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Third Time's the Charm As State Board Picks Pam Stewart As Education Commissioner

John O'Connor
StateImpact Florida

Pam Stewart twice stepped in to replace departing Florida education commissioners. Today she got the job long-term.

The State Board of Education unanimously chose Stewart to be the state's education commissioner. She follows Tony Bennett, who resigned from the post last month.

Board member John Colon said he wanted the continuity Stewart brings to the job. Florida has had five education commissioners hold the high-profile and high-pressure post since March of 2011. Board members praised Stewart's experience.

Stewart steps in at a challenging time. Florida is trying to implement new math and English standards, known as Common Core, as opposition to the standards is on the rise. The state must also choose a new standardized test tied to Common Core to (mostly) replace the FCAT.

Board members want to rework the state's school grading formula and state law requires school districts to start paying teachers based on evaluations derived, in part, from student test scores.

It's a situation board member Kathleen Shanahan called "crisis time" during today's board meeting.

Stewart has served as a classroom teacher, guidance counselor and elementary and high school principal during her three-decade career.

Florida's education commissioner must deal with the governor-appointed board, the governor, education business interests and lawmakers and other politicians -- first among them former Gov. Jeb Bush -- who want some say in Florida education decisions.

Shanahan asked if Stewart "understands, with full clarity, who she reports to?"

"We all know that we serve many masters," Stewart said, "but ultimately this board is the boss of the commissioner of education and I'm fully aware of that and understand that."

Board member Sally Bradshaw offered a challenge and a warning to Stewart.

"I think it's clear from today's meeting that we need someone to lead," she said. "Leading can be wildly unpopular."

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