Cataract Awareness Month

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Between the yellow sunrises and the orange sunsets, from bright blue skies to starry nightscapes, Florida easily stands out as one of the country’s most visually appealing states. For these diverse visual features and more, it’s no wonder why so many families and individuals choose the Sunshine State as a retirement destination. And yet, due to maladies such as cataracts, not all of its citizens and welcomed visitors share the same view of our great state.

For the many citizens diagnosed with cataracts, this is an unfortunate reality. Cataracts, a clouding of the lens in the eye that affects vision, are a leading cause of visual impairment among aging Americans, affecting more than 22 million Americans aged 40 and older. That number is predicted to increase to 30.1 million by 2020. In 2007, Florida was ranked No.1 in residents aged 65 and older who are diagnosed with age-related eye diseases. These individuals are our parents, neighbors and loved ones, so it is important we do all that we can to increase awareness as we recognize August as Cataract Awareness Month.

The cataract visual impairment can become an incredible burden for its victims as it decreases the quality of life, ability to read, color perception, affects one’ independence, greatly increases the risk of injury and can destroy self-esteem, which may lead to depression. While being diagnosed with cataracts is a serious measure, there are early symptoms and signs of detection to help prevent any further occurrence of symptoms like faded color perception, cloudy or blurry vision, or frequently changing your prescription in your glasses or contact lenses.

Due to the large amount of sun we receive year round, Florida residents should take precaution and wear sunglasses and hats with a brim. Another source of protection comes from living a healthy lifestyle. Eating a diet of healthy foods (such as colorful fruits, vegetables, and whole grains), exercising, and not smoking can prevent cataracts. These are important steps we can take to live happier and healthier lives, empowering us to enjoy all the beauty the Sunshine State has to offer.

The Department of Education’s Division of Blind Services helps Floridians who are blind or visually impaired to acquire the skills and tools to live more independently within their homes and communities. Blind Services can assist individuals with adjustment to blindness, use of assistive technology, travel training and independent living skills. For more information about resources that support individuals with visual disabilities, contact Florida’s Division of Blind Services.

Florida Department of Education Recognizes Distinguished Educators

Pictured left to right: Diane McKee, the 2016 Florida Teacher of the Year; Dustin Sims, the 2015 Assistant Principal of the Year; Hershel Lyons, K-12 Public Schools Chancellor; and Angela Murphy-Osborne, the 2015 Principal of the Year.

Pictured left to right: Diane McKee, the 2016 Florida Teacher of the Year; Dustin Sims, the 2015 Assistant Principal of the Year; Hershel Lyons, K-12 Public Schools Chancellor; and Angela Murphy-Osborne, the 2015 Principal of the Year.

In Florida, we are fortunate to have some of the nation’s very best educators in the classroom, preparing our state’s students for a lifetime of success. We have more than 190,000 teachers, 4,000 principals and several thousand assistant principals, and, at the Florida Department of Education (FDOE), we feel it is incredibly important to recognize their contributions to student learning. We host a series of events throughout the year to honor those who fill these very important roles, and today we are excited to share about the most recent one.

On Monday, August 3, K-12 Public Schools Chancellor Hershel Lyons led a special recognition ceremony at the Turlington Building in Tallahassee. Those who have visited FDOE’s headquarters know that upon entering the building, guests immediately see the Florida Distinguished Educators Wall, which features photographs of just a few of Florida’s many outstanding educators.

Recently, we honored Diane McKee, the 2016 Florida Teacher of the Year; Angela Murphy-Osborne, the 2015 Principal of the Year; and Dustin Sims, the 2015 Assistant Principal of the Year as the 2015-16 Florida’s Distinguished Educators.

For the next year, their photos will be displayed in the Turlington Building lobby to serve as a daily reminder to all DOE employees and our guests of the vital role teachers play in the lives of our state’s students.

2016 Florida Teacher of the Year Diane McKee has been a businessperson turned teacher for 14 years. During her time, Diane has taken the term “raise the bar” literally, hanging a red bar in her room to remind her students of this goal daily. She has said that her students continually exceed her high expectations.

Principal Angela Murphy–Osborne has been a principal for 16 years and has been a true catalyst for igniting educational transformation within her schools. She led two Title I schools to success and helped Palmetto Elementary become the only elementary school in Florida to jump from an F to an A in 2013-14.

Former assistant principal Dustin Sims has been recently promoted to principal of Flagler Palm Coast High School for the upcoming year. Utilizing Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), principal Sims increased student achievement, moving Flagler Palm Coast High from a D in 2009-10 to an A in 2013-14.

At the Department of Education, we seize every opportunity to celebrate our educators. Having this event not only shows other educators that hard work pays off, but it also shows we are thankful and appreciative of all that you do. Congratulations to the newest members of the Florida Distinguished Educators Wall!

Florida Business Ensuring Success in Education

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Last week, we hosted one of the year’s most important events—the annual Florida Teacher of the Year retreat and gala. Diane McKee took home the top honor, 2016 Florida Teacher of the Year, but all of these teachers are winners. To honor their hard work and dedication to our state’s students, we invited all district teachers of the year to Orlando where they were treated to four days of professional development and networking.

