TALLAHASSEE -- Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson resigned late Tuesday amid a months-long controversy over the state’s testing regimen and errors on school grades that forced the department to change the marks for dozens of schools.
In letters to Gov. Rick Scott and State Board of Education Chairwoman Kathleen Shanahan, Robinson said he was proud of his work with the department but wanted to spend more time with his family. Robinson was secretary of education in Virginia before taking the Florida job in August 2011.
Robinson’s resignation is effective Aug. 31, when he will have been on the job a little more than a year.
"Living far away from my family has proven to be the one challenge all this progress could not overcome," Robinson wrote after listing his accomplishments. "So it is with sincere appreciation and deep regret my time of service to Florida’s students, parents, teachers, superintendents, college and university presidents, business and community organizations is cut short."
Scott, who backed Robinson after reportedly pushing out former Education Commissioner Eric Smith, issued a brief statement praising Robinson.
"I appreciate Gerard’s service to the state of Florida and his commitment to ensuring Florida’s students receive a first class education," the governor said. "He has been a tireless advocate for creating quality learning opportunities for all of Florida’s students and he will certainly be missed."
But Robinson’s tenure had been dogged in recent months by the public-relations pounding the department took after FCAT scores collapsed, followed a few months later by the school grades mix-up.
The Florida Board of Education was forced to lower passing grades for the statewide writing tests in May after the passing rate plunged from 81 percent to 27 percent for fourth graders and showed similar drops in eighth and 10th grades.
Then, in July, the department had to reissue grades for 213 elementary and middle schools and nine school districts as part of a "continuous review process."
That came after the number of schools receiving an "A" had plummeted from 1,481 in 2011 to 1,124 this year. The new grades showed 1,240 schools getting the highest mark — a jump of 5 percentage points from the first cut of the numbers.
Shanahan, who said the board would consult with Scott while looking for a new commissioner, also praised Robinson in a statement released by the Department of Education.
"He has worked with the board as we have raised standards for our students and our schools," she said. "He is a leader who embodies and understands the importance of education reform. We wish him the best as he makes the decision that is best for his own young children."
State Board of Education Vice Chair Roberto Martinez said he had been aware of Robinson’s family issues for more than a year. “I have kids and I wouldn’t want to miss those early years,” he said.
Martinez, who has been critical of the commissioner’s performance, said he had not spoken with Robinson about his decision.
As for Florida’s next commissioner, Martinez said his ideal candidate remains the same as the last time Florida hunted for a new chief: the twin of former commissioner Eric Smith. Martinez said Smith had key experience as a teacher and superintendent and also understood policy.
“He listened. He worked exceptionally well with all the board members,” Martinez said. “As I said then we had the best commissioner in the country, and unfortunately, circumstances beyond the control of a lot of people caused his departure. I’m still looking for his twin.”
Board Member John Padget said Robinson ushered in extensive reforms approved by the board and navigated the problems that arose during the transition. Padget said he was sure Robinson’s decision was based on family considerations.
“It's hard for kids when their father is absent too much, and his wife didn’t find the right professional fit in Florida,” he said in an email.
“Florida’s kids must be ready to compete against the best in the world. The board now has the challenge to find an reform-minded education leader who can continue to move Florida along the path towards higher student outcomes,” Padget said.
Miami-Dade School Board member Carlos Curbelo said he hopes the next commissioner “is someone who fully understands Florida’s diversity and the benefits and challenges that accompany it.”
“Urban districts like ours that face unique conditions require more support and cooperation from the Department of Education,” Curbelo said in an email.
Miami Herald Staff Writer Laura Isensee contributed to this report.