Celebrating 20 Years of Excellence
For the past twenty years, the Lastinger Center has worked to transform teaching and learning through education innovation. Inspired by the vision and leadership of our founders, faculty, funders and friends, we’ve had the opportunity to support millions of people in their learning journeys. Check out our interactive timeline to learn where we started, where we are now — and our journey along the way.
ERA 1: The Launch
“It’s Performance That Counts” and Allen & Delores Lastinger
In 1996, the University of Florida kicks off a major, university-wide capital campaign titled, “It’s Performance That Counts.” Dean of the College of Education, Rod McDavis, determines the college’s fundraising efforts will focus on finding ways to improve public education across the state of Florida. To carry out this goal, McDavis envisions a center housed in the College of Education with the potential for positive impact and considerable influence on educational outcomes across K-12 classrooms in Florida— and beyond.
University of Florida alumni Allen and Delores Lastinger are dedicated to the promotion and advancement of the institution. Allen, president and CEO of Florida-based Barnett Bank, serves as co-chair of the university’s performance accounts campaign, while Delores, a former elementary school teacher, serves as a member of the College of Education’s campaign committee. As part of this role, Delores is involved in helping the college meet its fundraising goals.
When an initial funding agreement for the center falls through, Delores and Allen view it as their opportunity to contribute. According to Delores, “It just hit me, and I went home to Allen and I said, “We could pick this up. We could do this. I really would love to help children and to help teachers. I still have this burning desire from what I experienced in my first year to do something to support teachers.”
In February of 1999, Allen and Delores Lastinger announce a $2 million donation to the College of Education for the establishment of the Lastinger Center for Learning. Their generous gift is matched by the state of Florida, bringing the total contribution to $4 million. The mission of the center will be to develop projects that promote the achievement and success of at-risk youth in local public schools. It includes a special focus on math, science, economics and conflict resolution. To fulfill this mission, the center will focus on supporting K-12 classroom teachers across the state of Florida by relying on their expertise, experience and input in program development.
“They funded it,” Dean Rod McDavis said. “They gave us a major gift. The largest gift in the history of the College of Education…We’re off and running.” Several years later, the Lastinger Center is born.
A Search for Leadership
In 1999 Rod McDavis steps down as Dean of the College of Education. As an interim dean is appointed, the College of Education moves forward through the formation of a committee tasked with the responsibility of searching for the future center’s first director.
At this time, Donald Pemberton, Ph.D., is serving as CEO for Take Stock in Children, a non-profit mentoring and scholarship program for low-income youth he founded in 1995. Pemberton is initially asked to be a member of the search team. After a number of failed searches, provost David Colburn suggests Don as a potential candidate for the director position.
The First Year
In 2002, Don Pemberton is hired as the first director of the Lastinger Center for Learning. Laverne Daniels, a dedicated employee of the College of Education since 1986 who worked directly with Rod McDavis, witnessed the excitement surrounding the potential development of the Lastinger Center — as well as the subsequent slowing of momentum. Upon her first encounter with Don Pemberton, Daniels’s optimism for the future of the center builds.
As newly appointed director, Pemberton strategizes how to deliver on the vision identified by the Lastingers. To begin, Pemberton hires Alyson Adams, Ph.D., as assistant director. Skilled in research and highly knowledgeable about teachers, teacher education, and teacher collaboration, Adams is ideal to serve as the inside program person that can make the Lastingers’ vision a reality.
To begin the process of intentionally bridging the gaps between Florida’s university intellectuals, school systems and local community members, Pemberton develops a “listening tour” in which he and Lastinger colleagues will travel around the state of Florida and interview teachers.
Through the listening tours, Pemberton discovers what life is like for teachers, including the challenges of teaching, the challenges of using ineffective curriculum, the challenges that students face every single day, as well as the lack of support.
ERA 2: Meeting the Needs of Educators
“The Early Years”
Armed with critical feedback from teachers and administrators from across the state of Florida, Pemberton and his colleagues set out to form the foundation of the center’s work. During these early years, there is intentional focus on developing partnerships with school districts, superintendents and donors. Pemberton understands that high-quality teachers will make the difference, so priority focus is given to educators and their professional development.
While sharing an office suite with Pemberton in the Center for School Improvement, university professor and teacher educator Dr. Nancy Dana plays a foundational role in initiating the Lastinger Center’s relationship with teaching the process of inquiry to teachers. With Dr. Dana’s expertise, facilitating a process where educators can systematically and intentionally study their own practice becomes the initial focus of the Lastinger Center’s work. Additionally, the Lastinger Center teaches others how to coach the process, which quickly expands the Center’s impact across Florida.
Accelerating the foundational mission of prioritizing teachers, the Lastinger Center works closely with the University of Florida’s College of Education in establishing the Teacher Leadership for School Improvement (TLSI) Master of Education degree program. The TLSI program is designed to empower teachers by enhancing their knowledge, skills, and dispositions in the areas of teaching, research, leadership and advocacy. Focused on supporting full-time practicing PK-12 educators, the curriculum of the TLSI program includes new research and best practices for the purposes of meeting the needs of the students in which the teacher graduate students serve. In January of 2006, the first TLSI cohort begins with 44 teachers enrolled in the degree program.
