to deal with the hurricanes’ impact on schools “without lowering our standards” for student achievement, Mr. Jimeson said.
To appeal their grades, schools must have missed at least five instructional days because of the storms and have seen overall gains in student performance in recent years, among other conditions.
The state isn’t stopping there.
Gov. Jeb Bush’s office is collecting general donations for storm victims through the state Hurricane Relief Fund. Details on the program and how to donate are available on the Web at www.flahurricanefund.org.
Also, the Florida Education Foundation in Tallahassee, a nonprofit organization housed at the state education department, is gathering money and supplies for schools damaged in the storms.
Schools, individuals, and community groups from across the country are sending donations for teachers and students, said Diane McCain, the foundation’s executive director.
“The attention has been heartwarming,” she said.
The foundation especially wants gift cards for bookstores or teacher-supply stores, money, paper, pencils, plastic storage bins, and other supplies. Bulk items or used materials aren’t needed.
Vol. 24, Issue 09, Page 22