Just for Parents Newsletter March Issue Available Online

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This month’s edition features information on Florida standards, Individual Education Plans (IEP) and recent student accomplishments.



Florida Recruits Top STEM Students

scholarsCommissioner Pam Stewart

Even before I took the stage to welcome attendees to the 2014 Sunshine State Scholars Conference, I realized that this year’s scholars were quite possibly the most talented group we have ever invited.

The conference, a joint project between the department and the Florida Education Foundation, invites each district’s top 11th grade STEM (Science, Technology,  Engineering, Mathematics) student to be recognized and encouraged to begin their postsecondary career in Florida.

I think it is important to know this year’s attendees were not only the state’s top STEM students, but many were also talented writers, musicians, athletes and leaders. For example, Michael from Okeechobee County recently finished his first solo flight and is completing requirements for a private pilot’s license.

Savannah from Charlotte County recently placed in the Florida Girls Weightlifting State Finals and Vivek from Broward County developed a mobile app to help middle school students prepare for the MathCounts competition.

Chyanne from Marion County started a project called “Stockings for Shands,” where she collects coloring books, crayons and other items for children receiving infusion treatments at Shands Hospital.

I wish I had time to highlight each scholar, but I am confident that you will begin seeing all of their names as they become our state’s next generation of leaders.

For more information on Florida’s Sunshine State Scholars program, visit the Florida Education Foundation website.

A special thanks to the conference sponsors who made the event a success, including AT&T, Helios Education Foundation, Universal Orlando Resorts, Atkins, Gulf Power Company, The Florida Lottery and The Mosaic Company.

Florida Honors Outstanding Principals and Assistant Principals

Mickey Mouse wasn’t the only one having a magical time last week, just ask the 37 Florida principals and assistant principals who were honored as the best school leaders in the state.

It wasn’t that long ago that I was serving as a Marion County school principal, so you can imagine how exciting it was to recognize the hard work and dedication of these wonderful leaders. Each of the attendees was nominated by their district to attend the 2014 Commissioner’s Leadership Academy, acknowledging the critical role their leadership plays in student and school success.


Florida’s 2014 Principal of the Year Finalists

I felt very fortunate to know and have worked with several of the district winners. In fact, one of the honorees, Principal John McCollum, was my mentor while I was an elementary school principal in Marion County.

Like John, most of the principals attending the summit came from schools where almost all of their students are on free- or reduced-price lunch plans. What inspires me about these principals is that they do not let a student’s circumstances get in the way of the school’s ability to provide a first-rate education.

When it was my turn to address the attendees, I thanked them for being on the front lines with students, teachers and parents every day. Although the work can be overwhelming, Florida teachers and principals are truly making a difference in the lives of children, ensuring they are prepared for the future…and hopefully having a little fun along the way.

Commissioner Pam Stewart

Florida Department of Education 

Guest Blog: Rural Students in Florida Get Chance to Become STEM Scholars

Phidell Lewis, a senior at a high school in a thinly populated area of the Florida Panhandle, had two big adventures this past summer.

He spent four days with top scientists as part of a group analyzing nanomaterials, and he attended a forum of engineers representing various industries, where he learned about STEM career paths. Both opportunities came about because Phidell is one of hundreds of students from rural communities in Florida who are STEM Scholars—part of a new State initiative to expose students to opportunities in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) through its Race to the Top grant.


FloridaLearns STEM Scholars program is giving students opportunities to work with peers to solve problems in a variety of technical fields under the guidance of professional scientists and engineers. Photo credit: FloridaLearns STEM Scholars

“The STEM program allows our students to make better sense of what they’re learning on a day-to-day basis, and it helps them become better-prepared employees for our local industries,” said Ralph Yoder, superintendent of Calhoun County.

In other efforts to boost the skills of Florida’s labor force, the State is investing in training college graduates in STEM fields to become teachers, and encourages them to share that knowledge by becoming an educator.

