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A year in education

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By Kellie Parkin

From new science standards and deep budget cuts to teacher awards and a new Superintendent, education in Levy County experienced many newsworthy occasions in 2008. The following are highlights from this year’s important headlines.

January:

Superintendent Cliff Norris announces he will not run for re-election, opting instead for retirement.

The School Board of Levy County (SBLC) reaffirms its unanimous position against teaching evolution as a scientific fact, sending a letter to the Department of Education stating strong opposition to the proposed changes. Levy County Board of County Commissioners also condemns the proposal.

February:

Students shine at the annual Levy County Superintendent’s Gala, raising approximately $22,000 to fund scholarships for area students.

Cedar Key School recognizes its ESP of the Year Charlotte Yearty and Teacher of the Year Kamala Reidy.

Veteran teachers receive a 2 percent raise, and new teachers 5.3 percent, when SBLC ratifies the 2007-2008 master contract. The Board also approves a $1000 supplement for employees with a Reading Endorsement or Certification.

The State Board of Education votes 4-3 to require educators to overtly teach the “theory of evolution.” The revised Sunshine State Standards also mandate the teaching of “scientific theory of” atoms, cells, electromagnetism and plate tectonics.

March:

SBLC dismisses the suggestion by teacher Marcia Baughn that all board meetings be held in the evenings so that more people could attend.

Public outcry against the possible elimination of IFAS extension offices sends UF President Bernie Machen into a fumbling retraction of the proposal.

Students from Levy, Gilchrist and Dixie counties participate in the annual Suwannee River Livestock Show and Sale. Chiefland students dominate the Heifer competition with four first place winners: Payton Parnell, Harold Tillis, Levi Blitch and Bo Beauchamp.

SBLC shortens summer school for students with disabilities by three days (27 percent).

Budget cuts motivate SBLC to eliminate funding for field trips for the remainder of the school year and reduce $30,000 (30 percent) from funds budgeted for improving sports facilities.

April:

A new proficiency test is administered to students who are English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) in addition to the FCAT and National Reading Test (NRT). The Comprehensive English Language Learning Assessment (CELLA) is part of the No Child Left Behind Act.

School board members strategize to conserve energy, voting to implement new procedures including limiting the use of refrigerators and microwaves to common areas only. Each unplugged refrigerator is estimated to save the district $140 per ten-month school year.

The Night of Excellence recognizes District Volunteers of the Year Al and Barbara Martinez from Williston Elementary, District ESP of the Year Joshua Barnes who is Chiefland High School’s Head Custodian, and District Teacher of the Year Susan Gruber from Hilltop Alternative School.

May:

Florida lawmakers strengthen a bill passed last year requiring elementary students to have physical education for 150 minutes each week. The new bill adds sixth graders to the requirement, and states that the PE minutes for all grades K-6 must be offered in at least 30-minute continuous increments.

The most accomplished concert band students from Bronson, Chiefland, and Williston high schools perform together as the 2008 All-County Band. In addition to a formal concert, the group spends two days touring Levy County elementary schools.

Levy County students working against tobacco (SWAT) collaborate with their peers from Alachua County to create a mural on a prominent Gainesville building illustrating an anti-smoking message.

FFA students at Chiefland Middle School are treated to a visit from Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles Bronson and his staff for selling the most FFA license plate tags and winning the “Plate for a Plate” contest. Bronson gives the students an overview of the agriculture industry and then they hop a bus to the Tommy Usher Community Center for a special lunch made by the department’s professional chef, Justin Patrick Timineri.

Approximately 50 high school students in Levy County finish their semester of Dual Enrollment, a program that makes it possible for them to attend college classes at no cost for part of the day and high school classes the rest of the day.

June:

The Forestry Youth Academy (FYA) located in Goethe State Forest closes its doors, eliminating 35 Levy County jobs and displacing more than 30 juvenile offenders.

July:

CKS earns an ‘A’ for FCAT results, but misses AYP by just a few percentage points in one student subpopulation.

The Department of Education grades Levy County School District with an overall ‘B’ for its performance, and eight of 12 schools qualify for award money. No Levy County Schools make AYP, or Adequate Yearly Progress.

SBLC receives approximately $15,000 from Progress Energy to explore and plan a possible vocational academy for area high school students.

August:

Eighty-one school buses take to the road as classes resume after the summer break.

Through the federally mandated School Choice with Transportation program, parents of 22 Levy County students opt to send their children to Cedar Key instead of neighborhood schools in Williston, Bronson and Chiefland that did not make AYP for two consecutive years.

September:

The Florida Supreme Court unanimously rules that controversial constitutional education amendments 5, 7, and 9 from the 2008 Legislative Session will not appear on voters’ Nov. 4 ballots. The amendments would have shifted school funding to sales tax and paved the way for state funding of private religious education.

October:

Nearly 60 members of the community attend the Superintendent Forum, a first of its kind sponsored by the Levy County Educators Association, to hear the platforms of candidates Jeff Edison and Bob Hastings.

Teacher’s union President Cindy Roach brings to light the paperwork epidemic faced by teachers in Levy County. Calling on the Board to take action, Roach offers a truce between the teachers’ union and district administration to find a solution. Board members decline to discuss the matter further.

SBLC member Billy Morrison is arrested for lewdness at the Santa Fe College Northwest Campus in Gainesville.

November:

School Superintendent Cliff Norris leaves office after 34 years of service in education.

Robert “Bob” Hastings is sworn in as the first-ever Republican Superintendent for Levy County schools. Board members Paige Brookins and Beth Davis are also sworn in after running for reelection unopposed in their districts.

MM Parrish begins the construction of eight classrooms at Chiefland Elementary and eight at Williston’s Joyce Bullock Elementary. Completion is expected for the start of the 2009-2010 school year.

Billy Morrison resigns from the School Board.

December:

Williston High School Principal resigns his post to become Florida Virtual School Principal. He will be the instructional leader of the program’s 110,000 students.

Bronson High School senior Sarah Parkin is named the 2009 Sunshine State Scholar for Levy County School District.

Cedar Key School makes nation’s top high schools list in the U.S. News and World Report for the second year in a row.

More state budget cuts prompt Superintendent Hastings to propose his “three days off without pay” plan to board members and union reps. If the plan is approved, all school district employees, including Hastings and the Board members, will take three non-school days off and forfeit the pay in even increments over 12 pay periods. Other cost-saving efforts implemented include field-trip limitations, holds on new materials and equipment, spring athletics restrictions, and a hiring-freeze countywide.