Just for Teachers
News from the Florida Department of Education
In This Issue
• Race to the Top D
• Curriculum Corner
o Introducing Donnajo Smith
• News from Across the state
o Connecting with Teachers—Writing Workshop & Orange County Teach-In
o Thoughts from a Parent
o Brevard Biology Teacher Wins National Prize
o Teacher Organizes Free Diabetes Screenings
• Opportunities for You and Your Students
o Celebrate Literacy Week
o Florida Emergency Management 2010 Severe Weather Awareness Contest
o Student Scholarships
o ExploraVision Science Competition
o The Kinsey Collection Now Available on iTunes U
o Florida Music Educators Association Annual Clinic-Conference
o Instructional Materials Committee Opportunity
o Drive Safe with Free Coffee
• Teacher Discounts
• A Song for My Students by Megan Allen, 2010 Teacher of the Year
A Note from Sheila
May your well--deserved Winter Break be
restful, relaxing, and full of joy.
I hope you enjoy the happiest of holidays
peaceful New Year.
• Race to the Top Fund
Education Commissioner Dr. Eric J. Smith
Final Race to the Top Guidance
On November 12, 2009 the U.S. Department of Education released the final guidance related to the Race to the
Top competitive grant program. The $4.35 billion in federal funding available through this program represents
an unprecedented opportunity for education reform in our nation and I believe Florida is well poised to create
an application that stands out among the competition.
For the last several months the Florida Department of Education has been working in partnership with
educators, superintendents, principals, the Florida Education Foundation, the Florida School Boards
Association, the Florida PTA, and key members of the business community to receive input on Florida’s
application for these funds. Although we are in the very early stages of drafting our application, this feedback,
along with additional information collected from the public, has helped to set the tone for where we need to be
headed and how we can build on the remarkable educational progress we have already been able to achieve.
The guidance has established a January 19, 2010, deadline for the submission of our proposal, so you can be
assured we will be working aggressively and collaboratively over the next several weeks to draft an application
that represents the progressive nature of Florida’s education system. These are exciting times for education in
our state and our country and I look forward to producing an application that will further our states reform
effort and continue to improve the quality of education we provide our children.
Race to the Top Survey – We Need Your Input
What do you think should be considered for Florida’s
Race to the Top application? This is your chance to let
your voice be heard. Visit
https://vovici.com/wsb.dll/s/336fg40b91 and complete
the brief survey.
• Curriculum Corner
Curriculum Corner is once again highlighting the Bureau of Curriculum and Instruction and its content area
specialists. This month we are featuring Donnajo Smith, Gifted Education Program Specialist.
A graduate of Michigan State University, Donnajo taught in public and private schools in both Michigan and
Florida. At one time she also worked as a medical records librarian and it was during that period she debated
her future in education. An opportunity to work with twice exceptional students (gifted students with a
disability) lured her back to the classroom and she’s never looked back. Donnjo has a passion for ensuring
gifted students receive an appropriate and challenging education.
Before coming to the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) in 2002, Donnajo taught gifted students in
Miami schools, including Coconut Grove and Kendale Lakes. Her experience incorporated several different
models including resource, pull-out and full-time service programs. Donnajo was the Teacher of the Year from
Kendale Lakes and earned National Board Certification in 2001. She has coached student teams in Knowledge
Master, the Stock Market game, Invent America, and Odyssey of the Mind. For over 20 years Donnajo served
on Odyssey of the Mind’s state board as a regional director for south Florida and she was a World competition
judge for over 10 years. Community support activities were also a part of Donnjo’s classroom, including work
with the National Parks Service researching the impact of weather on the Everglades.
Donnajo has served on National Association for Gifted (NAGC) committees, including the first Parent Trust, a
proactive group of NAGC parent volunteers. She is currently an officer for the Council of State Directors of
Programs for the Gifted. Most recently Donnajo was a member of a National Work Group on Acceleration that
developed a comprehensive document, "Guidelines for Developing an Academic Acceleration Policy," to
assist schools in writing and modifying acceleration policy suited to local needs.