As the Lastinger Center continues to grow and develop more professional programming for educators, opportunities for specialized programming initiatives for students also emerge. In 2004, the Lastinger Center establishes a promising partnership with the National School Reform Network. The following year, Governor Jeb Bush announces that the Lastinger Center is among the institutions selected to receive a $700,000 state grant to develop literacy programs for students from low-income families in Florida.
In 2007, a shared $10 million grant brings together the Lastinger Center for Learning, Miami-Dade Public Schools and the Miami-based Early Childhood Initiative Foundation in an all-out school-readiness effort called “Ready Schools Florida.” Awarded by the Kellogg Foundation, this initiative aims to prepare all Florida preschoolers for success by the time they enter the classroom. Early child educators, researchers, program developers and measurement experts involved in the initiative’s four-year rollout will test a research-proven model of early child intervention in Miami-Dade County.
By 2009 the Center boasts over 300 partner schools and engagement in five districts across the state as a result of the significant partnerships forged with educators and funders.
The Lastinger Center is already making a difference.
ERA 3: A Center for Educational Equity
“Time of Transition and Growth”
Having established a firm foundation, the Lastinger Center continues growing by partnering with elementary schools in some of the poorest communities in the state of Florida to support teacher’s work on behalf of children. Ongoing listening tours reveal that teachers are hungry for meaningful professional relationships and are tired of being told what to do by outside “experts” who fail to understand their lived experiences. Teachers are eager to learn from each other in community with those who share their concerns. Equipped with this knowledge, in 2009 the Lastinger Center shifts focus from whole school reform to targeted professional development for teachers— as well as researching innovative ideas for student engagement and learning.
At the core of the Lastinger Center’s work is the drive to establish communities of practice where teachers can be supported and learn from each other as part of their regular work experience. Five years after starting the listening tours, the Lastinger Center and its partners actively seek to work with under-resourced schools in low-income communities. The goal is to establish and further develop educational initiatives centered on equity and that will provide a wide array of critical services for students.
Together with public schools and districts, organizations such as the Education Foundation of Collier County, the Naples Children and Education Foundation, the Immokalee Foundation, and the Community Foundation of Collier County, the Lastinger Center is collaborating in a broad effort to improve student achievement and child well-being. This effort is multifaceted and includes intensive work in elementary schools, an executive doctoral program for district administrators, improved access to health and dental care for low-income children and increasing the availability of quality preschool education for children.
With its intentional focus on teachers and improved academic outcomes for underserved students across the state, the Lastinger Center continues its progressive expansion. In 2010, innovative developments in online early learning programming begin, which leads to state-wide early learning systems, the growth of the TLSI program in Miami and earning the prestigious Investing in Innovation (i3) Grant award, which brings national attention and acclaim to the Lastinger Center.
By 2012 the Lastinger Center and the National School Reform have partnered with 39 schools in five different districts across the state (Alachua, Collier, Duval, Miami-Dade and Pinellas). Research indicates that Lastinger partner schools, when compared with matched control-group schools, show significantly higher student achievement scores on Florida’s Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) in math and reading.
ERA 4: A Hub for Scalable Educational Innovation
“A New Era”
After seeing transformational achievement in partner schools, the Lastinger Center begins to think about how to successfully scale local interventions. In 2012, the Lastinger Center forges a partnership with local technology company Study Edge to launch a statewide initiative, “Algebra Nation.” Algebra Nation provides the high-quality content and support needed for Florida by teaming up with Florida’s best algebra teachers. The result is a social-media-based, easy-to-navigate, online resource for middle and high school students.Within four months more than half of Florida’s middle and high school algebra teachers, representing 1,200 schools in all 67 school districts, have accessed these quality resources. Algebra Nation exceeds all expectations.
In 2014, through the continued practice of listening tours across the state, the Lastinger Center learns from early childhood practitioners that they have little access to high quality, affordable training to help build their practice. In response, the Lastinger Center creates Early Learning Florida—an innovative and comprehensive system of accessible, affordable, and accredited professional development opportunities that give early childhood educators the partnership and support they need for success. In developing Early Learning Florida, Pedro Bermudez explains that “The purpose is to design, build, field-test, and disseminate innovations and models that transform teaching, improve learning and promote healthy child development.”
By 2018, Early Learning Florida delivers more than 400,000 hours of online content to more than 33,000 early childhood professionals. To further increase reach and impact, Early Learning Florida expands beyond the state to support teachers in Louisiana and Massachusetts under the Flamingo Early Learning brand.
2018 brings significant changes to the Lastinger Center, as Don Pemberton steps down as the center’s director. Newly appointed director, Phil Poekert, Ph.D., brings a fresh perspective to the Lastinger Center—yet shares the values and original vision established by the center’s founders and leaders.
With a new director and a growing professional staff, the Lastinger Center continues its innovative approach to teaching and learning. Recognizing that large numbers of elementary school children are not reading on grade level, the Lastinger Center launches the Literacy Matrix in 2018. Designed as a literacy-focused online professional development tool for educators, the Literacy Matrix builds upon educators’ foundational knowledge and skills for effective, evidence-based reading instruction. In 2021, a similar approach to professional learning for secondary math teachers, the Math Matrix, begins development. These systems combine technology and expert guidance to support thousands of teachers in their professional learning and credentialing journeys.
Over its twenty-year history, the Lastinger Center established itself as an intentional and creative hub for educational innovation across the state of Florida. Despite this commitment to innovation, the shared values of listening to teachers and caring for the underserved children in Florida’s classrooms remain a consistent theme.