Pam Stewart, Florida's education commissioner since 2013, announced her resignation Tuesday as speculation swirled that Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis sought to replace her with former House Speaker Richard Corcoran.
In a letter to State Board of Education chairwoman Marva Johnson, Stewart said she would return to her original plan to retire on Jan. 8. She wrote that her decision, less than two months after the board extended her term by a year, was bittersweet.
But in adding to her tenure, the board said it wanted to cement Gov. Rick Scott's education policy legacy while ensuring a smooth transition to the next governor.
"In light of recent election results and announcements, it would seem we have capacity for both of these goals now," Stewart wrote.
Johnson praised Stewart for her service to the state Education Department, and for her 39-year career as a Florida educator.
"Throughout her career, she has been a fearless champion for Florida's students, and Florida is a national education leader due in large part to her service," Johnson said in a released statement.
"Under Commissioner Stewart and Governor Scott's vision and leadership, Florida has made significant progress in our efforts to ensure that Florida's children receive the best education possible."
Recently reappointed by Scott, Johnson stated she would work closely with DeSantis to achieve his education objectives.
"Governor-elect DeSantis has made it clear he prioritizes high-quality education for every student, and I look forward to working alongside him and our next education commissioner to make sure Florida remains the best place to live, work and receive an education," Johnson said.
In her career, Stewart was a teacher, including in Hillsborough County, as well as a school principal in Marion County, district administrator in St. Johns County, and a state official.
She took over the commissioner's chair after a tumultuous time, in which two predecessors — Gerard Robinson and Tony Bennett — resigned under pressure.
In her resignation letter, Stewart touted the successes such as the state's improved performance on the NAEP test, rising ratings in the Quality Counts annual report, and increasing graduation rates.
"We battled lawsuits that challenged the core of much of what we stand for, and we stayed the course," Stewart wrote.
She thanked her staff for its hard work, and Scott for his support.
"There has never been a better time to be a student in Florida, which makes it a good time to hand over the reins so that someone can take our students to the next level of opportunity and success," Stewart wrote.
The State Board has the statutory responsibility to select Florida's education commissioner, who has not been elected since 1998. All current board members are Scott appointees, although two will have their terms expire at the end of the month.
The board held national searches to find Robinson and Bennett, although Scott weighed in heavily on the selections. Stewart began her term as interim leader, and the board later made the position permanent without a search.
The board has a scheduled meeting via conference call set for Dec. 17.