Longtime former Marion County educator is now education commissioner
Published: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 at 4:19 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 at 4:19 p.m.
The Florida Board of Education unanimously appointed Pam Stewart as the state's new commissioner of education on Tuesday.
"I think she's been the steady hand considering all the handicaps she's gone through," board member John Colon said of the two-time interim commissioner, who is a longtime Marion County educator.
Stewart, 60, was nominated to be interim Commissioner of Education in August, after former Commissioner Tony Bennett resigned in the wake of a school-grades scandal in his former position of education commissioner in Indiana.
Stewart held the interim position for four months about a year ago, after former Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson's resignation.
Stewart began as a teacher in Hillsborough County in 1975.
She arrived as a teacher at Ward-Highlands Elementary School in Marion County in 1981 and spent the next 25 years in Marion, where she became principal at Reddick-Collier Elementary in 1996 and then Vanguard High School in 1999.
Stewart also served as deputy superintendent in St. Johns County.
Colon said it's critical for the new education commissioner to know Florida's educational system already, and that Stewart's 32 years in Florida public schools made her a prime candidate.
Board chairman Gary Chartrand agreed.
"We're at a pivotal time for Florida education, so we're going to look to you to work diligently to lead us through some of the major decisions that we're going to make," he said.
With full implementation of the Common Core State Standards just one year out, a serious achievement gap and the state's hotly debated method of teacher evaluations all on the table, Chartrand said, there's a lot of work to be done.
"I'm fully confident that you can do the work and hopefully you know what you're signing up for as well," Chartrand said.
The other board members all expressed their support of Stewart in turn, although Kathleen Shanahan pointedly asked Stewart to speak to whom she will answer to as education commissioner.
"We serve many masters, but ultimately this board is the boss of the commissioner of education ... I fully understand that," Stewart said.
Shanahan also wanted to make sure that Stewart would receive "the same package" — referring to salary and benefits — that past commissioners have been offered.
Bennett earned $275,000 a year as commissioner. Stewart, who had been chancellor for public schools, was given a raise to $199,650 when she was named interim commissioner last month.
The board agreed that she would be offered the appropriate salary and benefits.
Stewart assured the board that she's aware that it's a critical time for education in Florida, and that she's committed to doing right by the state's students.
"I am fully committed to students in the state of Florida and making sure that we get it right for the students in the state of Florida," she said. "I take that very seriously."
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