A Message from Commissioner Pam Stewart to Florida Parents

Please see Commissioner Stewart’s letter to parents regarding Florida’s new statewide assessment at http://www.fldoe.org/pdf/CommissionersMessageParents3-17-14.pdf. We encourage you to share this information with other parents.



ImageThank you for embracing the role you play in every aspect of your child’s development. With the tireless work of your teachers and educators, Florida students are improving their performance in so many areas, while making Florida a national model in public education. Most importantly, more Florida students are graduating with the tools they need to succeed in college, career and life.

 As many of you know, your children will have new goals to meet with the adoption of the Florida Standards. Simply put, these standards are the detailed expectations of what every child should be able do at each grade level.

The new standards were developed with unprecedented input from Florida teachers, educators and the public. It is an exciting step. The emphasis with these new standards is for your children to think critically and analytically and go beyond memorization. These new standards will help your child be prepared for success no matter what path they choose after graduation.

With these new standards, the FCAT will be replaced next school year with a new assessment.  Florida students have been learning the new Florida Standards, and must have an assessment that aligns to that instruction.  I am confident that I have selected an assessment that is the best assessment for Florida students.

I am sure many of you will have questions. While your teacher is the best resource for information, we have prepared some answers to frequently asked questions. Please feel free to review that document and our press release announcing this decision at www.fldoe.org/eduaccsummit.asp.

Briefly, as I said in our statements to the media, this is the best choice for Florida students. The new assessment will measure each child’s progress and achievement on the Florida Standards. With the high quality instruction provided by our teachers, this tool will give every student the opportunity to be college and career ready.

Your most immediate question may be about what differences your child will see. The scheduled FCAT tests for this year will not be affected. Changes will begin in the 2014-15 school year.

The new assessment will include more than just multiple choice or simple fill-in-the-blank questions.  Students will be asked to create graphs, interact with test content and write and respond in different ways than on traditional tests. New question types will assess students’ higher order thinking skills in keeping with the higher expectations of the Florida Standards.  Later this spring, students, educators and parents will be able to preview samples of new question types by taking practice tests that will be made available for anyone interested in reviewing them.

The guidelines for promotion and graduation will remain largely the same. Students entering 3rd grade in 2014-2015 will be required to achieve a certain score on the 3rd grade assessment in order to meet promotion requirements. Students not meeting these criteria may still meet promotion requirements through the same exemptions that are currently available.  Students entering 10th grade and/or taking Algebra 1 in 2014-2015 will still be required to achieve a certain score on the respective assessment in order to meet graduation requirements. These students will continue to have the opportunity for retakes all students have had before. Students who need to retake an assessment based on an FCAT 2.0 score will be able to retake the FCAT 2.0.

We will continue to provide information to support your efforts. Please share this message and encourage other parents to email us at JustforParents@fldoe.org to continue receiving updates on this and other topics.

I look forward to working with you together on this truly historic effort to help your children succeed. Thank you for all you do.




Pam Stewart

Last Minute Ideas for a Great Winter Break

ImageDorina Sackman

2014 Macy’s/Florida Department of Education Teacher of The Year

Recently, I had a garage sale to accomplish my December goal of getting rid of all my “stuff” and preparing for a clutter-free 2014. Not only did I make more money than expected, I also made a few new friends. During the sale, neighborhood kids from six to 16 stopped by to “hang out.” Perhaps it is the teacher in me that made these young boys and girls gravitate to my driveway. However, my fiancé, Dez, believed it was the hundreds of video games listed for a dollar.

Either way, both days of the sale random kids came by to box up items, help older couples to their cars with their treasures and walk down the street to ensure the city didn’t take down our signs. When I asked Dez what he thought was motivating the kids to help us, he encouraged me to ask them.

There answers ranged from “I’m bored” to “I don’t want to be inside” to “You’re funny to be around.”  Others told me that I kept them busy and that their mom knows where they were and “I guess that means she trust you…and me, too!”

I was ashamed of my fossilized ideology that this generation of kids doesn’t want to do much. Perhaps it is my teaching experience and hearing from my students what they like to do when they go home after school: play video games, go on Youtube or Facebook, and take selfies to put on Instagram. When I talked to the neighborhood kids about this they told me “Yes, after school that is all we want to do. But on the weekends it gets old.”

From their feedback, I decided to create this blog to assist parents and students with fun, exciting and educational ideas for our holiday break.

1. Get crafty. Check out www.familyeducation.com and http://www.craftprojectideas.com/index.php/how-to/teachers-corner to keep your children learning with fun crafts. The first website is a resourceful site for parents with kids of all ages, including wonderful tips on how to engage reluctant readers. Both sites dive into great craft ideas for the whole family.

