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

Amazing.

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.

Pinedale Elementary has P-A-N-D-A Pride!

It was great visiting with the teachers, parents, and students of Pinedale Elementary, “Home of the Pandas,” in Jacksonville, Fla. Governor Scott and I had the opportunity to hear from several teachers who were able to share their thoughts and ideas openly on improving Florida’s education system.

Shortly after our teacher meeting, we toured the afterschool program that serves more than 150 students. Whether the children were participating in activities, reading a book, or finishing up homework, it was clear that the students of Pinedale Elementary had a strong support system behind them motivating them to be successful.

As our afternoon at Pinedale began to come to a close, we sat down and spoke with a group of parents. After only a few minutes of discussion, I noticed how much these parents loved their students. I could hear the passion in their voices; these parents want what is best for the students of Pinedale Elementary and are great advocates for this school.

This was such an inspiring event and I can’t wait to continue this tour with Governor Rick Scott.

Message from Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart

Welcome, readers!  It is truly an honor for me to serve as your Commissioner of Education.

Much of my adult life has focused on education. Whether serving as a teacher, guidance counselor, principal, deputy superintendent, or Chancellor of Public Schools, I believe that every student has the right to a quality education.

During my 32 year career in Florida’s public school system, my driving force has been student success. Education is a fundamental component of our economy and we need to adapt constantly to meet the demands of our society. It is important that we continue to keep students motivated, ahead of the curve, and better prepared for college, career, and life.

 As we transition to the Common Core State Standards, I am confident that Florida will continue to serve as a national leader in education reform. Our students, parents, educators, communities, and education stakeholders are essential to Florida’s success during this time.  I am committed to communicating openly with educators and the public about education and accountability.

There are several ways that you can stay up-to-date about important educational issues. If you are a parent, please visit the Just for Parents Online Community to find information   and sign up to receive our monthly newsletter. If you are a teacher, please visit our Just for Teachers website to read about the latest resources for your classroom and to communicate with teachers across the state. And, if you are interested in a broad range of educational news, you can sign up for Education Works, a bi-weekly education update.

 Great things are on the horizon! Best wishes for a safe and productive school year.