FLDOE Shines a Light on Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanice Heritage Web Banner

Throughout Florida’s history, many Hispanic leaders have made great contributions to the Hispanic community and helped our state become what it is today – a place known for its rich culture, vast history and dynamic people. At the Department of Education, we are proud to celebrate Hispanic history during Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15 to October 15.

Although I am not currently instructing students in the classroom, I will always be an educator at heart, so I want to provide a brief history lesson in this post. September 15 was chosen as the starting point for Hispanic Heritage Month because it is the anniversary of independence of five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and September 18 respectively.

The observation first began in 1968 when President Lyndon B. Johnson and the U.S. Congress declared Hispanic Heritage Week in September. Twenty years later, President Ronald Reagan extended the week to a 30-day period.

For as long as we all can remember, Florida has been known as the Gateway to Latin America. The food, music and traditions provide a critical link between the United States and South America. These strong relations with South America enable Florida to exercise a unique model of two-way trade, greatly promoting economic growth.

We are working every day to prepare Florida students to compete in a global economy, and Hispanic Heritage Month provides educators and parents an exciting opportunity to expand our students’ knowledge of the world in we which all live and work.

I hope that our state’s educators will take advantage of this observance and bring Hispanic history into the classroom. For more information on Florida’s celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, visit www.floridahispanicheritage.org



Parents are filling the vehicle drop-off zones, teachers are organizing the books and desks, and students are flooding the hallways and classrooms. All things are set in motion to begin yet another amazing school year in Florida.

For many educators, this time of year is both exciting and a bit stressful, so we recruited 2016 Florida Teacher of the Year Diane McKee, a 14-year teaching veteran, to share her top tips to help new educators have the best teaching experience possible. We hope this list will help guide you as you settle in to the new academic year. Have a helpful tip we left off? We’d love to hear from you – leave a message in the comments section and everyone can benefit!

  1. Set the tone. To make sure students feel comfortable in your classroom, greet them at the door, make eye contact, call them by their names and be sure to smile. Creating a safe environment from the start to ensure students know they can share ideas and ask questions freely. It’s also a good idea to take some time to let the students know who you are as a person. Sharing why you became a teacher can be a great start.
  1. Use class builders. Classes are just beginning and students are likely to feel shy or apprehensive with a new teacher and, in many cases, new classmates. Use short icebreakers, team builders and class builders to establish a collaborative environment.
  1. Establish a clear routine. Define a clear set of guidelines and procedures for entering and exiting the classroom, managing classroom materials, and everything in between. Practice it repeatedly until it becomes routine – for you and the students. Your students will feel organized and the rest of the year will run more smoothly as a result.
  1. Set high expectations. The most effective teachers are often the ones students think are the most difficult. Challenging your students will teach them lessons that will serve them well as they continue their education and, one day, pursue careers.
  1. Be flexible. Great teachers are always willing to be flexible. If a lesson isn’t working out quite as you’d planned, don’t be afraid to throw it out, regroup and try another approach that may reach your students better.
  1. Communicate with parents. Parents can be your biggest allies, so it’s important to contact them within the first few weeks of school to make sure they know how to reach you with questions or concerns about their student. Establishing trustworthy relationships with parents early on creates a collaborative environment that enables you both to ensure students get the most of their educational experience.
  1. Positive peer collaboration. Open yourself up – share and collaborate with your grade-level team or other staff members and don’t be afraid ask for help when you need it. You will likely find that you have similar experiences to your peers and that the road to success is easier when you are not going it alone!
  1. Set clear objectives. Have a clear focus posted for each day’s lesson that clearly connects to previous lessons. Many students need to know the direction you intend to take and why in order to “buy in” to your plan.
  1. Maintain a strong work ethic. Always have a “never say die” attitude. Teaching can be a draining job and there will be times that you feel it requires everything you have and then some. Always remember that the most important tasks are rarely the easiest, and your students are relying on you to help them become tomorrow’s leaders.
  1. Take care of yourself. Teacher burnout is not a myth, but it can be avoided. Be sure to schedule some “me” time each week to reenergize and relax.

Cataract Awareness Month


Between the yellow sunrises and the orange sunsets, from bright blue skies to starry nightscapes, Florida easily stands out as one of the country’s most visually appealing states. For these diverse visual features and more, it’s no wonder why so many families and individuals choose the Sunshine State as a retirement destination. And yet, due to maladies such as cataracts, not all of its citizens and welcomed visitors share the same view of our great state.

