Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Public Schools Achieve by Setting Goals

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Public Schools Achieve by Setting Goals

Article excerpt

Accountability has been the secret to Florida's success in improving its public school systems.

That was the theme of a major education forum recently held at Jacksonville University. Without standards, progress simply won't be made.

The way accountability is handled is certainly open to criticism but not the goal. There are too many tests, and sometimes the tests are flawed, but testing is needed.

Jacksonville has used impressive partnerships by the nonprofit community to supplement the work happening in the state's public school system.

"A lot of good things have happened (in education) in Florida," said Gary Chartrand, chairman of Florida's Board of Education. "Strong accountability has moved the needle forward."

Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said, "You will not see a superintendent more driven by accountability."

And it was reinforced by Tom Majdanics, executive director of KIPP Jacksonville, who said a relentless sense of accountability fuels the mission of KIPP's two local successful public charter schools, which have waiting lists of families seeking to enroll their children despite the challenging standards, longer school days and lengthy school year.

"We're not going to make excuses for why our kids can't achieve," Majdanics told the forum audience.

In short, the JU gathering again drove home the reality that all of the shareholders in state and local education - administrators, teachers, students, parents and the community as a whole - must keep holding themselves and each other accountable to make educational standards and performances across Florida and Jacksonville continue to rise.

The forum hosted by Jacksonville University's Public Policy Institute lasted four hours and featured eight key decision-makers in local and state education.

KEEPING STANDARDS HIGH

Florida Department of Education Commissioner Pam Stewart told the estimated 150 forum attendees that the state's ever-evolving move to standardized testing since 1997 has been vital in helping students learn better and faster.

"We would have never gotten to where we are today if we hadn't established standards," Stewart said in defending the steady use of tests like Sunshine State Standards and Sunshine State Next Generation. "We needed to raise the bar," she added.

Stewart said that because of that higher bar, current students in Florida classrooms are able to understand a data spreadsheet by the time they reach sixth grade - and they're challenged to not merely read a book passage but to be able to think through and explain how it relates to the overall story.

"Now we're demanding much more," Stewart said. "When students are (fully) participating in their learning, they are becoming lifelong learners."

Vitti, who has changed 80 of Duval County's 160 principals since he became superintendent two years ago, acknowledged that many have viewed such massive overhauling as radical and jarring. …

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