Larry Griffin - SaintPetersBlog

Larry Griffin

Chancery High gives hope, future for struggling Orange County students

Estefania Rivera enrolled in her zoned public high school as the new girl, but the bullying became too much for her to handle.

Merciless in their torment, the other kids “mobbed and harassed” her every day. It reached the point where Rivera didn’t want to go to school anymore.

“I had no friends,” she said. “So, they thought there was something wrong with me.”

So, Rivera just quit going to school. When the bus came, she’d wait outside. When her parents were gone, she’d just go back inside and watch TV and do “anything except school.”  She eventually just dropped out.

Eventually, she realized she must do something to continue her education; a year later she went back to her high school and tried to re-enroll. But Rivera was too far behind in her studies to graduate within a reasonable amount of time in a traditional high school setting.

That was where Chancery High School comes in. Chancery is one of several charter schools operated by Accelerated Learning Solutions (ALS), which is hired by nonprofit boards to run dropout prevention and recovery charter schools.

At Chancery, students who have fallen behind in Orange County public schools can work at their own pace with the assistance of certified teachers. The school is set up for students who, for whatever reason, have fallen so far behind in studies a chance to complete their education.

Coming to Chancery, students voluntarily sign agreement consent for enrollment; parents must sign off as well if the child is under 18.

The bulk of students enrolling are around 18 years old, have typically fallen 4 to 5 years behind grade level in reading and math and have far-below-average GPAs and number of course credits.

Forty-nine percent of the student body at ALS schools in Orange County are pregnant, parenting or responsible for the care of a sibling(s); 44 percent have part-time or full-time jobs to help support themselves or their families.

Angela Whitford-Narine, president of Chancery and other regional schools under the ALS banner, says the school’s ethos is that not every student learns at the same pace. ALS schools offer flexible schedules that help meet student’s needs, she said.

“It’s 100 percent symbiotic with the authorizing school district,” Whitford-Narine said. “Education is not one-size-fits-all. Some students need something different.”

Whitford-Narine boasts that her principals and staff know every student’s name. As she walked the halls and inspected various classrooms — each full of students quietly and diligently learning on computers — she spoke to students personally, using a casual, friendly manner. They all responded in kind.

Rivera said for her, the system works better — she’s not bullied anymore and her attendance is up. She feels better, also, when working at her own pace.

“The kids are mature here,” she said. “There is no bullying.”

After graduation, Rivera wants to attend a technical school and study nursing or veterinary studies.

“I like helping people,” she said. “I like making them feel better.”

Chancery strives to make life easier for those students whose life circumstances don’t allow them the free time to finish their high school education as normal. Whitford-Narine said some of her students are single parents, while others need to care for a sick or disabled parent or a younger sibling.

Some, Whitford-Narine added, can’t make it to school on time because they must wait until siblings get on the bus to go to school, since no one else in the family is available.

Briuna Glover, 18, is the mother of a two-year-old girl; she found Chancery to be a refreshing alternative to balance completing her education with raising a daughter. She’s a member of the schools parenting assistance program, and the school’s flexible schedule allows her to get up and take care of her daughter in the morning, then go to school in the afternoon.

“She’s not a morning person,” Glover said of her daughter. “She doesn’t like to get up so early.”

While Glover attends school, her daughter is at a nearby day care with the childcare fees paid for as part of the parenting program offered at Chancery.

For others, Chancery is simply a better option.

Maria Benenche, 19, didn’t have a dramatic life circumstance preventing her from going to school. She just wasn’t engaged at her previous school.

“I didn’t take school seriously,” she said. “I had a lot of friends. It was hard to concentrate.”

A health problem forced her to miss a significant portion of her junior year. When she came back, the best option for her instead was Chancery.

And the different opportunities offered there, such as more one-on-one time with instructors, have helped her be more interested in learning.