It was such a treat for me to spend time with these outstanding educators and I want to thank the sponsors for making these events possible. We are fortunate to have strong partnerships with many national, state and local businesses and non-profit organizations whose leadership teams share our passion for education and appreciate the critical role teachers play in preparing our state students for lifelong success.

All of the sponsors listed below are vital to ensuring this annual celebration of teachers is both memorable and educational, and I especially want to thank Macy’s for their contributions. In addition to hosting a star-studded gala for the teachers of the year and their loved ones, Macy’s donated $102,000 in cash rewards and gift cards. I am already looking forward to next year’s festivities.

Macy’s (Premiere Sponsor)
Bank of America
Blue Man Group
Florida Lottery
Helios Education Foundation
Herff Jones
SMART Technologies
Southeastern University
State Farm
Universal Orlando
Florida Education Foundation

To see a list of the 2016 district teachers of the year and to learn more about the Teacher of the Year Program, visit http://www.fldoe.org/teaching/recognition-recruitment/fl-teacher-of-the-year-program/.

View more Macy’s Gala Photos Here

Florida Education Gets a New Ambassador in Diane McKee

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Each year, the Department of Education names one Florida educator the Christa McAuliffe Ambassador for Education, also known as the Teacher of the Year. This distinct honor is bestowed upon an individual who has been recognized by his/her school and district for going above and beyond to ensure their students receive are prepared for success.

Florida’s 67 counties have 72 school districts with more than 190,000 teachers serving 2.7 million students. Every day educators throughout the state go to work with a singular goal in mind: provide our students with the best education possible so that each child has the necessary skills to achieve their academic and career goals. With so many hard-working educators throughout our state, it was difficult to narrow the list of district winners to only five finalists and nearly impossible to select just one of those.

On Thursday, July 9, at a gala in Orlando, Diane McKee’s life changed forever when Governor Rick Scott announced her as the 2016 Teacher of the Year. Instead of returning to her classroom at Williams Magnet Middle School in Hillsborough County, Diane will spend the 2015-2016 school year traveling the state as a goodwill ambassador representing the Department of Education and all of Florida’s teachers.

With 14 years of teaching experience, Diane has impacted the lives of countless students. Many of them have looked to her as a friend, a confidante and a mentor, but most importantly, they understand she wants to see them succeed. She believes it is important that her students remain focused on “raising the bar,” so she hung a bar from the ceiling at the entrance of her classroom. As students enter her room, they launch toward the bar, a daily reminder that their dreams are within arm’s reach.

That mindset will serve her well in this new role. While we are proud of being ranked 7th in student achievement, there is still room for improvement and we must strive to be number one. After spending a week with our district teachers of the year, I am confident we are on track to achieve that goal and so much more.

To all of our district teachers of the year, our four finalists, our 2016 Florida Teacher of the Year and all of the hard working and creative teachers throughout the state…thank you. Thank you for all that you do for our students and their futures.

To see a list of the 2016 district teachers of the year and to learn more about the Teacher of the Year Program, visit http://www.fldoe.org/teaching/recognition-recruitment/fl-teacher-of-the-year-program/.

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View more Macy’s Gala Photos Here

All Business at the 28th Annual CBRA Ceremony

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In an effort to make Florida the top state in the nation for education, teachers, parents and administrators all work tirelessly to develop new and innovative ways to stimulate and empower our students. Education is the ultimate key to developing the future leaders of Florida. It will open many doors for our youth and create future opportunities for the state.

We want our students to have every chance to succeed. That’s why it is important to recognize the tremendous contributions of business partners throughout the state. Their support enriches education and helps create a brighter future for Florida students.

The Commissioner’s Business Recognition Awards (CBRA) program was established in 1987 by the Commissioner of Education. This program recognizes businesses from around the state that have shown the most commitment, creativity and innovation in bringing about positive change to schools and school districts. At the 28th CBRA ceremony, I was thrilled to honor 83 outstanding business partners in education.

We are all truly grateful to each business honored with the Commissioner’s Business Recognition Awards. Every gift of time, talent and resources helps to ensure Florida students receive a high-quality education and encourages successful alliances within the business community and among local school districts for the benefit of Florida’s students.

It is a great pleasure to see Florida businesses, schools, educators and students working hand-in-hand to best prepare our students for success. Our business partners give students access to mentors, resources and opportunities that supplement classroom learning and give them real-world experience. If we continue working together to give students the best preparation to be successful in college, career and life, I can envision that by the time today’s preschool children are graduating, Florida could be the best state in the nation for education.

Thank you, again, to all of our 2015 CBRA awardees for the important work you do on behalf of Florida’s students. You are helping to build Florida’s next generation of leaders and innovators.

To learn more about the recognition program and to view a list of awarded businesses and organizations, please visit the Commissioner’s Business Recognition Awards.

Fifth Annual Summer Literacy Adventures Kicks Off!

