Escambia County School District

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Students across Northwest Florida are heading back to school. The first day of classes is this Monday, August 13.

To get an update on readiness in the Escambia County School District, WUWF caught up with Superintendent Malcolm Thomas last Friday as preparation for the new school year were wrapping up.

General Readiness

Clipart by Scout

Education officials across Florida are digging into the details of their school and district grades for the 2017-18 school year to see where they can make improvements when classes resume this fall.

The Florida Department of Education released the grades on June 27.

Florida now has more than 1,000 “A” schools (1,027 schools) up from 987 in 2017 and 763 in 2016. The percentage of schools earning an "A" increased to 32 percent, up from 30 percent in 2016-17.

Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

Students whose families live in the Navy Federal area of Escambia County are gearing up to attend two brand new schools.

Members of the media gathered at Beulah Middle School’s main lobby area on Wednesday, taking in that “new school smell.”

The school is 205,000 square feet under one roof  and cost $45 million, funded by the Local Option Sales Tax. Eventual student capacity will be around 1,200.

The first stop on the tour – led by Assistant Principal Marietta McCaskill – was a state-of-the art gymnasium for the Beulah Bears.

Sandra Averhart / WUWF Public Media

Second grade students from four Escambia County elementary schools were invited to the University of West Florida Aquatic Center recently to get a lesson in basic water safety skills.

What they learned could potentially save their life or someone else’s.

Governor's Press Office

After Governor Rick Scott signed new gun restrictions into law Friday, in response to last month's massacre that took 17 lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, the legal challenge was not very far behind.

Three weeks of pressure from relatives and friends of the students slain in the in the February 14 massacre provided momentum for the legislation. Scott said the bill balances individual rights with need for public safety, and conceded that it’s not perfect, and may not satisfy everyone. But he added it will make a difference.

An event this Friday in Pensacola showcases services and opportunities for special needs students and graduates in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties. It’s called the Transition Services Information Fair, and it will be held from 9:00 a.m. until noon at the Marcus Pointe Baptist Church, Building A, door number four.

Bob Barrett / WUWF News

If you drive by the Cordova Mall in Pensacola before 7 p.m. on Tuesday you’ll see a big Mayflower Moving van parked out front. It’s there for the annual Fill The Mayflower Food Drive for Manna Food Pantries. For the last decade the Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving has been dedicated to this campaign. Manna’s Executive Director De De Flounlacker says this year they are asking for quality as well as quantity. "We're hoping to fill up this Mayflower truck, that's [about] 15,000 - 20,000 pounds of food, and that's wonderful.

In the third and final installment of our “Back to School” series, we take a look at the Escambia County District.

With more than 40,000 students, Superintendent Malcolm Thomas oversees the largest district in the western Panhandle. And he adds there’s always a special enthusiasm at this time of year, just before the first class bell rings.

School districts across Florida have turned out their latest crop of graduates. When it comes to graduation rates, the Escambia County School District has been working to catch up to the state and neighboring counties. For an update on how the district is doing, WUWF recently caught up with Superintendent Malcolm Thomas.

Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

April is National Child Abuse Awareness Month and in part two of our series “Dave Dunwoody visited Escambia County’s child advocacy center.

Located on 12th Avenue, Gulf Coast Kid’s House features professionals and resources for the intervention, investigation and prosecution of child abuse cases, under its kid-friendly roof.

“We’ve got such a competent team here in the building; they’ve all been doing this a very long time,” said Executive Director Stacy Kostevicki.

During fiscal year 2016, Gulf Coast Kid’s House served more than 3,600 children.

Florida’s 67 school districts have one, undesirable, common thread these days: their increasing problems in staffing their classrooms, according to a report in the Orlando Sentinel.

The number of Florida university students graduating with education degrees has fallen since 2006 by nearly 5,000, while public-school enrollment has grown, by nearly three million this year. One of the core issues, perhaps the largest, in recruiting and retaining teachers is the paycheck.

Screengrab from YouTube: Secretary of Education Nominee Betsy DeVos Opening Statement (C-SPAN)

Betsy DeVos’ confirmation as U.S. Education Secretary is drawing praise from supporters and derision from opponents. Meanwhile, a couple of local school superintendents are watching what could happen next.

Vice President Mike Pence broke the 50-50 deadlock in the Senate on Tuesday to confirm DeVos. Two Republicans voted with Democrats against confirmation. Florida’s U.S. Senators split along party lines. Republican Marco Rubio voted for DeVos, Democrat Bill Nelson voted against.

Reuters

High school graduation rates nationwide are at an all-time high, with parts of the Florida Panhandle either holding its own or lagging behind. 

President Obama spoke last week at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington, D.C. where graduation rates jumped to the highest in the country for the 2014-2015 school year.

“Some of the changes we made were hard; and some of them were controversial,” said the President. “We expected more from our teachers and our students. But the hard work that people have put in across the country has started to pay off.”

  As the 2016-17 school year approaches in Florida, two school districts in the western Panhandle are preparing some belt-tightening measures.

Escambia County Superintendent Malcolm Thomas calls the 2016-17 term a “status quo year,” including a on percent categorical increase from the state. Close tabs are being kept on the $350 million general operating budget.

Bob Barrett / WUWF News

Quint Studer has the idea last year: offer two prizes totaling $50,000 to people who could come up with the best plans to help children in Escambia County be kindergarten ready. Studer says he's had good luck over the years asking other people for ideas. "So the thought is why not ask the community what ideas they have? If I ask them what ideas they have they'll realize there's an issue with kindergarten readiness."

Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

Dr. Jill Biden – the wife of Vice President Joe Biden – visited Escambia High School Friday to kick off the Escambia County School District’s involvement in the National Math and Science Initiative, along with its expansion. 

The initiative – NMSI – is a non-profit founded in 2007, after the National Academies commissioned a report that indicated a decline in student achievement in math and science. Escambia County is one of only two school districts in Florida – and 13 nationwide – accepted into the program this year.

Florida’s 67 public school districts are getting ready to implement a new, wide-ranging education bill signed into law this week. Two provisions – school choice and athletic free agency – are getting most of the attention.

At 160 pages, House Bill 7029 is nearly three times as large as the original version, and was approved on the final day of the legislative session. It’s a “train bill,” meaning it contains most or all of at least a dozen other education-related measures.

Photo via Flickr// Pasco County Schools / https://flic.kr/p/nQWcHC

Registration is underway for Escambia County’s volunteer pre-kindergarten program.

Seventy-one locations across Escambia will provide VPK beginning in August for kids who turn four years old on or before September 1. Most are privately-run, with 14 in the public school district, where Melanie Perritt is the Teacher on Special Assignment for Pre-k.

“We serve around 540-plus students,” said Perritt. “We have 32 classrooms, collaborative classrooms with Head Start students, migrant students, ESE [Exceptional Student Education] students, and of course our VPK Title-1.”

Sandra Averhart

Escambia County School Superintendent Malcolm Thomas is looking for more than a few good men and women. He says between Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties there's a need to hire five to six hundred new teachers for the next school year. And to get that process started, the district is holding a Teacher Fair this Saturday for anyone interested in becoming a teacher in the county. "If you've thought in the back of your mind 'I'd like to be a teacher I wonder what's expected of me?

National Writing Project

In 1974 The University of California Berkeley established a program for teachers called the Bay Area Writing Project. In just two years it expanded to 14 sites in six states. That was the beginning of the National Writing Project. Now the University of West Florida has become one of the Project’s newest sites.  

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