STEM progress in Florida high schools depends on teacher-leaders

I’ve spent this week visiting with some of Florida’s high school science and math teacher-leaders and learning more about what they are doing to position their students for the most robust opportunities in our new economy.

At Seminole County’s Lake Mary High School, where more than half of the graduates have taken a physics course, Presidential Awardee Luther Davis and this year’s Lake Mary Teacher of the Year Steve DeSanto are working in a hundred different ways to keep their physics enrollments up so that their students arrive at college ready to choose any career path.  I visited with Luther and Steve on Monday afternoon.  Last fall, Orlando Sentinel columnist Beth Kassab featured the way that Luther and Steve bring physics to the school’s Friday night football games.

At Orlando Science School, where I spent Tuesday, students achieved a 100% passing rate on the AP Calculus AB and AP Statistics exams last May.  You can’t do that without great math teaching.  And how does OSS get their students psyched for math?  Take a look at this video of their Pi Day celebration.

On Wednesday morning, I drove the 400 miles from Orlando to Bay County to visit with Nancy Browne, Rachel Morris and Sean O’Donnell, the three physics teachers with whom I have spent a great deal of time during the last year.  Nancy is teaching more than 100 physics students at Bay High School this year, and Sean has been coming over to Bay from his home base at Mosley High School to help once a month.  Rachel, a former Rutherford High School Teacher of the Year, is getting ready to provide her present AP Physics 1 students with an opportunity to move on to a second physics course next year.


Rutherford’s Rachel Morris is on the far left and Lake Mary’s Luther Davis is next to her in the picture from the physics teacher panel discussion hosted by the FSU Physics Department in the fall of 2015.  The others in the picture are (from left to right) the author of this blog, UCF Physics Teacher-in-Residence Adam LaMee and Godby High School physics teacher Zondra Clayton.

And this morning, I met with two counselor-leaders at Mosley High School, Laura Evans and Sharon Hofer.  They have been the prime movers in the highly successful parent outreach effort at Mosley, and they are planning for an expansion of that effort.  Counselors must lead, too.

During every visit, my hosts talked about how important it is to bring more strong young people into the math and science teaching profession, and how challenging that task is.  With its established reputation, Lake Mary has less trouble attracting strong applicants for staff openings than the other schools.  But Orlando Science School will be visiting FSU’s teacher career fair later this spring in an effort to recruit more great teachers.  And Bay County is offering $5,000 signing bonuses for teachers in several subject areas, including high school level science and math.

Bay County school district officials will also be visiting studio physics classes at FSU next month to visit with students and explore the teaching career possibilities.  It is a Hail Mary, but given the importance and difficulty of attracting strong young people to teaching, it’s worth a try.


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