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Secretary of Education DeVos tours FSW, collegiate campus

December 6, 2017
By MEGHAN McCOY ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Lee County was Congressman Francis Rooney's showcase of success in alternative education.

The U.S. District 19 Representative showed off Lee County to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos last week.

The Higher Education Act os 1965 is up for reauthorization, and according to Rooney's office, the bill in committee now will include more opportunities for funding programs that focus on technical and career-ready education - an update that Rooney, a member of the Education Workforce Committee, passionately supports.

Rooney highlighted some of Lee County's success stories in technical and vocational training, leading DeVos through a tour of Florida SouthWestern State College's collegiate high school, the only charter high school in Florida with an AdvancED STEM Certification. Junior and senior students in the school can qualify to take dual-enrollment classes, meaning they can graduate with a high school diploma and an Associate in Arts degree.

"They are going to be great leaders in this country in the future because of the high school education they are getting with imagination and ingenuity in their curriculum," Rooney said.

Part of DeVos's visit included a stop at the collegiate high school where they had the opportunity to visit with students who created robots with household items.

Sophomore Aiden Scirie said he enjoyed finding things that he would not think were useful and putting them to use. The course began by teaching students how to build simple robots, then increased to more complex machines throughout the course.

"I think it's an innovative and cool program," Scirie said. "We work together as a team."

While DeVos and Rooney watched, the students built a robot from toy car wheels and a wooden spoon.

One of DeVos's main causes is allowing parents more choices when it comes to their child's education; in her previous work in Michigan's education system, she advocated for charter schools.

"I think it's really constructive to come and highlight some of the ways that this is happening and to encourage other states to perhaps emulate what Florida is doing in a big way," she said.

Lee County is home to 24 charter schools and more than 20 schools. But even in the public school system, Lee County is also big on choice. It switched to open enrollment, and students can select preferences to get assigned to the schools they want.

Congressman Francis Rooney, R-19, said he was very thankful that the secretary took the time to visit Florida Southwestern State College (FSW) and Lake Park Elementary in Naples, so she could see first-hand what is happening with education in Southwest Florida. Lee and Collier County's school systems aligned with some of DeVos's goals, he said, such as career training and technical education, parental choice, and parental involvement.

FSW is considered one of the national leaders in career and technical education; during the tour, DeVos and Rooney watched students pursuing degrees in the medical field work with interactive robotic "patients," a state-of-the-art part of the program.

DeVos said it was exciting to the see the collaborative approach between the college and high school in preparing students for the myriad of pathways for their future.

In general, she said Florida is doing a great job with challenging traditional education system approaches and is working to always do and be better.

"We need to do that on behalf of students because every student is unique and is an individual," DeVos said. "We want to make sure that they all have opportunities to really become everything that they are meant to be individually."

During her visit, DeVos advocated for the options of charter schools, saying charter schools could provide "many great alternative outlets and pathways" and that she supported opening more charters as long as there is a demand.

DeVos and her team is working on helping states adopt their own individual plans as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) passed in 2015. Her template for state plans, which she said in a March 13 letter to state school officers, will only request information on the state's education plan as "absolutely necessary" to the Department of Education, with her goal of increasing a state and local education leader's "flexibility" and rolling back federal regulation to entrust states in making choices for their students.

These state plans will be reviewed and implementation will begin in the next 18 months.

"States have opportunity. I hope they will take this opportunity to become much more creative and flexible at the state level and in fact move that creativity and flexibility down to the building level," DeVos said. "This school (FSW) is a great example of meeting the needs of students who want to learn, and need to learn in a different way. They are excited to be here."



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