Donnajo coordinates the Governor’s Summer Program grant for gifted and high achieving students; the
Collaborative Curriculum Challenge Grant intended to support development of rigorous and innovative
curriculum for gifted learners; and the Working on Gifted Issues (WOGI) project, which hosts an annual
Institute for district contacts and provides support for educators who work with gifted learners.
Donnajo has been instrumental in establishing a website, http://www.fldoe.org/bii/gifted_ed/, which provides
easy access to rules and publications related to gifted education. She also initiated meetings for parents of the
gifted, allowing them a forum to discuss the needs of their children. The first round of meetings was held in
2006-07 and was attended by over 1200 parents.
Since gifted education at times falls under Florida’s exceptional student education program, Donnajo works
with the Bureau of Exceptional Education and Student Services (BEESS) on issues related to monitoring,
policy, and conflict resolution. She is pleased to be a part of the Bureau
of Curriculum and Instruction and is here to answer your questions
about gifted education. Feel free to contact her at
email@example.com or by calling 850-245-0937.
• News from Around the State
The Instructional Implications of
On November 4 I had the privilege of working
with over 150 educators in Manatee County;
also attending were representatives from
Desoto, Hardee, Sarasota, and Pinellas. Our
main focus was the instructional implication of
the FCAT draft-writing assessment. We also
took some time to dispel some of the current
myths surrounding this assessment. One teacher
commented, “Teaching 4th grade writing made
me a little nervous at first, but your workshop
confirmed to me that I do know what I am
One common question asked about the writing assessment is whether a student’s response “addresses the
prompt.” We need to remember that the prompt serves as a stimulus for writing. The goal of Florida’s writing
assessment is to elicit draft writing from students statewide according to the intended purpose of the prompt.
Responses are scored when a connection exists between the prompt and the response although the connection
may be tenuous or out of the ordinary. A complete description of allowable interpretations of prompts can be
found in any of the grade-level Florida Writes! reports found at http://fcat.fldoe.org/fcatflwrites.asp.
An article by Heather Rader, a Washington state educator, recently appeared in the online resource Choice
Literacy. This excellent essay addresses the various ways students can interpret prompts while still writing in
the correct mode. This excellent resource can be viewed at http://www.choiceliteracy.com/public/968.cfm.
One more thing about writing . . . the October newsletter contained a list of important updates concerning this
year’s assessment. Remember, beginning with the 2010 FCAT Writing administration, there will be only one
writing prompt at each grade level (4, 8, and 10). The writing mode of the prompt will be either narrative or
expository at grade 4 and persuasive or expository at grades 8 and 10. In order to ensure the continuance of
instruction using all writing modes, the mode assessed at each grade level will not be announced prior to
the test. By using one prompt for all students at each grade level, cost savings will be accrued while
maintaining the integrity of the assessments. All members of the FCAT writing content advisory committee
reviewed this proposal and unanimously supported it.
Orange County Teach-In
Orange County’s Teach In, held throughout the district November 18th, was a successful and fun event. I got to
know the roads of Orlando well as I visited 4 schools in one day, all of which seemed to be at opposite ends of
the county. The approximately 200 students I spoke to at Winter Park Freshman Campus, Cypress Creek High
School, Robinswood Middle School, and Wolf Lake Middle School in Apopka were attentive, respectful, and
full of questions concerning the field of education. The students paid special attention during a PowerPoint
presentation of my teaching-time in Africa as I explained the doors that can be opened by a career as a teacher.
Thanks, Orange County, for the gracious invite. It was a great way
to meet teachers and students!
Let me know about special events going on in your district. Send a
description of the event to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thoughts from a Parent
Mrs. Elizabeth Burns at Sweetwater Elementary School in Port Orange is a teacher my family could not
live without. Our daughter and our son had the privilege of having Mrs. Burns as their 5th grade teacher. Mrs.
Burns truly goes above and beyond. In the past our son had experienced reading difficulties, but Mrs. Burns
recognized something in him that had yet gone unnoticed and she encouraged us to pursue further evaluation.
Thanks to the hard work and dedication of several teachers and staff at Sweetwater, including Mrs. Burns, our
son was diagnosed with a learning disability in the fall of 2008. He has since been receiving the help he needs
and is showing great improvement.
