Florida's new education commissioner meets with educators, governor

7:08 PM, Dec 12, 2012   |    comments
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Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett (pictured in another event) says he's confident lawmakers will fix the law.
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TAMPA, Florida -- Hours after being selected, Florida's new commissioner of education got to work.

Tony Bennett joined Governor Rick Scott for a discussion with superintendents, teachers, principals, and support staff from more than a dozen school districts at Roland Park K-8 School in Tampa. The State Board of Education selected Indiana's former superintendent of schools.

"We will not be perfect, but my intent is we will be better than we are today," Bennett told the group.

Bennet and the governor heard educators concerns about issues like funding, class size, testing, and the new teacher evaluation system.

Some district leaders say, as with many new programs on the horizon, the state is rushing districts into compliance.

Pasco County's new superintendent, Kurt Browning, said, "If we had time to meet with DOE and come up with a system, to get a buy in from the union, get a buy in from administrators, I don't think we'd have these issues we have today. But it was thrust on the district because of this. We're doing something with it now, repairing it."

Bennet said, "No one minds being measured if they believe the measuring is fair. I pledge nothing is off the table. We will have robust discussions."

Governor Scott said the dialogue has already started within school districts. "We will figure out the right answers," he said.

The governor has put Bennett in charge of two projects: overseeing the implementation of the Common Core standards going into effect nationally, and Florida's new teacher evaluation system.

The state released the first results last week only to retract them hours later after learning inaccurate data had been used. DOE officials say some school districts duplicated the number of teachers evaluated. New results were released the next day, but the results barely changed more than 96 of teachers were rated as "highly effective" or "effective."

As Indiana's superintendent, Bennett said he held off releasing student test results until they had been verified and he will do the same in Florida. He said, "We will focus on accuracy and service out of the department. It will be a good department and we will work off of accurate data."

Commissioner Bennett told the group expect to see him a lot in their school district. He plans to get on the road and visit schools often. He also told the group he believes in handling school issues face to face with the people who know what's going on -- the teachers and administrators.

Bennett said he also shares in the governor's belief that a state's economic development depends on a strong education system.

Bennett's first day on the job is January 14th.

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