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!

Governor Rick Scott Proposes Historic Education Funding In The “KEEP FLORIDA WORKING” Budget

Governor Rick Scott’s “KEEP FLORIDA WORKING” budget increases K-12 funding to a historic level of $19.75 billion, an increase of $261 per student over last year and $50 per student over the previous record in 2007-2008. In addition, the Governor’s budget also 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, $80 million for Digital Classroom plans, and $23.5 million to expand Bright Futures to cover summer term courses.

Governor Scott said, “We want Florida to be the global leader for jobs, and we must have a skilled workforce to reach that goal. That is why I am proposing the highest level of funding in Florida history. Investing in education is the best way to ensure our students are gaining the knowledge they need to meet the needs of tomorrow’s employers. Thanks to Florida’s hard-working teachers and school leaders, our students already rank among the best in the nation, and we will keep working to provide record investments in education so our students have the resources they need to succeed.”

Governor Scott’s proposed budget includes:

  • $19.75 billion in total funding for K-12 public schools, an increase of $842.5 million;
  • $7,176 per student funding, an increase of $261 over the current school year and $50 above Florida’s previous record in 2007-2008;
  • $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;
  • $1 million to facilitate partnerships with high-tech Florida companies;
  • $80 million to assist districts in implementing their Digital Classroom plans;
  • $164.6 million for maintenance, repair, and renovation of public schools educational facilities;
  • $100 million for maintenance, repair, and restoration of charter schools;
  • $23.5 million to expand Bright Futures to cover summer term courses; and
  • The elimination of sales tax on college textbooks.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said, “I applaud Governor Scott for his focus on education in the ‘KEEP FLORIDA WORKING’ budget. Florida families deserve access to high-quality education opportunities, and his focus on technical centers, STEM education, and digital classroom initiatives is critical to help prepare Florida students for success in college, career and life. I am confident that this investment will pay off for years to come as the students who benefit from this funding will be able to contribute greatly to Florida’s economy once they enter the workforce.”

Gary Chartrand, State Board of Education Chairman, said, “Florida’s future depends on making key investments that give students the 21st century skills necessary to become a highly qualified workforce. By increasing K-12 per student and total funding, giving technical centers the ability to respond to the evolving workforce needs of their communities, helping districts implement Digital Classroom Plans and investing in charter school facilities, Florida is poised to remain a national leader in education and workforce development. I thank Governor Scott for his leadership in making education a top priority in Florida.”

“I applaud Governor Scott for his commitment to education in the proposed ‘KEEP FLORIDA WORKING’ budget and for recognizing the importance of our classrooms and the impacts they have on our economy,” said Broward Schools Superintendent Robert W. Runcie. “At Broward County Public Schools we believe in educating today’s students to succeed in tomorrow’s world.”

Ken Haiko, chairman of Renaissance Charter Schools, Inc. said, “Florida families value school choice and the charter schools that give them high-quality education choices. Governor Scott’s increase in fixed capital outlay for charter schools is a great first step that will allow Florida families to continue to have access to a variety of educational options that best fit their needs.”

Jennifer Grove, Community Development Manager, Gulf Power, and CareerSource Florida Board of Directors Strategic Policy Council Chairman said, “Governor Scott has proven to be focused on addressing the needs of our workforce. The Rapid Response Grant funding for Florida’s technical schools will put us head and shoulders above other states in matching the training of our state’s workforce to the ever-changing needs of industry.”

Christie Bassett, 2015 Florida Teacher of the Year, said, “Governor Scott’s long-standing commitment to education is reinforced in his ‘KEEP FLORIDA WORKING’ budget. His increases in per-pupil funding and total K-12 funding will help educators best prepare students for success now and in the future.”

Sandy Shugart, President of Valencia College, said, “The Governor’s budget for the Florida College System features a significant commitment to performance-based funding, a direction long supported by Valencia College and an essential feature of the state’s funding model going forward. I look forward to working with the Governor’s team and the legislature both to make performance funding a reality and to assure that all of the colleges in the system are competing for these funds on a level playing field.”

To learn more about the “KEEP FLORIDA WORKING” budget, visit

Reading: Enriching Art Lessons and Lives

The arts are often the first opportunity a student has to apply, practice and enhance the skills they are learning in core academic subject areas. As an elementary school arts educator, I try to incorporate reading into my lessons and often ask my students to write about their art process.

2015 Florida Teacher of the Year Christie Bassett visits students with First Lady Ann Scott during Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida!

2015 Florida Teacher of the Year Christie Bassett visits students with First Lady Ann Scott during Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida!

Sometimes I use artist biographies to have my students read to shoulder partners. Or, I might read aloud about the technique we would be using. Occasionally, I would find a magazine article on the subject of our art project and have my student take turns reading to the class.

My favorite types of books to share with my art students are ones illustrated by the book’s author. In addition to reading the book, I enjoy discussing with my students that many talented artists not only create the words on the pages, they also make the words come to life with their artwork!

This year, I’m on a leave of absence from the classroom so I can fulfill my duties as Florida’s Teacher of the Year. In August, I explained to my students that they would have a different art teacher for this school year. They kept asking me the same question over and over. To my surprise, no one asked “Will the new teacher paint with us?” or “Will the new teacher let us make ceramic projects?” or “Can we still use oil pastels?”

All of my students kept asking, “Will the new teacher READ to us?” Reading during art class has made so much of an impact on my students, possibly even more than I realized while I was teaching them.

