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Politics

Pam Stewart Becomes New Commissioner of Education

September 16, 2013 - 6:00pm

Pam Stewart will be taking over permanently as commissioner of education -- it's official. The state Board of Education unanimously approved her for the position in a meeting Tuesday in West Palm Beach.

Tony Bennett resigned from his position six weeks ago after reports surfaced that he had changed the grade of a charter school in Indiana. Although Bennett denied any wrongdoing in the grade change, he stepped down as commissioner, saying it would be a distraction for the Florida Department of Education and the governor for him to remain.

Stewart then took over as interim commissioner, second time she had held the post in the last year. She began her career in the '70s as a teacher in Hillsborough County and worked as a principal in Ocala. She also served as deputy superintendent in St. Johns County and as chancellor of public schools.

As welcoming as the board was to Stewart, before the vote, Kathleen Shanahan made sure to remind her "who she reports to."

Chairman Gary Chartrand expressed his confidence in Stewart.

Theres a lot of work to be done, said Chartrand to Stewart. Im fully confident that you can do the work.

His sentiments were echoed by other board members.

"Im glad were all supporting Pam, said board member John Colon. We need someone who can really hit the ground running and not be caught in a steep learning curve and doesnt know the state of Florida.

Stewart said she is committed to a good working relationship with the board.

"This staff is amazing and we are building a very strong team," she told board members. "When you ask for things, we'll get it right.

Stewart is under pressure going in. Floridas schools are preparing to fully implement Common Core State Standards, which means teachers and students will be moving away from the current academic standards, onto a new set, which are said to give students a deeper understanding of academic concepts.

Common Core has already received significant backlash from some legislators and members of the public. Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford expressed concern that PACC, the assessment test associated with Common Core, will be too costly and too time-consuming for Floridas schools.

Members of the public are worried about data mining of students and say they have fears the federal government will get personal student data collected under Common Core.

Stewart was upbeat Tuesday.

I can assure you that I am cognizant of the time we are in and the critical nature of the work that we are doing, she said after accepting the position. I think weve got to get it right, and Im committed to getting that right ... Ive spent 32 years in Floridas public education system in one way or another, so I am fully committed to the students in the state of Florida and making sure that we get it right ... I take that very seriously.

Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen at allison@sunshinestatenews.com or follow her on Twitter at @AllisonNielsen.

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