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Press Release

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

DOE Press Office
(850) 245-0413

Education Commissioner Smith Concludes Informative Visit with Panhandle School Districts

~ Bay, Escambia and Gulf school districts provide insight into the unique challenges they face ~

TALLAHASSEE – Florida Commissioner of Education Dr. Eric J. Smith, leading a team of Department of Education (DOE) senior staff members, concluded a series of visits with Florida panhandle school districts today to learn about the unique challenges they are facing due to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. As a part of the visits, Commissioner Smith and his team were able to hear first-hand from superintendents and other district officials about the impacts the spill is having on their local communities and how they are addressing those impacts in preparation for the upcoming school year.

The team first traveled to Escambia County where they met with Superintendent Malcolm Thomas, as well as Escambia County Foundation for Excellence board members and several school district staff. The visit provided keen insight into the diligent community and district planning efforts that are being undertaken to ensure this school year, and the many beyond it continue the district’s educational goals.

“What immediately struck me during my visit to Escambia was the incredible level of community engagement and the efforts superintendent Thomas has gone through to foster input and participation from stakeholders throughout the county,” said Commissioner Smith. “It’s clear that this is a community that cares deeply about education and I left feeling uplifted with how they have rallied around each other to ensure a quality educational experience for their students.”

Following the Escambia visit, the team traveled to Bay County where they accompanied Superintendent Bill Husfelt on a visit to the joint campus of Rosenwald High School and the newly established CC Washington Academy. There they were able to meet with principals and staff to gauge their expectations for the new school year and discuss how they are planning for the immediate and potential long-term effects of the oil spill in their community.

“What Bay County School District lacks in size they more than make up for in heart, drive and a commitment to learning,” said Commissioner Smith. “Superintendent Husfelt has worked with his staff to develop strong, innovative programs that promote student growth and increased expectations, and these schools are well prepared to provide critical services that further that goal.”

Florida Department of Education Chancellor of Public Schools Dr. Frances Haithcock and other Department leaders concluded the trip with a visit to Gulf County.. While there, the DOE team met with Superintendent Tim Wilder and his staff to discuss the district’s preparations for the fall semester and explore ways the Department could provide assistance. They also traveled to a nearby BP command center to gain additional insight about the disaster and the potential economic impacts to the region in the months and years ahead.

Commissioner Smith concluded his thoughts on the trip by saying, “It’s clear that these districts have many unforeseen challenges ahead of them. But I can say without question that the right leadership is in place to meet those challenges and the Department of Education stands ready to assist them in any way possible to ensure the necessary support systems are in place to minimize the impacts on their children.”