A Room Full of Giants


Brian Dassler
Deputy Chancellor for Educator Quality

For more than 25 years, the Florida Department of Education and Macy’s have celebrated teachers and teaching through the Florida Teacher of the Year program. Each school district and local education agency in the state nominates one Teacher of the Year to attend a recognition gala and professional development conference. From among these accomplished educators, Florida’s Teacher of the Year is named and on his or her way to a year-long mission to advocate for our state’s outstanding students and educators.

The department’s Commissioner of Education, Pam Stewart, challenged us this year to take our work with these phenomenal educators to the next level. She envisioned a year-long professional learning opportunity that would invite each district Teacher of the Year to take on the challenge of improving student outcomes in a classroom that is not his or her own. We invited this year’s honored educators to step out of their classrooms and become leaders within their community and across the state, something many were already doing.

Department staff partnered with the New Teacher Center, a national leader in the area of professional development and support, to give these teachers the tools and resources they need to lead their peers. Through the partnership, we created the LEAD network, a year-long program for the Florida’s district Teachers of the Year that included two in-person meetings and five online learning forums. During the program, each teacher created an action plan in one of two areas: leading a group of educators in a Professional Learning Community or individually coaching new teachers. With tools and blended staff support, our LEAD teachers are able to increase student achievement through helping their peers.

At our most recent in-person meeting, we learned many of our LEAD teachers have taken the work we started this summer developing “growth mindsets” back to their schools or districts. Several, for example, are leading year-long book studies with Carol Dweck’s Mindset as the key text.

We’ve also heard from many educators on how much they value the LEAD network. One participant commented that, as a result of this year’s LEAD Network, she has done “more sharing this year than all of her 26 years in education.” Another commented that she feels like she is “in a room full of giants,” every time the group comes together.

As a result of Commissioner’s Stewart vision, the department is changing its strategy for working with teachers, opting for deeper and more sustained communication so the impact of these educators can extend far beyond their own classrooms.

We are also modeling our programs so that local school districts and other organizations can see what teacher leadership means to the department and why it is important. Taking on the challenge of ensuring college- and career-readiness for every Florida student is an enormous challenge, a great opportunity and our moral responsibility. However, we cannot prepare students if we don’t acknowledge Florida’s teachers as our partners and as community leaders. The Teacher LEAD Network is our proud contribution to celebrating and advancing the profession of teaching.

Each time I work with these honored educators, I can’t help echoing the thoughts of one of our participants and feeling lucky to work with such educational giants.

Brian Dassler Deputy Chancellor for Educator Quality

Brian Dassler
Deputy Chancellor for Educator Quality

Governor Rick Scott Presents Shine Awards to Four Outstanding Florida Educators

Commissioner Adam Putnam, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Sine Recipient Vickie Plant, Gov. Rick Scott, Shine Recipient Christy Russel, Shine Recipient Allyson Howell, Shine Recipient Allison Gamblin, and CFO Jeff Atwater

Commissioner Adam Putnam, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Sine Recipient Vickie Plant, Gov. Rick Scott, Shine Recipient Christy Russel, Shine Recipient Allyson Howell, Shine Recipient Allison Gamblin, and CFO Jeff Atwater

During a meeting of Florida’s Cabinet, Governor Rick Scott presented Governor’s Shine Awards to four outstanding teachers from around the state for their commitment to Florida’s students. The Governor’s Shine Award is presented to Florida educators and administrators who make significant contributions to the field of education.

Governor Rick Scott said, “Each day, teachers are helping Florida’s students reach their fullest potential as they embark on their journey toward college and successful careers. I am proud to present the Shine Award to these teachers in recognition of their dedication to going above and beyond to make a difference for our students.”

Allison Gamblin, Citrus County, Crystal River Primary School – Allison Gamblin has been teaching for five years, and is currently teaching fifth grade in Crystal River. Allison believes that teaching is her calling and she works hard to create lessons that match each child’s learning styles and interests. She strives to make a difference in all of her students’ lives, and helps students succeed though classroom management and small groups. Allison sets high expectations for her students and enjoys seeing them succeed each day.

Allyson Howell, Calhoun County, Blountstown High School – Allyson Howell has been teaching for 20 years, and currently teaches math at Blountstown High School. She was recently selected as the Calhoun County School District’s Teacher of the Year. Over the past 15 years at Blountstown High School, Allyson has also taught two dual enrollment courses- pre-calculus and trigonometry. Two years ago, she was recruited to teach the same courses via distance learning for Altha School and Liberty County High School. She serves as the sponsor of the Senior Class and National Honor Society, and is the school’s math coach.