2. Staycations! A day trip is inexpensive but can be quite the educational adventure. The Authentic Florida website offers wonderful ways to make the most of the sunshine state. I am also quite partial to the Single Vision Animal Sanctuary. It is a safe, friendly and educational animal sanctuary run by one man and his endangered tigers. It is worth a trip if you are in the area and something you will NEVER forget.

3. Treasure Hunts. My favorite educational projects I do with my niece and nephew are treasure hunts. Depending on the age, either you can create the treasure hunt for your children or THEY can create it for you. I found http://handsonaswegrow.com/32-ways-kids-can-go-on-scavenger-hunts/ and   http://www.wikihow.com/Make-an-Amazing-Treasure-Hunt-for-Kids to be the most helpful! May the hunting begin!

4. Run a 5K. I just recently ran in a 5K with my fellow educator and her tots. It is a GREAT way to get exercise while supporting a great cause. It is also a way to introduce community events as a wonderful social tool for your teens. I LOVE to dress up for the races, as it is encouraged by most organizations and it makes wonderful memories. If you don’t see anything close to you on the following link, you can always Google “5K”and the name of your city.http://www.roadracerunner.com/Races/RunningCalendar.aspx?state=fl&year=2013&month=12&d=5k%2c1+Mile%2c2+Miles%2c4+Miles%2c5+Miles%2cFun+Run%2cKids+Run&page=2

Image5. Cook with the kids. I love the website, She Knows, as it shares “teen cooking tips.” Cooking with my niece and nephew has become one of the most memorable times while instilling responsibility and organization! 

6. Have your child start a blog or video blog. Find something that is of interest to you and your child that would benefit others and give them the autonomy to create something fantastic. Examples include makeup tutorials, football tips, organization tips and homework videos. Perhaps you can create your own teen cooking show after you share the joys of cooking with your children. The video doesn’t need to go immediately onto YouTube. It could be a process where they learn editing and filmmaking.’

7. Have a garage sale. This was a GREAT test for my niece. I told her in advance that the money from the sale would be my contribution to her Florida college tuition in August. I never saw a 17- year-old girl work harder. Parents, it worked! She made $800 and learned a lot about the value of hard work, being kind to customers, negotiating prices, handling money and feeling a sense of accomplishment. Teaching kids to sell their unwanted items on eBay or selling them to consignment shops is also a fantastic business lesson on fiscal responsibility. However, be sure to balance the money making with donating. My niece had to research where she wanted to donate all the items not sold at the garage sale. Although reluctant at first, she found one that spoke to her called “Pick Up Please.” Having kids research the organization spreads awareness and opens their eyes to what charities are out there!

For more ideas on how to make the most of your child’s winter break, check out www.notimeforflashcards.com. Read the post “31 Things for Kids to Do During Winter Break.” When you click on each suggestion, it takes you to a step-by-step process on how to do it.

May you all have a wonderful and educational holiday break. See you in a clutter-free 2014!



Find Priceless Peace of Mind at an Affordable Cost

When our little champions are healthy and happy, it can be easy to let the thought of health coverage get lost in the shuffle. However, it’s when the unexpected happens that the benefit of health coverage can prove its true value.

That dental appointment when your son falls out of a tree and chips his tooth? That emergency room visit when your little girl needs stitches? Florida KidCare has you covered!

Apply Online Now! Florida KidCare enrollment is open all year.

With Florida KidCare, health insurance coverage can be one less thing to worry about. Florida KidCare covers children from birth through age 18 and includes doctor visits, immunizations, dental care, emergency care, prescriptions and much more. Many families pay as little as $15 or $20 a month, and most pay nothing at all.

It’s no surprise that healthy kids miss fewer days of school and perform better in the classroom. Florida KidCare coverage provides less sick days for your child (and more peace of mind for you!)

Households not eligible for subsidized coverage may be eligible for the full-pay option. Regardless of your circumstances, Florida KidCare has a coverage plan that is just right for your family.

What’s keeping you from applying today? Visit www.floridakidcare.org or call 1-888-540-5437 for more information. Don’t forget to also download the ‘FL KidCare’ iPhone and Android app for program information, application assistance locations and directions, comic strips, success stories, and much more!

Governor Scott’s Letter to Parents Regarding Senate Bill 1108

Dear Parents:

Please see the following letter from Governor Rick Scott  to parents regarding Senate Bill 1108 related to Exceptional Student Education services. The letter will be distributed by the governor’s office and the Florida Department of Education in a variety of ways and we have requested school districts provide this letter to parents during IEP meetings. If you or your parents have further questions regarding this letter, please contact us at justforparents@fldoe.org.

