Schools Experience State Testing Problems; Escambia Suspends Tuesday Tests

March 3, 2015

Students in Escambia County and across the state had problems logging on to the state’s new online-testing platform, raising questions about the testing system as lawmakers consider an overhaul.

Education groups and media reports said students had problems taking the new Florida Standards Assessments in a variety of districts, including Escambia, while other schools or districts had fewer problems. At Northview High School, for instance, all students scheduled for testing on Monday were able to complete their assessments.

Due to the problems at the state level, Escambia County School Superintendent Malcolm Thomas said Escambia County was suspending all computer-based state testing for Tuesday, with a plan to resume testing on Wednesday.

State Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat who doubles as chief executive officer of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, said his organization sent a survey to districts about 9 a.m. Monday. By about 3 p.m., 30 had responded, with more than 20 reporting problems.

“Maybe the other 37 have had a perfect day. I doubt it,” Montford said.

Joanne McCall, vice president of the Florida Education Association, said reports of problems were coming from “all over,” but the union didn’t yet know exactly how widespread they were.

“This is our biggest fear coming true,” McCall said. ” … For us, it’s a false start for students.”

A spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education said Commissioner Pam Stewart was working on the problem.

“While many students across our state are testing successfully, we have heard from some districts that are experiencing difficulties,” spokeswoman Meghan Collins wrote in an email Monday afternoon. “This is a 90-minute test; students have a two-week window, plus a makeup window, to complete the test. Commissioner Stewart is looking into any reported issues to determine the cause and will work to immediately resolve it.”

But Montford said that’s not good enough. He said students were prepared to take the test Monday, and districts made preparations to administer the exams.

“This is a high-stakes assessment with the future of these students riding on it,” said Montford, a former Leon County superintendent.

The snafus came as the Legislature is considering whether to overhaul the state’s testing plan, which some parents and educators argue has become too overbearing.

Critics of the tests say the early problems simply back up their arguments.

“Today’s fiasco once again demonstrates that Florida testing policy is being driven by politicians and ideologues, not educators,” said Bob Schaeffer, a Florida resident and public education director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, an organization critical of high-stakes testing. “Florida schools and the children they serve need a pause in testing insanity and a thorough overhaul of the state’s assessment system. Enough is enough.”

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

Northview Beats Escambia County

March 3, 2015

Northview 11, Escambia County High 1
Northview 4, Escambia County 1 (JV)

The undefeated Northview Chiefs beat the Blue Devils of Escambia County High School of Atmore 11-1 Monday night in Bratt. The Chiefs took a commanding 5-1 lead in the first inning. In junior varsity action, the Chiefs also beat ECHS, 4-1. On Tuesday, the Northview Chiefs will travel to Jay for a varsity district game at 6:30, following a junior varsity game at 4:00. photos by Ramona Preston, click to enlarge

Extension Service Offering Beekeeping In The Panhandle Short Course

March 3, 2015

The UF/IFAS Extension Panhandle Agriculture Team is offering a beekeeping short- curse in March.  These classes will be offered via interactive video at extension offices across the Panhandle.

Classes will be taught by Jamie Ellis, Ph.D., and other state and nationally recognized experts from the University of Florida Honey Bee Research and Extension Lab and the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services Bureau of Plant and Apiary Inspection.

Classes are Mondays from 6-8 p.m. with a Saturday morning bee yard field day 9 a.m. to noon.  Each presentation will be followed by an interactive question & answer period.

  • March 9: Honey Bee Biology, Anatomy, & Hive Structure
  • March 16: Bee Nutrition and Bee Botany (Identification of Nectar Plants)
  • March 21: Bee-Yard Field-Day – A hands on learning opportunity!
  • March 23: Important Pest and Diseases – Identification and Management

Registration for all four classes is $20 per person, or $30 for a family.  This fee covers course materials and refreshments. To register, call  (850) 475-5230 in Escambia County, or (850) 623-3868 in Santa Rosa County.

Escambia County classes will be held at  3740 Stefani Road in Cantonment, while Santa Rosa County classes will be held at  6263 Dogwood Drive in Milton.