In all of this, Mrs. Burns went far above “just doing her job.” She has shown sensitivity to the fact that I
started working full time, and has given our son extra help before and after school so that he can “keep up.”
She understands that he needs help with organization and has gone through his backpack to find work he had
forgotten to turn in. She takes the extra time to re-teach what he doesn’t understand the first time around. She
loves each and every one of her students and never talks down to them. She calls her classroom “family,” and
each student has a role. In my opinion this teacher deserves the world. She’s been teaching a long time, but
never shows signs of burn-out or a desire to retire. As an adult I will never forget my favorite teacher from
grade school and I know my children will never forget what Mrs. Burns has done for them.
Please acknowledge Mrs. Burns’ talent and love for her students. In these uncertain economic times it’s
reassuring to know my children have a teacher as dedicated as Mrs. Burns.
This tribute was sent to Just for Teachers by Ms. Leeann Caridi.
Brevard Biology Teacher Wins National Prize
Ms. Emily Torlak, a biology teacher at Eau Gallie High School in Brevard County, was recently named the
winner of the Entomological Society of America’s President’s Prize for Outstanding Achievement in
Secondary Education. The award recognizes educators who have gone beyond traditional teaching methods by
using insects as educational tools to teach science. Ms. Torlak will receive a donation to purchase teaching
materials to expand the use of insects as teaching tools, travel expenses to present a paper or poster on the use
of insects in educational programs at her choice of peer professional venue, and an opportunity to attend the
Entomological Society of America’s annual meeting in December. Visit http://www.entsoc.org/ for more
information about the Entomological Society of America.
Miami-Dade Teacher Organizes Free Diabetes Screening
Five years ago, Miami Lakes Educational Center social studies teacher Neil Eichelbaum (pictured below)
heard former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher speak on television about the severity of diabetes in the
"Dr. Satcher was talking about how much of an epidemic diabetes was, and I was later in class with my kids
and realized they were part of this epidemic," Eichelbaum said.
Because of that experience, Mr. Eichelbaum decided to partner with associate professor Dr. Debra Stern of
Nova Southeastern University’s physical therapy program.
"We were able to provide what they needed," said Dr. Stern, who coordinates the volunteers from the
university. "They knew there was a problem, we just helped them out."
Eichelbaum and Stern initiated the Annual Student Wellness/Obesity/Diabetes Screening, a partnership
between the high school and Nova. Students from the high school and 150 faculty members and students from
the Davie University’s College of Allied Health and Nursing serve as screening volunteers. The program was
fully funded by Eichelbaum and Stern during the first two years. Since 2007, the Health Foundation of South
Florida has paid for the equipment and materials necessary for the check-ups.
Glenda Algaze is also an integral part of the program. No one person can organize for and oversee over 700
students being tested alone and Glenda, who is an R.N. and Health Academy Leader, has literally helped to
save lives. Her help allows for follow-up appointments with students.
"This is a wonderful program," said James V. Parker, principal of the school. "Children might have a lot of
preexisting conditions, and a lot of kids can't afford health care."
"We're finding kids that are sick and don't know it," Eichelbaum said.
Four years ago, a student at the school had her blood pressure tested at the screening, and it was abnormally
high, Eichelbaum said. She then went to her doctor after a nurse recommended she did, and they found she had
"The screening saved her life," Eichelbaum said.
Thank you, Mr. Eichelbaum, for going above and beyond in helping your students.
To find out more about this program, contact Neil at email@example.com.
(Portions of this article originally appeared October 24, 2009 in The Miami Herald.)
• Opportunities for You and Your Students
Celebrate Literacy Week is coming . . .
Mark your calendars for January 25 – 29, 2009; the second annual Just Read, Florida Celebrate Literacy Week
is coming! This year’s event promises to be better than ever, but we need you to make it a success. During last
year’s event over 40 law enforcement officers read to approximately 5000 kindergarten and first grade students
in 15 districts; I’d like to double that number this year. If you would like to have a local law enforcement
officer—a police officer, county deputy sheriff, or Florida Highway Patrolman—visit your school in January,
please let me know as soon as possible. I will then match your school to a local agency; it’s as easy as that.
