Sunshine State Scholars Conference Recruits Brightest STEM Scholars to Stay in Florida

Florida’s highest-achieving eleventh-grade science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students will join their peers from around the state at the 2015 Sunshine State Scholars program on Thursday and Friday in Orlando.

The two-day awards and recruitment event celebrates the accomplishments of these elite students and provides a unique venue for Florida’s colleges and universities to recruit their talents. Local school districts, Florida Virtual School, Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, and Florida’s developmental research schools choose their top eleventh-grade STEM scholar to participate in the conference.

The Sunshine State Scholars program is made possible by a partnership between the Florida Education Foundation, the Division of Florida Colleges, the State University System of Florida and the Florida Department of Education.

For more information about the event, visit Sunshine State Scholars or follow the event activities live on Twitter using the hashtag #FLSTEMScholars.

An Increased Investment in Education

For more than 30 years, I have worked with and on behalf of Florida students and I can honestly say this is the best time for education I have experienced. Florida has been recognized as a national leader for student achievement and teacher preparation and, to build on these successes, Governor Rick Scott has proposed historic funding for K-12 education, as well as policies that will help Florida students earn a college diploma faster and with less debt.

Commissioner Pam Stewart Highlights Governor Scott’s Historic K-12 Funding Announcement During Florida Cabinet Meeting.Our graduation rates are at an 11-year high, we’re ranked 7th in the nation for K-12 academic achievement and we have been successful at narrowing the achievement gap between African American and white students.

I credit the hardworking teachers and school staff members who come in early, leave late and spend the extra one-on-one time with students so that they are prepared for success in the classroom and in life.

In January, Governor Rick Scott unveiled his 2015-2016 “KEEP FLORIDA WORKING” Budget, and I pleased to share his strategic education investments:

  • $19.75 billion in total funding for K-12 public schools, an increase of $842.5 million;
  • $7,176 per student funding, an increase of $261 over the current school year and $50 above Florida’s previous record in 2007-2008;
  • $20 million to create a Rapid Response Start-up Grant program for technical centers;
  • $5 million to incentivize $10,000 STEM degrees at Florida Colleges;
  • $1 million to facilitate partnerships with high-tech Florida companies;
  • $80 million to assist districts in implementing their Digital Classroom plans;
  • $164.6 million for maintenance, repair, and renovation of public schools educational facilities;
  • $100 million for maintenance, repair, and restoration of charter schools;
  • $23.5 million to expand Bright Futures to cover summer term courses; and
  • The elimination of sales tax on college textbooks.

I had the honor of joining Governor Scott at Atlantic Technical College in Broward County where he announced his proposal to increase per-pupil funding in the 2105-16 fiscal year, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Governor Scott is truly a champion for education; we already had the highest total spending for our state’s education system last year and he is the first governor to have a specific appropriation dedicated to teacher pay raises.

Last year, Florida invested a total of $18.9 billion in K-12 education, which was the highest to that point. Now, the Governor is proposing an increase for a new record total of $19.75 billion to ensure Florida’s students have access to a world-class education. This amounts to a $261 per-student increase over this school year and a $50 increase from the previous record.

I credit Governor Scott’s commitment to job creation and overall economic growth for enabling us to have the additional funds to invest in education.  I am confident that this investment will pay off for years to come as graduating students will be able to contribute to Florida’s economy once they enter the workforce.

Florida students are fortunate to have many of the nation’s best principals and teachers, and this new proposed funding will ensure they have the necessary resources to continue thriving.

To learn more and hear what stakeholders have to say, click here.

The Power of Data-Driven Decision-Making

During last month’s State Board of Education meeting, I had the pleasure to recognize Citrus County Superintendent Sandra Himmel as the 2014 Lavan Dukes District Data Leader of the Year. Past winners of this unique award often come from large urban school districts. However, as Superintendent Himmel proved, using valuable data to guide decision-making is vital for school systems of all shapes and sizes.

Commissioner Stewart and Florida's State Board of Education presented Citrus County Superintendent Sandra Himmel with the 2014 Lavan Dukes District Data Leader of the Year award.

