Our Mission: To ensure that each student achieves his/her highest personal potential
Our Vision: To be a world-class school system

LEE in the Loop
The School District of Lee County's e-newsletter

The Superintendent's Monthly Message
September 2012


My Friends in Education:

As educators, we have a very daunting task indeed – we must prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s world. Now, a generation or two ago it wasn’t as difficult as today, mostly due to the proliferation of technology now-a-days that has exploded onto the scene. This has accelerated the creation of new jobs and new industries – in fact, some studies show that by the time a student is a junior in college a significant portion of what they learned in college will be outdated.

Given these – and other – challenges, last year The News-Press conducted a first-of-its kind meeting that brought together officials from K-12 education, higher education and the business community to talk about what is working and what needs to be changed. The Education Market Watch event allowed a sharing of information, and it led to a lot of “eye opening” moments for all involved.

One thing those of us in K-12 education heard was the need for schools to get students more involved in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – or STEM – programs. And honestly, I couldn’t agree more – and our District had already started down that path a few years earlier.

There are programs spread across our District that provide students with the opportunity to take those higher level courses – from the Academy for Technology Excellence at Dunbar High School to the established STEM program at Mariner High School. But what we determined is that more must be done across the District in all schools to get students involved and excited about these courses.

And we’ve started to do just that.

Looking at the 2011 data you’ll see that there were 571 high school students taking engineering courses. Fast-forward to 2012 and that number jumped to 789 (a 38% increase.) In higher level math, in 2011 there were 8,951 high school students enrolled – that number shot up to 10,216 in 2012 (a 14% increase.) The same was seen in Science (7,413 in 2011; 9,683 in 2012) and in Technology courses (4,005 in 2011; 5,485 in 2012.)

Going hand in hand with focusing attention at existing programs and schools, in 2012 the District welcomed two new schools to the family – Tortuga Preserve Elementary and Harns Marsh Middle, both in Lehigh Acres. Each school was designed to have a STEM focus, and Harns Marsh Middle has taken it a step further by adding an “A” making it a STEAM school (the “A” stands for arts.) These schools were specifically designed to incorporate the STEM focus across the board – it’s not a separate program, per se, it’s something woven into every subject at every grade level.

Another major theme to come out of the Market Watch event was the need to increase communication and collaboration with the business community.

To that end, the Partners in Education (PIE) is a newly formed group of teachers and administrators who are being given the opportunity to be immersed into six different businesses in Southwest Florida. The idea is to help them identify what soft skills and workforce readiness skills these businesses are looking for from potential employees (who are currently our students.) Once the teachers and administrators have experienced this immersion program, they will develop curriculum and lesson plans to share with other teachers to help better prepare our students for the workforce.

Going along with this new program is one established back in 2008 – that being the K-12 outreach program started by the Florida Engineering Society’s Calusa Chapter. The purpose of this program is to assist Florida in becoming a model for excellence in K-12 engineering awareness and education.

Local chapter volunteer engineers visit schools to promote engineering as an exciting and viable career for students. You cannot put a price on the impact a guest speaker can have on students – many of today’s professionals cite such a visit as the watershed moment in their youth in determining what they wanted to be when they grew up.

Knowing that the committee could not achieve this goal alone, committee members forged partnerships throughout the community, beginning with some very enthusiastic local teachers in the Lee and Collier County School systems. These partnerships with various organizations including the HSA Engineers & Scientists, MIT Club of Southwest Florida, the Imaginarium Hands-On Museum and Aquarium, Florida Gulf Coast University, Edison State College, Lee and Collier County School Districts, The Foundation for Lee County Public Schools, and the Edison-Ford Winter Estates, have been a vital component in building a successful initiative.

The committee has led the effort to build national as well as local partnerships by soliciting the assistance of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Boston Museum of Science. This local and national team of enthusiastic supporters has made it possible for the committee to lead the efforts on the following STEM initiatives:

  • Established and maintains a volunteer registry of engineers willing to assist teachers in the classroom, and a list of established presentation resources;
  • Dozens of students have shadowed engineers at various local businesses throughout the community;
  • Organized two visits from the Museum of Science, Boston President, Yannis Miaoulis. An innovative educator, Dr. Miaoulis championed the introduction of engineering into the Massachusetts science and technology public school curriculum and spearheaded creation of the National Center for Technological Literacy (NCTL) at the Museum. Through the NCTL, the Museum is creating technology exhibits and programs and integrating engineering as a new discipline in schools via standards-based K - 12 curricular reform;
  • To assist in bringing the Museum of Science, Boston’s K-12 “Engineering is Elementary” Curriculum, designed by the National Center for Technological Literacy® to schools in southwest Florida through the Imaginarium Hands-On Museum and Aquarium, sponsored a fundraiser to provide seed money for this initiative;
  • Trained over 40 early childhood educators in techniques for bringing STEM to preschool classrooms at the 2011 Circles of Care Conference which attracts over 500 educators each year.

I’d also like to share information on overall performance by our students when looking at results from 2011 compared to 2012.

When you look at the percentage of students who are meeting high standards in writing, our District went from 21st in Florida to 11th – a jump in 10 places in just one year! Looking at the percent of all students making reading gains, again, our District moved up, going from 33rd in Florida to 29th. And the same goes for the percent of our lowest 25% of students making learning gains in reading – we moved from 38th to 36th in Florida.

So some trend data is there to show that we have been moving in the right direction, but we all agree there is much more work to be done in order to move students in all categories higher and higher.

Another factor to keep in mind is that while we currently use the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test 2.0 (it underwent changes for the 2011/12 school year, increasing rigor and raising the minimum scores to be considered proficient in each subject) in a couple of years it will be replaced with the Common Core Standards.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative was an effort led by the states to establish a shared set of clear educational standards for English language arts and mathematics. Parents, teachers, school administrators and experts from across the country together with state leaders, through their membership in the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) led the effort to develop the Common Core State Standards. To this date, 45 states and three territories have adopted the standards, including the state of Florida. On July 27 of 2010, the State Board of Education for Florida passed the vote to approve the adoption of the Common Core State Standards for English/Language Arts and Mathematics.

The Common Core State Standards are designed to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to go to college or enter the workforce and that parents, teachers, and students have a clear understanding of what is expected of them. The standards are benchmarked to international standards to guarantee that our students are competitive in the emerging global marketplace.

It’s clear that, to paraphrase those old automobile commercials, “this is not your father’s K-12 educational system.” There are so many changes that are occurring – and while change can be a daunting thing, in education, it’s inevitable. And in many cases, the changes we’re talking about (i.e. focus on STEM, Common Core Standards) will result in our students being better prepared to continue on to college or to enter – and compete – in the world of work.

As our community prepares for the Second Education Market Watch Summit scheduled for this October, I wanted to share just a little bit about where our District is and what has happened in our schools since last year’s event. I can guarantee you that our School Board members, teachers, school and District administrators and I am committed to providing every available educational avenue and opportunity to our students.


Dr. Joseph Burke
Superintendent of Schools