Sarasota County School Board candidates hope to keep focus on education
The candidates say they plan to gain parent trust and decrease political discussion among the board.
| 12:20 p.m. August 11, 2022
Six candidates will appear on the Aug. 23 ballot in hopes of obtaining one of three available seats on the Sarasota County School Board.
County residents will have the opportunity to select between two candidates when deciding who will represent the districts on the board. Each voter will vote for a candidate in each district, regardless of where they reside.
The board consists of five members each elected to four-year terms.
Only one incumbent, district one representative Bridget Ziegler, is seeking reelection.
Each candidate plans to prioritize eliminating contention among board members and limiting politics in discussion of decisions. All six desire a focus on improving the lives of the children educated in the county.
Dawnyelle Singleton is a native of Sarasota and a product of the county's school system. She has a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida State University. She worked for a local nonprofit agency focused on early childhood, parenting education and mental health services. She served as a school administrator at Visible Men Academy for six years.
“Last summer, I started paying attention to what was happening at school board meetings,” she wrote in an email. “I kept seeing more and more anger and division not only at meetings but within our community. I couldn’t sit back and let our public schools, teachers and school communities be undermined.”
She believes her background in education and community engagement will allow her to make a difference on the board and in the community.
“I have a lived experience in being educated in this community and wanting the best for all students no matter their ZIP code or socio-economic background,” she wrote.
If elected, she would make history as the first African American on the Sarasota County School Board. Her priorities would be working with the superintendent to advance Voluntary PreKindergarten Programs in the district, finding solutions to the teacher shortage, increasing teacher salaries and working with families and educators to support students’ mental health.
“I want to be part of the functioning board that is able to work together, collaborate and conduct the business of the school board,” she wrote. “I will bring calm and patience, and I will be responsive and not reactive in my decision-making.”
Bridget Ziegler is the only incumbent. Ziegler was appointed to the position in order to fill a vacancy in 2014 by Gove Rick Scott. She was re-elected in 2018. Her initial decision to run in 2014 came from her desire to ensure parents had a seat at the table when the board was making decisions.
“When you run for office, you learn a lot about yourself and a lot about other people,” she wrote in an email. “I faced and overcame several fears and insecurities, met and learned from some of the most incredible people and saw my passion for education, community and public service grow deeper through the process and over the years I’ve served on the board.”
Ziegler’s experience as a parent of three school-aged children, corporate risk consultant and school board member are what she believes prepares her for success, if re-elected.
“There is an opportunity to change the tide to ensure the Board for Sarasota County Schools understands its mission and who they are there to serve, to learn from lessons of the past, praise the great accomplishments and roll up our sleeves to address the challenges that we know we currently have and any that may come our way.”
She identified one of the primary issues facing the board as its current operation, citing an unwillingness to address certain issues and belittling one another.
“When it comes to educating children, the cost can be more than just financial,” she wrote.
Lauren Kurnov’s background in education and personal stock in the vitality of the school district has led her to pursue the district four seat on the school board. She was born and raised in Sarasota and both her children are students within the district.
“As a parent, I started paying attention to what was going on at school board meetings over the last couple of years and noticed the divisiveness that continues to grow,” she said. “We need folks in the boardroom and in leadership positions who will always make sure that we really focus the conversation on key educational issues that are affecting our students.”
Key issues she has identified within the district include teacher pay and retention, student career readiness and maintaining the district’s A rating. Kurnov has raised over $200,000 during her campaign, more than any other candidate, which she attributes to her campaign's overall message and the ability to reach across party lines even in a nonpartisan race. Prior to deciding to run for office, she worked at both New College of Florida and the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campuses. Last year, she completed her doctorate in education.
“I have the experience that we need to really move the needle on some of the issues I have identified,” she said. “I have the expertise needed to address these issues, and I am deeply committed as both a parent and educator. I will be the person that will always refocus the conversation on educational issues and making sure we are staying on track to keep our schools A rated.”
Robyn Marinelli has 40 years of experience working within the Sarasota County School District. She spent five years teaching before transitioning to the role of school counselor for 20 years. She spent 15 years as a district-level administrator overseeing Student Services for the district, which included aiding students in selecting a career path to pursue. After retiring in 2015, she returned to a local charter school as a school counselor.
“I think I have a lens to make sure everything that is discussed is student-focused,” she said.
Her experience within the district is what she believes sets her apart from her opponent and would make her an invaluable asset to the board.
“The community and parents have lost trust,” she said. “I think that’s something that I am very committed to is to make sure that parents have a seat at the table and to bring civility back to the school board and focus on students.”
She deems herself as approachable, skilled and highly-qualified for the role due to her passion and experience in education.
“I am for all students of all parents,” she said. “It’s our responsibility to educate and keep parents informed on what is going on.”
Maintaining the district’s A grade is important to Marinelli as well as looking into student education programs that reach outside of the one-size-fits-all approach.
“I want teachers to have the freedom to teach and bring creativity into their classrooms,” she said.
Nora Cietek’s upbringing as one of 10 children and her Master’s degree in education psychology are part of what she believes sets her apart from her opponent and makes her a fit for the School Board seat. She has a 30-year career in education having served as a Special Education teacher, assistant principal, principal and the Assistant Director of Special Education in the Schenectady City School District in New York.
“The school board is the perfect fit for me,” she wrote in an email. “Once elected, I will use my extensive skill set in the area of education to enhance the Sarasota School District.”
Her belief that the school board needs to shift focus back to children and their families.
“I am a non-political person who has never considered political affiliation when it comes to education,” she wrote. “For me, it’s all about our children and the teachers and staff that work tirelessly every day to make sure that those children have access to all the resources that they need to strive to be the best they can be.”
A vote for her, she wrote, would be a vote for someone who understands teaching, education policy, school budgets and special needs. If elected, she hopes to be able to create a pattern of reviewing programs to ensure that the ones in place are fully benefiting both students and staff.
“I want to instill an ‘I can do it’ attitude in our students,” she wrote. “No matter where a child is functioning, we need to create a program for them to ensure that they are able to meet their goals with confidence.”
Tim Enos has 32 years of law enforcement experience, including time spent within the Sarasota County Sheriff's Department. He has served as the Chief of Police for the Sarasota County Schools Police Department. He is the executive director of Florida Association of School Resource Officers. He received a bachelor’s degree in finance from Florida State University.
“I know what excellence in education looks like because I went to school here,” he said. “I was part of the district for 22 years, the last three years being part of the executive staff.”
Change he hopes to influence, if elected, includes increased transparency in the budget process and in curriculum. He has noticed parents lack trust in the board and he hopes to play a hand in improving that trust.
“We need to make sure that parents are involved in all aspects of their child’s education,” he said.
He grew up in the county and was educated in the district and has put three children through the district. His knowledge of the area and his experience ensuring student safety give him a unique perspective, he said.
“I feel that we need representation of people who are from the community on the board to make decisions not based on politics, but based upon what is important to parents,” he said. “I don’t think politics has any place to play in education. I want to create an atmosphere of transparency.”
If elected, he is hopeful he will be able to bring a diverse perspective to the board.