‘Everyday Should Be Children’s Day’

Students at Children's Day

Children’s Week is one of my favorite times of the year. I love when the Capitol comes alive with the sound of children excited to explore and learn about the work we are doing every day on their behalf. Every day is “Children’s Day” for me and the staff of the Florida Department of education; it’s the nature of what we do. And it is wonderful when everyone else is also focused on children, because children are Florida’s most important asset. On April 14, more than 3,000 of our state’s future leaders gathered in the Capitol Courtyard for Children’s Capitol for a Day.

I had the opportunity to spend time with Florida’s young citizens and remind them that Florida’s future is in each of their little hands. I also read one of my favorite Dr. Seuss’ books, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” to children from northwest Florida. I love when a book can inspire young minds to keep moving forward and to dream in color. It is our jobs as educators, parents and policymakers to work collectively to provide our students with the knowledge, skills and motivation needed to achieve their dreams and be successful now and in the future.

It is really a great time to be a student in Florida. Education leaders across the nation are watching Florida because we are getting things right.  Florida is ranked 7th in the nation for K-12 academic achievement. Florida’s graduation rates are at an 11-year high – increasing nearly 17 percentage points in that time. And in the past five years, Florida has increased enrollment in accelerated STEM courses by 46 percent, giving more students access to high level courses in science, technology, engineering and math.

Seeing so many children participate in Children’s Week reminded me why thousands of Florida educators dedicate their lives to ensure students have access to a world-class education. And Governor Rick Scott is doing his part – having proposed the highest levels of education funding in Florida history. I believe events such as this is the first step to helping make change.  We want to keep changing and growing until we are recognized as the best in education in the entire nation.

FDOE Recognizes March 13 to April 15 as Deaf History Month

Thomas Koch

Rachel Smith

Vocational Rehabilitation (VR)

Most often, the work of the department is defined in terms of our role with K-12 public schools and Florida Colleges. But FDOE also manages programs that assist individuals who are blind, visually-impaired or disabled to succeed either in school settings or careers – encouraging independence and self-sufficiency.
The Department of Education’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) helps people with disabilities get or keep a job. VR counselors work with people who have physical or mental disabilities who want to work, but have certain barriers in their way.
In recognition of Deaf History Month, observed from March 13 to April 15, the story below explains how VR helped a Florida citizen, who is deaf, leverage his experience overcoming his own disability into a successful business venture helping others live life to its fullest.

Thomas Koch grew up in Houston, Texas, and with most of his family members working for NASA at the Johnson Space Center, he dreamed of following in their footsteps and traveling into space. That is, until he took a trip to the Sonny Carter Training Facility and watched the divers training the astronauts underwater. Then and there, his career goal changed to become an Open Water Scuba Instructor. And not just an ordinary scuba instructor – Thomas dreamed of teaching other people who are deaf how to scuba dive.
Yes, Thomas is deaf, and when he was taking his early scuba lessons, he communicated with paper and pen (actually a slate). He knew that it would be much easier and less stressful to have someone who uses American Sign Language (ASL) communicate with the student divers who are deaf.
Twenty years later and with a little help from Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), he got his wish. Thomas never lost sight of his dream and is now the owner of Aqua Hands, a diving school that offers instructors who are fluent in ASL to train students who are deaf.
Thomas first came to VR in 2010 where he met VR Counselor Lori Fuller. VR provided interpreting services so he could complete his course work to become an Open Water Scuba Instructor. Lori explains that in the early days, it was a real challenge to find an interpreter who was also a scuba diver to work with Thomas.
“The interpreter has to be in the water with him to interpret for him, so it was hard to find someone who could do both.”
When his training was completed, he started Aqua Hands, based at Rainbow Reef Dive Center in Key Largo. He then began touring the country, teaching scuba classes to people who are deaf, as well as those who are not. After five years of teaching, Thomas has acquired enough teaching hours to reach the Master Scuba Diver Trainer Instructor level.
Thomas recently needed some additional help from VR, so he came back for more services. This time, VR set him up with Video Relay Interpreter technology.

This is a TV screen that Thomas uses to call a live interpreter. It’s similar to Skype, in that the interpreter can be somewhere else, but Thomas can see him/her on the TV screen, read the interpreting and then sign back. This is helpful with teaching his students who can hear or who don’t know ASL.
Thomas’ business continues to grow and flourish. After five years, he now has nine independent contractors who work with him to teach scuba diving, CPR and first aid. He credits VR and Lori for their help in getting him started in his dream job and keeping it going.