“Funds from Florida’s Race to the Top award have expedited efforts already underway to better prepare students for college and careers,” said Brenda Crouch, Program Manager for the FloridaLearns STEM Scholars Program.”  It is a win for Florida’s economic future.

Students chosen to participate in the program are paired with mentors and receive intensive hands-on experiences with STEM professionals, rigorous courses during the school year, and opportunities to collaborate with other advanced students. Pam Stewart, Florida’s Commissioner of Education, said that the State had seen a 49 percent enrollment increase in accelerated STEM courses and STEM career academies since 2009. In some rural counties, students received industry certifications for the first time in 2013. More than 1,000 high school students have participated in the STEM Scholars program since 2012. Roderick Robinson, who mentors students in the program in Franklin County, said watching his students’ interest in STEM grow has been a “phenomenal experience.” Prior to the STEM program, many of his students were unfamiliar with STEM careers. After participating in the program, however, Robinson estimates that 95 percent of his students are now interested in STEM majors.

One component of the STEM Scholars program is a four-day Summer Challenge that gives students opportunities to work with peers to solve problems in a variety of technical fields under the guidance of professional scientists and engineers. This past summer students worked on problems involving ecology, physics, inorganic chemistry, photonics, marine habitats, underwater robotics and alternative energy sources.

Jordan Sparks, a 12th-grader is a STEM Scholar from Freeport High School, east of Pensacola on the Gulf of Mexico. He was one of nine students from Walton County who participated in a summer project at the nearby Choctawhatchee Bay to monitor water quality, learn about sea grass and restore oyster reefs.

“My favorite part was looking at how the little things we do can impact an entire ecosystem,” said Jordan, who is now considering a career in marine biology. “It felt good to fix something that other people had broken. It’s really opened my eyes to the world of science.”

Jordan’s mentor, Linda Young, said the program has provided students in the area with hands-on learning opportunities that they would not have had otherwise. She emphasized the value of the opportunity for students to work with others on demanding projects. “Not only does it improve STEM skills, but it also gets students outside of their comfort zone and working with other students as part of a team.”

Read the full story on Progress.

To read the official blog of the U.S. Department of Education, visit Homeroom.

A Teacher’s Perspective on Parental Involvement

ImageBy Dorina Sackman, 2014 Florida Department of Education/Macy’s Teacher of the Year

At the beginning of each school year, I let my students’ parents know how I feel about educating their children. I tell them that I am happy to make my classroom a second home for students and that I am truly passionate about their success. However, after 15 years in the classroom, I have come to the realization that teachers cannot do it alone.

It is imperative that we increase family/parent involvement in the educational goals of our students. Teachers across our state are working with their schools to increase the amount of year-round community engagement, including adding community service in the curriculum, building partners in education, volunteering, developing education programs for our parents, incorporating after school programs with parent participation, and/or schools partaking in community events.

But we need your help in this journey. I want parents to see their child’s school as a cornerstone of our community, ensuring the empowerment of young minds.

So the question is, “Are you ready to get involved?” Here are five simple ways to start off building a culture of community in your child’s school.

1. Send a quick email to your child’s teachers, letting them know you are interested in your child’s performance at school. Let teachers know the best way and times to reach you and include updated contact information.

2. Attend parent/teacher conferences when scheduled. If you can’t attend in person, ask about other ways to speak with your child’s teachers. With new technology, from Skype to video conferencing, there are many ways we, as teachers, can work with your schedule.

3. Take a few minutes each day to check your child’s planner or folder. This is the best form of communication with a teacher and allows the teacher to see if you are checking your child’s work and homework.

4. Volunteer once this month. There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer in your child’s school. Even if you volunteer only once this month, it is a reflection of your commitment to your child’s education. Be careful, you might actually LOVE it and get further involved!

5. Commit to attending this month’s school/parent advisory committee meeting. These meetings are filled with vital information for you and your child. Why not attend your school meeting this month and share the information with other parents!

