Center for Learning offers Master Teacher training to help turn around state’s lowest-ranked high school

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.—UF’s Lastinger Center for Learning, part of the College of Education, recently joined a multi-organization, multiyear effort that includes Duval County Public Schools (DCPS), the Jaguar Foundation and Teach for America to turn around the state’s lowest-ranked high school, Andrew Jackson H.S. in Jacksonville.

Starting during the 2012-13 school year, this collaboration – which also includes United Way, City Year, Communities in Schools, Educational Directions, Big Brothers & Big Sisters, Ready for Tomorrow and Bridge of Northeast Florida – will aim to improve teaching and learning at Jackson, an F school on intervene status. The organizations are meeting May 29 to brainstorm ideas and synthesize their plans.

“The whole purpose of this project is to increase success,” says DCPS Deputy Superintendent Patricia Willis, “and introduce more of what the UF Lastinger Center is doing in non-high schools.”

Through its award-winning Master Teacher Initiative, the Lastinger Center provides on-the-job, onsite/online professional development to educators in Jacksonville’s highest needs elementary and middle schools. The initiative’s programs include a free UF master’s degree to teachers who make a five-year commitment to their schools. It offers this opportunity at Jackson, which, like many vulnerable schools, struggles to hire and keep experienced faculty.

“We’re inviting everyone who wishes to contribute to turning around Andrew Jackson High School to join us on a multi-year journey,” Lastinger Director Don Pemberton says. “It’s not going to be easy. It’s not for the mild and meek. But it’s an opportunity to make a real difference.”

Besides providing comprehensive professional development to Jackson teachers and administrators that includes leadership and team building, Lastinger will also help boost student engagement and morale, mobilize the community to support the school, recruit UF volunteers, chronicle the transformation effort and assemble research and evaluation teams to measure the results.

“We will identify research-based strategies and share them widely with our partners,” Pemberton says.

Brain drain to magnet and private schools often harms vulnerable schools, says UF Duval County Professor-in-Residence Crystal Timmons. Many high-achieving students opt out of attending lower-performing schools such as Jackson.

Out of 1,200 area students who could attend Jackson, only 800 have elected to do so.

“The community is losing a third of its students,” says Jon Heymann, CEO of Communities in Schools and a DCPS School Board candidate. “They’re voting with their feet.”

To attract more high-achieving students, who receive opportunity scholarships to attend schools out of their zones, Jackson will offer the International Baccalaureate and leadership and entrepreneurship programs beginning this fall.

“If everyone’s truly committed,” Timmons says, “then there is no reason why this venture should not be successful and why the students should not be successful.”

As part of the turnaround effort, social workers and other professionals will also be stationed at Jackson to meet the needs of students, teachers and families, Willis notes.

“We think if we can get sustainable work in Jackson,” she says, “we can spread that work and replicate it in other struggling schools.”

An educational innovation incubator, the UF Lastinger Center harnesses the university’s intellectual resources and partners with educational organizations to design, build, field-test and disseminate new models to transform teaching and learning.


    WRITER: Boaz Dvir, UF Lastinger Center, 352-273-0289;


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Participant in UF master-teacher program receives top honor in Pinellas

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — For the second year in a row, a teacher who receives training from the University of Florida Master Teacher Initiative has been named teacher of the year in Pinellas County.

Pinellas County Schools recently chose UF Lastinger Center Teacher Fellows Facilitator Stephanie Whitaker, a fifth-grade teacher at Dunedin Elementary, as Pinellas County’s 2012 Teacher of the Year.

“I don’t think I would have won Outstanding Educator if I hadn’t had the opportunity to participate in the Teacher Fellows program and conduct inquiry,” said Whitaker, 29, who teaches English for Speakers of Other Languages, known as ESOL.

Inquiry — action research conducted on the job by educators — is a cornerstone of the Master Teacher Initiative, an award-winning, job-embedded professional development program run by the UF Lastinger Center for Learning.

Inquiry has proven to be a natural fit for Whitaker, said Lastinger Innovation Champion Sylvia Boynton, who has worked closely with Dunedin teachers over the years.

“One of the things I’ve started doing is inquiry opportunities with my students — having them conduct research,” Whitaker said.