Lady Jags Beat Catholic

March 3, 2015

The West Florida Lady Jaguars beat Catholic 11-1 Monday night, coming off 2-1 loss to Walton Friday night.

For photos from both games, click here. photos by Gary Carnley, click to enlarge.

Kidnapping Charges Dropped In Century Shooting Death Case

March 2, 2015

A Century man remains jailed for January 31 shooting death in Century , but some of the charges against him have been dropped because prosecutors says part of the story told by witnesses was not true.

Jaran Britt Myles, 20, remains jailed without bond on charges of negligent manslaughter and aggravated assault for the shooting death 20-year old Jonathan Wilson. But two counts of kidnapping against Myles have been dropped.

Investigators said Myles shot Wilson in the head about 8:00 that Saturday night inside a residence in the 1000 block of Backwoods Road.

One witness told deputies that “Run Run”, later identified as Myles, pulled out a gun and asked him if he was scared of it before taking the magazine out of the weapon and pointing it him. Myles then pulled the trigger of the gun, without the magazine, but it “dry fired”, he said.

The witness said Myles then pointed the gun to Wilson’s head after loading the magazine back into the gun. Wilson then adjusted the height of the gun to his head, “correcting the placement of the gun pointed at him,” an arrest report states.  The witness said when Wilson let go of the gun, Myles pulled the trigger and shot Wilson in the head.

Witness first told investigators that Myles then stuck the gun in a witness’ ribs then pointed it at a second witness, ordering the witness to drive him home. But that part of the witness’ story did not occur, Assistant State Attorney James Parker said, leading prosecutors to drop the kidnapping charges. The two witnesses did drive Myles away from the shooting scene to his nearby residence on Backwoods Road, but Myles never pointed a gun at them or forced them, Parker said.

The State Attorney’s Office reached its conclusion after further interviews with witnesses, Parker said. At this point, there are no plans to file any charges against the witnesses.

Myles has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him. photos, click to enlarge.

Ag Saves Workshop Series – Securing Your Farm’s Financial Future

March 2, 2015

Escambia County Extension and the University of Florida IFAS will host an Ag Saves Workshop Series beginning Tuesday, March 24. This four-session series of interactive workshops will focus on the basics of securing your farm’s financial future and will be offered locally at the Walnut Hill Community Center on Highway 97. In addition to learning from featured speakers, participants will receive a Farm Journal Legacy Project Workbook to help walk their family through the succession planning process.

The four workshop sessions, held from 6 to 7:30 p.m., will cover the following topics:

  • Tuesday, March 24 – Preparing for retirement and other goals
  • Tuesday, June 23 – Trimming the fat, how to manage and reduce your debt
  • Tuesday, July 21 – Securing your family’s and your farm’s future, part 1
  • Tuesday, August 18 – Securing your family’s and your farm’s future, part 2

The cost of the class is $55 per family (up to four members) and pre-registration is required by Tuesday, March 10. For more information or to register contact Libbie Johnson or Dorothy Lee at Escambia County Extension (850) 475-5230. or  visit

Northview Cheerleader Parent Meeting

March 2, 2015

Anyone interested in trying out for the Northview High School cheerleading team for the 2015-2016 school year should attend a parent meeting on Tuesday, March 3 at 5:30 p.m. in the Northview Media Center.

New ECAT Bus Stop Shelters Being Installed

March 2, 2015

Escambia County is installing or relocating bus benches and shelters across the county. Pictured is the new Escambia County Area Transit (ECAT) bus stop shelter at the Billy G. Ward Courthouse in Century. photos, click to enlarge.

Lawmakers To Consider Expunging Juvenile Records

March 2, 2015

As Florida’s legislative session gets underway next week, some lawmakers are calling for measures to help teens move on after paying their dues in the juvenile-justice system.

Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, joined children’s advocates on Thursday in Jacksonville, saying he would support efforts to give kids a “second chance.” Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, is sponsoring a bill (SB 1316) that would allow the expunging of records for minors who commit nonviolent misdemeanors and go on to complete diversion programs.

Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, and Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville, are sponsoring a proposal (SB 334, HB 205) that would shorten the length of time juvenile offenses stay on the record for minors who aren’t serious or habitual offenders.

The problem, said Dina Sarver, 22, a medical scribe in Port St. Lucie, is that a juvenile record can lock young people out of jobs, colleges, housing and the military — for the rest of their lives.

“I appreciate the juvenile justice system,” Sarver said. “But after I’ve shown them the system can work, I’m constantly reminded of the crime I committed as a child. … I’m speaking for juveniles who have turned their lives around, proven that the juvenile-justice system is beneficial and want to get on with their lives.”

Her crime was grand-theft auto, committed when Sarver was 15 years old. She said she’d become a delinquent at 12, following her parents’ divorce and her mother’s relocation — along with 10 children — from the suburbs to government-subsidized housing. Sarver started working at age 13.

“I was very angry at the world,” she said. At 15, she was incarcerated. But when she had a baby the following year, Sarver said, she cleaned up her act. “I was like, OK, I need to be a better person for my son.”

Kelly Otte executive director of the PACE Center for Girls in Tallahassee, has heard many such stories.

“You’re 14 years old. You make a stupid decision to do something. You end up being in the juvenile justice system, and six years later it means nothing to you, what you did. You’re not even the same person,” Otte said.

Today, Sarver has a degree in health-care management from Indian River State College and plans to take the LSAT exam, for law school, in June. But she had to switch her major from the nursing program, to which she’d been accepted, when her record came to light. And she was nearly expelled a month before her eventual graduation, when her record became an issue again, over a key internship. Even now, she can’t chaperone the kids at her son’s school.

Currently, in Florida, most juvenile records aren’t expunged until the offender is 24, and for some crimes not until age 26. Since most job and college applications require disclosing an arrest, those with juvenile records often find the doors slammed — no matter what gains they’ve made in their lives.

What’s more, according to the Children’s Campaign and the Dolores Barr Weaver Policy Center, between 70 percent and 90 percent of girls in the juvenile system have experienced sexual violence, abuse and neglect in their homes. To escape the trauma, many girls run away from home — a crime if they’re under 18.

“The first thing that experts tell adult women in abusive situations to do is leave their homes to escape their abusers, yet doing so often puts girls on a fast track to being locked up,” Lawanda Ravoira, president and chief executive officer of the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center, said in a statement.

Bean and Ravoira joined Children’s Lobby spokesman Roy Miller and Allison DeFoor, chairman of the Project on Accountable Justice, in Jacksonville on Thursday. They called for new laws that allow most juvenile records to remain confidential and to be retained only until the offender reaches 21. They also want to automatically expunge records upon completion of diversion programs or in cases where charges were dismissed or unsubstantiated.

Democrats have filed the bills that would accomplish much of that during the upcoming legislative session. But DeFoor pointed to the involvement of Bean, a Senate Republican, as a sign that the bills can succeed in the GOP-dominated Legislature.

“I don’t think it’s going to end up being a partisan issue,” DeFoor said. “It’s almost closer to a glitch bill than it is to a substantive change in policy.”

by Margie Menzel, The News Service of Florida

Bill Puts Lottery Winnings By Sex Offenders in Escrow

March 2, 2015

Sex offenders who hit it big in the Florida Lottery would have the winnings placed into escrow, giving their victims an opportunity to resolve any claims, under a proposal filed Friday by state Rep. Bob Cortes, R-Altamonte Springs.

The measure, which doesn’t yet have a Senate companion, would place the prize of a person convicted of sexual battery, lewd acts or other sexual misconduct into an escrow account for one year. The proposal would also put a hold on any prize of $600 or more if a winner has an outstanding debt to a state agency or owes child support.

The measure comes after the Orlando Sentinel reported in December that a convicted sex offender from Lake County won a $3 million prize in a scratch-off game. Earlier this month, an Orange County judge denied a request from the Lake County man’ two male victims, aged 6 and 11 when the crime was committed in 1997, to freeze the winnings. After being informed of the winner’s police record, the lottery removed the individual’s photo from its website.

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