Vickie Plant, Jackson County, Golson Elementary School – Vickie Plant has been teaching kindergarten for 11 years, nine of which have been in Jackson County at Golson Elementary. She has a strong desire to instill a love of learning in all children and to see them be successful in building the foundations of their education. Vickie enjoys being a leader in her school and district, and has done so through various experiences, including hosting teachers from surrounding school districts, serving on the International Literacy Association, and being a member of the Florida Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Christy Russel, Gilchrist County, Trenton Elementary School – Christy Russel is a kindergarten teacher at Trenton Elementary and was recently recognized as Gilchrist County’s District Teacher of the Year. She is described by her peers as an energetic, motivating and outstanding teacher whose impact reaches far beyond the walls of her classroom. Christy sees the potential in every student, and constantly searches for innovative ways to reach each student in her classroom. Christy also strives to help parents understand how their child is progressing in their education.

Five Tips to Boost Your Family’s Health During National Nutrition Month

Good nutrition in childhood helps prevent many health problems, including obesity, tooth decay, osteoporosis and iron deficiency. National Nutrition Month is a wonderful time to adopt healthy eating and increase physical activity plans that are focused on consuming fewer calories, making informed food choices and getting daily exercise in order to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Here are five tips for you to try during the month of March to improve your family’s health and well-being.
1: Start Good Habits Early. According to the Florida Department of Health, one out of every three kids is now considered overweight or obese. Offering a variety of healthy foods and encouraging kids’ natural tendency to be active can help set them on a path to making healthy decisions throughout their whole lives.
2. Research Florida’s Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables. Eating healthy doesn’t have to break the bank. Choosing foods that are at their seasonal peak often cost less at the grocery store and taste better at the dinner table. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services created the Living Healthy in Florida initiative which highlights fresh Florida fruits and vegetables. To learn more about healthy, nutritious foods and how to access free resources, visit www.LivingHealthyinFlorida.com.
3. Model Good Eating Behavior. Children will be more likely to try new, healthier foods when they see their loved ones do so. Let your child see you pick out your favorite vegetables or fruits at the grocery store and make sure to describe the food’s taste, texture and smell. For more resources, visit http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/downloads/TenTips/DGTipsheet12BeAHealthyRoleModel.pdf.
4. Make Better Beverage Choices. It is very easy to ruin a day of health eating with a high calorie, high sugar drink. Instead, try sipping water throughout the day or at mealtime. Sodas, sports drinks and even juice drinks usually contain a lot of added sugar, which contains additional, unneeded calories.
5. Find Out What Your Child is Learning about Nutrition in School. Nutrition is a required component of K-12 Health Education in Florida. To find out what your child is learning, talk to his or her teacher or school about the health curriculum and nutritional programs. There are also many free resources online that you can share with your child, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s parent-friendly website (http://www.choosemyplate.gov/) that offers tips and free materials to help parents and children make healthy choices while staying within your budget.
Each day, your food and physical activity choices affect your health and your children’s health today, tomorrow and in the future. To learn more about strategies and activities designed to help Florida’s children and adults make choices about healthy eating and active living, please visit http://www.healthiestweightflorida.com/children.html.

About the Author: Michelle L. Gaines serves as the Florida Department of Education’s Health Education Coordinator since 2012. The Arkansas native is a mentor, an avid community volunteer and an educator for 25 years. Michelle can be reached at Michelle.Gaines@fldoe.org.Schoolgirl enjoying her lunch in a school cafeteria

FDLE Investigating Cyber-Attacks Against FSA Testing System

Today, Education Commissioner Pam Stewart and Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) Commissioner Rick Swearingen announced that FDLE is investigating testing delays caused by cyber-attacks on a server used to administer the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA).

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said, “While most Florida students are continuing to test successfully, we now know that some of the delays in testing late last week were due to cyber-attacks on our testing system operated by American Institutes for Research (AIR). The Department has been working with FDLE since last Thursday when we were notified about the problem and we will continue to provide them with any information possible to ensure they identify the bad actors and hold them accountable to the fullest extent of the law. We are holding daily conference calls with AIR to ensure they immediately address any flaws or attacks on our system as we move forward in this second week of testing.

