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October 28, 2013 · 6:31 pm

Let’s Celebrate Florida’s Great Principals

Pam Stewart

Commissioner of Education


Leading an organization, no matter how big or small, takes more than just innovation and inspiration, it takes dedication. A leader must be willing to put in the hours, ensuring the entire team is committed to the organization’s vision.

Florida has the best principals in the nation, displaying the kind of leadership their schools and communities consistently need. It’s no secret that the past few years have been challenging as our state has raised its standards and expected more from its students. However, I know from my own experience as an elementary and high school principal that a productive, positive culture starts at the top.


When I became principal of Reddick-Collier Elementary school in Marion County, Florida had not established the school grading system. But when the first year grades were released, we were an “F” school. Yet we had many talented teachers and supportive administrative staff who deeply cared about students. We had great human capital, but we weren’t skilled at how to use the data to improve student achievement.

It would have been easy to become discouraged or overwhelmed with the obstacles facing our school. But instead we pushed through, just as many of Florida’s principals do every day. We established school-wide expectations that supported our school’s vision, giving us tangible ways to attain student success. In one year, we were able to jump up two grades because every teacher, support staff and administrator was committed to the same vision.

Principals set the tone for the school. In addition to leading their staff, it is crucial that they establish a school culture where academics come first and where involvement and accessibility are key. As many of you know, students and teachers perform best when they feel supported by their principal.

I’ll never forget the day one of our teachers came to me needing help to encourage a student to finish his reading assignment. That day I went to her classroom and let the student know that I would read the assigned novel and take the quiz if he would do the same.  The whole class was caught up in the fun.  It is this type of involvement that principals do every single day and it makes such a difference in our schools.

It was my belief that students would be more interested in learning if I showed more interest in their lives and extracurricular activities, including athletic events. So many Florida principals are already going the extra mile to motivate students to reach their goals, and it shows.

Their support of classroom instruction continues to move our state forward and better prepares students for successful paths to college and careers. I truly appreciate all they do each day to empower their staff, inform parents and inspire students to work toward a brighter tomorrow.

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Guest Blog: Kids are back to school; let’s keep them safe

U.S. Department of Transportation

It’s “Back to School” time, the season when the daylight hours grow shorter and our roads grow busier.  It’s also time to get street smart.

Fewer daylight hours can make it harder for motorists to see young students. So, whether your kids are walking, riding a bicycle, or catching a school bus or other public transportation to travel to and from school, please take a few moments to talk to them about safety.

Collage of photos from NHTSA Parents Central website

On its Parents Central website, our National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) offers a wide range of safe transportation practices for kids on the move.  We encourage you to start with these tips:

School Bus: School buses are the safest mode of transportation for getting children back and forth to school. Even so, kids need to be especially careful around the school bus “danger zone” – 10 feet in front, 10 feet behind, and on each side of the bus. Kids should:

  • Wait five giant steps from the road and when the school bus arrives, wait until the driver says to board.
  • When boarding the school bus, go straight to your seat and sit facing the front and do what the school bus driver tells you to do.
  • When exiting the bus, look out for cars. When you’re off the bus, take 5 giant steps from the school bus.
  • Look left-right-left to make sure no cars are coming and wait for the driver to signal it’s safe to cross.

Walking:  Pedestrians 10 years old and younger must be accompanied by an adult or young adult on their way to and from school. Kids should:

  • Walk on the sidewalk and if there is none, walk facing traffic.
  • Do not push or shove others when you walk.
  • When crossing the street, look left-right-left for cars. Do not cross if a car is coming and use a crosswalk if you can.

Biking:  The two best protections when biking to and from school are a properly fitted bicycle helmet and a good grasp of traffic safety rules. Kids should:

  • Always wear a helmet and make sure to buckle the chin strap.
  • Ride along streets with low traffic volume and at lower speeds.
  • Always ride in the same direction as traffic, and stop at all stop signs and signals.
  • Never use headphones or cell phones while riding.

Car: Children should always ride in the back seat.  Children in the front seat are 40 percent more likely to be injured in crashes.

One last tip for parents: whether it seems that way or not, your kids are watching you!  Please stay completely focused on the road –whether you’re walking, biking or driving– and put your cell phone away when in traffic.

For more back-to-school safety tips and to reinforce children’s pedestrian, bicycle, school bus and/or public transportation habits, please remember to visit NHTSA’s Parents Central

We wish you and your kids a safe school year.

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Florida’s Schools Lead Education and Economic Revival

ImageBy Pam Stewart, Florida Commissioner of Education


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 #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.

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Welcome to Florida Common Ground!

Check back soon for more info about Florida education!

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