“Regular school classes are 45 minutes,” she said. “There’s no time to take in what you learned. I didn’t retain much. Now if I need help, I can have one-on-one time with a teacher. My friends and family have told me I’m more serious and more determined since I came here.”

When she finishes, she says she wants to go to college to study photography — preferably somewhere on the coast.

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Hoping to curb pollution, Randy Fine bill would require inspection of septic tanks

A new bill filed today by Rep. Randy Fine, who represents House District 53, would aim to solve the Indian River Lagoon’s septic tank crisis and help all of Florida’s water quality by requiring the inspection of septic tanks as part of home and other real estate sales.

The Indian River Lagoon was revealed last year to have been polluted by human waste leaking from faulty septic tanks. The number of septic tanks in the area is unknown, but estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands combined in the five counties around the lagoon.

In a news release issued Thursday, Fine says he ran on four issues — solving the Indian River Lagoon problem, improving education, reforming the welfare state, and making Florida the best place in America to start, build, and grow a business.

This bill, called HB 285, would at least get started on the first one.

“There is no question that leaky septic tanks are contributing to water quality challenges across our state, including in our beloved Indian River Lagoon,” he said. “This measure would begin to tackle this issue by ensuring that septic tanks are inspected as part of the suite of inspections that regularly take place during a home sale so that buyers are fully informed about the properties they are considering buying.”

He said the legislation would make sure taxpayers or those on fixed income not planning to sell their homes aren’t burdened.

“Taxpayers will not be responsible for paying for the inspections, or any repairs that result, and those on fixed incomes, with no plans to sell their homes, will not be required to come up with funds for regular inspections,” he said.

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At annual meeting, Republicans contemplate their place at the top after election wins

With big wins in the November elections and now about to control the House, Senate and the presidency, the Republican Party of Florida didn’t feel the need to shake up party leadership much — re-electing Blaise Ingoglia by a sizable margin at the 2017 annual leadership conference Saturday morning.

The RPOF spent much of the rest of the morning at the Rosen Centre Hotel in Orlando on top of the world and in good spirits. But they also focused on the future and action, now that they have so much power in government.

Sen. Marco Rubio spoke about the need to not waste the chance to take action.

“We’ll veto a lot of the regulations put in place,” he said. “The Senate has moved to start repealing Obamacare. Donald Trump will be presenting his plan for a replacement within the next few weeks.”

Rubio said in the first half of this year, he anticipated Obamacare to be repealed and replaced.

He also said Republicans could look forward to a new Supreme Court justice replacing the late Antonin Scalia, who would hopefully serve for 20 to 25 years, and tax reform and fiscal plans in line with what they said would help fix the economy.

“We can provide an opportunity for the American dream,” he said. “The party will be organized around limited government, free enterprise and a strong national defense. If we don’t do our jobs, there are no excuses. We control the House, the Senate and the White House. We can set the country on the right course.”

Palm Beach County official Michael Barnett won the Vice Chair seat, and he and others spoke of moving forward and expanding the party to include everyone.

Barnett, who previously served as the party’s Chairman of their Minority Engagement Committee, said it was important to show various minority communities that the Republican Party could serve their interests.

“We’ve made a good start with this election,” he said. “Eight percent of the black vote went to Donald Trump — double what Mitt Romney was able to get.

“We need to keep reaching out to the Haitian, Caribbean and other communities, and become a part of their community. We don’t all come from the same background, but we can share the same values.”

Though Ingogilia’s win was easy enough, not everyone was happy. Challenger Christian Ziegler was touted as the candidate who could devote full attention to RPOF chair, rather than wear more than one hat as Ingoglia does as a member of the Legislature. Ingoglia currently represents the Florida House in District 35.

Ziegler said he could act like a “CEO of a business” for the party, and always be available to people, no matter what.

Orange County Republican chair Lew Oliver voiced some displeasure with this to FloridaPolitics.com. Oliver thought the chair should be someone with no other interests or positions in politics.

