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December 2008 "Just for Teachers" Newsletter

Message from DOE Teacher Liaison, Sheila Veatch

In a few more days Florida public schools will close for winter break, giving teachers a well-deserved rest. I’ve been receiving emails about incredible learning activities taking place in schools from Key West to Pensacola, and I am continually challenged by the level of commitment of Florida educators.This month’s newsletter highlights an example of one school’s effort to promote literacy by reading a million minutes during this school year. Speaking of literacy, the statewide “Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida!” sponsored by Just Read, Florida! will take place January 12 -16, 2009. Details of the exciting events planned can be found further on in this newsletter. There are also numerous professional development opportunities becoming available for spring and summer of 2009. Details of these opportunities as well as updates from DOE can be found at

What’s Working In Mathematics

The Commissioner's What’s Working in Education series seeks to bring together education policy makers, including district school superintendents, legislators, State Board of Education members, Department of Education staff, and business stakeholders, to inform them about current education trends and discuss policy options for Florida. With this in mind, the Department has partnered with Lockheed Martin and the Florida Center for Research in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics at Florida State University to present What’s Working in Mathematics education. On December 1st Dr. Russell Gersten of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, along with a group of respected mathematics educators, researchers, and business leaders, presented a workshop on the state of mathematics in Florida and throughout the country. The workshop focused on what mathematics skills students need and the best approaches to ensuring that students graduate from Florida’s public schools ready to compete globally. In order for students to be successful in Algebra, they must be fluent with their multiplication tables by third grade and they must master fractions by end of fourth grade. Every school and teacher is challenged to ensure this happens and have a focused data monitoring system that ensures mastery. Use the links below to access a copy of Dr. Gersten’s presentation as well as web casts of the meeting.

Just Read, Florida! Announces Literacy Week 2009

The Just Read, Florida! Office in the Department of Education (DOE), in partnership with other DOE offices and numerous state organizations and agencies, is planning “Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida!” for the week of January 12-16, 2009. Mark your calendars now for this important week of events!

The goals of “Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida!” are to promote literacy throughout the state by raising awareness of the programs and projects offered by the DOE and its partner agencies and organizations, and, most of all, to promote the enjoyment of reading for children and adults of all ages. Education Commissioner Eric Smith will also be hosting a “What’s Working in Reading” event on January 14, 2009, which will be replayed via the web January 15, 2009.

As a part of Literacy Week’s events and activities, there will be a statewide student contest to create a 26-second public service announcement (PSA) that celebrates and promotes the importance of literacy in the state of Florida. Elementary, middle and high schools are invited to participate in the PSA contest. Only one team from each school may enter. Each school’s PSA must be mailed to the Just Read, Florida! Office and postmarked no later than Friday, December 19, 2008, to be eligible for the contest. First, second and third place winners will be chosen for each level. Each first place school will be awarded a $1,000 gift card, each second place school will be awarded a $500 gift card, and each third place school will be awarded a $250 gift card. Winners will be notified during the first week of January 2009.

For more information on the contest including a complete list of contest rules, deadlines and the list of prizes, please visit the Just Read, Florida! website at and go to the Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida! link. This website will also include information about the “What’s Working in Reading” webcast and exciting daily suggestions for promoting literacy within every school and school district in the state.

Coming Soon

February is Black History month, a time we remember the important people and events in African-American history. In order to give you a head start on this event, please visit the following sites for creative teaching tools. January’s newsletter will contain a more detailed look at Black History Month.

December Spotlights

Wendy Helmey-Hartman

Wendy Helmey-Hartman, a science teacher at Keystone Heights Jr-Sr High School (Clay County), is described by one of her students as a “bomb diggaty teacher!” Not only does she teach 4 preps, including Chemistry, Honors and AP Chemistry, and AP Biology, she also serves as the Science Department Chair and the Science Fair Coordinator. In her desire to be a life-long learner, Ms. Helmey-Hartman is currently working on adding a reading certification to her 2 previously earned graduate degrees. She does all this while managing a 3-year-old son (with her husband, also a high school science teacher) and serving in the Navy reserves. Colleague and friend Joleen Brimall describes Helmey-Hartman as being “willing to try new strategies and an encouragement to our department.” According to Dr. Sailor, Keystone Height’s principal, Mrs. Helmey-Hartman “is an innovative, caring educator. She involves her students in stimulating lessons, encourages them to research real-life applications of science, and launches them toward careers in science. Wendy’s students will remember her as one of those teachers who has made a true impact on their lives.”

Cypress Trails Elementary

Cypress Trails Elementary, in Royal Palm Beach, Florida is excited to announce their Million Minute Reading Challenge. In order to boost literacy and open children's eyes to the joy of reading, Principal Gale Fulford, has challenged the entire student body to read for 1,000,000 minutes. The exciting Kick-Off Rally was held October 1, 2008, in the school's courtyard, where teachers and PTO parents dressed as clowns and characters challenged the students to READ! READ! READ!

As students meet their individual and classroom reading goals, prizes and exciting events such as Vocabulary Parades, Thanks4Reading Day, A Reading Luau, and Pajama and Pillow Read Parties will take place over the next seven months. Even the community is getting involved. Local police officers, firefighters, politicians, and community leaders are serving as VIP readers during these special events to read a book or two to classes in their cozy library or small groups of students under the shade trees in the school's courtyard. October's goal is to have every student read for 500 minutes to earn a "Million Minute" T-shirt and an opportunity to eat cookies and juice in the courtyard as they listen to a VIP reader read a book to them. Check back in May to see if Cypress Trails met their challenge!

Clarification on Jordan Fundamentals Grant Program

Last month’s newsletter included information on the Jordan Fundamentals Grant Program which recognizes outstanding teaching and instructional creativity in public schools that serve economically disadvantaged students. I heard from many of you who had trouble applying for this grant. I spoke with a representative of Jordan Fundamentals and they assured me that they are up and running and will be accepting new applications in January 2009. Teachers may contact them at 1-800-673-5723 or with any questions about the program. The person I spoke with was more than helpful and is looking forward to hearing from Florida educators.

It has been such a privilege to serve you as the teacher liaison over the past 4 months. I have been encouraged by your enthusiasm, professionalism, and especially your patience as I learn how to best communicate on your behalf. I am excited about 2009 and the possibilities that it holds, and I hope that your winter break is filled with rest, joy, and peace.