“Our highest priority is to make sure students can complete their tests and we will continue to work with AIR to ensure their system operates effectively. It is important to point out that AIR has reported that while access to the test has been delayed because of the cyber-attacks, no student data has been compromised. AIR is also working to capture any student writing responses that were reported lost and they believe the measures they have now put in place will prevent any future attacks from impacting testing. However, we know that we have to remain vigilant to ensure all our testing vendors protect students’ testing results and personal information at all times.”

FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen said, “FDLE’s Tallahassee Cyber-Crimes Squad began working with the Department of Education on Thursday to determine where these attacks are coming from and to identify suspects. This investigation is to be a priority for our Cyber-Crime Squad and we consulted with our counterparts at the FBI. If suspects are identified, we will work with prosecutors to ensure the perpetrators are held accountable.”

On Monday, March 2, Florida’s eighth, ninth and 10th grade students began taking the computer-based writing component of the English language arts Florida Standards Assessment. At the start of the two-week testing window, districts experienced a number of technical difficulties unrelated to the cyber attack. This includes delays because test administrators could not log in, and students being logged out of the test prior to completion. This resulted in some responses being temporarily unavailable to the students.

Commissioner Stewart directed AIR, the organization delivering the tests, to determine the cause of the issue and immediately resolve it. AIR accepted full responsibility and concluded that an update it performed had inadvertently resulted in the delays. AIR has had success retrieving student responses and AIR is researching and resolving the remaining cases.

By Tuesday afternoon, the issue with the log on server was resolved. While there were some sporadic reports of denial of service on Monday and Tuesday, significant concerns of an attack did not occur until Thursday morning when DOE received widespread reports from a number of districts of “white screens” after logging in. By approximately 8:30 a.m. Thursday, the problem had subsided and the districts that continued were able to test successfully for the rest of the day. AIR confirmed the cause of this issue was a cyber-attack on the log on server.  Commissioner Stewart, upon learning about the cyber-attack, immediately contacted FDLE and requested the agency to investigate this issue and hold those responsible accountable.

According to AIR, the cyber-attack that caused a denial of service will not compromise student performance on the test or any personal student data. Despite these issues, in the first week of the two-week testing window, a total of 397,352 students completed the computer-based writing component, which represents more than 60 percent of students registered to take the test.

Florida’s Top STEM Scholars Honored at Statewide Conference

The state’s highest-achieving eleventh grade STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) scholars from each school district were the focus at an annual recognition and recruitment event last month in Orlando. The two-day Sunshine State Scholars conference celebrates the accomplishments of Florida’s elite students and provides a unique venue for the state’s colleges and universities to recruit their talents.

2015 Sunshine State Scholars Group Pictures

“The Sunshine State Scholars of today are the leaders of tomorrow,” said Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart. “My congratulations to the scholars for their accomplishments and am confident they will lead Florida to new heights. I also want to thank their teachers for inspiring them toward success.”

“The Sunshine State Scholars program allows our brightest students to see the quality higher education opportunities available to them in Florida,” said Florida Education Foundation Chairman Dr. Stacy Carlson. “I applaud the scholars for their hard work and look forward to watching them lead Florida to an even brighter future.”

“We are proud to recognize these outstanding Sunshine State Scholars for their achievements” said Paul Luna, President and CEO of Helios Education Foundation. “Helios is founded on the belief that education is an investment and not an expense. We are proud to invest in Florida’s prosperous future through our collaborative partnership with the Florida Department of Education.”

As part of his 2015-2016 “KEEP FLORIDA WORKING” budget, Governor Rick Scott announced $1 million in proposed funding to partner with high-tech companies in Florida to create a paid summer residency program for STEM teachers to bring new industry trends in STEM fields back to Florida’s K-12 classrooms. In addition to the summer residency program, Governor Scott’s “KEEP FLORIDA WORKING” budget also proposes $30 million for a new workforce training initiative focused on STEM occupations and $5 million to incentivize state colleges to offer $10,000 STEM degrees.

Event sponsors of this year’s Sunshine State Scholars program include AT&T, Helios Education Foundation, Universal Orlando Resort, Blue Man Group Orlando, Atkins, Gulf Power Company, The Florida Lottery and Nestlé Waters North America.

For a list of the scholars, photos and more information about the event, visit Sunshine State Scholars.

To view a photo album of the event, visit https://m.flickr.com/#/photos/fldoe/sets/72157649889923989/.

