Florida’s educational policies seem intentionally designed to dumb down high school. That’s why school and district level leaders and teacher-leaders are so important.

This is what Florida’s state educational policies for high schools incentivize:

Each student should learn a little algebra and have a bit of reading skill, learn to read a paragraph about biology (although actually knowing some biology is not encouraged), earn one (and only one) “accelerated” college credit preferably by dual enrolling in a freshman English course taught by a high school teacher or by taking and passing Advanced Placement Human Geography, and then take enough fun courses to keep students and parents from feeling stressed and to satisfy the state’s graduation requirements so a student can work on a construction site, perhaps earn a Microsoft certification in using Office programs or, if the student and parent are ready to shoot the Moon, go to a four-year college and earn a bachelor’s degree in a discipline in which the courses do not require much homework or skill. [Editor’s note: The state’s leaders will eventually stop pushing computer science because they will realize it is really, really hard and that the effort required to be successful begins in the K-12 schools with unpleasant courses like calculus and physics.]

If a student does any more than the above, it wastes resources that should be saved for keeping taxes low.

And that is why it is so inspiring when you have district and school leaders and teachers like those at Monroe County’s Marathon School. The school has socioeconomic challenges (its free and reduced-price lunch eligibility rate is 74%) and it is small – on the average, it has 90 students per grade. It is only a few miles from where Hurricane Irma’s center made landfall in 2017. So it has all of the excuses usually adopted for not bothering to offer students opportunities to learn upper level math and science. Yet the school does the opposite. Marathon offers AP Calculus AB and 14 students were taking it in the 2018-19 school year. It offers AP Calculus BC as well. Nearly all of the students take a physics course under the teacher Chris Hayes, and some take AP Physics 1. (Chris cut his teaching teeth in Texas, where it is assumed that almost all students should take a physics course) One Marathon graduate, Sarah Dodamead, is a recent bachelor’s degree grad of the FSU Physics Department.

Aside from Mr. Hayes and the other teachers who offer their students terrific opportunities, who deserves credit for making Marathon School a house of opportunity? Principal Wendy McPherson, District Science Supervisor Melissa Alsobrooks, and Superintendent Mark Porter. Because everybody in the chain of command needs to be on the same page to make opportunities like those at Marathon happen.

So when a school or district fails to offer its students the full range of opportunities for professional and personal growth we can blame the state. But when a school or district succeeds and provides its students with outstanding opportunities despite the incentives to do otherwise, we should celebrate that school’s and district’s teachers and leaders.

Monroe County Science Supervisor Melissa Alsobrooks
Monroe County Superintendent Mark Porter
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