With a unanimous vote Tuesday, the Sarasota County School Board selected Brennan Asplen to be the district’s new superintendent.
Board members chose Asplen, who currently is deputy superintendent in charge of academic and student services in the St. Johns County School District, because of the experience he gained while overseeing academics in St. Johns County, which is the highest rated district in Florida.
“He, to me, embodies all of things that we have loved about superintendents in the past,” board member Jane Goodwin said. “He is a great listener, he is kind and he wants to be in Sarasota County. He wants to come here and spend the rest of his career.”
During the interview process, Asplen said he would be a collaborative leader. In his first days as superintendent, Asplen said he would work to build a relationship with the school board and community stakeholders, such as parents, students and administrators.
“I am a uniter; I am a person that likes talking to people and working through concerns,” Asplen said. “There are a lot of problems out there, and there are big problems, but there is nothing that we can’t overcome by working together.”
In addition to his current role, Asplen was president of the Florida Association of School Administrators and served as a principal at both the middle and high school levels.
He was a finalist for Sarasota County superintendent in 2016, and board Chair Caroline Zucker said it took a lot of courage for him to reapply.
“For a man to come back twice after being told no and to have the credentials he does and the demeanor he does is incredible,” Zucker said. “I know that he will be here for the rest of his career.”
Beverly Slough, the St. Johns School Board chair, said that she has worked with Asplen as a principal and an administrator, and she’s confident he has the “compassion and collaborative spirit” it takes to be a successful superintendent. Although she said she’ll be sad to see him go, she knows he will do a great job in Sarasota County.
“He’s proven himself, and I think he shows a lot of wisdom,” Slough said. “He shows the ability to make sound decisions when necessary, hard decisions for the betterment of our district. And I’m positive he could do that in any other district in which he served.”
Asplen said he would like to focus on equitable funding of schools and work to integrate mental health lessons into district standards.
Although the vote was unanimous, the board had different candidates chosen going into the meeting. Goodwin and Zucker named Asplen as their only choice, while board members Bridget Ziegler and Eric Robinson named Asplen and Miami-Dade Chief Academic Officer Marie Izquierdo. Board member Shirley Brown chose Palm Beach County Regional Superintendent Peter Licata.
After discussion, board members agreed Asplen’s experience and personality matched what they were looking for in the next superintendent.
Board members said that after former Superintendent Todd Bowden agreed to part ways with the school district last year following an investigation into his handling of an employee’s sexual misconduct allegation, it was important to find a candidate who can quickly restore trust in the district.
In his first few months, Asplen hopes to embed himself in the community and talk with different student groups, faith-based groups and community leaders.
“I foresee myself going somewhere every night to see, listen and hear so I can bring it back to the cabinet,” Asplen said. “Everyone gets my cell phone number so they can access me.”
Asplen beat out a total of 31 candidates nationwide. Aside from Izquierdo and Licata, the remaining candidates were Palm Beach Chief of Human Resources Gonzalo La Cava and Palm Beach Deputy Superintendent Keith Oswald.
After the board announced its decision, Asplen briefly addressed the members, stating he was humbled and honored to be selected.
“I can’t wait to get down there and start working with you,” he said. “Sarasota County has unlimited potential, and it’s because of the people there, and the teachers, and the administrators and the community. I honestly can’t wait to get down there.”
Asplen will now begin contract negotiations with the board members who have said they’d like to see an initial contract of three years. A start date has not been announced, though members say they’d like Asplen to begin as soon as possible.