Last week, Florida’s State Board of Education voted to approve a new commissioner of education for the Sunshine State.
It was a historic day, especially because he will be the first Latino to hold the position.
Note: A Cuban-American named head of a state agency doesn’t sound like “news” (I actually had to Google to confirm this fact) while Cubans are a stronghold of the Republican Party, in a state run by Republicans, and where more than a quarter of the population identifies as Hispanic or Latino, but perhaps those facts are exactly what makes his selection remarkable.
But no, the real story is not yet done. The real story is what is to come.
I met Manny Diaz, Jr. during a Republican freshman class orientation in the fall of 2012, shortly before he was officially sworn in as a member of the Florida House. My colleagues and I had heard that he was a major “education reform guy,” so we were eager to be introduced. By then I had been out of the classroom for just over a year and had a lot to learn about the intersection of education policy and politics in my role as legislative analyst for the government. Jeb BushFlorida Future Foundation.
And yet, after a conversation with him, I knew “this guy is the real deal”.
I still feel like that today.
There are few people in the education industry – really, any industry – who have, 1) a deep understanding of the issues and a willingness to go into the details of policy, 2) a sense politics and relationships to get things done and c) lived the experience of those who will be most affected by politics.
Future Commissioner Diaz has all three.
Since Bush’s time at the helm, Republican leaders in Florida have touted educational choice, parental empowerment and adult responsibility in the system. But as a former teacher, school administrator, and high school coach, Manny also understands the impact high-quality teachers and school leaders can have on students.
He knows that until we provide teachers with the resources and support they need, and administrators with the autonomy to lead, we will not fully realize this potential.
Even if, as I said in my comments to the Council of Statethe real key to Manny’s success so far – and why he will make a great leader in his new role – is not the policies he champions, but the way he treats people in the policy-making process. policies.
Without a doubt, Floridians need a commissioner who has strong convictions and is ready to make tough decisions. But, now more than ever, we also need someone who can approach these decisions with humility, knowing that no one has all the answers, no matter how strongly we think we are right.
Manny is that person.
So, congratulations to our new commissioner; and congratulations, Florida. You have one of the good ones.
Sara Clements is Vice President of State Government Affairs at McGuireWoods Consulting.