More than 120 people recently attended a luncheon focused on education reform in Florida. Hosted by The Argus Foundation (, a nonprofit organization dedicated to joining business leaders from diverse industries and leveraging their talents and experience to benefit the local community, the event featured two high-profile speakers on the topic.

F. Philip Handy, board president of both the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd), which was launched by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush in 2008, and the Foundation for Florida’s Future, discussed education reform in the state. J. Alex Kelly, vice president of advocacy for ExcelinEd, also spoke during the Meet the Minds luncheon on June 30.

“The Argus Foundation strives to continually join business and area leaders together to discuss important issues, such as education reform, as a community,” said Joe Hembree, president of The Argus Foundation. “As a community that heavily values education, we understand the significance of bringing these issues to the forefront and featuring innovative and involved speakers like these in a forum where our members and guests can ask questions and keep updated on statewide initiatives and trends,” he said.

Business professionals and elected officials attended the event including State Representative Jim Boyd; State Representative Greg Steube; School Board Members Shirley Brown, Bridget Ziegler and Caroline Zucker; Sarasota City Mayor Willie Shaw; North Port City Mayor Rhonda DiFranco; North Port City Commissioner Cheryl Cook; and Airport Authority Chairman Dr. Peter Wish, among others.

“It is crucial that we have the help of the business community in our fight to reform education,” said Handy during his presentation. “While Florida is improving when it comes to education, reform isn’t done. The measure of success is student achievement, and we measure that against national standards.”

Florida was the first state to adopt and implement the A-F school grading policy, which according to Handy and Kelly is the most transparent and empowering school-rating policy in the country. Sixteen other states around the nation have followed Florida’s lead in adopting A-F School grading. Florida’s K-3 reading law has also been replicated in 10 states. The comprehensive kindergarten through third grade reading policy has resulted in dramatic improvements in literacy.

“The desire for reform exists where a crisis exists,” stated Kelly during his presentation.

ExcelinEd is a nonprofit organization focused on K-12 education reform, state by state. ExcelinEd, together with its sister organization the Foundation for Florida’s Future, is turning reform into reality with student-focused policies that allow every child to achieve his or her potential and prepares all students for success in the 21st century. Centered on student achievement, accountability and customized choices for families, ExcelinEd’s policies increase expectations for students and teachers and provide students with ready access to a quality education.

About The Argus Foundation

Established in Sarasota in 1983, The Argus Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to joining business leaders from diverse industries and leveraging their talents and experience to benefit the local community. The organization, which seeks to facilitate communications between the public and private sectors, has more than 170 members from 50 different industries. For more information, visit

About F. Philip Handy

F. Philip Handy served as chairman of the Florida State Board of Education for six years, a seven-person board appointed by Governor Jeb Bush, which has constitutional responsibility for Florida’s public educational system of over 4 million students. President George W. Bush appointed Handy to the National Board of Education Sciences (confirmed by the U.S. Senate) twice, where he served as vice chairman. Handy has been a member of the Florida Governor’s Council of 100 since 1987.

About J. Alex Kelly

Prior to becoming vice president for advocacy at the Foundation for Excellence in Education, Kelly was the regional advocacy director for the Gulf Coast States and served as director of local initiatives for the Foundation for Florida’s Future. Prior to that, Kelly worked as the chief of staff for the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice and served as staff director for the Florida House of Representatives’ redistricting committee.