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U.S. Education Secretary highlights workforce development in visit to Broward County school

Miguel Cardona and Debbie Wasserman Schultz. There are news reporter microphones and a school logo backdrop.
Kate Payne
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz take questions from reporters during a visit to Cypress Bay High School in Weston on April 4, 2022.

The U.S. Secretary of Education says workforce development programs in Broward County are worth replicating across the country. Secretary Miguel Cardona met with students and educators from Cypress Bay High School and Broward College on Monday to hear what’s helping them succeed in the pandemic-era world.

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Nadine Plunkett is one of scores of Floridians who lost their jobs during the pandemic. She says it was the first time she hadn’t worked since she was 16.

As a single mother, Plunkett had to find a way to support herself and her daughter. She says it was a friend who recommended she sign up for Broward College’s Broward UP program, where she ultimately earned a certificate in medical billing and coding.

Kate Payne
Nadine Plunkett credits Broward College's Broward UP workforce training program with helping her get a new job during the pandemic. She shared her story with U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona during a roundtable at Cypress Bay High School.

“This program gave me that hope again, that push again, that someone is here for us in the community,” Plunkett told Secretary Cardona. “It pushed me to better myself, for my daughter and for myself also.”

During a roundtable with Broward College students and administrators at Cypress Bay High School in Weston, Cardona applauded the workforce development program. It offers free job training, focused on neighborhoods affected by intergenerational poverty, where unemployment rates are high and educational attainment levels low.

“What I see here is intentional collaboration with the community, right? So when we have intentional collaboration, a shared goal of lifting up our students and lifting up our community, students win. Your daughter wins. The next generation wins,” Cardona said.

Broward UP partners with municipalities and local nonprofits to make their course offerings available in online and remote settings. The program also matches students with case managers who help with career coaching and other social services to address barriers like childcare or transportation.

Cardona highlighted the school’s efforts to rethink how to reach students who might not pursue higher education otherwise. He says the disruptions of the pandemic have shown the country’s education system needs to change.

“It can’t go back to what it was. It didn't work for everyone. So what are we going to do to hit reset on the things that didn't work?” Cardona said. “That's why this Broward UP program to me is so important, because it's an example of what we need to see across the country. Not only because it provides opportunities to the students that are in but because it provides economic mobility for the participants.”

Cardona also toured Cypress Bay High with Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Broward schools Superintendent Vickie Cartwright and Miami-Dade schools Superintendent Jose Dotres to hear from students and learn more about the school’s career development efforts, including the FBI Cyber / STEM Program.

Courtesy: Broward County Public Schools
U.S. Secretary Miguel Cardona meets with Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Miami-Dade County schools Superintendent Jose Dotres and Broward County schools Superintendent Vickie Cartwright during a visit to Cypress Bay High School.

Speaking to reporters after the tour, Cardona acknowledged the political pressure that Florida’s educators are under, as state lawmakers work to restrict how teachers can handle certain subjects in the classroom, including gender identity, sexual orientation and issues of race and discrimination.

Cardona said teachers deserve a decent salary, safe working conditions, and to have their voices heard.

“This profession to serve children is more important now than ever before. So while these teachers are now probably experiencing a lot more pressure than they have in the past, we need to make sure that as we rebuild our schools and our systems, we provide support for our educators,” Cardona said. “I have complete confidence in the teachers in this country and in the teachers in Florida.”

Wasserman Schultz called the efforts to restrict how Florida educators can teach “unacceptable.”

“So many of our students and their families came from countries where they fled dictators and they faced censorship,” she said. “For our state to be throwing obstacles and censoring teachers and making life more complicated for them is really unacceptable.”

Kate Payne is WLRN's education reporter