Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Give credit for reading scores where it’s due

  • By
  • | 12:30 p.m. June 18, 2024
  • Sarasota
  • Opinion
  • Share

In response to Sarasota County School Board Chair Karen Rose’s My View in the June 6 Observer, as a sitting school board member, I see her explanation of the positive rise in third-grade reading scores very differently. 

I believe we need to give credit where credit is due.

Battleships don’t turn on a dime, and neither do school districts. The groundwork was laid under Dr. Brennan Asplen, shepherded by our Chief Academic Officer Chris Renoff, delivered by our dedicated teachers and administrators and, this year, enhanced by current Superintendent Terry Connor. 

Here are the historical facts:

For several years, the district was like a rudderless ship with superintendents and interim superintendents coming and going. Test scores were static. In 2020, we hired Dr. Brennan Asplen, a highly respected superintendent who came here from the No. 1 district in the state. With his proven record, he delivered a strategic plan heavily concentrated on literacy programming, early learning and career education. 

Board member Tom Edwards and Superintendent Terry Connor talk with Bryson Day, a Venice High School junior who was student representative at the Aug. 15, 2023, meeting.
Photo by Ian Swaby

We were on the path to improvement. But we were hit with two unexpected catastrophes: an epidemic that greatly impacted our students and staff, as well as Hurricane Ian, which resulted in property damage for many families. Subsequently, for the first time in recent history, academic challenges and the human trauma factor caused mental anguish so pervasive that it permeated every classroom in every school. 

Add to that, the boardroom began filling with Moms for Liberty activists, whose extremist views on issues like CRT, “Don’t Say Gay,” character education, book banning and masks dominated the public narrative. 

Still, Dr. Asplen persevered and created programming strategies to deal with the COVID slide (academic losses students experienced because of the pandemic and remote learning). With his team-oriented style, he motivated teachers to stay focused on the children, many of whom lost at least a year of learning gains and social interactions. 

Unfortunately, Dr. Asplen didn’t have the opportunity to see his vision play out because a new school board majority fired him as its first order of business. This brutal termination was opposed by 97% of the respondents to the Sarasota Classified/Teachers Association (SCTA) membership survey and by the entire membership of the Coalition of Business Association (COBA).  

Fortunately, we had the best educators and administrators who knew how to maintain consistency and continue academic advancement as we traversed through another turbulent period under an inexperienced interim superintendent. Adding fuel to the fire, that interim superintendent unexpectedly eliminated all pre-K classrooms, which were thankfully restored by my pleas to fellow board members. 

This brings us to our new superintendent, Mr. Connor, who started last summer. Mr. Connor was my first choice in the superintendent selection process not only because of his qualifications but because he supported the important Asplen initiatives. 

During his short time here, he has capably driven academic excellence through these tough political times and a highly controversial board member scandal. Additionally, Mr. Connor used his superior expertise and worked magic with our budget to sunset Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding and afford, refine and enhance this quality instructional programming and staffing. 

However, the true heroes of the test score improvements are:    

  • The teachers — with their expertise and passion for students and their educational outcomes.
  • The administrators — who kept continuity with Dr. Asplen’s plans until Mr. Connor and his team arrived to refine them and add a sense of urgency. 
  • The operational staff — who kept the buses running on schedule, fed the students nutritious meals and made sure the learning environments were clean and safe.

I am a huge fan of Mr. Connor and fully support revising his contract to a five-year one. It is important to reward him for his great work and ensure that we have long-term continuity in the top leadership role. 

From my sightline, Mr. Connor’s team is well on its way to catapulting Sarasota County Public Schools to the highest-ranking district in Florida.

Tom Edwards has served on the School Board since 2020.


Latest News