Pam Stewart: Florida's schools lead revival


Published: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 at 4:25 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 at 4:25 p.m.

By almost every measure from national rankings to our economic climate, Florida's teachers and parents have many reasons to be proud. But we also know that success is never final.

As a teacher and principal in Marion County, deputy superintendent in St. Johns County and now as your Commissioner of Education, I am proud to serve at a time when momentum and passion are on our side as we continue making Florida the best place in the nation to learn, to work and to live.

There is much that we can brag about in Florida. In the past two years, Governor Rick Scott has proposed more than a $2 billion increase in K-12 funding that lawmakers approved, including $480 million for teacher pay raises.

National rankings show that Florida is moving in the right direction. High school graduation rates continue to increase at the fastest rate in the nation, with Florida leading the nation in the rate of Hispanic graduates. Four of the nation's top ten public high schools are in Florida, according to Newsweek. And, the National Council on Teacher Quality rated Florida as No. 1 in the nation in the area of teacher quality.

These ratings are wonderful testaments to the work of teachers, parents, administrators and principals. But the best results are shown in the number of Floridians who are prepared to succeed in college, in careers and in life.

Since December 2010, Florida has created more than 333,000 private sector jobs while our unemployment rate has dropped well below the national average. While there are many factors involved in making Florida the best place to work and to live, the opportunity to learn is among the most critical items that families and employers consider when choosing Florida for their home or business. I am proud of all of our teachers, schools and education professionals that continue to fuel our state's robust comeback.

Even with our successes, we must always face challenges openly and quickly. While Florida's competitive standing has improved dramatically, we must keep the pace in developing world class opportunities for students. With the implementation of new, more rigorous state standards in 2014-15, we will increase flexibility for schools and teachers while empowering students to think with the creativity and critical thinking they need to thrive.

With this exciting change comes an opportunity to refresh our accountability system that has made Florida a national model. Schools, teachers and parents embrace the challenges that come with higher standards. But we must make sure the expectations for schools and educators are clear and easily understood.

During my first weeks on the job, I spoke with superintendents and met with teachers and parents ready to start the new school year. Like them, I am eager to build on past successes while working together for continued improvements. And as we consider the best paths ahead, it is my promise that every decision we make in Tallahassee will be focused on helping each child from Pensacola to Key West have the same opportunity to succeed.

Pam Stewart is Florida Commissioner of Education.

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