NAPLES — The Alliance of Educational Leaders agrees that cooperation and collaboration are keys to successful education in Florida.
At the AEL’s annual panel discussion on Friday in the WGCU Public Broadcasting studio on Florida Gulf Coast University’s campus, Florida’s educational leaders shared their perspectives on today’s educational challenges in Southwest Florida.
“You have willing partners from all the major institutions and education agencies here in Southwest Florida that on a daily basis work together and try to push the envelope,” said Eric Smith, Education Commissioner for the Florida Department of Education. “The one thing I see about southwest Florida is this level of creativity and innovation. This area is not being led by individuals that are trying to hold back or keep the status quo. These are folks that are really trying to move the level of service forward in southwest Florida. I’m very proud of that.”
During the discussion — which included many of Southwest Florida’s school superintendents — Smith listed three areas in education that the state and the nation are working to improve. The first is standards and expectations of the accomplishments that measure workforce and college readiness among young students. The second was improving teacher quality and the quality of instruction in the classrooms.
“We’re not going to be a nation that is a manufacturing nation going forward,” said Commissioner Smith, who believes that innovative thinking and problem solving will be coveted skills in the nation’s future workforce. “We need to be those that work in teams and collaborate, so if we expect that in our workforce, we are going to have to demand that in the type of classroom work that we see on a daily basis.”
The third area of improvement is technology, which overlaps with the first two areas of improvement. Smith believes that technology will redefine the standards of work and where and how people do their work.
The moderator of the panel, Jim McLaughlin — who hosts WGCU Public Media’s Connect! program — mentioned that all of today’s students expect the latest technology, and that all of (FGCU President Wilson) Bradshaw’s students are “armed to the ‘T’ with technology.”
“I think the main reason we are fortunate is that we are a very young institution, so technology is built in to everything we have at the university,” Bradshaw said of the university’s ability to keep up with the latest demand for technology in the classroom.
Bradshaw and other panel members agreed that training faculty in the latest technology is crucial to the enhancement, improvement of their lessons.
“We can’t just have computers in the classroom,” Bradshaw said. “The most important piece of technology in the classroom will continue to be the professional teachers.”
Chancellor for Florida’s State College System Willis Holcombe listed some of the challenges state colleges in Florida are facing.
“Our responsibility in our system is to keep the doors of opportunity open whether we are talking about students coming directly out of our K-12 system or adults, who in this economy need career preparation and retooling,” Holcombe said.
Holcombe believes that collaboration is one of the hallmarks of the education system in southwest Florida.
Chancellor of the State University System of Florida Frank Brogan gave his input on some of the challenges he believes that Florida’s Universities are facing.
“I believe, as do my colleagues, that a major part of what the state university system needs to do is better organization internally,” said Brogan, who believes that each university needs to more clearly define its core mission and what sets it apart from the other state universities. Brogan wants to see better internal organization combined with a board of governors at the state level to make sure that each university follows its own strategic plan as well as a unifying state strategic plan.
“At the end of the day, access is critical to the state of Florida,” said Brogan, who believes that Florida’s future lies in a knowledge-based economy that is full of innovation. “We are tens of thousands of baccalaureate degrees short of where we should be as a state.”
E-mail Sarah Donovan at email@example.com.