On June 21, 1999, Governor Jeb Bush signed Florida’s A+ Plan for Education into law, beginning a systemic transformation that serves as a national model for raising student achievement. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of this comprehensive strategy to improve public education, the Foundation for Florida’s Future is publishing a blog series featuring perspectives from the people that made it happen.

Birth of A+ Plan May Be Forgotten, But Results Continue to Live On

By: Donna Callaway, former principal of Raa Middle School, former member of the Florida Board of Education and board member of Tallahassee Community College

The A+ Plan for Education has changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Florida students. It’s been 20 years since the plan was unveiled, and so many who initially walked through the A+ door into success now have children of their own. Do they remember the A+ plan? Probably not. But I do.

I was the principal of Raa Middle School a few miles north of the state Capitol in Tallahassee. This inner-city school was abuzz one day in June almost 20 years ago as never before. I remember the state and local dignitaries who were present, the media entourage and the young and energized, excited staff members newly chosen to serve the new Governor. I remember the questioning looks on the faces of those of a variety of political persuasions. I can remember my own excitement, but even more my complete confidence for I had the unusual privilege of knowing Jeb Bush before the birth of the “plan.”

Before he was elected in 1998, Governor Bush visited schools around the state on a mission of finding the reality from students, parents and teachers. These were the people who really knew what worked and what didn’t. They told Governor Bush the sad truth about the state of education in Florida. Students were receiving less than the best. Teachers had few incentives for their dedicated service. The hands of principals were tied.

Governor Bush took all that input and, most critically, boiled it down to terms that were beautiful in their stark simplicity:

  • Determine and teach what students need to know by beginning with READING!
  • Meet students where they are.
  • Encourage them through road marks as they move forward.
  • Assess their progress and reward them for it.
  • Give accountability back to the teachers. Acknowledging that teachers do not fear accountability, THEY WANT IT!
  • Hold teachers and school administrators both accountable and praise-worthy.
  • Provide the resources to make this happen.

So many adults today have experienced the impact of this plan in their lives. Many of them are young adults who know what the pathway to a successful, contributing life looks like. They are living it!

Donna Callaway was principal of Raa Middle School and served on the Florida Board of Education. She currently serves on the board of Tallahassee Community College.