About the Florida Education Foundation

The Florida Education foundation serves as the direct support organization for the Florida Department of Education. The Foundation promotes and supports academic excellence for pre-K through 12 grade students in Florida, and recognizes outstanding teachers and educational contributors, develops strategic alliances with business organizations, and advances statewide educational initiatives. For more information, visit Florida Education Foundation.

Sunshine State Scholars Conference Recruits Brightest STEM Scholars to Stay in Florida

Florida’s highest-achieving eleventh-grade science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students will join their peers from around the state at the 2015 Sunshine State Scholars program on Thursday and Friday in Orlando.

The two-day awards and recruitment event celebrates the accomplishments of these elite students and provides a unique venue for Florida’s colleges and universities to recruit their talents. Local school districts, Florida Virtual School, Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, and Florida’s developmental research schools choose their top eleventh-grade STEM scholar to participate in the conference.

The Sunshine State Scholars program is made possible by a partnership between the Florida Education Foundation, the Division of Florida Colleges, the State University System of Florida and the Florida Department of Education.

For more information about the event, visit Sunshine State Scholars or follow the event activities live on Twitter using the hashtag #FLSTEMScholars.

Nine Schools Recognized for Literacy PSAs

At the Kennedy Space Center on Thursday, Florida’s First Lady Ann Scott and Education Commissioner Pam Stewart recognized the winners of the 7th annual Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida! statewide public service announcement (PSA) contest. The PSA contest award ceremony concludes a week-long celebration coordinated by the department’s Just Read, Florida! office that highlights literacy and reading in Florida schools.

“I’m so excited to see students encouraging each other to read and improve their literacy skills,” said First Lady Ann Scott. “The creativity and technical expertise used in creating these PSAs will serve these students well as they continue their pursuit of education. Congratulations to all the participants and the winners for a job well done!”

“Congratulations to all the students participating in the Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida! PSA contest,” said Education Commissioner Pam Stewart. “Literacy is a critical skill that is the building block for lifelong learning. I’m proud of these students for taking the initiative to participate in the contest and share the importance of reading with their peers.”

To compete in the PSA contest, students created a short video showcasing this year’s theme, “Reading Accelerates Success.” Winners were chosen at elementary, middle and high school levels, with the winning schools awarded prizes sponsored by the Florida Education Foundation – $1,000 for first place, $500 for second place, and $250 for third place. The winning PSAs will be featured on the Just Read, Florida! website and the Department of Education’s social media pages.

The winners of the 2015 Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida! statewide PSA contest include:

Elementary Schools

1st Place:   Cambridge Elementary School, Brevard County

2nd Place:   Ketterlinus Elementary School, St. John’s County

3rd Place:   Forest City Elementary School, Seminole County

Middle Schools

1st Place:         Explorer K-8 School, Hernando County

2nd Place:        Dunnellon Middle School, Marion County

3rd Place:         Baker Middle School, Okaloosa County

High Schools

1st Place:        Choice High School, Okaloosa County

2nd Place:       Marianna High School, Jackson County

3rd Place:        Niceville High School, Okaloosa County

The goal of Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida! is to promote literacy throughout the state by raising awareness of the programs and projects offered by the Department of Education and its partner agencies and organizations. Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida! is sponsored by the Florida Lottery; National Geographic; Dairy Council of Florida, a Division of Florida Dairy Farmers; Scholastic; Florida Department of Health; Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and the Florida Highway Patrol; and the Kennedy Space Center.

“Statewide and local partners make notable contributions each day that enhance education in Florida’s classrooms,” said Education Commissioner Pam Stewart. “I’m grateful to our Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida! partners for their role in ensuring Florida students get a high-quality education that will help them succeed in college, career and life.”

“Since 1988, the Florida Lottery has invested more than $27 billion in education in Florida,” said Cynthia O’Connell, secretary of the Florida Lottery. “We are committed to ensuring Florida students receive a world-class education that will prepare them to succeed when faced with the challenges of the future.”

Additionally, members of the Florida Highway Patrol volunteered in schools throughout the state to read the book “A Day in the Life of a Police Officer.”

“By reading to our children and encouraging them to read on their own, we are investing in both the future of our youth and of our state,” said Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles Executive Director Terry L. Rhodes.

“Reading is an essential part of the learning process and we need to do all that we can to foster good reading habits in our children,” Florida Highway Patrol’s Colonel David Brierton added.

For more information about other Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida! events, visit Just Read, Florida!