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Education is More than Textbooks

Palm Pointe Educational Research School at Tradition
Seventh-graders at Palm Pointe Educational Research School at Tradition test conductivity in a biotechnology lab. The school is a partnership between the St. Lucie school district and Florida
Atlantic University. [Photo: Janice Karst/St. Lucie County School District]

Before the bust, St. Lucie County was best known for hyper-growth, high-profile biotech recruitment and retirees. Less well known is that seven of 10 public school students live in families below the federal poverty line.

Owen Roberts
Owen Roberts
To address the education issues associated with poor children, the school district and textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt recently inked a unique five-year partnership that the school system hopes will boost student and school performance. The Boston company, meanwhile, hopes the effort will be a model for similar ventures in Florida and the nation. "A fundamental solution for improving teaching and learning in our school district," says associate superintendent Owen Roberts.

The district will spend $12 million on the company's education materials to improve science and math education, expand access to technology and the internet and develop its professional staff. In return, Houghton Mifflin will provide $10 million in personnel and in-kind services to address two critical needs the district can't fund with taxpayer money:

» Assistance to non-public school pre-K operators, who provide the majority of pre-K education in the county (public school pre-Ks also will get aid)

» A "Parent Academy" from which adults can tap into multilingual resources for everything from writing their resumes to helping their kids study.

Houghton Mifflin will open a local office with up to 10 staffers who will push materials out digitally, train teachers and reach out through community centers, libraries and churches. The partnership also will develop technology infrastructure to close the digital divide in the community, open school resources to the community at large and move toward individualized education.

The district is working on a grant to create a countywide wireless internet network to make curriculum content available to families.

Says Allen Burgtof, the company's senior vice president for strategic accounts, "It's no longer just about the textbook."