“Lori has been a wonderful person to work with,” he said. “She has a big heart to make sure people get what they need in order to succeed. She wanted to see a successful deaf business and show the community that this is something we can do. It’s really great that she’s been able to help me achieve it.”
Thomas enjoys what he does and shares, “The reason I do this is because I like to travel all over America; but for me, the main thing was being able to set up my business so I can provide this for people who are deaf because some scuba instructors are not willing to teach them. More and more people who use ASL are taking the classes, and soon, we will be training instructors who are deaf.”

Lori feels confident that Thomas can make this happen.
“All I can say is Thomas is a go-getter, not afraid of new challenges. He makes things work no matter what, thinks outside the box, and his motivation is truly astonishing.”

Thomas Koch_lrg2

Gov. Scott Presents Shine Awards to Eight Outstanding Educators

Governor Rick Scott recognized eight outstanding educators from around the state for their contributions to educating Florida students with Governor’s Shine Awards.

Governor Rick Scott recognized eight outstanding educators from around the state for their contributions to educating Florida students with Governor’s Shine Awards.

Today, during a meeting of Florida’s Cabinet, Governor Rick Scott recognized eight outstanding educators from around the state for their contributions to educating Florida students with Governor’s Shine Awards. The Governor’s Shine Award is presented to educators and administrators in Florida who make significant contributions to the field of education.

Governor Scott said, “Every day, Florida’s teachers work hard to equip our students with the resources they need to succeed in college and careers. I applaud these great teachers for their commitment to helping Florida’s students realize their future potential. I am proud to present the Governor’s Shine Award to these eight teachers for going above and beyond in order to make a difference in the lives of their students.”

  • Mike Coffey, Indian River County, Sebastian River Middle School – Mike Coffey is a sixth-grade science teacher at Sebastian River Middle School. Mike works hard to involve parents and community members into his curriculum plans, and tries to show students the real-world application of each lesson.
  • Aubrey Ford, Bay County, Bay Haven Charter Academy – Aubrey Ford is a third grade teacher at Bay Haven Charter Academy. She has a strong rapport with her students, parents, fellow faculty and staff, and encourages her students to view learning as fun and exciting. Aubrey strives to design activities that allow students to choose how to best complete tasks and pursue their own interests.
  • Audrey Gay, Franklin County, Franklin County School – A 38-year veteran of Franklin County Schools, Audrey Gay teaches fifth grade at Franklin County School in Eastpoint. She introduces hands-on science lessons and also uses music to aid in student retention of information.
  • Deborah Horzen, Orange County, Cypress Creek High School – A teacher at Cypress Creek High School in Orlando, Deborah Horzen is the 2014 Florida German Teacher of the Year. She is in her third year of teaching at Cypress Creek High School, which is home to the largest German-language program in Florida. Deborah’s classroom provides a supportive environment for students at all learning levels to engage and communicate in the target language. She uses a wide variety of strategies, classroom technology and real-world materials, including music, video and web-based components, to appeal to all types of language learners.
  • Deborah “Gail” Miller, Columbia County, Eastside Elementary School – For 20 years, Deborah “Gail” Miller has enjoyed working with students with a wide variety of disabilities. She currently teaches fourth and fifth grade students at Eastside Elementary in Lake City. Gail strives to maintain a classroom environment where all students, no matter their level of skills, are fully engaged in learning experiences.
  • Charles Moseley, St. Johns County, Switzerland Point Middle School – Charles Moseley teaches eighth grade at Switzerland Point Middle School and has been with the school district for more than 20 years. He often collaborates with other teachers around the world via social media to keep his lessons current. Charles’ approach to his classroom is unique in that he divides his classes into departments similar to those found in large private corporations. Students apply for specific positions and rotate through these departments during the year. This tactic helps to cover teaching benchmarks with interactive and real-world experiences.
  • Tiffany Scott, Lake County, Mount Dora Middle School – Tiffany Scott has been a teacher for six years and is currently teaching math at Mount Dora Middle School. She has been described by her principal as a teacher who goes above and beyond to get her students excited about math. Tiffany works to help students make connections between the content and how it is relevant in today’s society.
  • Tom Williams, Union County, Union County High School – Tom Williams is the Senior Agriculture Education Instructor at Union County High School. During the past 28 years, Tom has imparted many academic and life lessons to his students, members of Future Farmers of America, and the student body in general. He has helped developed new agriculture programs such as Food Science, mentored aspiring teachers, coached many state winning teams that have advanced to the national level of competition, and helped prepare countless graduates for life and careers beyond high school.

The Best & the Brightest Visit the Capital For The Florida College System Student Government Association Conference


Each spring, hundreds of Florida College System students and leaders visit the Capital for three days as part of the year-end conference for the Florida College System Student Government Association (FCSSGA). While here, they have the opportunity to participate in community service activities, engage with legislators and other state leaders, and hold meetings to help guide the organization’s direction.

