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Public's feedback sought on hiring of next Manatee district superintendent

The School Board of Manatee County conducts surveys, hosts community forums to see what the public wants most.

School District of Manatee County board members Richard Tatem, Mary Foreman, Chad Choate, Cindy Spray and Gina Messenger are seeking input on the superintendent search.
School District of Manatee County board members Richard Tatem, Mary Foreman, Chad Choate, Cindy Spray and Gina Messenger are seeking input on the superintendent search.
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Strong leader? Goal oriented? Good communicator?

Those might be a few of the top priorities being sought in the next leader of the School District of Manatee County. 

Throughout February, the School Board of Manatee County will have an online survey available as well as in-person forums with the community and district employees to hear what they want to see in the next superintendent. 

The survey, which is posted on, will give residents an opportunity to share their thoughts on the most important qualities such as leadership and instructional excellence.

The survey also will ask residents to give feedback on business, finance, operations, community relations, and performance accountability among other items. The survey will also ask what people think are the most significant strengths of the district and what they think are the biggest challenges. 

Ultimately, the board will come together March 3 during a school board workshop to discuss the survey results and community forums that are being held to determine the qualifications for the next superintendent. 

In East County, one of the biggest issues parents are hoping the next superintendent will address is overcrowding in schools. Nine East County schools are at least 80% capacity for the 2022-2023 school year. Lakewood Ranch High School is over capacity by 594 students, and B.D. Gullett Elementary School is over capacity by 184 students this school year. 

“The overcrowding of certain schools has made the option to do school choice nearly impossible in this county,” said Stephanie DePasquale, who has three daughters in high school. “My hope for a new superintendent is that he or she will make it a top priority to get back to a time when families had a choice."

Greenbrook’s Crystal Rothhaar, who has a seventh grader at R. Dan Nolan Middle School and a fifth grader at Robert E. Willis Elementary School, also hopes the next superintendent can find a way to evenly distribute students among schools, especially in East County. 

She said Nolan Middle School had to decrease the number of programs it was offering this year because there aren’t enough students enrolled at the school to provide the proper staffing for the programs. 

“It’s going to become more of an issue because as more houses are built in East County, they are going to have to take a close look at the number of schools and how the schools are zoned,” Rothhaar said. “When you don’t have enough kids, you lose teacher spots. When you lose teacher spots, you lose things like electives and more opportunities for higher level classes.”

Rothhaar hopes the next superintendent also can expand on the opportunities for gifted students. She said Cynthia Saunders, the current superintendent, has done a great job with bringing new programs to the county, such as the Guy Harvey Academy at Anna Maria Island or the animatronics lab at Nolan Middle School that was made possible through Garner Holt Education through Imagination. 

“(The animatronics program) is awesome and gives an opportunity for kids to do a national level program,” Rothhaar said. “I’m hoping there will be more opportunities like that. Sarasota, for example, has a lot of gifted magnet schools. There are no opportunities like that, especially in East County. Right now, if you’re advocating for gifted learners, you have to go to Sarasota or drive to west Bradenton, which is difficult.”

As the new superintendent takes over, Rothhaar and DePasquale are hoping for transparency, good communication and that the superintendent will put the best interest of students ahead of any agenda. 

“One of the great things about the superintendent we have now is if you send her an email, she’s going to email you back the same day or very soon thereafter,” Rothhaar said. “It’s important to have a superintendent who’s responsive, who cares about what the parents think and their concerns and takes them into consideration when making decisions. The parents want to feel like they’re heard.”

Each of the members of the School Board of Manatee County have their own thoughts on the qualities and characteristics of the next leader of the district.

Board members Mary Foreman and Chad Choate said they want to have a superintendent with strong communication with the community and district employees. 

Board members differ on what type of background they would like the superintendent to have, such as a background in education or finance. 

Choate and board member Gina Messenger said they want a superintendent with an education background. 

Board member Cindy Spray also wants a leader with an education background, especially experience with kindergarten through third or fourth grade. She wants a superintendent who will help the district continue its climb up the state rankings. 

“You can build all the pretty buildings in the district you want, but we have to build minds and not just buildings,” Spray said. 

Foreman said as long as someone is a strong leader, they can use their staff to provide guidance on the educational, financial and other aspects of the districts. 

“I was trying to decide whether you want somebody who has the finance background or the education background,” Foreman said. “If you have a really strong leader with those skills, they can effectively hire the No. 2 under them to handle those functions. If you’re a good manager, you delegate, and that’s where the communication skills come in.”

Spray wants the superintendent to have a business, educational and financial sense. 

“We have a huge budget,” she said. “I want to look for a superintendent who can help us reduce cost as well and to get our teachers’ pay off of a ballot and into our general fund.”

Choate wants to hire someone familiar with Florida education funding and the Florida education standards.

Tatem said he wants a superintendent who is patriotic and has respect and admiration for the U.S. as well as someone who is focused on “educating the heads and the hearts of children so they’re ready to be good American citizens.”



Liz Ramos

Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.

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