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Leaders in Learning

From our high-ranking public schools to our independently run private and charter schools, the Orlando area offers an array of educational opportunities to choose from. When you combine our excellent schools with the availability of an award-winning, nationally recognized science center, the possibilities for project-based learning, hands-on experiences and personalized enrichment are endless.

As the field of education continues to evolve, including the integration of technology and the application of non-traditional learning methods, we wanted to discover more about the exciting opportunities being offered right here in our community. So, we reached out to local women leading the way to gain a broader understanding of their
vision for the future. 

The Women Shaping Education in Our Community

Dr. Barbara Jenkins
Superintendent of Orange

County Public Schools

Dr. Barbara Jenkins has been superintendent for Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) since 2012 and has been dedicated to serving the needs of students for 35 years. In 2017, she received a presidential appointment as a director of the National Board of Education Sciences and was named Florida Superintendent of the Year.

We Asked: What types of nontraditional learning opportunities does Orange County offer to students?

She Answered: “OCPS offers learning environments for every type of student, including magnet programs, dual-language programs, personalized learning, virtual school, blended learning and dual enrollment at local colleges and universities. This past year, we launched the Orlando Gifted Academy that provides opportunities for gifted learners to pursue their interests and tap into their talents. Middle and high school students have the opportunity to take 37 different industry certifications at the secondary level, and high school and adult students are offered 97 different industry certifications in post-secondary programs through Orange Technical College. Also, several school-to-work programs help students gain workplace experience while gaining academic credits, such as the ESE transition school, Simon Youth Academy, Universal Education Center and Project Compass.” 

This past year, we launched the Orlando Gifted Academy that provides opportunities for gifted learners to pursue their interests and tap into their talents. 

JoAnn Newman
CEO, Orlando Science Center
Photo by: Jessica Friend

JoAnn Newman joined the Orlando Science Center (OSC) in 2003 and has been the CEO since 2009. She is dedicated to guiding OSC as a strong community partner for informal science education, family engagement and workforce development.

We asked: What is the biggest change you’d like to see happen in education, and how do you believe that change could be implemented at the Orlando Science Center? 

She answered:“In a world where information is at everyone’s fingertips, it is essential that children are taught problem-solving, critical thinking and communication skills. Orlando Science Center is the perfect location to hone these skills. We provide learners with opportunities to apply real-world experience and content knowledge to science phenomena, engineering, etc. Our environment provides immersive, authentic opportunities to engage with complex problems or hard-to-understand concepts in meaningful ways. The way we teach empowers our youth and provides them agency over their own learning.” 

Carol Mikulka, Founder and Director of Walden Community School
Photo by: Jessica Friend

Dr. Mikulka, M.D., is a board-certified psychiatrist and founder of Walden Community School. Her unique interest in education and years of extensive research and teaching experience led Dr. Mikulka to establish Walden Community School in 2002.

We asked: What types of nontraditional learning opportunities does Walden Community School offer students?

She answered: “Our student-centered philosophy focuses on teaching to the whole child by addressing social, emotional and academic needs. By developing and implementing an integrated curriculum, Walden facilitates real-life learning. We teach for understanding and use authentic assessments rather than traditional grading to promote mastery and growth mindset. In our noncompetitive learning environment, we encourage taking academic risks where mistakes become an integral part of learning.”

Dr. Michele Gill, Founder and Chair of Galileo School for Gifted Learning
Photo by: Jessica Friend

Dr. Michele Gill has her Ph. D. in educational psychology and is a founding board member of the Galileo School. She is program coordinator of the University of Central Florida’s education doctorate in curriculum and instruction and is a professor of educational psychology in the Department of Learning Sciences
and Educational Research. 

We asked: What types of nontraditional learning opportunities does Galileo School offer students?

She answered: “Galileo School offers a wide variety of nontraditional learning opportunities for our students. All of our students, in grades K-8, get the opportunity to choose enrichment activities via Creative Productivity (CP) classes. Students choose CP classes based on their interests from a long list of offerings (through a survey given to each student). In the elementary grades, students go to CP classes for two weeks at a time, several times during a quarter. They may learn about things like robotics, gardening, sewing, comic book illustration, origami, miming, debate, etc. Middle schoolers choose quarterly CP classes that are also generated from their interests.”  

Karen Almond
School Board Vice-Chairman of
Seminole County Public Schools
Photo by: Jessica Friend

Ms. Almond was first elected to serve as a Seminole County School Board member in 2010 and is currently in her third term. She has been a community and education advocate for more than 25 years.

We asked: What types of nontraditional learning opportunities does Seminole County offer students?

She answered: “Through our ePathways initiative, we offer students flexible scheduling to meet their needs. A student can take a virtual class off campus, along with taking classes on a traditional campus. With the help of Mrs. Jobs (wife of Steve Jobs) and a $1,000,000 grant, we started PSI High a few years ago. PSI High is our Problem-Solving Incubator. Students reach out to the community to partner and solve real-world problems. It’s an awesome opportunity for our students and the community. A true win-win.” 

Dr. Tina Calderone, School Board Chairman of Seminole County Public Schools
Photo by: Jessica Friend

Dr. Calderone has served on the Seminole County School Board since 2010 and is currently the chairperson. She has worked in the fields of business and education
since graduating with her first education degree in 1980.

We asked: What is the biggest change you’d like to see happen in education,
and how do you believe that change could be implemented?

She answered:“My hope is for adequate funding from the state and federal level to allow us to keep high-quality teachers in the profession and lure technically skilled instructors from the private sector to teach in our vocational classrooms. Additionally, I would hope the State of Florida would consider our Sunshine Solution … wherein we could replace the state FSA exams with nationally normed tests that match our standards such as the SAT or ACT to measure student success. This could be easily implemented with less time on testing, more time for instruction and quicker turnaround with scores. It is the fiscally conservative and educationally sound thing to do. Our students could also use these scores for their college applications not one university asks for an FSA score.”

We want to thank these exceptional women for their ongoing commitment to providing outstanding learning opportunities for the children of Central Florida.

Written by
Betsy Jewell

Betsy Jewell is a Central Florida-based content creator and mother of two teenage boys. When she's not providing career coaching to teens and young adults, you can find her behind the microphone hosting the High School Hamster Wheel podcast.

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Written by Betsy Jewell


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