Harper: Education Report Shifts To Success Stories

Feb 20, 2015

In this week’s Economic Report, Dr. Rick Harper discusses the second installment of the Studer Community Institute’s three part series on education in the Pensacola area.

Credit University of West Florida

In addition to his role as director of the University of West Florida Office of Economic Development and Engagement, Harper also serves as director of the Institute, which is a not-for-profit organization that highlights important issues in the Pensacola community and works towards innovative solutions.

“With this three-part education series we hope to examine some important successes and challenges in the field of education.  We hope this body of work will give our community a better understanding of where we are and more importantly, where we can go to improve our education system and our quality of life as a whole,” Harper said.

The first report in the series, published in the Sunday, Feb. 15 print edition of the Pensacola News Journal, takes a look at 15 years of FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test) testing in Florida, including school grades, test-focused curriculum, and the resulting educational outcomes.

This second installment, a six-page insert in the Feb. 22 Sunday edition of PNJ, takes an in depth look at the successes of a Charleston, South Carolina school system.

Charleston, South Carolina was chosen for the education report because of its similarities to Pensacola as a coastal community, with a lot of tourist activity and similar structure in terms of economic development.

“It’s all about education really from the perspective of what works,” said Harper.

Dr. Rick Harper
Credit University of West Florida

The report includes an article by Reggie Dogan, which highlights the success of a school in north Charleston school that has a high percentage of free-and-reduced lunch students, who traditionally didn’t score well on standardized tests. The story shows how leadership at the school can make a difference.

“It describes some of the changes that were implemented by that principal, the way he motivates not just the teachers; but actually knows the kids and understands how to meet them where they are. Even if they’re living in the back of a car, or sleeping on the floor or need lunch, then that school and its leaders have become very adept at address the individual needs of all those kids,” said Harper, adding that their improving test scores show it.

Harper also notes a feature by Mollye Barrows that focuses on the educational path of one student. 

Additionally, William Rabb has written about the educational achievements at West Florida High School of Advanced Technology (West Florida Tech), which was the brain child of Chamber of Commerce leaders about 18 years ago.

WFHS blends required core academics with technical education. It offers the opportunity to earn industry certification through 12 Career Academies.

“(It) features in there as Escambia County’s shining star in terms of high schools, scoring A’s consistently in the rankings over the years,” said Harper. The article explores how the school meets the challenges of a career-oriented curriculum, while also meeting the very demanding academic requirements of the state of Florida.

Statewide, Sen. Don Gaetz of Niceville has lead efforts to expand educational programs that prepare students for the workforce by sponsoring a number of measures including the Career and Professional Education Act.

For his part, Harper has an article in the second installment of the 3-part series which focuses on the relationship between educational outcomes, income, and wealth in the United States.

The final report, to be published in the PNJ on Sunday, Mar. 1, takes a look at the importance of early childhood education and how best to prepare young children for the rigors of school.

You can link to the Pensacola Metro Education Report and follow the Institute’s progress at StuderInstitute.com on Facebook or at PensacolaToday.com.

Dr. Rick Harper is director of the University of West Florida Office of Economic Development and Engagement and also serves as director of the Studer Institute, a Pensacola-based organization that seeks citizen-powered solutions to challenges the community faces. rharper@uwf.edu.