For the many citizens diagnosed with cataracts, this is an unfortunate reality. Cataracts, a clouding of the lens in the eye that affects vision, are a leading cause of visual impairment among aging Americans, affecting more than 22 million Americans aged 40 and older. That number is predicted to increase to 30.1 million by 2020. In 2007, Florida was ranked No.1 in residents aged 65 and older who are diagnosed with age-related eye diseases. These individuals are our parents, neighbors and loved ones, so it is important we do all that we can to increase awareness as we recognize August as Cataract Awareness Month.

The cataract visual impairment can become an incredible burden for its victims as it decreases the quality of life, ability to read, color perception, affects one’ independence, greatly increases the risk of injury and can destroy self-esteem, which may lead to depression. While being diagnosed with cataracts is a serious measure, there are early symptoms and signs of detection to help prevent any further occurrence of symptoms like faded color perception, cloudy or blurry vision, or frequently changing your prescription in your glasses or contact lenses.

Due to the large amount of sun we receive year round, Florida residents should take precaution and wear sunglasses and hats with a brim. Another source of protection comes from living a healthy lifestyle. Eating a diet of healthy foods (such as colorful fruits, vegetables, and whole grains), exercising, and not smoking can prevent cataracts. These are important steps we can take to live happier and healthier lives, empowering us to enjoy all the beauty the Sunshine State has to offer.

The Department of Education’s Division of Blind Services helps Floridians who are blind or visually impaired to acquire the skills and tools to live more independently within their homes and communities. Blind Services can assist individuals with adjustment to blindness, use of assistive technology, travel training and independent living skills. For more information about resources that support individuals with visual disabilities, contact Florida’s Division of Blind Services.

Florida Department of Education Recognizes Distinguished Educators

Pictured left to right: Diane McKee, the 2016 Florida Teacher of the Year; Dustin Sims, the 2015 Assistant Principal of the Year; Hershel Lyons, K-12 Public Schools Chancellor; and Angela Murphy-Osborne, the 2015 Principal of the Year.

Pictured left to right: Diane McKee, the 2016 Florida Teacher of the Year; Dustin Sims, the 2015 Assistant Principal of the Year; Hershel Lyons, K-12 Public Schools Chancellor; and Angela Murphy-Osborne, the 2015 Principal of the Year.

In Florida, we are fortunate to have some of the nation’s very best educators in the classroom, preparing our state’s students for a lifetime of success. We have more than 190,000 teachers, 4,000 principals and several thousand assistant principals, and, at the Florida Department of Education (FDOE), we feel it is incredibly important to recognize their contributions to student learning. We host a series of events throughout the year to honor those who fill these very important roles, and today we are excited to share about the most recent one.

On Monday, August 3, K-12 Public Schools Chancellor Hershel Lyons led a special recognition ceremony at the Turlington Building in Tallahassee. Those who have visited FDOE’s headquarters know that upon entering the building, guests immediately see the Florida Distinguished Educators Wall, which features photographs of just a few of Florida’s many outstanding educators.

Recently, we honored Diane McKee, the 2016 Florida Teacher of the Year; Angela Murphy-Osborne, the 2015 Principal of the Year; and Dustin Sims, the 2015 Assistant Principal of the Year as the 2015-16 Florida’s Distinguished Educators.

For the next year, their photos will be displayed in the Turlington Building lobby to serve as a daily reminder to all DOE employees and our guests of the vital role teachers play in the lives of our state’s students.

2016 Florida Teacher of the Year Diane McKee has been a businessperson turned teacher for 14 years. During her time, Diane has taken the term “raise the bar” literally, hanging a red bar in her room to remind her students of this goal daily. She has said that her students continually exceed her high expectations.

Principal Angela Murphy–Osborne has been a principal for 16 years and has been a true catalyst for igniting educational transformation within her schools. She led two Title I schools to success and helped Palmetto Elementary become the only elementary school in Florida to jump from an F to an A in 2013-14.

Former assistant principal Dustin Sims has been recently promoted to principal of Flagler Palm Coast High School for the upcoming year. Utilizing Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), principal Sims increased student achievement, moving Flagler Palm Coast High from a D in 2009-10 to an A in 2013-14.

At the Department of Education, we seize every opportunity to celebrate our educators. Having this event not only shows other educators that hard work pays off, but it also shows we are thankful and appreciative of all that you do. Congratulations to the newest members of the Florida Distinguished Educators Wall!



Last week, we hosted one of the year’s most important events—the annual Florida Teacher of the Year retreat and gala. Diane McKee took home the top honor, 2016 Florida Teacher of the Year, but all of these teachers are winners. To honor their hard work and dedication to our state’s students, we invited all district teachers of the year to Orlando where they were treated to four days of professional development and networking.