FCSSGA represents the nearly one million students enrolled in the Florida College System’s 28 colleges, and I was honored to speak to these students on two different occasions.

On Wednesday evening, I shared the stage with Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera as we celebrated our state’s next generation of leaders with a kickoff dinner. It was wonderful to be surrounded by so many bright students and their college leaders, and I was especially pleased Lt. Gov. Lopez-Cantera could join us because, as a Miami Dade College graduate, he is a shining example of the success Florida College System graduates can achieve.

As he delivered an inspiring speech about his time at Miami Dade College and how it prepared him for a successful future, I was reminded that many of these students – and thousands more around Florida – would soon be joining our workforce and I was filled with pride. I know that, as a result of the outstanding education Florida colleges offer, so many of these students will have the opportunity to pursue and achieve their own version of the American Dream.

That thought was still on my mind Thursday morning when I had the chance to recognize the All-Florida Academic Team, a collection of our College System’s best and brightest students from every corner of the state.

The success of all our students will reverberate far beyond their own homes and communities. It will impact all of today’s Floridians, as well as our future generations, who will benefit from their contributions. More than 90 percent of Florida College System graduates stay in the state and that is wonderful because their talent makes Florida a leader in job creation and a global destination for businesses and families.

My message today is three-fold. To all of our students, from pre-K early learners to thriving college students, keep up the good work! You are the leaders of tomorrow and we are rooting for you. For educators and administrators at all levels, thank you for all that you do every day to make Florida a great place to learn. To parents, I assure you we are committed to ensuring your sons/daughters receive a world class education and we appreciate the encouragement you provide throughout their education journey. You make all the difference.

To learn more about the Florida College System, visit www.floridacollegesystem.com.

‘We Must Do Our Part To Prevent Child Abuse’

FDOE staff members plant pinwheels as part of the Pinwheels for Prevention campaign.

FDOE staff members plant pinwheels as part of the Pinwheels for Prevention campaign.

April is recognized as Child Abuse Prevention Month, a time for the community to come together to show its support for children and families. We all share the goal of student achievement leading to a satisfying and productive adulthood. A critical component of student achievement is reducing and removing a variety of barriers that exist for some students. Child abuse is an intolerable, but preventable barrier to learning.

Gov. Scott Rick Scott proclaimed April as Child Abuse Prevention Month in Florida and urged all Floridians to engage in activities whose purpose is the strengthen families and for communities to provide the optimal environment for healthy child development.

It is important for our communities, schools, agencies and stakeholders take the time to collectively reflect on the importance of child abuse prevention.

At the Florida Department of Education (FDOE), we planted our very own “pinwheel garden,” in collaboration with the Pinwheels for Prevention campaign. The garden symbolizes the vital part each of us plays in promoting the social and emotional well-being of children and families in communities and schools.

We planted nearly 400 blue and silver pinwheels, and were joined by representatives from the Executive Office of the Governor, the Florida Department of Children and Families, and The Ounce of Prevention Fund of Florida.

Pinwheels for Prevention is a national campaign that engages communities in a coordinated effort to prevent child abuse and neglect by promoting the awareness of healthy child development, positive parenting practices and the types of support families need within their communities.

Efforts to prevent child abuse are more successful when community members have a clear understanding of the laws that guide child protection. As awareness of child abuse prevention increases and stronger community support systems for prevention are created, the number of abused and neglected children can decrease.

As advocates for children, we are committed to doing our part to raise awareness and share the responsibility for keeping children safe and healthy. Promote safe, nurturing environments and develop resiliency (the ability to grow and thrive in the face of adversity).

Ways to Help

  • Know the typical signs of all types of abuse (including physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and neglect) and high levels of stress for caretakers that may put them at risk for engaging in abusive behaviors.
  • Report suspected child abuse to the Child Abuse Hotline ( 1-800-962-2873 or online at https://reportabuse.dcf.state.fl.us/) In Florida, everyone is required by law to report suspected child abuse.
  • Provide trauma-informed support for children exhibiting emotional and behavioral reactions associated with trauma.
Douglas Sessions, Jr. President/CEO of the Ounce of Prevention Fund of Florida, Inc.; Traci Leavine, Director of Child Welfare Practice, Florida Department of Children & Families; Anita Odom, Director of Prevention Services, Executive Director of Prevent Child Abuse Florida, The Ounce of Prevention Fund of Florida; Education Commissioner Pam Stewart; Zackary Gibson, Chief Child Advocate and Director, Office of Adoption and Child Protection, Executive Office of the Governor.