“In politics, there are a lot of battles already,” Oliver said. “Members of Legislature are involved in a lot of struggles, factions and groups. You don’t want someone who may be motivated to have another set of battles.”

Ingoglia’s acceptance speech focused on the ability of the RPOF to create “a dynasty” that could keep the state in Republican control for the foreseeable future.

Lieutenant Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera noted it might be unwise for Republicans to get too complacent in their place at the top — the 2018 election cycle could be even more difficult.

“The Democrats suffered losses in this election,” he said. “They’re doing pretty bad. As low and as bad as they are, they may only have one place to go, though — unless we keep our place and not take this for granted. Because they’re not taking their losses for granted.”

“Because they’re not taking their losses for granted.”

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Blaise Ingoglia wins re-election as chair of Florida GOP

Incumbent Republican Party of Florida chair Blaise Ingoglia swept to victory Saturday morning at the annual elections with a 152 to 76 vote over challenger Christian Ziegler.

Ingoglia, in a speech touting his virtues, called attention to his own free-market and grassroots leanings, saying there was really only one way to win — through having feet on the ground and getting out and doing the work.

“It’s sitting at home and saying goodbye to your wife and your children, driving to the panhandle and speaking at a dinner, then driving to Jacksonville and speaking at another dinner, and then driving all the way home,” he said, “only to have a chairman call you at 3 a.m. to see if you’re still awake.”

Ingoglia called attention to the victory of President-elect Donald Trump and sweeping victories for the party in Florida as examples of why the Republicans were strong right now.

Now, he said, the challenge will be keeping that position on top and staying there, to create a “dynasty” for the party.

“Staying in power is the hard part,” he said. “We can build a dynasty that lasts for generations. If we work together, nothing will stop us from building a Republican Party of Florida dynasty and winning elections.”

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Marco Rubio votes to repeal Affordable Care Act

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio has cast his vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

Early Thursday morning, the Senate GOP took a first step towards a repeal of the law – which they’ve long said was a goal of theirs and which President-elect Donald Trump made a campaign promise to do. In a marathon voting session, they approved a budget resolution that would speed through the repeal of the law.

Rubio was right on board with that.

“ObamaCare has led to rising premiums, a collapse of the individual insurance market and fewer choices for patients,” Rubio said. “The law is an absolute failure, and its proponents insist it must be salvaged with a taxpayer-funded bailout of health insurance companies. We’ve now taken an important first step to repeal this law and replace ‎it with a patient-centered approach that expands access to providers and lowers costs of care.

“It is my hope and expectation that the transition to a replacement program can be done relatively seamlessly and minimize disruptions to patients.”

Opponents of the measure say a repeal of the Affordable Care Act would be disastrous and leave many people without health care, as well as leaving people with pre-existing conditions unable to find coverage.

The GOP and Trump say they’ll work towards implementing a replacement for the law that will be better, though no details on what that plan will be have surfaced.

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Orlando City Soccer stadium unveils 49 rainbow-colored seats as tribute to Pulse victims

The soon-to-open Orlando City Soccer stadium will have a section of seats painted in bright, proud rainbow colors to celebrate and memorialize the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting.

There will be 49 seats painted that way in total – one for each person lost in the shooting. They’ll all be emblazoned with the hashtag “Orlando United, ” and they’re placed in section 12, as the shooting happened on June 12 last year.

The rest of the seats are purple and white.

The club chose to do this to celebrate further and acknowledge Orlando’s status as an “inclusive, diverse and welcoming community.”

“We are here to commemorate and unveil the 49 rainbow-colored seats that will sit permanently in section 12 of our stadium as a constant reminder of the senseless acts of June 12,” said club founder Phil Rawlins. “These are regular season-ticket holder seats. We put them in section 12 because, obviously, we felt that was pertinent. It was June 12th last year when the tragedy happened. They are right down by the benches and will certainly be seen by everyone in the stadium.”

