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Uninvited guests now welcome at Gov. Scott school visits

Gov. Rick Scott met with a half-dozen parents and four students at Gadsden Elementary Magnet School, also known as GEMS, this afternoon. But the room had many other listening ears, including school and elected officials and members of the media.

This is a marked difference from how Scott began the week, visiting schools in Duval and Pinellas counties in closed-door meetings. Members of the local school boards complained after being told they wouldn't be allowed to sit in; if you weren't among the handful of invited guests you would remain outside the room until the discussion ended.

Things were different today. At GEMS in Quincy, Scott was joined by Gadsden schools Superintendent Reginald James, State Rep. Alan Williams, a Democrat who represents the area, and even Sheriff Morris Young. The media was allowed to listen in and take notes during the entire session, although audio and video recording was limited.

Scott said the complaints earlier in the week didn’t influence his decision to open up access during his schools listening tour, which continues Monday in Fort Walton Beach. He said he wanted the parents, students and teachers he met with to feel free to speak openly, and as they expressed that comfort level he allowed more visitors to attend.

“The biggest thing we’re trying to do is make sure we create the environment where they could feel comfortable talking,” he said. “So depending on where it was, some people they were comfortable.”

The governor had the same open-access policy at his second visit of the day, the brand new Governor’s Charter Academy School in Tallahassee and the only charter school on his listening tour thus far. Scott is also taking suggestions about public education on his website.

He said he will use all the information he gathered during his weeklong tour to help shape his plan for the upcoming legislative session. Among the topics that have come up most frequently during the week: standardized testing, rewarding teachers, parental involvement, school choice and school funding.

“I talk to parents, I talk to students, I talk to teachers, I talk to business people," Scott said. "They know that education is the most important thing we can be doing, and they bring up their ideas and their concerns. And I want to try to coalesce these with a plan to improve our education (system).”

Scott may face his toughest crowd yet tonight when he meets with teachers union representatives from across the state at a dinner at the governor’s mansion. Stay tuned to Naked Politics for updates.