Sunday, January 21, 2018
Education

Pam Stewart named state education commissioner

TALLAHASSEE — In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the state Board of Education named interim Education Commissioner Pam Stewart to lead the department on a permanent basis.

It was a rare moment of harmony in an otherwise acrimonious meeting.

Earlier, outgoing board member Kathleen Shanahan blasted department leaders for not giving clear direction on the new Common Core State Standards, and delaying a decision on what exams will replace the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests.

Shanahan also addressed rumors that Gov. Rick Scott was planning to unveil education policy directives of his own, saying it would be "embarrassing" for the governor to circumvent the Board of Education.

"We're in crisis time," said Shanahan, a one-time chief of staff to former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Stewart tried to assuage the concerns, insisting the department was only in "a time of urgency."

"We are on track to get where we need to be," Stewart said.

Tuesday's meeting came at a critical moment for state education leaders.

For the first time, educators across Florida are teaching the new benchmarks known as the Common Core. But a growing number of conservative lawmakers and organizations have come out against the national standards, and state Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, has filed a bill to pause the rollout.

On Tuesday, board member Sally Bradshaw asked her colleagues to reaffirm their support of Common Core.

"There is some sense, because the governor's office has not given great direction, that there is uncertainty," said Bradshaw, also a former chief of staff to Bush. "It would help me if we, as a board, could reiterate our support for the Common Core Standards."

The board obliged.

"The commissioner is fully in support and not wavering at all," added Chairman Gary Chartrand. "I think we move forward."

But there was less clarity on which tests will accompany the standards.

Florida lawmakers have put pressure on the education department to withdraw from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), a multistate consortium drawing up new national exams. They are advocating for a Florida-specific testing plan instead.

Former Education Commissioner Tony Bennett had wanted the board to choose a path this summer. But Stewart said she was not likely to make a recommendation until March.

"Florida is the fiscal agent for PARCC and we take that very seriously," Stewart said, noting the state's responsibility for the consortium's finances. "But we need to make sure that we are keeping every avenue open."

The new timeline troubled Shanahan, who pointed out that the education department would have just six months between making the decision and the start of the 2014-15 school year, when the tests would be launched.

Added board member John Padget: "Those of us on the board that have had the privilege of having large private organizations realize that with a change of this magnitude, there are always hiccups."

The debate led to a tense exchange between Shanahan and Chartrand, who defended Stewart.

"Do you see the timeline issue?" Shanahan asked.

"We can't go back in time," Chartrand replied. "We had a commissioner change, unfortunately."

"These are not new issues, Gary. We've been raising this timeline for two years."

"And you were chair for part of that time," Chartrand quipped.

There was also disagreement as to when the department would review the school grading system and the new model for evaluating teachers, both of which have come under fire.

Said Bradshaw: "We're really counting on this department to step it up on these things."

The wild card remained what action — if any — the governor would take.

Chartrand was not surprised by Shanahan's reference to a potential executive order, but did not offer up any details. "I suspect to hear something from him, and he'll do it at the time that's appropriate, that he sees fit," he said.

Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz acknowledged Scott might take action after holding an education summit in August.

"The discussion and ideas generated at the summit will guide our future decisions and steps we will take through either legislative proposals, action by the State Board of Education or executive action to ensure Florida students are prepared for college or careers," she wrote in a statement.

The board will now look to Stewart for leadership.

Stewart, 60, has experience at the helm of the state education department. She had been interim commissioner since Bennett resigned in August. She also held the post following the 2012 departure of former commissioner Gerard Robinson.

Board member John Colon called Stewart "a steady hand, considering all of the handicaps she's been going through."

Stewart said she was glad to accept the challenge.

"I've spent 32 years in Florida's public education system in one way or another, so I am fully committed to the students in the state of Florida and making sure we get it right," she said.

Comments
USF leaders move to calm fears over consolidation plan

USF leaders move to calm fears over consolidation plan

ST. PETERSBURG — Holding a piece of computer paper and a microphone, the leader of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg began a Friday afternoon forum by repeating the USF administration’s new mantra.He reassured the crowd before him that t...
Published: 01/19/18

Crews Lake thespians overcome the odds

SPRING HILL — It’s 8:30 a.m. — "homeroom" period in school speak — when kids in the Crews Lake Middle School drama club file into an empty chorus room to begin rehearsing under the direction of language arts teacher Kristen Sykora. There’s only 25 m...
Published: 01/19/18
Cuts hit top school leaders as Hillsborough sheds three six-figure salaries

Cuts hit top school leaders as Hillsborough sheds three six-figure salaries

TAMPA — Hillsborough County school superintendent Jeff Eakins on Friday announced the first in a series of belt-tightening moves that include the elimination of three six-figure positions.Jobs now held by Wynne Tye and Larry Sykes will no longer exis...
Published: 01/19/18
Tampa Bay schools warn parents about flu activity, dangers

Tampa Bay schools warn parents about flu activity, dangers

The Florida Department of Health has reported a sharp increase in flu activity in the last several weeks, prompting area schools to send out letters warning parents about the virus. At least two districts, however, say that flu activity in their scho...
Published: 01/19/18

More than 400 apply to Pasco technical high school

School choice for 2018-19 is in full swing, and district officials said they’ve been pleased with the interest they’ve seen so far.The window for applying to the district’s magnet schools closed Jan. 12, except for applications for the new Wendell Kr...
Published: 01/18/18
Read the report on the fatal FSU frat party: ‘The most intoxicated’ they had ever been

Read the report on the fatal FSU frat party: ‘The most intoxicated’ they had ever been

"On Nov. 3, 2017, the Tallahassee Police Department responded to 1012 Buena Vista Drive … in reference to a death investigation."So begins a charging document in the case of Andrew Coffey, the 20-year-old Florida State University student who was foun...
Published: 01/18/18
In St. Petersburg, skeptics sneer at plan to concentrate USF power in Tampa

In St. Petersburg, skeptics sneer at plan to concentrate USF power in Tampa

In the state capitol on Wednesday, lawmakers breezed through the bullet points of a higher education bill. They skimmed past a hot-button proposal to consolidate the University of South Florida System into a single university without a peep of pushba...
Published: 01/18/18
Five things to know about teacher pay negotiations in Hillsborough

Five things to know about teacher pay negotiations in Hillsborough

TAMPA — They were hoping to receive between $15 million and $17 million in scheduled pay raises. But the Hillsborough County school district says it can’t afford to give its teachers anywhere near that much, while the teachers say they deserve nothin...
Published: 01/17/18
Updated: 01/18/18
Young Pasco teacher faces cancer with support of students

Young Pasco teacher faces cancer with support of students

NEW PORT RICHEY — At age 28, things were really shaping up for Joel Santos-Gonzalez. Fulfilling his lifelong dream of becoming a teacher, he had just completed his third year at Gulf Middle School."I always liked to talk to people on an intellectual ...
Published: 01/17/18
Updated: 01/18/18
In Pinellas and beyond, deadlines for school choice are closing in

In Pinellas and beyond, deadlines for school choice are closing in

It’s decision time in Pinellas County and other local school districts as several school choice deadlines are upon us.For Pinellas families who want to apply for a magnet, fundamental or high school career program for the 2018-19 school year, the dea...
Published: 01/17/18
Updated: 01/18/18