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One of the most difficult tasks for educators during the summer is equipping students to stay engaged and interested in improving their literacy skills. As the summer is filled with vacations, beach visits and relaxation, it is important that our students also make time to maintain and further their literacy skills developed during the school year. In an effort to ensure that parents and students are aware of the summer slump and how it can negatively affect students in the coming school year, Florida’s First Lady Ann Scott, along with the Department of Education, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Lottery are sponsoring the fifth annual Summer Literacy Adventure.

The initiative encourages children to stay active and motivated about reading during this year’s summer break. Personally, I love reading. I read at least one book a week. It doesn’t matter what kind of book you read, as long as you are trying to read at least 20 minutes every day. Reading is the very best way that students can keep all the knowledge  learned in school this year, and start next year ready to learn new things. Strong reading skills are an essential part of the learning process and we must do all  we can to encourage our children to make reading a part of their daily lives.

This year’s Summer Literacy Adventure kick off took place at the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee where nearly 70 local elementary school students were greeted by First Lady Scott. Students from Astoria Park Elementary School in Leon County and Galloway Charter Academy in Gadsden County were delighted by Mrs. Scott’s reading of Drew Daywalt’s “The Day the Crayons Quit.” The children also enjoyed an on-site scavenger hunt within the mansion and answered trivia questions about Florida’s wildlife.

All the activities were designed to make students aware how important, diverse and fun reading can be. Whether it be non-fiction pieces like autobiographies and informational books, or fictitious tales like mystery or adventure, any reading works.  Research shows that children who do not continue reading through the summer can lose a month or more of progress made during the school year. By encouraging their children to read, parents play an important role in ensuring every child reads at or above grade level.

Each student can fill out his or her summer reading pledge on the Summer Literacy Adventure website. At the end of the summer, program representatives will announce which school has pledged to read the most books and the winning school will receive a special visit from Mrs. Scott.

For more valuable resources for students and parents, visit the Just Read, Florida! office website.

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Two Generations…One Bright Future

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By Dr. Barbara Shirley, Principal
Alta Vista Elementary School
Sarasota, Florida
2013-14 Florida Principal of the Year

As families struggle to work toward educational success and economic security, it is becoming even more crucial for schools to expand their scope in meeting the vast needs of their school community. Alta Vista Elementary in Sarasota is a Title I school where 94 percent of students are on the free and reduced-price lunch program.

Three years ago, we committed to becoming a community school by creating two generational programs that would meet the needs of both students and parents together. Our Eagle Academy, a seven-week academic/enrichment summer learning program, was originally developed for students entering kindergarten to better prepare them for school.

During the past three years, our program has grown from 62 students who are now entering second grade to 250 kindergarten, first and second grade children. Achievement data has shown that the students who attend the Eagle Academy are better prepared academically for the next grade level and do not experience summer learning loss.

During the Eagle Academy summer program, our parents attend adult classes one evening a week, while their children are in arts integrated/enrichment classes. This Parent University provides classes that promote successful student achievement through parent involvement.

Classes also focus on strengthening life and parenting skills while fostering career and vocational training. Approximately 300 parents attend classes each week focused on Parents as Readers, Tips for School Success, Managing Behavior at Home, Health and Nutrition, Finance and Budgeting, Job Connection and Employability Skills, English as a Second Language, Technology, and GED classes. Many of these classes are also offered during the school year.

These high quality training and educational opportunities emphasize skills and knowledge required for a job or trade. Parents have told us, “our skills were enhanced by the sessions with caring and knowledgeable instructors in the Parent University” and “we are more connected to the school.”

Alta Vista is committed to supporting the educational success and financial security of our parents and children together. Our Two Generations…One Future programs provide intergenerational opportunities for students and their parents together. Our goal is to build education, economic supports, and social capital to create financial security that passes from one generation to the next.

During the Eagle Academy and school year, single mothers are provided free educational programs in vocational occupations to increase their job opportunities and financial potential. Through the generosity of donors, these programs educate and train parents in specific careers or trades. These high quality training and education opportunities emphasize the skills and knowledge required for a job or trade.

Our Two Generations…One Future programs are offered based on economic development indicators of job opportunities in Sarasota and parent interest. Some of the vocational programs include Certified Nursing Assistant, Cosmetology, Culinary Arts, Administrative Assistant, and Technology. Parents go through a stringent application and interview process before acceptance into the program.

Alta Vista Elementary also partnered with the Community Foundation of Sarasota and American Red Cross to provide full scholarships to 37 parents interested in a certified nursing assistant (CNA) training program and two parents interested in cosmetology. All of these parents have passed state certification exams and are currently working in their field.

The CNA program has been held at the school during the past two summer Eagle Academy programs and throughout the school year on our campus. At the end of each seven week program, a job fair and graduation ceremony is held at the school, celebrating our parents’ successful completion of the program and their opportunities for employment. During this ceremony, since most of our parents were high school drop-outs, they are walking across the stage for the first time in their lives. It is quite a celebration for our parent graduates and their families!!

Through our Eagle Academy, Parent University, and Two Generations…One Future Programs, we are creating a community school dedicated to educating children and their parents together!