PANAMA CITY, Fla. — Aug. 19, 2005 — Starting today, teachers in Bay County, Fla., will be the first in the state to be able to easily and quickly share lesson plans and best practices and the first to be able to access real-time student performance data right from their desktop computers with just a few clicks of a mouse.
Gov. Jeb Bush announced the deployment of the first phase of Sunshine Connections, a leading-edge collection of online tools and a custom-designed interactive Web environment developed by the Florida Department of Education in collaboration with Microsoft® U.S. Partners in Learning based on direct input from teachers across the state.
“Teachers are the bedrock of our state’s education system, sculpting the minds and futures of our children. In Florida, we are deeply committed to addressing the needs of our education community by providing teachers with tools to help them succeed,” Bush said. “This pioneering approach will free teachers of burdensome paperwork, allowing them to focus on teaching.”
Teachers with access to the system will no longer have to wait until a scheduled conference, professional day or district-sponsored meeting to be able to share resources and best practices with fellow teachers. Sunshine Connections will put all those valuable resources at their fingertips every day. Through the Sunshine Connections Web-based interface, teachers will also be able to view their students’ Florida’s Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) test scores in real time, marked with easy-to-read identifiers indicating strengths and weaknesses of each student in particular skills and content areas. This technological breakthrough will help allow teachers to find, modify or design curricular materials around the unique needs of each class or student as early as the first day of school.
“The Sunshine Connections Web site is a one-stop site for some of the most dynamic teacher-assistance tools available on the Web,” said Michelle Gainer, a high-school math teacher at A. Crawford Mosley High School in Bay County, Fla. “This site provides me with a way to find the information I need on planning and student assistance in a timely manner. The secure login allows me to analyze my students’ areas of weakness based on the previous year’s FCAT results. Much like a doctor analyzing patients before treating them, I can analyze my students’ needs before teaching them.”
“We are very encouraged by the enthusiasm we are hearing from our teachers, and their ideas will continue to fuel the project’s development over the next five years,” said John Winn, education commissioner for the state of Florida. “As teachers begin using these tools, we will continue to work together to identify ways in which we can enhance the system, offering greater functionality that will bring all teachers and administrators statewide closer to the ultimate goal of improving student learning and achievement.”
Within the next few months the program will expand beyond Bay County to 35,000 users in four school districts in Duval County and Miami-Dade County and some schools in the North East Florida Educational Consortium (NEFEC). By 2009, the system is expected to be available to more than 200,000 teachers and 2.2 million students across 67 districts statewide.
“Gov. Bush, the Florida Department of Education and Florida’s teachers are setting a new ideal for how public-private partnerships can address major education concerns,” said Gerri Elliott, corporate vice president of World Wide Public Sector at Microsoft. “We commend Florida on its forward-thinking approach to distributing resources, driving statewide collaboration and inspiring changes at the classroom level to increase student achievement.”
For the past two years, Microsoft has been working with the Florida Department of Education and a statewide advisory council made up of teachers, administrators and principals to build Sunshine Connections from the ground up through an array of investments including technology development, consulting services and project management. The goal is to create a tool that is tailored to educators’ specific needs and serves as a replicable model for programs in other states. Microsoft, through its U.S. Partners in Learning program, also will contribute $6 million to the project over the next five years.
Building on technologies that have proved to be cost-effective in education, government and commercial sectors, Sunshine Connections is also designed to be economically sustainable in the long term. Because Sunshine Connections is Web-based, administrators and teachers will be able to easily access student performance data, collaboration management and communication tools, and curricular materials on the computers they already have regardless of their computing environment.
“Securing Florida’s economic future starts with investing in our children’s education,” said Tom Lee, president of the Florida Senate. “We appreciate Microsoft’s generosity and believe this innovative relationship will not only benefit our teachers and students today, but will also result in higher student achievement for years to come.”
Through its U. S. Partners in Learning program, Microsoft is taking its long-standing commitment to education to the next level by focusing its resources — people, partners, services and products — to empower students and teachers. Working with state and local education communities, U.S. Partners in Learning is helping build sustainable models for using technology to meet local education needs and to prepare teachers and students for the changing demands of the 21st century.
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