In an effort to restore confidence and credibility in the Florida Department of Education and recent policy reforms, members of the State Board of Education wasted little time filling the FLDOE’s top position.
Pam Stewart, the current Chancellor of Public Schools at the FL DOE, has been tapped to serve as interim Commissioner of Education following the sudden departure of Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson.
Robinson and the DOE have been under fire in response to numerous debacles surrounding miscalculated school grades and a tougher FCAT grading system that was later revised by the board, among other questionalble policy shifts under his leadership.
Indications were apparant for months that Robinson was on his way out. But Scott and the state board seemed to stand behind him. Robinson has traveled statewide to public forums to quell rising frustration among many parents, teachers and school leaders. But he has been criticized heavily for sounding tone-deaf in the face of growing testing fatigue, blaming school districts — not the state — for the amount of testing in schools.
Robinson's departure should provide an excellent opportunity for SBOE members and Governor Scott to "reconnect with the parents and educators whose voices have been ignored for too long," said FEA spokesman Mark Pudlow. "The new commissioner needs to be someone with previous classroom experience and someone willing to have an honest and meaningful dialogue with parents, teachers and administrators about what's best for students and how to improve our schools."
In Stewart’s current role, she leads the largest educational division in the department overseeing student achievement, curriculum, educator quality, and support for Florida’s PreK-12 education system, which serves more than 2.6 million students and 189,000 educators. Prior to her appointment as chancellor, Stewart was the deputy superintendent for academic services in the St. Johns County School District. She was also a classroom teacher, an elementary and high school principal, and a guidance counselor in Florida.
“We are fortunate to have someone with the skills, experience and relationships with district leaders throughout the state who is able to help us through this transition,” said State Board of Education Chair Kathleen Shanahan. “While we would like to have the search process move forward quickly, it is important that we take the time necessary to find the right leader for our state’s educational system. We have accomplished a great deal during the past year and Pam will help ensure that we continue to move forward.”
Shanahan said Stewart was not interested in the job permanently and would not be applying. The board also approved hiring a search firm to help it in its national search to find a replacement for Robinson. But Florida will be searching for a new education leader at a time when its well known controversial test-based school-accountability system is facing heavy criticism.
Some parents say they didn't view Robinson as a long-term leader but rather "the guy who was going to come in, execute the most egregious changes possible, be the fall guy and leave." They say Florida's students need a commissioner who will listen to parents and the educators working in our schools, not lobbyists.
At the national AFT conference, recently held in Detroit, Rita Solnet, a Boca Raton activist who has played a prominent role in Florida's anti-testing movement, said comments were circulating that Robinson was on his way out because former Gov. Jeb Bush wanted to stem criticism against the testing and accountability system that he helped create and still champions. "Complete bull," the former governor said in an email Tuesday, and wrote he was sorry Robinson was leaving.
Yet many parents say they are happy to see Commissioner Robinson go. Members of Fund Education Now are encouraging other parents to inundate Governor Scott with suggestions for a replacement. The group released the following statement: "During his short reign, missteps and blunders left parents and community members with fundamental doubts about the high-stakes accountability program Florida’s politicians and bureaucrats pride themselves on.
We are hopeful that Governor Scott will choose a commissioner that values a well-rounded, high quality public education and reduces the emphasis on high-stakes testing. We want a leader that puts the needs of students and their teachers ahead of the high paid lobbyists that represent for-profit charter operators and private voucher programs.
We urge Governor Scott to find a commissioner who supports the 2.5 million students that choose Florida’s public schools every year. Our schools deserve a Commissioner of Education who responds to the needs of Florida’s diverse student population, relies on the expertise of professional educators, and maintains open and constructive discourse with parents and community members."
But activists like Solnet say Robinson's resignation will not temper the concerns surrounding too much testing. "The problem is, if they think this is going to quell the outcry and the criticism and the issues, it's really not," she said, "unless they put someone in place who is willing to listen."
Last month, the Florida School Boards Association (FSBA) approved a resolution asking state education leaders to place less emphasis on standardized tests. (View the FSBA Testing Resolution). Dozens of other school districts throughout the state have signed onto a national anti-testing resolution, including the larger districts such as Broward, Palm Beach and Pinellas.
This year's change by the State Board of Education to implement FCAT 2.0 and raise state standards has added more fuel to outraged parent groups, who saw their child's top-rated district loose its ‘A’ rating. Under Robinson, 39 of Florida’s 67 school districts earned a lower grade than last year. Six more districts slid to a D grade. No Florida district raised its grade.
Chancellor Stewart's Biography:
Pam Stewart is the Chancellor of Public Schools for the Florida Department of Education. In this role, she oversees K-12 Student Achievement; Curriculum, Instruction, and Student Services; School Improvement; and Educator Quality. Mrs. Stewart also oversees the management and delivery of such affiliate programs as K-12 Race to the Top projects, Just Read, Florida!, Office of Early Learning, and Florida’s Virtual Education Program. These areas and programs provide supports for Florida's PreK-12 Education System which serves more than 2.67 million students and 189,000 educators.
Prior to her appointment as Chancellor of Public Schools, she was the Deputy Superintendent for Academic Services in the St. Johns County School District. She was also a classroom teacher, an elementary and high school principal, and a guidance counselor in Florida.
Mrs. Stewart holds a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education/Early Childhood from the University of South Florida and a Master of Education in Counselor Education from the University of Central Florida.
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