In honor of the 2015 Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite books by author/illustrators:

  • Animal Popposites: A Pop-Up Book of Opposites by author, illustrator & paper engineer Matthew Reinhart
  • Frederick written and illustrated by Leo Lionni
  • Jumanji written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar written and illustrated by Eric Carle
  • Bunny Cakes written and illustrated by Rosemary Wells
  • The Berenstain Bears and the Golden Rule written and illustrated Mike Berenstain, created by Stan & Jan Berenstain
  • The Hat written and illustrated by Jan Brett
  • The Art Lesson written and illustrated by Tommy dePaola
  • Brown Bear, Brown Bear written and illustrated by Bill Martin, Jr
  • The Cat and the Hat written and illustrated by Seuss
  • Where the Wild Things Are written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak

It is my hope that Florida students, parents and educators will set aside time to check out these fantastic creations with their students! As a parent of two little ones myself, I know that time is a precious commodity. However, reading with your students is a gift that keeps growing with every word and every page.

About the author: Christie Bassett is an art teacher from Polk County, Florida. She is spending the 2014-2015 school year traveling the state of Florida speaking to educators, future teachers, district personnel and business leaders about the continued success of Florida’s public education. You can contact Christie at and read her biography at

Guest Blog: First Lady Ann Scott Shares Love of Reading with Florida Students

I have loved reading for as long as I can remember. So, when I became First Lady, I knew I wanted to focus on literacy and share my passion for reading with Florida’s students. Rick and I were blessed with two daughters, Allison and Jordan, and while they were growing up we spent a lot of time as a family poring over books. Now, they are grown with families of their own and I have the pleasure of watching them show our grandsons, Auguste, Quinton and Sebastian, the joy of reading.

First Lady Ann Scott reads to her oldest grandson, Auguste, at the 2014 Florida Governor’s Mansion Easter Egg Hunt.

First Lady Ann Scott reads to her oldest grandson, Auguste, at the 2014 Florida Governor’s Mansion Easter Egg Hunt.

I was the oldest daughter of four children and my family did not have many books growing up, so we relied on the school and local libraries, where we spent countless hours perusing the shelves. It was there, between the rows of bookshelves, that I developed an abiding love for reading that has stayed with me my entire life.

In fact, some of my fondest childhood memories revolve around these trips to the library and the hours my siblings and I spent picking out as many books as we could carry home. In elementary school, I read all of the biographies in the school library. Then, as a pre-teen, I was introduced to classic literature from both Charlotte and Emily Bronte, including my favorite novel, Jane Eyre.

Who would have known that reading 19th century gothic literature in the back of the library would introduce me to the other love of my life, my husband, Rick. The very first time I met Rick was at our high school library in Kansas City, Missouri.

As Florida’s First Lady, I have had the opportunity to visit elementary, middle, and high schools from the Panhandle to the Keys to talk with students about making reading a part of their daily routine. Next week, January 26-30, we will begin the 2015 Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida!, with events and school visits across the state.

This is my fifth consecutive year participating in the annual event, which I believe is a wonderful reminder to students, parents and teachers that reading is absolutely fundamental to success both inside and outside the classroom.

I am encouraging all Floridians to join me in making literacy a priority in our homes and workplaces. You can visit Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida! for more information, including a list of exciting statewide events and initiatives.

Show how you are promoting literacy in your community by using the hashtag #CLW2015.

About the author: First Lady Ann Scott is a devoted wife, mother, and grandmother. High school sweethearts, the Governor and First Lady have been married for 42 years and have two married daughters, Allison and Jordan, and three adorable grandsons, Auguste, Quinton, and Sebastian. An avid reader, the First Lady loves traveling the state, sharing her passion for reading and literacy with Florida’s students.

Black History Month Essay Contest Shines Light on Outstanding Students

Each February, our staff reads more than 1,200 student essays submitted to Florida’s Black History Month essay contest. It’s a challenge that our entire office looks forward to, in large part, because of the passion, insight and creativity weaved through every submission.

Last year’s best essays shared numerous true stories of incredible heroism and sincere hopes for the future. Our 2014 high school essay winner, Javan Latson, shared the powerful story of his grandfather Leonard, a law enforcement officer, who challenged a policy barring black officers from driving police cruisers.

In Brooklyn Sheppard’s winning essay, she wrote about a world where she is judged solely on her “talents, kindness and compassion.” The fourth grader ended her essay with a call to “give a hug, and lend a hand.”

You can see why I am so eager to dive into the essays we will begin receiving during the next few weeks. I hope you will share this important contest with the students in your life and encourage them to participate.

More about the Contest:

Excellence in Education Award:

Students, parents, teachers and principals are invited to nominate full-time, African-American educators in elementary, middle and high schools for the Black History Month Excellence in Education Award. All entry forms and guidelines for the contests can be found at

Student Art and Essay Contests:

Art and essay contests are open to students in Kindergarten to 12th grade. The theme for this year’s essay and art contests is “A Celebration of African-American Innovation and Innovators.” Students are asked to share how African-American innovators have shaped Florida.

The art contest is open to all Florida students in grades K-3, and two winners will be selected.

The essay contest is open to all Florida students in grades 4 through 12. Three winners will be selected: one elementary student (grades 4-5), one middle-school student (grades 6-8) and one high school student (grades 9-12). Winners will receive a four-year Florida College Plan scholarship provided by the Florida Prepaid College Foundation.

Information about the contests and Florida’s Black History Month is available on Florida’s Black History Month website at

About the author: Commissioner Pam Stewart leads the Florida Department of Education, which supports Florida’s Pre-K-12 education system, serving more than 2.7 million students and 192,000 educators. She is a former teacher, principal and deputy superintendent.

Today Begins Florida First Responder Appreciation Week

Governor Rick Scott proclaimed this week, January 5-9, Florida First Responder Appreciation Week.