Commissioner Stewart and Florida’s State Board of Education presented Citrus County Superintendent Sandra Himmel with the 2014 Lavan Dukes District Data Leader of the Year award.

Gathering quality data on student proficiency and performance is vital to understanding what is working in our classrooms and where we have room for improvement. What makes Superintendent Himmel stand out among the other accomplished finalists is her tenacity to examine data trends, use the results to drive new initiatives and share the outcomes with teachers, parents and leaders in the Citrus County community.

In her recent “State of the District” presentation, Superintendent Himmel mapped out reading and mathematics proficiency levels for each school, comparing the district average to previous years and to statewide proficiency levels.

Within one click from the main Citrus County School District website, parents and educators can see the tremendous progress students have made in key subject areas, and which schools are exhibiting the greatest growth in student achievement. District staff also tracks the percentage of students taking advanced coursework and national assessments, comparing Citrus County students to both state and national score averages.

In response to receiving the award, Superintendent Himmel praised her staff members for their commitment to using data to guide district resources. “It is about our staff. It’s all about the data we use from our maintenance department to our educators in the classroom.”

“We always ask this question ‘how does it impact our students,’” she told State Board of Education members on Tuesday. From looking at 2013-14 school year data, Superintendent Himmel can assure her district’s dedicated educators that their efforts have resulted in higher student performance across the board.

I congratulate Superintendent Himmel and her staff for leading the Sunshine State in using inventive and appropriate data to cultivate higher achievement for all students.

Governor Rick Scott Proposes Historic Education Funding In The “KEEP FLORIDA WORKING” Budget

Governor Rick Scott’s “KEEP FLORIDA WORKING” budget increases K-12 funding to a historic level of $19.75 billion, an increase of $261 per student over last year and $50 per student over the previous record in 2007-2008. In addition, the Governor’s budget also includes $20 million to create a Rapid Response Start-up Grant program for technical centers, $5 million to incentivize $10,000 STEM degrees at Florida Colleges, $80 million for Digital Classroom plans, and $23.5 million to expand Bright Futures to cover summer term courses.

Governor Scott said, “We want Florida to be the global leader for jobs, and we must have a skilled workforce to reach that goal. That is why I am proposing the highest level of funding in Florida history. Investing in education is the best way to ensure our students are gaining the knowledge they need to meet the needs of tomorrow’s employers. Thanks to Florida’s hard-working teachers and school leaders, our students already rank among the best in the nation, and we will keep working to provide record investments in education so our students have the resources they need to succeed.”

Governor Scott’s proposed budget includes:

  • $19.75 billion in total funding for K-12 public schools, an increase of $842.5 million;
  • $7,176 per student funding, an increase of $261 over the current school year and $50 above Florida’s previous record in 2007-2008;
  • $20 million to create a Rapid Response Start-up Grant program for technical centers;
  • $5 million to incentivize $10,000 STEM degrees at Florida Colleges;
  • $1 million to facilitate partnerships with high-tech Florida companies;
  • $80 million to assist districts in implementing their Digital Classroom plans;
  • $164.6 million for maintenance, repair, and renovation of public schools educational facilities;
  • $100 million for maintenance, repair, and restoration of charter schools;
  • $23.5 million to expand Bright Futures to cover summer term courses; and
  • The elimination of sales tax on college textbooks.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said, “I applaud Governor Scott for his focus on education in the ‘KEEP FLORIDA WORKING’ budget. Florida families deserve access to high-quality education opportunities, and his focus on technical centers, STEM education, and digital classroom initiatives is critical to help prepare Florida students for success in college, career and life. I am confident that this investment will pay off for years to come as the students who benefit from this funding will be able to contribute greatly to Florida’s economy once they enter the workforce.”

Gary Chartrand, State Board of Education Chairman, said, “Florida’s future depends on making key investments that give students the 21st century skills necessary to become a highly qualified workforce. By increasing K-12 per student and total funding, giving technical centers the ability to respond to the evolving workforce needs of their communities, helping districts implement Digital Classroom Plans and investing in charter school facilities, Florida is poised to remain a national leader in education and workforce development. I thank Governor Scott for his leadership in making education a top priority in Florida.”

