Florida’s education commissioner tours Lee Schools

 Florida Education Commissioner Eric Smith talks with a math class at Cypress Lake Middle.

Lee County Public Schools

Florida Education Commissioner Eric Smith talks with a math class at Cypress Lake Middle.

Jeananne Folaros, Principal at Cypress Lake Middle (left) talks about a student project with Florida Education Commissioner Eric Smith.

Lee County Public Schools

Jeananne Folaros, Principal at Cypress Lake Middle (left) talks about a student project with Florida Education Commissioner Eric Smith.

— While in town to attend Lee County’s Golden Apple teaching award ceremony, Florida Commissioner of Education Eric Smith found time to visit schools, meet with educators and evaluate what he saw.

“I have been truly impressed by the wonderful teaching I have seen. It is some of the best I have seen in Florida,” Smith said. “I have visited elementary, middle and high schools, which were well managed with the leadership and vision of teachers.”

On a bit of a whirlwind tour, Smith visited five schools Friday starting at Fort Myers High School and ending at Cypress Lake Middle School on Cypress Lake Drive. Educators at Cypress Lake called the visit important.

“We would like to show the commissioner a little of what we do here for our students,” said Jeanne Folaros, Cypress Lake principal. “For about nine years, our teachers have been meeting to plan the curriculum, assignments and a common course exam.”

Dawn Voyer gave Smith a tutorial on the cooperative teaching concept and the common course exam in her social studies class.

“Teachers with different classes and the same subjects get together before the term starts and decide what topics to cover and how,” Voyer said. “We also make a test that all the students, no matter which class they are in, take.”

Using this method, Voyer said, allows the teachers to see where the students need help. It also allows teachers to see where they might improve the way classes are taught.

The Golden Apple awards for teaching excellence were awarded Friday night at the Harborside Event Center in Fort Myers. The awards, presented by the non-profit organization the Foundation for Lee County Schools, went to six teachers from various schools in recognition of their outstanding performance in classroom teaching.

Teaching the legislature not to cut too deeply into education budgets makes Smith a friend of the education community in Lee County, said James Browder, superintendent of schools, Lee County School District.

“This is a great opportunity to show the commissioner the quality we have here in Lee County schools,” Browder said. “If anyone can get in the legislature and fight for a budget for education it is him.”

Due to an economic recession, Lee County schools could cut elementary school arts and music programs, cut teaching positions, lower salaries and make other budget cuts to meet a drop in the next budget. That shortfall could amount to anywhere from $14 million to $70 million.

“We are making a sincere effort to fund education at least at the level we are at,” Smith said. “My message to parents is that we should be optimistic. It should be a good year for education in Florida.”

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