An education agenda outlined Thursday by Gov. Rick Scott shows the governor has listened to concerns raised by Florida's teachers and understands how education is changing, Collier schools Superintendent Kamela Patton said.
"I think he's in tune with where we're headed," she said. "This is a guy that's putting a lot of energy into education."
Patton was one of about 700 regional business and education leaders listening as the governor announced his College and Career FIRST legislative agenda during the News-Press Market Watch Education Summit in Fort Myers.
Based in part on feedback Scott received last month during a listening tour with teachers, the plan is aimed at accomplishing three goals:
Ensuring the state's accountability system is a fair measure of success by not implementing new testing requirements that do not support the upcoming Common Core standards.
Providing teachers with the tools they need by giving them debit cards funded by state, district and businesses to purchase classroom equipment, and creating a $2 million competitive teacher training grant.
Increasing flexibility in education by eliminating unnecessary regulations to streamline the work of educators, giving districts more flexibility in purchasing instructional materials and lifting enrollment caps on existing charter schools.
Ultimately, Scott said, the agenda is meant to make college and career readiness the focus of the state's education system.
"Our goal in Florida is to become the state known for sunshine and jobs," he said. "A great education is the precursor for a great job."
As it stands, local schools are not doing enough to prepare students for college and careers, a panel of local business leaders said during the summit. Students are lacking in areas including problem solving, public speaking and interacting with others in a business environment, panel members said.
There were some bright spots: Kimberly Presanzano, area operations manager for CenturyLink, said she sees area students at community events, performing and speaking in front of large groups.
"When you see those things, we're doing something right," she said.
Also during the summit, local superintendents discussed the major changes that are already on the way for students and teachers in Florida — some that the leaders support, some they don't.
The state is beginning to transition to the Common Core standards adopted by 46 states, with new standards starting to take effect next fall. It is also moving to performance-based pay for teachers.
The fact that the two changes are being implemented at the same time is concerning to some local leaders, including Lee schools Superintendent Joseph Burke, who called it a "perfect storm."
"We cannot break the spirit of the teachers and the students," he said during the summit's panel of local superintendents and higher education presidents. "This is going to be a very, very big, fundamental change. All of these things are converging at once."
The superintendents were supportive of the move to Common Core and optimistic it will raise the bar, but hesitant to embrace performance pay.
"I really do believe we're fundamentally going down the wrong road trying to pay teachers based on performance pay," Charlotte County schools Superintendent Doug Whittaker said, noting that China stopped doing performance pay years ago.
"To think that a teacher is going to work harder because they're getting paid more is barking up the wrong tree," he said. "They already have a drive, a purpose, behind them."
Patton said after the summit that she shares similar concerns about tying teacher pay to performance.
"I'm worried about demoralizing people, keeping their spirits up," she said. "I think it's very hard to be tied to one test, one snapshot."
She feels more optimistic about Scott's agenda, saying she believes it will help improve the college and career readiness of students in Florida.
A common thread at the event was the need to work together as communities and a state to make those improvements.
"We all want to improve our education system," Scott said as he concluded his remarks. "But in order to do something great, we must all do it together."