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Board of Education says goodbye to Kathleen Shanahan, Lynn Abbott

The state Board of Education on Tuesday said goodbye to two of its own: outgoing board member Kathleen Shanahan and retiring agency clerk Lynn Abbott.

A Tampa businesswoman and one-time chief of staff to former Gov. Jeb Bush, Shanahan had been a board member since 2006. She was chair in 2011 and 2012.

Board members cannot serve more than eight consecutive years.

With her term winding down, Shanahan had become a vocal critic of Gov. Rick Scott. She blasted Scott for not attending the education summit he convened in August, and for issuing an executive order on education without consulting the board. Shanahan also raised questions about the validity of the state's school grading system. 

“What I’ve learned is that education policy is a contact sport in Florida,” she said at Tuesday's meeting in Gainesville.

Shanahan urged her fellow board members to be independent voices.

“Remember, you are here for all of the students,” she said. “You are not here for a segment of the students, or a different agenda. You are here to be an advocate for all of Florida’s kids. It’s as simple and clear as that.”

Board member Barbara Feingold said Shanahan’s data-driven approach to education had kept Florida “on the forefront of reform.”

Feingold also had kind words for Abbott, who is retiring after a 36-year career with the state. Abbott had been with the education department for 27 years, most recently as agency clerk and director of the Office of Executive Management and State Board of Education.

Said Feingold: “She is a guiding light. She is a mentor. She is highly respected and regarded. She has kept us on task. She has helped each one of us to learn the system, to understand all of the moving pieces.”

Sally Bradshaw resigned from the board last month. She did not attend Tuesday's meeting.

Later in the meeting, Education Commissioner Pam Stewart gave an update on the controversial Common Core State Standards. She noted that the department had received about 19,000 comments on the national benchmarks, and had hired a research firm to categorize and summarize the feedback. 

Stewart hopes to have a report ready for the January meeting, she said.

The next step will be to have K-12 and higher education experts review the suggestions. Stewart said any proposed changes to the standards would come before the public and the state Board of Education. That could happen as early as February.

Stewart also noted that the department had begun the process of soliciting proposals from testing companies interested in developing Florida's next generation of student assessments. The state was planning to use tests being developed by a national consortium known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. But Scott directed the state to consider other tests, too. 

Applications are due Dec. 12, Stewart said.

“We have determined a team of evaluators who are not discussing anything with one another,” Stewart said.

Chairman Gary Chartrand plugged Stewart's efforts.

“I want everyone to know how hard she is working right now,” Chartrand said. “She is traveling around the state. Her schedule is daunting. I know she is working as hard as she can to do the best job she can as commissioner.”