Fla. Says Goodbye to Outgoing Commissioner, Readies for Replacement
Florida’s new commissioner of education plans to uphold the school accountability measures championed by Gov. Jeb Bush and pledges to fully implement the class-size reductions and preschool programs now required under state law.
John Winn, who is scheduled to begin work as the state schools chief on Sept. 1, said he also would keep the pressure on school districts to roll out teacher-performance-pay plans, which are required as well under state law.
"There’s going to be stability," said Mr. Winn, who is moving up from serving as the chief of staff to outgoing Commissioner of Education Jim Horne, who announced Aug. 10 that he was resigning to spend more time with his family.
"I have always said it was a priority for me to make the department of education the best state agency in Florida," the new chief said in an interview last week.
A 30-year veteran in education and school policy, Mr. Winn has been a deputy state education commissioner and a key aide to Gov. Bush, a Republican. A former elementary and middle school teacher, as well as community college instructor, he first joined the state education agency in 1984.
Hired as the commissioner by the state education board on Aug. 17, Mr. Winn inherits an agency that oversees Florida education from kindergarten through graduate school. His early duties have so far included the monitoring of seven schools that were closed last month after Hurricane Charley struck the western coast of Florida.
He also faces the implementation of two major state constitutional amendments approved by voters in 2002, requiring the state to reduce class sizes sharply in grades K-12 and to offer preschool across the state starting in fall 2005.
Leaving a Mark
Another state law requires school districts to begin "career ladders" this year that closely link teacher salaries with student achievement and create a series of teacher-leadership positions in schools.
Mr. Horne had considered a plan that would have devoted a large sum of money to the performance-pay plan in his 2005-06 budget proposal, but Mr. Winn said last week that the money should be part of school districts’ general state funding instead.
With the class-size limits and preschools now required by law, Florida must pay for those programs "before anything else," Mr. Winn said.
Mr. Horne’s departure comes almost a year after two scandals rocked Florida’s school choice programs, leading the commissioner to increase financial controls over private schools that accept state-sponsored scholarships. ("Fla. Vouchers Move Toward Tighter Rules," Sept. 17, 2003.)
He denied that his resignation had anything to do with accusations that his agency had not exercised proper oversight of the programs.
"My motivations for leaving were 110 percent personal," Mr. Horne said in an interview. If the criticism had been the main reason, he added, "I’d have quit six to nine months ago in the middle of the controversy."
He urged the new commissioner to "stay focused on the existing reforms and make sure that they work."
Vol. 24, Issue 1, Page 28