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August 19, 2005

Russell Schweiss
(850) 488-5394 or
Jennifer Fennell
(850) 245-0413

Governor Bush Launches Breakthrough "Sunshine Connections" Online Teacher Tools
Bay County Teachers Among First in State to Access New Web-based Environment

PANAMA CITY — Governor Jeb Bush and Education Commissioner John L. Winn today joined state officials, local leaders and Bay County teachers to launch the first phase of "Sunshine Connections," a cutting-edge collection of online tools for Florida's teachers. Developed by the Florida Department of Education (DOE) in collaboration with Microsoft U.S. Partners in Learning and Florida teachers, the web-based environment provides teachers with quick and easy access to classroom-management tools, linking them to student data, curricular materials, and other educators around the state. Bay County teachers will be among the first in the state to access the breakthrough system as part of a phased rollout.

"Teachers are the bedrock of our state's education system, sculpting the minds and futures of our children. In Florida, we are deeply committed to addressing the needs of our education community by providing teachers with tools to help them succeed," said Governor Bush. "This pioneering approach will free teachers of burdensome paperwork, allowing them to focus on teaching."

Developed for teachers, by teachers, "Sunshine Connections" provides educators with an online avenue to share lesson plans and best practices, as well as access instant student performance data right from their desktop computers with just a few clicks of a mouse. Teachers will be able to view and analyze their students' Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) test scores and easily identify each student's strengths and weaknesses in particular skills and content areas. Sunshine Connections will help teachers find, modify or design curricular materials around the unique needs of each student as early as the first day of school.

"We are very encouraged by the enthusiasm we are hearing from our teachers, and their ideas will continue to fuel the project's development over the next five years," said Commissioner Winn. "As teachers begin using these tools, we will continue to work together to identify ways in which we can enhance the software, offering greater functionality that will bring all teachers and administrators statewide closer to the ultimate goal of improving student learning and achievement."

A demonstration of "Sunshine Connections" was presented by Michelle Gainer, a high school math teacher at A. Crawford Mosley High School in Bay County.

"The ‘Sunshine Connections' web-site is a one-stop site for some of the most dynamic teacher-assistance tools available on the web," said Gainer. "As a teacher, this site provides me with a way to find the information I need on planning and student assistance in a timely manner. The secure log-in allows me to analyze my students' areas of weakness based on the previous year's FCAT results. Much like a doctor analyzing patients before treating them, I can analyze my students' needs before teaching them."

Within the next few months, the program will expand beyond Bay County to 35,000 users in Duval County, Miami-Dade County and some districts in the North East Florida Educational Consortium. By 2009, "Sunshine Connections" will be available to more than 200,000 teachers and 2.9 million students across 67 districts statewide.

"Securing Florida's economic future starts with investing in our children's education," said Senate President Tom Lee. "We appreciate Microsoft's generosity - and believe this innovative partnership will not only benefit our teachers and students today, but will also result in higher student achievement for years to come."

Building on technologies that have proven to be cost effective in education, government, and commercial sectors, "Sunshine Connections" is also designed to be economically sustainable in the long term. Because it is web-based, administrators and teachers will be able to easily access student performance data, collaboration management and communication tools, and curricular materials on the computers they already have regardless of their location or computing environment.

"With the most up-to-date information available at their fingertips, Florida teachers will have a powerful tool with which to help their students improve," said Florida House Speaker Allan Bense. "I am proud that Bay County is able to serve as the launching pad for this partnership between the leading company in technology innovation and the leading state in education."

For the past two years, Microsoft has been working with the DOE and a statewide advisory council made up of teachers, administrators and principals to build custom-designed tools tailored to educators' specific needs, which can serve as a model for programs in other states. Microsoft, through its U.S. Partners in Learning program, also will contribute $1.5 million to the project annually over the next five years.

"Governor Bush, the Florida DOE and Florida's teachers are setting a new ideal for how public-private partnerships can address major education concerns," said Gerri Elliott, Microsoft's senior vice president of World Wide Public Sector. "We commend Florida on its forward- thinking approach to distributing resources, driving statewide collaboration and inspiring changes at the classroom level to increase student achievement."

For more information on "Sunshine Connections" please visit