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Please, choose wisely in Sarasota County's School Board races – Sarasota Herald-Tribune

When I was a student during the Cold War era, public education was unified with a common goal and purpose. Russia was our major enemy, so a heavy emphasis was placed on preparing students to outcompete the Russians in science, space, mathematics and engineering.
Our values and instruction were aligned.
Today, public school teachers and students are pawns in the culture war. Neighbors are fighting each other over critical race theory, mask policies, endorsements, book banning and LGBTQ+ age-appropriate instruction. Unfortunately, our teachers and our many students are the ones who pay the price.
Two years ago, I was elected to the Sarasota County School Board to bring a consensus-building approach to decision making. I must confess: the experience was nothing like what I had expected.
But, then again, the past two years have been nothing that any of us could have anticipated. Instead of the School Board and the community coming together to support our students and their instruction hurdles due to the pandemic, relentless divisiveness invaded the boardroom and led to attacks on both board members and the superintendent.
These frequent disruptions at School Board meetings have put Sarasota County in the spotlight of the national media. And it would be easy to surmise from this coverage that we have a serious problem with most of the parents in the Sarasota County school system. Yet the opposite is the actual truth.
The trust and excellent relationships that have been built among parents, teachers and school administrators are outstanding. In the annual parent survey, more than 70% of parents agreed or strongly agreed that their children’s schools see them as partners in the education of their kids.
Despite the turmoil, our district received our 18th consecutive “A” rating from the state, and here’s why:
We still have tremendous work to do to overcome the achievement gap, improve third grade reading scores, deal with teacher shortages, create more career-focused academies, expand preschool programs and ensure that every student graduates with a career and/or college plan.
To tackle all of these issues, we need a collaborative, team-oriented School Board with members who have the best interests of students and teachers in their hearts and minds.
The next School Board election is Aug. 23, and it is an opportunity for the community to elect three new School Board members. Although the candidates represent three different districts in Sarasota County, they are elected countywide. That means every voter can vote for three candidates – one from each district.
When I ran for office two years ago, I asked you to give our superintendent, Brennan Asplen, my fresh eyes and perspectives to complement his fresh approach. Now I am making another request: Please, on Aug. 23,  choose School Board candidates who truly represent America’s essential values.
During a recent districtwide training session, many principals and teachers shared with me how the latest laws pertaining to public education have had a demoralizing effect on them – a lowering of morale that has also left them feeling as though they are not trusted.
Please, what our students and teachers need right now is less drama and more support!
This is the most consequential School Board election in Sarasota County’s recent history. Look for candidates who can bring the fresh eyes, the forward thinking and the harmonious approach that are needed to amp down divisiveness and rev up continued success for every child and every teacher.
Choose wisely. Our students are counting on you.
Tom Edwards is a member of the Sarasota County School Board.


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