May 28, 2020

Press Release

Florida TaxWatch and FSU's Learning Systems Institute name Florida's top six principals

| 9/4/2014

The Florida TaxWatch Center for Educational Performance & Accountability and the Learning Systems Institute atFlorida State University announced the top six performing principals in Florida's high-risk public schools. The principals were revealed today as recipients of the Florida TaxWatch Principal Leadership Awards. Recognition is based on analysis of student achievement gains in reading and mathematics in high-risk schools.

The honorees are:

  • Susan Cavinee, Mill Creek Elementary School – Osceola
  • Deborah Crotty, Rutledge H. Pearson Elementary School – Duval
  • Kelli Hunter-Sheppard, Leisure City K-8 Center – Miami-Dade
  • Sheila Windom, Memorial Middle School – Orange
  • Cassandra Robinson, Dillard High School – Broward
  • Benny Valdes, Miami Senior High School – Miami-Dade

"Great leadership is the cornerstone of a successful school," said Education Commissioner Pam Stewart. "Congratulations to the great leaders honored with the Principal Leadership Award. I applaud the bold action each of them has taken to ensure their students have the best chance for success in college, career and life."

The Principal Leadership Awards program is part of the FloridaTaxWatch and Learning Systems Institute Principal Leadership Initiative. 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. 

"These six principals are breaking down barriers to achievement for high-risk students by creating the best learning environment for their success," said Robert Weissert, Chief Research Officer for Florida TaxWatch. "By applying the characteristics that help these principals foster student achievement to all principals in all schools, Florida can ensure every student can be successful in the classroom, regardless of race, class, zip code, or school zone." 

While there are existing awards programs for Florida principals, theFlorida TaxWatch Principal Leadership Award is the only data-driven honor given to those who exceed expectations in learning gains for at-risk students in high-risk schools. 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. 
"The Learning Systems Institute is proud to partner with FloridaTaxWatch to recognize Florida's remarkable principals, whose actions play a critical role in student performance," said Kristina Lavenia, researcher with LSI. "The Principal Leadership Awards program lays the foundation for a study that will allow Florida to understand which leadership and management practices are contributing most to positive learning gains."

The principals will be recognized at a ceremony in Orlando on October 16, 2014 where they will receive a generous financial award sponsored by theFlorida Lottery, Kyra Infotech, J.M. Rubin Foundation, State Farm, Wells Fargo, and Brighthouse Networks. The principals will also be recognized at the State Board of Education meeting in Orlando on November 18, 2014.

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 DOE data were analyzed to determine the winning principals.

Watch our YouTube video that has information about the program and highlights last year's winners.

Florida Tax Watch

Florida TaxWatch is a statewide, non-profit, non-partisan research institute that over its 34-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

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