Gov. Rick Scott arrived at a St. Petersburg high school on Friday morning wearing a round white pin which aimed to explain, at least in part, why he was there:
"I (Heart) Books."
This was Scott's fourth school visit in three days. The visits began at an Orlando middle school on Wednesday, where Scott announced that he would budget $480 million for teacher pay raises next year.
Over the next two days he passed through a Gainesville high school and a Tampa elementary before pinning his affections to his blazer at Dixie M. Hollins High School in St. Petersburg.
The schools tour came across to many as a political move to repair Scott's standing with teachers, who have criticized the governor's previous efforts to end tenure, institute merit pay and reduce the state's contribution to their pensions. But putting Scott, a sometimes stilted presence, in a room with understandably awkward adolescents doesn't always produce campaign-ad-ready material.
At Dixie Hollins, the governor was ushered into a computer lab, where high school students in Old Navy sweatshirts and college basketball jerseys chewed gum, played on their phones and wore headphones.
Also in attendance were several TV camera crews, to capture Florida's new education governor walking the walk.
"Good morning," he said to the teenagers. "So, what are you studying right now?"
Scattered voices volunteered, "Algebra."
"Is Algebra Nation helping?" Scott asked.
The students had only been using Algebra Nation, an online tool providing after-hours math help, for about a week and a half. So they didn't really answer the governor, and the room was mostly quiet. A teacher chimed in to cut the tension, calling out a student she was sure had used the program at home.
Scott then asked, "What grade are you in?" To which the students replied that they are freshmen.
One young man elaborated, "Keeping it real."
Straying from the theme of the week — teacher raises — Scott had come to Dixie Hollins to tout the launch of this Algebra Nation. Last spring, 52 percent of the state's ninth-graders failed the Algebra 1 end-of-course exam, losing out on course credit.
Algebra Nation supplies video tutorials, quizzes, and live help from teachers with virtual "office hours." It was created by the University of Florida, so Scott was wearing a blue and orange tie.
As Scott entered each classroom and posed his questions, the students furiously made eye contact with each other, smirking, because they were teenagers and something was happening.
When the students had been sufficiently questioned about Algebra Nation, they were encouraged to take photos with Scott. Many lined up at one teacher's urging, "When else are you going to meet the governor?"
In one class, a young woman asked her teacher how she would get a copy of her photo with Rick Scott. She had wanted to use her own camera, on her phone. But the governor's staffers had brought their own digital camera. They captured the picture on that, and the teacher promised her that the governor would email copies.
Contact Lisa Gartner at [email protected]