The Chamber hosted the Education Connection program's signature event, State of Education on Tuesday, September 24th at the University Club of Tampa. The event was moderated by Tony Carvajal, Executive Vice President of the Florida Chamber Foundation and interviewed the panel consisting of State Representative, District 67 Chris Latvala, State Representative, District 34 Ralph Massullo and Hillsborough County Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Eakins.
The overall consensus of the panel was that early childhood education is going to be a major priority moving forward, at the local and state level. Both Representative Latvala and Representative Massullo feel strongly about ensuring our children are prepared and specifically are reading by 3rd grade. Superintendent Eakins emphasized the strategy of being intentional about what the workforce needs and taking that and incorporating it back into middle and high school curriculum. He also noted that over the past 4 years, Hillsborough County has graduated 3,000 more students and ensuring when they leave they have clarity for what path they would like to pursue in post-secondary.
Superintendent Eakins also took the time to address the surtax that was added for the schools last year. Stating that it's critical to optimize conditions for students and teachers to be successful. Thus far, the school system has collected over $60 million and replaced 21 AC units so far with 203 more to go over the next 9 years. They have also replaced roofs and playgrounds, painted, re-paved, and improved the safety of the schools and will continue to do so.
All three panelists addressed the current workforce issue of finding good, qualified and passionate teachers who will stay in the school system. Emphasizing that student success is not possible without great teachers. Representative Latvala agreed that keeping teachers from leaving the school system to pursue other careers is the biggest challenge. Noting that currently in Florida, 91% of teachers are rated effective or highly effective. He also shared that current conversations are indicating teacher salaries will experience a significant increase. In addition, last year they worked to change the teacher certification program and the training and continuing studies opportunities to benefit teachers as well.
Another point that was addressed is the stigma towards post-secondary pathways. All three panelists agreed that a 4-year college is not the only option for students anymore and isn't always the best option for every student. Representative Massullo expressed that he will be pushing for alternative graduation pathways and addressing how students are currently assessed. Superintendent Eakins shared that he feels more conversations need to be had with parents about the best pathway for their child and to ensure the students are fully informed and aware of all their choices before graduating.
As for the plans moving forward, Superintendent Eakins again echoed ensuring that there is alignment between the current jobs of today and tomorrow and the training that is available is part of the strategic plan which is already in motion. Over the summer students had the opportunity to participate in different academies that help to prepare and lead them to where the careers are now. Representative Massullo stated that they will continue to make policy changes that help make students not only college ready but career ready. Overall, the ending note was that ensuring students have a vision for their future is the most important.
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