“I applaud Governor Scott for his commitment to education in the proposed ‘KEEP FLORIDA WORKING’ budget and for recognizing the importance of our classrooms and the impacts they have on our economy,” said Broward Schools Superintendent Robert W. Runcie. “At Broward County Public Schools we believe in educating today’s students to succeed in tomorrow’s world.”

Ken Haiko, chairman of Renaissance Charter Schools, Inc. said, “Florida families value school choice and the charter schools that give them high-quality education choices. Governor Scott’s increase in fixed capital outlay for charter schools is a great first step that will allow Florida families to continue to have access to a variety of educational options that best fit their needs.”

Jennifer Grove, Community Development Manager, Gulf Power, and CareerSource Florida Board of Directors Strategic Policy Council Chairman said, “Governor Scott has proven to be focused on addressing the needs of our workforce. The Rapid Response Grant funding for Florida’s technical schools will put us head and shoulders above other states in matching the training of our state’s workforce to the ever-changing needs of industry.”

Christie Bassett, 2015 Florida Teacher of the Year, said, “Governor Scott’s long-standing commitment to education is reinforced in his ‘KEEP FLORIDA WORKING’ budget. His increases in per-pupil funding and total K-12 funding will help educators best prepare students for success now and in the future.”

Sandy Shugart, President of Valencia College, said, “The Governor’s budget for the Florida College System features a significant commitment to performance-based funding, a direction long supported by Valencia College and an essential feature of the state’s funding model going forward. I look forward to working with the Governor’s team and the legislature both to make performance funding a reality and to assure that all of the colleges in the system are competing for these funds on a level playing field.”

To learn more about the “KEEP FLORIDA WORKING” budget, visit www.keepfloridaworking.com.

Reading: Enriching Art Lessons and Lives

The arts are often the first opportunity a student has to apply, practice and enhance the skills they are learning in core academic subject areas. As an elementary school arts educator, I try to incorporate reading into my lessons and often ask my students to write about their art process.

2015 Florida Teacher of the Year Christie Bassett visits students with First Lady Ann Scott during Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida!

2015 Florida Teacher of the Year Christie Bassett visits students with First Lady Ann Scott during Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida!

Sometimes I use artist biographies to have my students read to shoulder partners. Or, I might read aloud about the technique we would be using. Occasionally, I would find a magazine article on the subject of our art project and have my student take turns reading to the class.

My favorite types of books to share with my art students are ones illustrated by the book’s author. In addition to reading the book, I enjoy discussing with my students that many talented artists not only create the words on the pages, they also make the words come to life with their artwork!

This year, I’m on a leave of absence from the classroom so I can fulfill my duties as Florida’s Teacher of the Year. In August, I explained to my students that they would have a different art teacher for this school year. They kept asking me the same question over and over. To my surprise, no one asked “Will the new teacher paint with us?” or “Will the new teacher let us make ceramic projects?” or “Can we still use oil pastels?”

All of my students kept asking, “Will the new teacher READ to us?” Reading during art class has made so much of an impact on my students, possibly even more than I realized while I was teaching them.

In honor of the 2015 Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite books by author/illustrators:

  • Animal Popposites: A Pop-Up Book of Opposites by author, illustrator & paper engineer Matthew Reinhart
  • Frederick written and illustrated by Leo Lionni
  • Jumanji written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar written and illustrated by Eric Carle
  • Bunny Cakes written and illustrated by Rosemary Wells
  • The Berenstain Bears and the Golden Rule written and illustrated Mike Berenstain, created by Stan & Jan Berenstain
  • The Hat written and illustrated by Jan Brett
  • The Art Lesson written and illustrated by Tommy dePaola
  • Brown Bear, Brown Bear written and illustrated by Bill Martin, Jr
  • The Cat and the Hat written and illustrated by Seuss
  • Where the Wild Things Are written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak

It is my hope that Florida students, parents and educators will set aside time to check out these fantastic creations with their students! As a parent of two little ones myself, I know that time is a precious commodity. However, reading with your students is a gift that keeps growing with every word and every page.

