What will Sarasota Schools’ superintendent search look like?

Sarasota Herald-Tribune | By Steven Walker | December 19, 2022

Following a nearly month-long process marked by politics and sharp rhetoric ending in the removal of Brennan Asplen as the superintendent, Sarasota County Schools faces its third search for a top administrator in six years.

Many of the specifics surrounding the search remain unclear as the School District heads into a winter break. The next School Board meeting and workshop are scheduled for Jan. 17. At last Tuesday’s board meeting and in an interview, Chairwoman Bridget Ziegler said she looks for the five board members to bring forward potential names for a long-term interim superintendent to the next meeting. The board appointed Chris Renouf on Tuesday, with the idea that it would decide someone for a more prolonged stint after the start of the new year.

Ziegler said the goal would be to have a new superintendent vetted and hired by the start of the 2023-24 school year, but she doesn’t want to rush, either. She said she plans to add an item to the Jan. 17 board workshop regarding the search, and more specifics could be discussed then.

In 2020, when the district ultimately hired Asplen, the nationwide search involved the Florida School Board Association and community input. At Tuesday’s School Board meeting, several board members expressed a desire to have some type of community input for this search.

“I’m interested in input from the entire community right now,” Board member Karen Rose said. “When we do get to selecting a superintendent, committing to how this district has always done that with a full community process.”

In an interview, Ziegler said “transparency” and community input in the superintendent search is a priority. She said that while specifics haven’t been determined, she foresees a community stakeholder committee with board-appointed members and members of the public consulting on the hire.

“It’s our responsibility to not only find the highest caliber candidate but to set that individual up for success so that they can do their job and we achieve our mission,” Ziegler said. “In order for them to be successful, that includes being transparent.”

Ironically, the board was criticized during its public meetings over Asplen’s termination for lack of transparency in the abrupt and, initially unexplained handling of it.

It’s unclear if the district will use the Florida School Boards Association in the upcoming superintendent search, but Ziegler and Rose have expressed reservations about the organization before. When asked, Ziegler said while she respects the FSBA, but it “remains to be seen” whether the board seeks the organization’s services in helping find a superintendent.

Ziegler is the director of school board programs for the Leadership Institute, an organization training conservatives to run for office. A school board training offered by Ziegler on Dec. 10 was framed as a direct alternative to the FSBA training.

Several community members, including Barry Dubin, the executive director of the Sarasota Classified Teachers Association, have raised concerns over the quality of candidates the district would attract after the circumstances of Asplen’s removal. Ziegler said she still sees being the superintendent of Sarasota County as a highly attractive position.

“Despite what people may say, there are many people across the country that look at Sarasota as a wonderful opportunity for them,” she said. “I know there was a lot of rhetoric that ‘Who would want to come here?” I can assure you that there are plenty.”

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