The six top-performing principals in Florida's highest-risk public schools were recognized for their students' achievement gains in reading and mathematics at the inaugural Florida TaxWatch Elite Principal Awards in Tallahassee on Thursday. Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart joined Florida TaxWatch to present the awards and delivered a keynote address to honorees, highlighting their incredible leadership skills that are turning around Florida's high-risk schools.
"These remarkable principals are actively involved in raising student achievement through their effective management efforts," said Commissioner Pam Stewart."With leadership such as theirs, we can ensure every Florida student has a quality teacher in the classroom."
The Florida TaxWatch Elite Principal Award is the only honor given to principals whose students exceed expectations in learning gains in high-risk schools. Each honoree received a generous financial award and statewide recognition at the ceremony, sponsored by Patriot Transportation, The Florida Lottery, Verizon, Badcock Furniture, State Farm, The JM Rubin Foundation, and Wells Fargo.
"The six principals honored today are ensuring that all children have the tools they need to learn and benefit from Florida's exceptional education system," said Dominic M. Calabro, President and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, the independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit taxpayer research and government watchdog. "By bestowing this honor, we hope to focus on the principals whose actions and policies behind the scenes have helped turn around our most troubled, often forgotten schools and students."
To be eligible for the award, candidates must have been at their school for a minimum of three years to ensure their policies were impactful. No nominations were accepted for the awards; only data from the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) was analyzed to determine the winning principals.
The top two principals of high-risk schools within the elementary, middle and high school levels across the state were identified using established statewide assessment data from the FLDOE Data Warehouse. High-risk schools have high percentages of students with disabilities, students designated as English as a Second Language learners, and those eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch.
"I applaud Florida leaders for continuing to invest in education so that every student has a quality teacher in the classroom and is given a chance to succeed in our exceptional education system," said Florida TaxWatch Chairman John B. Zumwalt, III. "The Elite principals recognized today by Florida TaxWatch are a vital part of that success, and their effective leadership inspires teachers and students to exceed expectations and help Florida remain competitive in a global economy."
The Elite Principals Awards Program is part of a Principal Leadership Initiative undertaken by Florida TaxWatch and the Learning Systems Institute, a multidisciplinary research and development organization at Florida State University that supports leading researchers through five centers. The goal of the initiative is to improve student achievement in high-risk schools and close the achievement gap by studying the identified principals and changing state policies to reflect their successful practices.
The six identified principals will be incorporated into a longitudinal study performed by the Learning Systems Institute to identify a principal's role in recruiting, retaining and developing outstanding teachers. Existing research has shown that effective principals heavily influence student achievement through recruitment and retention of highly effective teachers.
"The longitudinal study of Florida's high-performing principals will provide policy makers with research-based evidence regarding the day-to-day practices of effective principals and the competencies that are associated with leading schools that better meet the instructional needs of all students," said Dr. Laura Lang, Director Emeritus of the Learning Systems Institute, who also spoke during the awards program. "Hopefully, the results will be used to craft policies related to the initial preparation and ongoing professional development of Florida's educational leaders."
The honorees recognized included: Tangela Goa, Van E. Blanton Elementary School; Yvonne Reins, Rodney B. Cox Elementary School; Dr. Linda Amica-Roberts, Coconut Palm K-8 Academy; Anna Hernandez, M. A. Milam K-8 Center; Guillermo Munoz, Westland Hialeah Senior High School; and Dr. Verena Cabrera, Hialeah High School.
Florida Education Leaders on the Florida TaxWatch Elite Principal Award Honorees
"Congratulations to these six principals for their outstanding commitment to ensuring their students can compete and succeed in a global economy, said Governor Rick Scott. "Florida's educators and administrators are the backbone of our state's terrific education system. That's why we invested $480 million last year to give every Florida teacher a much deserved pay raise. This pay raise, combined with our historic increases in state education funding, is helping to ensure that Florida's schools are some of the best in the world."
"Superintendents throughout Florida support the teams in schools that work hard every day to help students address the many challenges they face," said Florida State Senator Bill Montford, CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. "Such recognition is certainly appreciated."
"I am incredibly proud to share that five of this year's most effective principals come from the Miami-Dade school district," said Alberto Carvalho, Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent. "Many of our district's principals are faced with difficult challenges, but no matter how unlikely success may seem, they consistently strive for student success. It is an honor for our entire district to see their hard work rewarded."
"It is an honor for the Pasco County school district to be represented among the Elite Principals in 2014," said Pasco County Superintendent Kurt S. Browning. "Our students and teachers exceed expectations as a result of the outstanding leadership skills exhibited by our school principals, and we're thrilled that one of our own is being recognized."
Florida TaxWatch is a statewide, non-profit, non-partisan research institute that over its 33-year history has become widely recognized as the watchdog of citizens' hard-earned tax dollars. Its mission is to provide the citizens of Florida and public officials with high quality, independent research and education on government revenues, expenditures, taxation, public policies and programs and to increase the productivity and accountability of Florida state and local government. Its support comes from homeowners and retirees, small and large businesses, philanthropic foundations, and professional associations. On the web at www.FloridaTaxWatch.org.