About the author: Christie Bassett is an art teacher from Polk County, Florida. She is spending the 2014-2015 school year traveling the state of Florida speaking to educators, future teachers, district personnel and business leaders about the continued success of Florida’s public education. You can contact Christie at 2015FlaTeacheroftheYear@gmail.com and read her biography at http://www.fldoe.org/teaching/recognition-recruitment/fl-teacher-of-the-year-program/past-winners-finalists/2015.stml.

Guest Blog: First Lady Ann Scott Shares Love of Reading with Florida Students

I have loved reading for as long as I can remember. So, when I became First Lady, I knew I wanted to focus on literacy and share my passion for reading with Florida’s students. Rick and I were blessed with two daughters, Allison and Jordan, and while they were growing up we spent a lot of time as a family poring over books. Now, they are grown with families of their own and I have the pleasure of watching them show our grandsons, Auguste, Quinton and Sebastian, the joy of reading.

First Lady Ann Scott reads to her oldest grandson, Auguste, at the 2014 Florida Governor’s Mansion Easter Egg Hunt.

First Lady Ann Scott reads to her oldest grandson, Auguste, at the 2014 Florida Governor’s Mansion Easter Egg Hunt.

I was the oldest daughter of four children and my family did not have many books growing up, so we relied on the school and local libraries, where we spent countless hours perusing the shelves. It was there, between the rows of bookshelves, that I developed an abiding love for reading that has stayed with me my entire life.

In fact, some of my fondest childhood memories revolve around these trips to the library and the hours my siblings and I spent picking out as many books as we could carry home. In elementary school, I read all of the biographies in the school library. Then, as a pre-teen, I was introduced to classic literature from both Charlotte and Emily Bronte, including my favorite novel, Jane Eyre.

Who would have known that reading 19th century gothic literature in the back of the library would introduce me to the other love of my life, my husband, Rick. The very first time I met Rick was at our high school library in Kansas City, Missouri.

As Florida’s First Lady, I have had the opportunity to visit elementary, middle, and high schools from the Panhandle to the Keys to talk with students about making reading a part of their daily routine. Next week, January 26-30, we will begin the 2015 Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida!, with events and school visits across the state.

This is my fifth consecutive year participating in the annual event, which I believe is a wonderful reminder to students, parents and teachers that reading is absolutely fundamental to success both inside and outside the classroom.

I am encouraging all Floridians to join me in making literacy a priority in our homes and workplaces. You can visit Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida! for more information, including a list of exciting statewide events and initiatives.

Show how you are promoting literacy in your community by using the hashtag #CLW2015.

About the author: First Lady Ann Scott is a devoted wife, mother, and grandmother. High school sweethearts, the Governor and First Lady have been married for 42 years and have two married daughters, Allison and Jordan, and three adorable grandsons, Auguste, Quinton, and Sebastian. An avid reader, the First Lady loves traveling the state, sharing her passion for reading and literacy with Florida’s students.

A Surprise Announcement for an Incredible Educator

pamstewart-smallHonoring outstanding educators and students is by far my favorite activity as Florida’s Commissioner of Education. The only thing that makes the recognition even better is when it is a total surprise.

Last week, I visited Frances K. Sweet Elementary School to recognize fourth grade educator and Florida’s 2015 Milken Educator Award winner Nardi Routten. Only, Nardi had no idea she was receiving an award.

What a joy to see her reaction to winning this prestigious award and how fervently her students cheered during the announcement. It was evident in that moment how much she has contributed to her students, colleagues and the school as a whole.

Nardi was recognized for her strong track record of raising student achievement. In fact, her students regularly score higher on both district and state assessments, which is a direct reflection of the extra time she spends with individual students.

She is known for meeting with students before and after school, and on weekends. Parents often request her for their children because of her willingness and ability to meet her students’ specific needs. As St. Lucie Public Schools Superintendent Genelle Yost put it, Nardi is a “phenomenal teacher leader.”

Because of the great work of Nardi and others like her, Florida will continue to be a national leader in education.

To learn more about Nardi’s accomplishments, visit the Florida Department of Education’s newsroom.

About the author: Commissioner Pam Stewart leads the Florida Department of Education, which supports Florida’s Pre-K-12 education system, serving more than 2.7 million students and 192,000 educators. She is a former teacher, principal and deputy superintendent.