Douglas Sessions, Jr. President/CEO of the Ounce of Prevention Fund of Florida, Inc.;
Traci Leavine, Director of Child Welfare Practice, Florida Department of Children & Families;
Anita Odom, Director of Prevention Services, Executive Director of Prevent Child Abuse Florida, The Ounce of Prevention Fund of Florida;
Education Commissioner Pam Stewart;
Zackary Gibson, Chief Child Advocate and Director, Office of Adoption and Child Protection, Executive Office of the Governor.

Florida College System is a Vital Part of our State’s Public Education System

When most people think about the students we serve at the Department of Education, they probably envision small children sitting around their teacher for story time, middle school students working in a science lab or even teenagers tossing their caps at graduation. Many Floridians don’t realize that while K-12 education is a critical component of our work, the Florida College System is a vital part of our department and our state’s public education system.

Since Governor Rick Scott proclaimed April as Florida College System Month, I thought I would take this opportunity to tout the great work of the Florida College System, which has become a national model in preparing students for success in careers and in life.

With more than 800,000 students at 28 schools, our colleges provide high-quality, affordable education options that fit the needs and schedules of all Floridians. I’m proud to report that our hard work is paying off – nine out of 10 Florida College System graduates are employed or continuing education after one year of graduation and 93 percent of Florida College System students remain in Florida and contribute to economic growth.

Our schools have been recognized as being among the best in the nation. Just this month, The Aspen Institute announced the 2015 winner of the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. Of the 1,000 colleges around the country considered, two Florida colleges – Santa Fe College and Indian River State College – were among the top 10 finalists. Ultimately, Santa Fe College received the prestigious award, which included $800,000. I want to congratulate both of these schools and all of their students and faculty for their hard work.

Of course, we know that in order to benefit from great college programs, students must be able to afford to attend, and I am pleased that Florida has made great strides in this area as well. All of our schools with baccalaureate programs accepted Governor Scott’s challenge to offer $10,000 degree programs.

In his “Keep Florida Working Budget,” Governor Scott takes his commitment to college affordability even further with proposals to expand Bright Futures scholarships to include summer classes, eliminate sales taxes on textbooks, hold the line on tuition and enhance transparency regarding courses. I am grateful for these efforts to help all Florida students reach their academic and career goals with less debt.

In honor of Florida College System Month, we are hosting several events throughout April, and I encourage any interested Floridian to participate. I am especially thrilled that Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera will be the keynote speaker at the Florida College System Student Government Association’s Opening Session on April 8 in Tallahassee.
To learn more about the Florida College System and the events we have planned throughout April, please visit http://www.floridacollegesystem.com.

STEM Education Today Can Lead to a Strong Workforce Tomorrow

Learning advanced STEM skills is critical to students’ success both now and in the future. Try to remember a day at school or at work where you didn’t use a smartphone or tablet to help keep you organized and connected and accomplish your tasks. While it’s tough to remember, these vital tools have been in our pockets and briefcases fewer than 10 years!
Can you imagine a world where scientists can make building materials resistant to termite damages by engineering trees that termites cannot digest?

Commissioner Stewart participating at STEM Day at the Capitol

All of these life-changing tools and resources are possible because people in STEM-related career fields not only had the knowledge and skills, but also possessed the creativity and motivation to make our world a better place to live.
The future leaders and innovators of our state are sitting in our classrooms today. As educators, it is our job to ensure that students have the access to STEM education so that students have the ability to fill jobs – and create new jobs – in the workforce of tomorrow.
But there are many jobs today that did not exist five or 10 years ago, and the workplace will continue changing rapidly in the near future. That’s why we also have to help Florida students prepare for college and career through strong academic standards that develop critical-thinking, problem solving and communications skills.
The Department of Education has made it a priority to ensure students have access to high-quality STEM education opportunities. In the past five years, we have increased enrollment in accelerated STEM courses by 46 percent, allowing more students to discover the possibilities of careers in STEM-related fields.
Governor Rick Scott has been a strong leader for STEM education in Florida.

His “KEEP FLORIDA WORKING” budget proposal includes:
• $20 million to create a Rapid Response Start-up Grant program for technical centers;
• $5 million to incentivize $10,000 STEM degrees at Florida Colleges; and
• $1 million to facilitate partnerships with high-tech Florida companies.
These investments are important to help students be prepared for success now and in the future.
Today, I had the pleasure of joining Florida students in the Capitol Courtyard for STEM Day at the Capitol. Students showcased their talents through the demonstration of robots and solar vehicles they created. I enjoyed spending time with these incredible students. I’m also grateful to the teachers who take the extra time – inside and outside of the classroom – to provide these students with the skills and support they need to get a quality education and learn important STEM skills in the process.