Please send your school’s name, the number of classes you would like to participate, and the day of the week
that works best for you—I’ll do the rest. Email your request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Florida Emergency Management Announces
2010 Severe Weather Awareness Week Poster and Video Contest
State emergency management officials today announced that Florida Severe Weather Awareness Week is
scheduled for January 24-30, 2010. This event includes the student competitions described below.
ANNUAL POSTER CONTEST
Fourth and fifth graders in all 67 school districts are invited to participate in the statewide
poster contest. All entries must be postmarked on or before Thursday, December 31, 2009
and must arrive at the Florida Division of Emergency Management in Tallahassee no later than
Tuesday, January 5, 2010. Winners will be notified by phone. The top winners' artwork will
be displayed in the State Emergency Operations Center during the first full week of February
2010. Prizes will include tickets to Walt Disney World and Universal Studios theme parks,
among others. More information on prizes will be announced soon. For complete contest rules
go to: http://www.floridadisaster.org/SWAW2010/.
NEW VIDEO PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUCEMENT (PSA) CONTEST FOR 2010
Middle and high school students in grades 6-8 and 9-12 are invited to produce a 30-second
public service announcement (PSA) incorporating a safety or preparedness message about one
of the following topics: Tornadoes, Rip Currents or Using NOAA Weather Radios.
Final digital videos must be mastered as a DVD for submission to the Division. All entries
must be postmarked on or before Thursday, January 31, 2009 and must arrive at the
Florida Division of Emergency Management in Tallahassee no later than Tuesday, January
5, 2010. For complete contest rules, entry forms and topic information go to:
Student Scholarships Available
We’ve all heard about the kids who get those “full rides” to play college sports, but there are also many
opportunities for students with other abilities and interests. Your students may qualify for some of the
scholarships found at http://www.floridanext.com/financial_aid/article_view.asp?id=682#start.
More opportunities for your students can be found at http://www.floridanext.com/#start.
ExploraVision Science Competition
Now in its 18th year, ExploraVision is a science competition that encourages K-12 students of all interest, skill
and ability levels to create and explore a vision of future technology by combining their imaginations with the
tools of science. All inventions and innovations result from creative thinking and problem solving, and that's
what ExploraVision is all about. Visit http://www.exploravision.org/.
The Kinsey Collection Now Available on iTunes U
Through a partnership between the Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science, the Florida Education
Foundation and Apple, The Kinsey Collection is now available through Florida’s iTunes U page, allowing
teachers to incorporate the collection in their classrooms and lesson plans. The Shared Treasures of Bernard
and Shirley Kinsey is a breathtaking exhibit of more than ninety rare books, sculptures, paintings, documents
manuscripts and vintage photographs which tell the story of African Americans in the Americas from 1632 to
Florida recently launched its iTunes U Web site, a new digital sharing platform that connects students,
teachers, parents and communities to free multimedia content designed to enhance learning. To read
more about The Kinsey Collection, visit www.thekinseycollection.com or www.thebrogan.org. To
visit Florida on iTunes U, go to www.floridaitunesu.com.