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Rick Scott wants 5% raise for state law-enforcement

Governor Rick Scott announced Thursday that he intended to propose a 5 percent pay raise for all state law enforcement, which would then be voted on early next year by legislature.

Standing with a host of local and state law enforcement officials outside the Florida Highway Patrol office in Orlando, Scott praised law enforcement for their work during an especially trying time – citing that 32 law enforcement officers had been killed so far this year.

He would know, he said, because he had been to all of their funerals.

The pay raise would be a ‘thank you’ to law enforcement for all they do – especially in Florida, what with responding to the Pulse nightclub shooting, Hurricane Matthew and more. There had also been a 45 percent reduction in crime this year as compared to previous years, Scott said.

“Being in law enforcement is only becoming harder,” Scott said. “They face danger each and every day. They are targeted sometimes just for the uniform they wear. I’m proposing a 5 percent pay raise for all state law enforcement officers. They need to be rewarded for their life-saving work. We need to show we appreciate their commitment to us.”

He told the story of Lt. Channing Taylor, who was shot while performing a routine traffic stop, praising Taylor and also awarding him the Governor’s Medal of Honor.

Taylor was honored by the award and excited for the raise.

“It was unexpected,” he told FloridaPolitics.com. “[Scott] really goes above and beyond. He’s a wonderful man.”

Scott will include the $11.7 million request in budget recommendations he’ll give state legislators early next year. The Florida Legislature will consider the pay raise during the regular session that starts in March.

Scott hasn’t made a final decision on whether to recommend pay raises for other state workers, according to The Associated Press.

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Amendment 2 for medical marijuana sweeps the polls with a huge win

Florida’s Amendment 2, relating to the availability of medical marijuana to patients who need it, swept the polls with a 70 to 30 split on Tuesday night’s election.

The amendment proposes to make medical marijuana legal for doctors to give out prescriptions to patients who need it.

Last time out, it got 58 percent of the vote, but because it required a “super majority” of 60 percent, it didn’t pass.

Supporters of the amendment say it’s a sensible alternative medicine and can greatly help patients in need, offering a natural alternative to drugs that may have harmful side effects, and alleviate pain for cancer patients and others suffering debilitating conditions.

Ben Pollera, campaign manager for Amendment 2, said the idea of the amendment wasn’t only about medical marijuana – it’s also about respecting the doctor-patient relationship.

“This is about taking politicians out of the doctor-patient relationship,” he said. “We’ve had a long statewide conversation about this. I believe the people of Florida are compassionate, and that they believe a decision should be made by a doctor and patient together, even if that decision includes marijuana. People trust their doctors to have the treatment that’s right for them, whether that’s dieting and exercise, narcotics and opiates or even marijuana. That decision should be made in the context of the doctor-patient relationship, not by Tallahassee politicians.”

Opponents said the amendment is a “scam” intended to legalize marijuana under the guise of doing it for medical reasons.

Tom Angell, chairman with Marijuana Majority, applauded the amendment’s passing.

“This is a major tipping point: With Florida’s decision, a majority of states in the U.S. now have laws allowing patients to find relief with medical marijuana, and these protections and programs are no longer concentrated in certain regions of the country like the West and Northeast.

“It looks like medical cannabis will get more votes tonight than whoever ends up winning the presidential and U.S. Senate races, and that shows just how mainstream this issue has become. The next president and the new Congress need to get to work right away in 2017 on modernizing federal law so medical cannabis patients and the businesses that serve them in a growing number of states don’t have to worry that the DEA could knock down their doors at any minute.”

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Marco Rubio appears in Lake Mary to get out the vote and opine on Patrick Murphy scandal

A group of Republican lawmakers appeared in Lake Mary Thursday afternoon to sing each others’ praises and hopefully motivate anyone who hasn’t voted to go out and do so – preferably to re-elect Marco RubioJohn MicaBob Cortes and other Republicans.

Rubio, Mica and Cortes painted the race as a particularly dire one, for if they lost, they imparted the vision of what would happen as one none of their supporters would want – one where Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer took places in the head of the House and Senate if Democrats win the majority in both.