It’s been a big hit, year after year.

“There was never a discipline problem and the kids loved every minute — they would ask to do this work,” Boynton said.

Whitaker, who’s been teaching for six years, has participated in the Teacher Fellows program since Dunedin partnered with Lastinger five years ago.

Last year, PCS named Tracy Staley, a participant in the Master Teacher Initiative’s on-the-job graduate program, the district’s Outstanding Educator. She went on to become a finalist for the state Teacher of the Year.

Being named Pinellas’ 2012 Teacher of the Year caught Whitaker by surprise.

“It’s really been an out-of-body experience,” she said.

Her teaching has been more structured since she began as a Teacher Fellow, Whitaker said. She differentiates her instruction through individualized data and views her students in new ways.

“I look at my classroom through a different lens,” she said.

Besides teaching, Whitaker serves on Dunedin’s school leadership team.

“She is a wonderful resource to the other teachers,” Boynton said.


Sylvia Boynton, innovation champion, UF Lastinger Center for Learning, 727-742-3759,


Lastinger Center featured in booklet on UF’s impact in Miami-Dade

UF’s Lastinger Center for Learning, the College of Education’s statewide teaching- and school-improvement program, is featured in the South Florida edition of “UF in Your Neighborhood,” a new booklet produced by the University of Florida Foundation.

The foundation recently published several different regional versions of the booklet to highlight how UF’s teaching, research and service impact the lives of UF alumni and all residents in major markets throughout Florida and the Southeast.

The South Florida edition, covering Miami-Dade County, leads off with “Promise of a Brighter Future,” a full-page overview describing how “improving teacher practice and student achievement is at the heart  of (the Lastinger Center’s) newly expanded program in Miami-Dade County.”

Following the Lastinger Center piece, under a headline of “Education Champion,” the booklet offers a mini-profile of UF alum David Lawrence Jr., former publisher of The Miami Herald and a leading advocate of early childhood education at UF, in Miami-Dade and across the nation.

Here are brief summaries of how the college’s  Lastinger Center for Learning and UF early-learning advocate Lawrence are impacting the Miami-Dade County communities . . .

— Ready Schools Florida program
The Lastinger Center has partnered with Miami-Dade Schools and The Early Child Initiative Foundation since 2006 on an ambitious effort to give young children the best chance to succeed in school and beyond. It’s called Ready Schools Florida. Supported by a $10 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the program promotes early learning and child well-being from birth through elementary school. It’s an all-out effort to prepare all pre-schoolers for success by the time they enter the classroom.

Master Teacher Initiative
Improving teacher practice and student achievement is at the heart of another innovative Gator program. UF’s Lastinger Center last year was awarded a $6-million federal innovation grant to expand its award-winning Master Teacher Initiative to some of Miami-Dade’s most vulnerable schools. The initiative allows early-learning teachers at 20 schools to pursue a new graduate degree track in early childhood education and teacher leadership while remaining on-the-job and at virtually no cost to them. UF campus-based professors provide the online instruction while professors-in-residence based at the district provide on-site instruction and first-hand observation. More than 1,200 teachers and 30,000 of Miami-Dade’s youngest school children are the beneficiaries of the three-year effort.


EDUCATION CHAMPION: David Lawrence Jr., UF alum and early-learning supporter
UF alumnus David Lawrence Jr. needs little introduction to Miami-Dade citizens and education supporters. The 1963 College of Journalism graduate is the former publisher of The Miami Herald and he left the newspaper in 1999 to become an advocate for early childhood education. Lawrence is president of the Early Childhood Initiative Foundation in Miami, and the David Lawrence Jr. K-8 Center public school in Miami is named in his honor. UF’s College of Education also has a $1.5 million endowed professorship in early childhood studies named in his honor. Lawrence joined the UF faculty in 2001 as the University Scholar for Early Childhood Development and Readiness and he is a Lastinger Center visiting scholar and board member. Lawrence was instrumental in forging the UF-Miami/Dade partnerships in the Ready Schools and Master Teacher initiatives.


SOURCE: Don Pemberton, director, UF Lastinger Center for Learning,; 352-273-4103

WRITER: Larry Lansford, director, news & communications, UF College of Education,; 352-273-4137