Florida Music Educators Association (FMEA) Annual Clinic-Conference
January 6-9, 2010
Plan now to attend the 2010 FMEA Conference. The 2010 theme will be “Music and the Creative Mind -
Wired for Success.” This event is being held at the Tampa Convention Center. For complete details visit
http://www.flmusiced.org/dnn/FMEA/ClinicConference/tabid/59/Default.aspx or contact Val Anderson at
Opportunity to Serve on Instructional Materials Committee
The Florida Department of Education is planning for the 2010-2011 instructional materials adoption. The
Commissioner of Education has announced the acceptance of nominations for membership on the State
Instructional Materials Committees. Our review process will ensure that adopted instructional materials are
aligned to Florida’s Next Generation Sunshine State Standards. Appointments for state instructional materials
committees will be made in the following subject areas:
Science Education K-5
Science Education 6-8
Science Education 9-12
The Department of Education has issued the following memorandum regarding the Nominations for
Appointments to the State Instructional Materials Committees for the 2010-2011 Adoption Year. The
memorandum may be viewed at:
http://info.fldoe.org/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-5603/dps-2009-216a.pdf (Attachment A)
Take a Coffee Safety Break on the Turnpike
Florida’s Turnpike, Florida Highway Patrol Troop K, State Farm, Areas USA and Florida
Turnpike Services urge drivers to take a Safety Break if they become fatigued. On the Eve of Thanksgiving,
Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve motorists may stop at the restaurant or the gas station of any of the eight
Turnpike service plazas and help themselves to a free cup of coffee. Restrictions and details can be found at
• Teacher Discounts
Pyramid Hotels Salutes Florida Teachers
In appreciation for your service, Pyramid Hotel Group is offering Florida public school teachers a special
holiday rate of a 50% discount off their best available rate. For complete details visit
A new T-Mobile web site has been set up specifically for Florida teachers. The site
outlines a special T-Mobile discount program for Florida Public Employees. This
offering is available to all government employees in Florida including State, Local,
County, Education, Public Universities, and Public Hospitals. For complete details
For a complete list of current discounts visit
A Song for my Students
By Megan Allen, Hillsborough County educator and Florida’s 2010 Teacher of the Year
To my students: Thank you for giving me hope for a brighter future. Thank you for having a contagious love
of life that makes me want to get out of bed each and every morning, no matter how tired I may be. Thank you
for depending on me, and know that I depend on you and your willingness to succeed to keep me going. It is
fuel to my soul.
Thank you for having a pure love of learning and for striving for success, even though it may be masked at
times by frustration. Thank you for telling me your heart's song, so I may understand where you are coming
from and what weight you carry daily upon your shoulders. Please understand that I will give my all to help
you find a way to climb life's mountains, but we must work together, learning from one another and growing,
Thank you for your determination and your full heart, for the sparkle in your eyes when you dream big. Thanks
for working to break the cycle of poverty and wanting to create a better life for you and your family. Know
that there will be failures along the way, but as your teacher, I will help to lift you up and we will learn from
those failures. Please know that I will have failures too, but your best interests are always at the forefront of
my mind. I will strive to learn from my failures and become the best teacher I can be.
Know that you deserve the best in life, for you hold the future in your hand. The world is yours, if you just
listen to what life's journey is telling you and keep your head strong.
Thank you for knowing that I love you deeply, even though that may come across as tough love at times. It's
because I know, deep down, of what you are truly capable. It is my job as your teacher to stand beside you as
you unveil your strengths and inner beauty to the world. Please understand that behind my face, which may be
strict at times, is a soul who dreams big for you and sees that underneath your tough skin, you have so much
Know that I don't give you homework because I want to keep you busy when you could be playing, but
because you are developing a work ethic that will take you far. Please know that I am not mad at you when you
get in trouble, but I yearn for you to learn from your mistakes. Please reflect on these misadventures, for they
are life's lessons, greater than any lesson I could ever teach you. Thank you for the purity of your laughter and
for filling my spirit with its echoing and resounding sound, picking me up when I need it most. Thank you for
teaching me what the definition of family truly is, for now I know it is not always by blood, but by bond and
Thank you for not judging me when I wear my heart on my sleeve, and please help me understand the way
children can look at the world around them with such less judgment than an adult can. Help me see the world
through your eyes: unbiased, fairly and nonpartisan.
Thank you for inspiring me, challenging me, and urging me to step up my game on a daily basis. Even though
I may have been jaded before, you've taught me to see the world with a fresh, open mind and a full heart; to
see beyond people's exterior and to focus all my energy on the beauty they hold inside. You've taught me that
even though society may preach conformity, it is important to embrace our uniqueness. It's amazing how much
we as adults can learn from you, our children.
Though you struggle with adult issues such as race, poverty, homelessness, hunger, and loneliness, you handle
life's problems with such grace and dignity. You've taught me the definition of 'home'; it is not the walls you
live between or the roof you sleep under, for that may change from day to day. Home is the people you hold
near - your supports - with the foundation being unconditional love. You've taught me to find my inner
strength and shown me what things really matter in life, for though you have little that is tangible, you are rich
in spirit. Thank you for teaching me how to live, making me strive to be a better person, and for making my
life so much sweeter. In you, I see the future. Our job as teachers is to help you see it, too. Thank you for
making me proud to call myself a teacher.