Rubio himself spoke out against his opponent Patrick Murphy, criticizing him again for allegedly lying about his record in Congress and embellishing his business record.

“When he’s not lying, he’s liberal,” Rubio said of Murphy. “He supports the Iran deal. Even after we negotiated with them for hostages, he supports it. He wants to close Guantanamo Bay and bring terrorists to the United States, even when it’s proven that a third of them or more return to terror. He is one of the last people to support Hillary Clinton 100 percent, even after the revelations of last Friday.”

The revelations Rubio mentioned were that of the FBI’s looking into more of Clinton’s emails. As of Thursday, the FBI had not released conclusive evidence that anything in the emails they’re looking at have anything to do with Clinton, instead having to do with a separate case involving Anthony Weiner.

Rubio spoke to the press after on a recent donor scheme involving Murphy, in which a friend of his, Ibrahim Al-Rashid, started a straw donor scheme, which “occurs when a wealthy donor skirts legal limits on political donations by funneling money into campaigns using other people’s names,” according to The Hill.

Rubio said it, just like Clinton’s emails, proves that the current crop of Democratic candidates isn’t fit for office.

“This was clearly someone [Murphy] is close to,” Rubio said of Al-Rashid. “We can’t afford to have leaders with clouds like this over their heads.”

According to The Hill, they had found no evidence Murphy knew about the scheme or was connected to it himself as of their article on Wednesday.

On Donald Trump, Rubio said he still supported him, and under no circumstances could he ever allow Clinton to take the presidency.

“This wasn’t my first choice,” Rubio said on supporting Trump. “I wanted to be president. I wanted to be the nominee. But we need someone to stand up to the next president, and I’m the only one who can do that.”

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In Maitland, Mike Pence talks up Donald Trump as a defender of traditional American values

Indiana governor and vice presidential nominee Mike Pence appeared at the Maitland Civic Center in Seminole County Monday afternoon, where he spoke to a galvanized audience of fans on the faults of Hillary Clinton and the virtues of Donald Trump eight days before the presidential election comes to a close.

Trump was the only candidate who, Pence said, can return America to a standard it has lost after eight years of Barack Obama‘s policies.

Pence extolled Trump’s virtues as classically American — “strong, freedom loving and willing to fight hard every day for what he believes in,” Pence said, to a chorus of cheers.

Clinton, by contrast, was characterized as dishonest and corrupt, with Pence hammering her throughout the speech on the many controversies that have dogged her all campaign long — among them her use of a private email server as secretary of state and her inaction during the Benghazi attack in 2012 when Pence and others claim she could’ve prevented it.

Pence’s speech was clean and organized, drawing constant comparisons between his running mate and Clinton, with the common refrain being that Clinton was a weak, ineffective and corrupt leader and Trump was a true leader who would cut through the dishonesty and gridlock in Washington.

“The American people are sick of ‘pay to play’ politics,” he said. “That will come to a crashing halt the day Donald Trump becomes president. He’s got a plan, in the first 100 days, to work with newly re-elected majorities in House and Senate, to pass ethics reform. We will have a government as good as our people, and we’ll drain the swamp.”

On Clinton, Pence didn’t mince words. He accused her of accepting money from foreign governments and large corporate donors, characterizing her as the embodiment of the decades-long Washington D.C. style of “self-dealing, conflicts of interest, pay-to-play, politics of personal enrichment.”

He also attacked Obama’s leadership in the Middle East, saying pulling out of troops from Iraq had created a vacuum that allowed ISIS to grow in their absence, and that negotiating with Iran for the release of American prisoners was a poor move.

Under Trump, Pence said nothing like that would happen again.

Pence encouraged the audience to vote, and said the choice for those who want someone to uphold the American values of “limited government, the sanctity of life, the Second Amendment and all the God-given liberties” they enjoyed, the choice was clearly Trump.

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