It was such a treat for me to spend time with these outstanding educators and I want to thank the sponsors for making these events possible. We are fortunate to have strong partnerships with many national, state and local businesses and non-profit organizations whose leadership teams share our passion for education and appreciate the critical role teachers play in preparing our state students for lifelong success.

All of the sponsors listed below are vital to ensuring this annual celebration of teachers is both memorable and educational, and I especially want to thank Macy’s for their contributions. In addition to hosting a star-studded gala for the teachers of the year and their loved ones, Macy’s donated $102,000 in cash rewards and gift cards. I am already looking forward to next year’s festivities.

Macy’s (Premiere Sponsor)
Bank of America
Blue Man Group
Florida Lottery
Helios Education Foundation
Herff Jones
SMART Technologies
Southeastern University
State Farm
Universal Orlando
Florida Education Foundation

To see a list of the 2016 district teachers of the year and to learn more about the Teacher of the Year Program, visit http://www.fldoe.org/teaching/recognition-recruitment/fl-teacher-of-the-year-program/.

View more Macy’s Gala Photos Here


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Each year, the Department of Education names one Florida educator the Christa McAuliffe Ambassador for Education, also known as the Teacher of the Year. This distinct honor is bestowed upon an individual who has been recognized by his/her school and district for going above and beyond to ensure their students receive are prepared for success.

Florida’s 67 counties have 72 school districts with more than 190,000 teachers serving 2.7 million students. Every day educators throughout the state go to work with a singular goal in mind: provide our students with the best education possible so that each child has the necessary skills to achieve their academic and career goals. With so many hard-working educators throughout our state, it was difficult to narrow the list of district winners to only five finalists and nearly impossible to select just one of those.

On Thursday, July 9, at a gala in Orlando, Diane McKee’s life changed forever when Governor Rick Scott announced her as the 2016 Teacher of the Year. Instead of returning to her classroom at Williams Magnet Middle School in Hillsborough County, Diane will spend the 2015-2016 school year traveling the state as a goodwill ambassador representing the Department of Education and all of Florida’s teachers.

With 14 years of teaching experience, Diane has impacted the lives of countless students. Many of them have looked to her as a friend, a confidante and a mentor, but most importantly, they understand she wants to see them succeed. She believes it is important that her students remain focused on “raising the bar,” so she hung a bar from the ceiling at the entrance of her classroom. As students enter her room, they launch toward the bar, a daily reminder that their dreams are within arm’s reach.

That mindset will serve her well in this new role. While we are proud of being ranked 7th in student achievement, there is still room for improvement and we must strive to be number one. After spending a week with our district teachers of the year, I am confident we are on track to achieve that goal and so much more.

To all of our district teachers of the year, our four finalists, our 2016 Florida Teacher of the Year and all of the hard working and creative teachers throughout the state…thank you. Thank you for all that you do for our students and their futures.

To see a list of the 2016 district teachers of the year and to learn more about the Teacher of the Year Program, visit http://www.fldoe.org/teaching/recognition-recruitment/fl-teacher-of-the-year-program/.

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View more Macy’s Gala Photos Here

All Business at the 28th Annual CBRA Ceremony


In an effort to make Florida the top state in the nation for education, teachers, parents and administrators all work tirelessly to develop new and innovative ways to stimulate and empower our students. Education is the ultimate key to developing the future leaders of Florida. It will open many doors for our youth and create future opportunities for the state.

We want our students to have every chance to succeed. That’s why it is important to recognize the tremendous contributions of business partners throughout the state. Their support enriches education and helps create a brighter future for Florida students.

The Commissioner’s Business Recognition Awards (CBRA) program was established in 1987 by the Commissioner of Education. This program recognizes businesses from around the state that have shown the most commitment, creativity and innovation in bringing about positive change to schools and school districts. At the 28th CBRA ceremony, I was thrilled to honor 83 outstanding business partners in education.

We are all truly grateful to each business honored with the Commissioner’s Business Recognition Awards. Every gift of time, talent and resources helps to ensure Florida students receive a high-quality education and encourages successful alliances within the business community and among local school districts for the benefit of Florida’s students.

It is a great pleasure to see Florida businesses, schools, educators and students working hand-in-hand to best prepare our students for success. Our business partners give students access to mentors, resources and opportunities that supplement classroom learning and give them real-world experience. If we continue working together to give students the best preparation to be successful in college, career and life, I can envision that by the time today’s preschool children are graduating, Florida could be the best state in the nation for education.

Thank you, again, to all of our 2015 CBRA awardees for the important work you do on behalf of Florida’s students. You are helping to build Florida’s next generation of leaders and innovators.

To learn more about the recognition program and to view a list of awarded businesses and organizations, please visit the Commissioner’s Business Recognition Awards.