Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Testing glitches aside, Stewart is praised for stabilizing Florida's education system

Pam Stewart’s performance review lasted less than 10 minutes.

Pam Stewart’s performance review lasted less than 10 minutes.

Pam Stewart, who has survived an often-contentious period as Florida's education commissioner, received a solid performance review Wednesday from her bosses on the State Board of Education.

Board members largely praised her work during the nearly two years she has served, lauding her efforts to improve student achievement while shepherding new standards through a politically charged atmosphere. She is the longest-serving of four education commissioners during Gov. Rick Scott's five-year tenure.

"I've admired her work ethic and her desire to do right by kids," chairman Gary Chartrand said.

Still, he quickly added, "Nobody is perfect."

Chartrand said he didn't want to get into details. "But there's always room to improve," he said. "I know you were not satisfied with the glitches we had in testing."

Problems in the state's newest computerized exam system, which saw students having difficulties logging in and completing their tests, dominated public discussion about the Department of Education for much of the spring.

Critics of the system took to social media after learning that Stewart would be evaluated this week, calling for some accountability for the department's leader, whom many considered a failure.

Board members took no such step.

In less than 10 minutes, they acknowledged the need to make things better moving ahead. But they mostly talked about Stewart's positive attributes.

Their favorable treatment of the commissioner drew barbs from Florida BadAss Teachers, a vocal statewide educators group.

"Florida has become Alice in Wonderland," group spokesman Thomas James, a Miami teacher, said in a statement.

He added: "Today, the inept state Board of Education showed why we have become the laughingstock of the country when it comes to education policy. … After a disastrous year filled with repeated failures and a badly bumbled transition to new state tests, Commissioner Stewart is given a glowing evaluation."

Chartrand said Stewart, a veteran of the department and Florida school districts, brought stability to an agency following two commissioners' terms of a year or less.

Gerard Robinson, a onetime Virginia secretary of education, resigned under pressure a year after he began. He faced heavy criticism for his heavy-handed handling of FCAT changes.

Tony Bennett, a former Indiana state schools superintendent, quit after eight months amid a political scandal over school grading in his home state.

"I will tell you she's done a terrific job as she came into an unstable environment," Chartrand said of Stewart, who served twice as interim commissioner.

Board member Rebecca Fishman Lipsey marveled at Stewart's handling of a complex job with a multitude of accountability measures. She said she was impressed with the commissioner's ability to make progress despite lean budgets and other challenges.

Most notable was Stewart's comment during a private conversation that she did not want accolades presented during the board meeting, because more important issues were on tap, Fishman Lipsey added.

"Your response was, 'I don't want to be praised in this space because the focus should be on obtaining the highest per-student funding. … Please don't say anything to distract from that,' " Fishman Lipsey said. "I just thought it was a real note on your character."

On that issue, the board unanimously adopted a motion urging lawmakers to approve per-student funding levels $50 higher than the historic high, as Scott has proposed.

Stewart, who last week gave the board a 350-page self-evaluation, made no comments during the brief conversation except to thank board members for their support. In the document, she said she had achieved her goals, successfully advocated for improvements to the system and worked to boost student performance. She made note of the recent testing problems, but said they were not a major issue.

Board members said they planned to talk about Stewart's next evaluation, and the priorities they want her to focus on, during a summer workshop.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at jsolochek@tampabay.com.

Testing glitches aside, Stewart is praised for stabilizing Florida's education system 05/20/15 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 20, 2015 9:55pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Review: Arcade Fire open hearts, play with passion at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa

    Blogs

    Gloves off, hearts open and disco balls glittering, Arcade Fire scaled the stage for the first time ever in Tampa, pouncing and flailing and performing with all the passion that’s made them one of the world’s most celebrated rock bands this century.

    Arcade Fire performed at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa on Sept. 22, 2017.
  2. Lightning's Steven Stamkos looks close to top form in first game since November

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — The wait felt like forever for Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, having gone 10 months without playing in a game.

    A scramble in front of the Lightning goal has Matthew Peca, far left, and Erik Cernak, middle, helping out goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy during the third period of a 3-1 win against the Predators. Vasilevskiy, who made 29 saves, was “exceptional,” coach Jon Cooper says.
  3. Rays journal: Alex Cobb may have pitched last game in Rays uniform (w/video)

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — RHP Alex Cobb pitched well enough to lead the Rays to an 8-3 win over the Orioles on Friday.

    Wilson Ramos gives thanks after hitting a grand slam during the second inning, putting the Rays up 4-0.
  4. Steven Souza Jr. vindicating big trade for Rays

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — There was a time when the three-team, 11-player transaction the Rays orchestrated to get Steven Souza Jr. from the Nationals looked liked a bad deal.

    The Rays’ Steven Souza Jr. has 30 home runs this season while improving his defense and baserunning but wants to improve on his .236 batting average.
  5. Fennelly: Lightning's Manon Rheaume made history 25 years ago Saturday

    Lightning Strikes

    The name is part of Lightning history, hockey history, sports history.

    Lightning goalie Manon Rheaume became the first woman to play in an NHL game 25 years ago today.