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Sarasota Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021 2 weeks ago

Conversation with school board newcomer Karen Rose

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Rose was elected to the District 2 school board seat.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

Editor’s note: Responses have been edited for length.

The 2020 election cycle brought two new faces to the Sarasota County School Board.

District 2 representative Karen Rose won her seat with 57,942 votes, or 56.2% of the vote. The Sarasota Observer caught up with Rose after her first few weeks on the board.

What are some key issues you feel the district is facing and how would you like to address them moving forward? 

At the forefront of everyone’s mind is safety and security with the coronavirus as it evolves, and I believe that the district is doing a good job with it.

I also look at student achievement. We’re in the business of building quality schools and maintaining and growing our high performance in the light of the challenges that have taken place. I think that the teachers are really invested in doing a great job. I think the challenges that we’re having are with substitutes, as well as maintaining consistency in our classrooms with the vacancies that we have.

I think those challenges with maintaining our academic performance are legislative priorities for me. I will be asking our legislators to change the law and allow us to immediately hire retired teachers as substitutes. Currently, any teacher in the state of Florida that retires has to wait one calendar year before they can work as a substitute.

With COVID-19 and a concurrent learning model, teachers say they are working harder than ever before. What steps need to be taken to ensure a healthy culture for teachers? 

As a former teacher, this is something I understand and respect. I know for a fact it’s at the core of our success. 

I think staff needs to allow some flexibility while maintaining high-quality instruction, listen to our families and our students and provide the resources and training to optimize what teachers brings to the table.

Key to a child’s education is a positive learning environment, how can the district best continue to provide this amid concurrent learning and quarantines? 

My background is in behavioral sciences, and a focus on mental health is a high priority in our schools all of the time, but with the virus, it’s something we have to give our attention to. We need to look at how we provide healthy environments and resources for students and families.

The school recently advertised a new administrative position for equity and diversity. What other steps can be taken to ensure equity across the district? 

The first thing with equity is to ensure that every single child has the optimal ability to feel safe, feel respected and learn with the best resources for their learning style. With equity issues, I immediately go to the achievement gap and our students with special needs, and I feel that we can do a better job.

That entails everything from working with our partners to listening to our teachers to looking at the kinds of resources that we have and figuring out how to partner with new organizations to obtain more. We need to focus on individual populations that we could have more success with and then create individualized plans for students.

In recent months, there have been questions about certain materials shared with students. In your opinion, what criteria should be used to determine whether material is appropriate to share with students? 

We’re in a heightened state lately, and I respect it. I look at how we’ve been able to function optimally as servants of our children and listening is key. We are a public school, and we have a diverse population, and we need to make sure that we are delivering what individual students need.

I believe that as of late that — I don’t think it’s an anomaly in Sarasota — there’s been a heightened political state. But I think that we need to work to take care of every child and work with every family. I don’t think it’s about us or them or this group or that group or who’s right or who’s wrong — there’s right in all of it. It’s our job to make sure that our community feels like we are serving our students at the highest quality we possibly can.

In the past few years, the board has been split 3-2 on many votes which may have caused some tension among board members. What needs to happen to ensure good board relations moving forward? 

I don’t think it’s about the 3-2 votes. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s 3-2, a 4-1 or a 5-0 vote. What stands out for me and what I’m holding myself accountable to is being a professional, respecting what my fellow board members bring to the table in their experiences and having healthy deliberation.

It takes work to have healthy conversations where no one is right, and no one is wrong, and we’re all in it to learn and get better and provide higher quality education. When I look at the school board, I believe everyone is in it for the right reason, and now my job is to hold myself accountable and serve my community.

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