Friday, February 22, 2013


This past Wednesday I had the honor to be a part of a group of educators and leaders who travelled to our state capital to meet with the new Commissioner of Education, Mr. Tony Bennett. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss school choice, the Common Core State Standards, and standardized testing as it pertains to private schools within our state. Florida is already one of the most innovative states in our country as it pertains to both school choice and vouchers / tax credit scholarships. Mr. Bennett had former served as Indiana's Superintendent of Public Instruction until being replaced during this past election. Indiana, in part because of the work that Mr. Bennett was able to accomplish in his tenure there, is also one of twelve states to offer school vouchers.

Me outside of the Florida Department of Education in Tallahassee, FL.

Commissioner Bennett did not dance around the topics of school choice or of his offices' support of private education. He stated, "We serve you (private schools), just like we serve 2.7 million public school students." He also declared that one of his goals is to give children the "maximum amount of choices possible." 

As the principal of a Catholic school, just these two statements brought me great excitement and anticipation. He will serve my school in the same way that he serves those within a two mile radius that are public places of education. Furthermore, he supports the right of parents to choose the best educational opportunity for their child(ren). While this will not necessarily mean the cost of education following the student instead of going to a specific school / district, I do believe it means that Commissioner Bennett will fight for more and more state and private dollars to be made available for more and more students to attend the schools of their choice. 

But, this was not what impressed me most about this visit. In the world of education, we can get so wrapped up in so many extraneous things - assemblies, procedures, textbooks, management systems, instructional practices, curricular topics - that we sometimes get distracted from our real purpose. We can become overwhelmed with having too much to do and not enough time or support or energy to do it. In doing so, we can overlook what is truly important in schools: that students are performing at the highest level possible. Commissioner Bennett, who I'm sure has so many "distractions" and "responsibilities", mentioned multiple times how his main goal was doing what was best for children. 

"I do not promote more bad schools."

"I'm not for more or less accountability (for private schools who receive state money). I'm for the right accountability."

"Strip out the stuff that isn't important to get to how kids learn."

"Your job is educating kids. Our job (the Department of Education) is staying out of the way."

Commissioner Bennett seems to have a realistic approach to improving education for all students. He seems to understand that we do not need more regulations and paperwork and things to keep us from focusing on students. At the same time, though, he will demand accountability of all schools to ensure that all students in the state of Florida learn at the highest level possible. 

To me, it seems that Commissioner Bennett has a clear understanding that in addition to offering our students an outstanding education, we in private (and specifically private Catholic) schools also offer our students and families capital - an asset or advantage. 

We offer a top notch education that is coupled with faith development and an emphasis on service. We love, nurture and support our students and value the role that parents and families play in the education of their child(ren). We can educate the whole child: physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. 

May the newest addition to our state capital offer more capital to all students here in the state of Florida. May God bless you and your work in the Sunshine State, Commissioner Bennett. 

Let him begin.