Governor Scott’s Letter to Parents Regarding Senate Bill 1108



By Dorina Sackman, 2014 Florida Department of Education/Macy’s Teacher of the Year

At the beginning of each school year, I let my students’ parents know how I feel about educating their children. I tell them that I am happy to make my classroom a second home for students and that I am truly passionate about their success. However, after 15 years in the classroom, I have come to the realization that teachers cannot do it alone.

It is imperative that we increase family/parent involvement in the educational goals of our students. Teachers across our state are working with their schools to increase the amount of year-round community engagement, including adding community service in the curriculum, building partners in education, volunteering, developing education programs for our parents, incorporating after school programs with parent participation, and/or schools partaking in community events.

But we need your help in this journey. I want parents to see their child’s school as a cornerstone of our community, ensuring the empowerment of young minds.

So the question is, “Are you ready to get involved?” Here are five simple ways to start off building a culture of community in your child’s school.

1. Send a quick email to your child’s teachers, letting them know you are interested in your child’s performance at school. Let teachers know the best way and times to reach you and include updated contact information.

2. Attend parent/teacher conferences when scheduled. If you can’t attend in person, ask about other ways to speak with your child’s teachers. With new technology, from Skype to video conferencing, there are many ways we, as teachers, can work with your schedule.

3. Take a few minutes each day to check your child’s planner or folder. This is the best form of communication with a teacher and allows the teacher to see if you are checking your child’s work and homework.

4. Volunteer once this month. There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer in your child’s school. Even if you volunteer only once this month, it is a reflection of your commitment to your child’s education. Be careful, you might actually LOVE it and get further involved!

5. Commit to attending this month’s school/parent advisory committee meeting. These meetings are filled with vital information for you and your child. Why not attend your school meeting this month and share the information with other parents!

Although it seems very simple, these five things are the first steps in taking the leap to assist teachers in meeting the needs of your child. I believe “incremental is monumental” and this month is a great time to start!


Submit a Video, Win a Family Vacation

To highlight the important role parents play in their children’s academic success, the Florida Department of Education is hosting a video contest for parents. Please feel free to distribute the following information to schools and parent groups. The winner will receive a family four-pack of tickets to LEGOLAND and overnight hotel accommodations. Finalists will receive $50 Visa gift cards. The official contest flyer is available here: 2013 Parental Involvement in Education Video Contest

Here is some additional information about the contest.

All Florida parents are encouraged to participate. Do you volunteer in your child’s classroom, create learning activities at home or come up with creative ways to stay involved? These are just a few ideas for your video entry.

Submissions must be no longer than 45 seconds and convey how you stay involved and engaged in your child’s education. Submit your video entry by tweeting the video (or video link) to @educationfl or posting the video on the department’s Facebook page by Wednesday, November 27, 2013. Remember, videos do not have to be professional quality.

If you have any questions or concerns, email communicationsoffice@fldoe.org.

Parental Involvement Video Contest


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.

Pam Stewart, Commissioner of Education

Honoring Florida’s Teachers

Here’s why we should show our children’s teachers our sincerest appreciation

Teachers are society’s most dedicated leaders. They inspire our children’s imagination, lead our children to academic success, and prepare them for a competitive future. Each day they transform standards and curriculum into creative learning exercises, making learning fun and exciting.

Since 1984, the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) has designated the first full week in May as Teacher Appreciation Week. In honor of Florida’s more than 192,000 teachers, the Florida Department of Education has developed ways for parents, students and alumni to share their admiration.

The department’s Facebook page features an album of “apple icons” designed for Floridians to share with their families and friends. The apples highlight the achievements of the sunshine state’s valued educators and tools for social media users to honor their favorite teacher.

Recognizing a teacher’s hard work can make him or her feel appreciated and increase communication with parents. Florida’s current Teacher of the Year Alex Lopes believes in the importance of building strong relationships with his students’ parents, motivating him to become a better teacher.  “The more I gave, the more they gave back and inspired me not to take anything for granted,” said Lopes.

The National PTA’s Activity Ideas Webpage offers great gift tips, from homemade crafts to coffee shop gift cards and other ways that parents and students can honor their teachers. It is important to remember that even a simple thank you can make a teacher feel appreciated. It can strengthen parent/teacher relationships and not only open up the lines of communication regarding your child’s education, but build mutual respect.

Check out the department’s Pinterest boards for more ideas!