December 19, 2014

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Encouraging Excellence

Lynda Keever | 1/1/2009


Lynda Keever, Publisher

One of the most rewarding accomplishments during my 17 years as publisher was the launch of our teen magazine, Florida Trend’s NEXT. We started NEXT in 2000 as a way to provide teens with the information they need to prepare for life after high school. Last August, we published our ninth edition distributed at no charge to students in 1,400 public and private high schools across the state.

In 2002, NEXT partnered with Gov. Jeb Bush’s Mentoring Initiative to recruit and train high school students to mentor third-graders in reading. That first year, 30 teens were selected as Teen Trendsetter Reading Mentors, and it was obvious that the high school students benefited almost as much as their younger proteges.

Since then, the number of Florida students involved in Teen Trendsetters has soared to more than 6,000. At the recent Teen Trendsetter Reading Mentor Summit at Universal Orlando, Bush, now honorary chairman of the Volunteer USA Foundation, announced that the Teen Trendsetter program will expand to 11 other Southeastern states, and thousands more struggling school children in the lower grades will benefit. That’s a great legacy made possible by the financial support of a prestigious group of national sponsors that includes Comcast, Florida Power & Light, State Farm Insurance, AAA Auto Club South and Universal Studios Florida.

The same week as the Teen Trendsetter Summit, I attended the inaugural Celebration of Teaching in Orlando. SunTrust Banks, State Farm, McGraw-Hill, Royal Caribbean and Staples took the lead as top sponsors of the event hosted by Bush and the Foundation for Excellence in Education to honor 85 Florida teachers as the 2008 Excel Award winners.


A keynote speaker was Ron Clark, an educator and author whose latest project is a private non-profit school in Atlanta, where students follow a unique curriculum. The school also gives students opportunities for international travel and offers training workshops for teachers.

Clark has gotten a lot of attention for his unconventional teaching methods, but his basic concept is solid: We should find ways to give teachers flexibility and training to better reach students, improve learning and raise students’ self-confidence.
Florida Education Commissioner Eric Smith told me that Florida has already put a lot of what Clark advocates into practice. “The educational reforms, the programs and initiatives that began under Gov. Bush are being built on under Gov. Charlie Crist. We’re on a shared trajectory that will benefit kids,” Smith says.

Smith agrees with Clark that we can do more to encourage teachers to work with each other. “We need to help them find time in their busy day to talk about how to use the curriculum. We need to make sure kids have the right foundational skills, then focus on bringing all students up to the highest levels.”

As Florida’s business leaders, we need to do more to support education initiatives like the Excel Awards and Teen Trendsetters. Our teachers and students deserve it, and the benefits will pay off for generations to come.

We received the unfortunate news last month that Florida Trend founder Harris Mullen died. His health had been declining for several years, and he wasn’t able to attend our staff’s 50th anniversary celebration last September, but his wife, Kay, and two of his daughters represented the family.

Harris hired me in 1979 as a sales representative, and he continued to serve as a great mentor for me even after he no longer owned the magazine. When I was named publisher in 1991, he was the first to call and offer his heartfelt congratuations. I will especially miss his advice on how to stay connected with the state’s business community and government leaders. Please see our tribute to him.

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