Recognizing Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Walking to my office this morning, I was greeted by a sea of pink.  Department employees were decked out in pink shirts, dresses, ties, and coats, recognizing October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  And, I am proud to report that Florida’s school districts are taking their recognition a step further, ensuring that our valued educators are the healthiest in the nation.

Health professionals agree that our best tools in the fight against cancer are prevention and early detection. Taking this message to heart, many districts have implemented innovative health and wellness programs for teachers and school staff.

For example, the Marion County School District partnered with a local mammography provider to perform mammograms every third Tuesday of the month for district staff.  To ensure that busy educators can receive this life-saving breast cancer screening, the provider increased its hours from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Palm Bay Elementary School employees display their best shade of pink during a Breast Cancer Awareness Month event, sponsored by the Brevard County School District.

Manatee County also provides free breast cancer screenings to district employees and their families at participating providers.  During October, the district held wellness seminars giving teachers vital information about cancer detection methods and treatment.

Brevard district employees do things a little differently, fighting breast cancer with enthusiasm and a bit of humor. Along with offering on-site mammograms, district staff members host events focused on educating co-workers and the public.

The district’s “Put on Your Pink Bra” campaign raised awareness and more than a few eyebrows as one male employee dressed as a “cancer-slugging” superhero, complete with a pink, flowery bra. To read his story and more about the district’s brave cancer survivors, click here.

I applaud all of Florida’s districts for their commitment to the health and wellness of their employees, especially those at risk for breast cancer. Teachers and school staff are continually putting the needs of students above their own.  These important programs put our teachers first.

District Data Leaders

Not everyone’s a “numbers person.” For some, analyzing data is as fear-inducing as public speaking. Lucky for me, today I did both.

Florida’s superintendents are leading the nation in using data and technology to address critical education issues. This afternoon I had the privilege of honoring four superintendents for their outstanding use of resources during our third annual District Data Leaders program.

Superintendents Alberto Carvalho (Miami-Dade), Dr. Alexis Tibbetts (Okaloosa), Richard Shirley (Sumter) and Dr. Joseph Joyner (St. Johns) were selected as District Data Leader of the Year finalists for establishing information systems to make more informed changes on behalf of students, parents and staff.

2012 District Data Leader of the Year Superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools Alberto Carvalho

In the past, district leaders have collected and evaluated data from a variety of areas, including educator effectiveness, parental involvement and community sentiment. This year’s winner, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, exemplified the innovative spirit shared by many advocates for data quality.

Under Alberto’s leadership, Miami-Dade district leaders put in place a system that monitors student progress over time, giving educators vital information about each individual student’s strengths and weaknesses. Teachers are then able to tailor a plan to put at-risk students back on track. And, in turn, students can reach important milestones at their own pace.

We could not have recognized these valuable leaders without the support of the Florida Education Foundation and program sponsors Microsoft, Kyra InfoTech, MetaMetrics and Hotel Duval.

Using these data-driven tools, we can better assess and meet the needs of Florida greatest resource, our students.

A Homecoming for Best Practices – Part 2


That is the only word that can describe many of the career academies available in St. Johns County schools. Career academies provide smaller learning environments where students are involved in hands-on, real-world projects. Areas of study span from banking to architecture, information technology to biology.

On Friday, Chancellor Rod Duckworth and I traveled with Dr. Joe Joyner to a handful of the district’s career academies, witnessing the excitement and innovation of participating students. I thought I had seen just about everything when students from Bartram Trails High School unveiled their sculpture created from more than 200 recycled bottles.

Not to be outdone, both Ponte Vedra and St. Augustine high schools featured similar project-based learning exercises. My next stop at Ponte Vedra High School’s Academy of Biotechnical and Medical Research was definitely an eye-opening look into the meticulous science of biology. While watching each student don safety goggles and handle delicate lab equipment, I felt like an extra on the set of CSI.

The school also features another career academy focused on international business marketing, with quite an impressive computer lab. There I met a wonderful young lady set on becoming more computer proficient than Floridians twice her age.

Chancellor Rod Duckworth works with students from the St. Johns Aerospace Academy at St. Augustine High School.

My last stop for the day was the St. Johns Aerospace Academy and St. Johns Academy of Future Teachers at St. Augustine High School. I can tell you there is no greater joy than watching young people develop skill sets to make their dreams come true. And, meeting with so many aspiring teachers, it certainly felt like these programs had come full circle.

A Homecoming for Best Practices

I’ve always felt that my passion for education began years before I started teaching in Florida’s public schools at Ward-Highlands Elementary in 1981. In fact, even my personal life is deeply connected to education issues, as the mother and mother-in-law of two outstanding teachers and grandmother of two elementary school students.

While in St. Johns County on Friday, I wasn’t just visiting local students, teachers and parents as the Commissioner of Education. I was reunited with them as a friend and colleague. Before joining the Department of Education as Chancellor of Schools last year, I served as the St. Johns County Deputy Superintendent.

A few weeks ago, Superintendent of St. Johns County schools, Dr. Joseph Joyner, invited Chancellor of Workforce Education Rod Duckworth and me on a tour of innovative programs and career academies at area schools. I was delighted to meet with so many educators employing new ways to meet the needs of today’s students.

Switzerland Point Middle School’s IT Career Academy

Friday morning, I met with officials at Bartram Trails High School where students from the Academy of Design and Construction unveiled their new “green” project. The large tree sculpture they had planted in the school’s courtyard was “green” in more ways than one. The sculpture was created from the ingenuity of 11 career academy students and more than 200 recycled plastic bottles. It was wonderful to watch these students share their passion for architecture and project-based learning.

Bartram Trails is not a stranger to student-led, hands-on projects. In 2005, the school partnered with VyStar Credit Union to provide a student bank, fostering financial literacy and business leadership.

Another blog will be on its way this week detailing other exciting programs I visited in St. Johns County.

2012 Disability History and Awareness Weeks

Guest blog by Monica Verra-Tirado, Ed.D
Chief, Bureau of Exceptional Education and Student Services

The first two weeks of October are Disability History and Awareness Weeks in Florida. These two weeks are set aside each year to call attention to the history of the disability rights movement and to emphasize the outstanding abilities and achievements of individuals with disabilities. We here at the Florida Department of Education, along with school districts and schools throughout the state, are celebrating with a variety of activities.

For example, many districts ask their school boards to pass a resolution recognizing Disability History and Awareness Weeks and use their district website to promote disability awareness. At the school level, morning announcements are used to provide information on famous people with disabilities, banners and posters are hung, school libraries sponsor a book exhibit to expand students’ understanding and awareness of individuals with disabilities, and guest speakers with disabilities are invited to share their stories with students.

In the classroom, students can design their own awareness posters, fliers, or buttons, search the internet for positive stories about people with disabilities, learn about specific disabilities and the assistive technologies that help students learn.

These are just a very few of the possible activities. For more information and activity ideas, check out our DHA website at If you have a great idea for an activity, send it to us at so we can share it on our website.