Although it seems very simple, these five things are the first steps in taking the leap to assist teachers in meeting the needs of your child. I believe “incremental is monumental” and this month is a great time to start!


Celebrating Florida’s Outstanding Principals

Leading an organization, no matter how big or small, takes more than just innovation and inspiration, it takes dedication. A leader must be willing to put in the hours, ensuring the entire team is committed to the organization’s vision.

Florida has the best principals in the nation, displaying the kind of leadership their schools and communities consistently need. It’s no secret that the past few years have been challenging as our state has raised its standards and expected more from its students. However, I know from my own experience as an elementary and high school principal that a productive, positive culture starts at the top.


When I became principal of Reddick-Collier Elementary school in Marion County, Florida had not established the school grading system. But when the first year grades were released, we were an “F” school. Yet we had many talented teachers and supportive administrative staff who deeply cared about students. We had great human capital, but we weren’t skilled at how to use the data to improve student achievement.

It would have been easy to become discouraged or overwhelmed with the obstacles facing our school. But instead we pushed through, just as many of Florida’s principals do every day. We established school-wide expectations that supported our school’s vision, giving us tangible ways to attain student success. In one year, we were able to jump up two grades because every teacher, support staff and administrator was committed to the same vision.

Principals set the tone for the school. In addition to leading their staff, it is crucial that they establish a school culture where academics come first and where involvement and accessibility are key. As many of you know, students and teachers perform best when they feel supported by their principal.

I’ll never forget the day one of our teachers came to me needing help to encourage a student to finish his reading assignment. That day I went to her classroom and let the student know that I would read the assigned novel and take the quiz if he would do the same.  The whole class was caught up in the fun.  It is this type of involvement that principals do every single day and it makes such a difference in our schools.

It was my belief that students would be more interested in learning if I showed more interest in their lives and extracurricular activities, including athletic events. So many Florida principals are already going the extra mile to motivate students to reach their goals, and it shows.

Their support of classroom instruction continues to move our state forward and better prepares students for successful paths to college and careers. I truly appreciate all they do each day to empower their staff, inform parents and inspire students to work toward a brighter tomorrow.

Pam Stewart, Commissioner of Education


Providing Feedback on Florida’s Standards

If you haven’t already, consider providing your feedback on Florida’s math and English language arts standards.

The Florida Department of Education is hosting three public meetings this week on the state’s mathematics and English language arts (ELA) standards in accordance with Governor Scott’s executive order (PDF). The public meetings are set to be approved by the State Board of Education at its Tuesday meeting in Tampa.

“We have already received more than 4,000 comments and suggestions from teachers, parents, administrators and the public about Florida’s current standards that the State Board adopted in 2010 and have been implemented in schools across the state,” said Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart. “We appreciate all of the feedback we have received and we look forward to continuing this transparent and open process for the public to provide input on the standards.”

At the public meetings, participants will fill out speaker cards to ensure the maximum number of participants have an opportunity to make public comment. Participants can also provide their feedback via hard copy. The meetings will be webcast live at http://www.thefloridachannel.org.

Individuals who are unable to attend the public meetings are encouraged to submit their feedback via email or on the designated website below. Each response will be reviewed and considered by the department along with input from the public meetings.

Floridians can submit their feedback in three ways.

Website: http://www.flstandards.org
Email: flstandards@fldoe.org.
Public Meetings: October 15, 16 and 17, 2013

What: Florida Math and ELA Standards Public Meetings

When: Tuesday, October 15, 2013
5:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time
Hillsborough Community College – Dale Mabry Campus
Student Services Building – Auditorium – Room 111
4001 West Tampa Bay Boulevard

Wednesday, October 16, 2013
5:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time
Broward College – Davie Campus
Bailey Concert Hall – Building 4
3501 SW Davie Road

Thursday, October 17, 2013
5:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time
Ghazvini Center for Healthcare Education Auditorium
1528 Surgeons Drive

All comments must be submitted by October 31, 2013, to be considered for review.