Superintendent Lori White puts students first
Much of the time of a modern urban superintendent of schools is necessarily consumed with budget discussions, employee negotiations, long-range planning, developing community support and dozens of other management details. Keeping the needs of students uppermost in every decision requires strong commitment and focus.
That commitment and focus are exactly what Lori White brings to her position as Sarasota County Schools superintendent, to which she was appointed May 2008.
Mrs. White served as the associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction for five years prior to her promotion to superintendent. Although the board considered conducting a national search for a new superintendent, they decided that Mrs. White was uniquely qualified for the job by virtue of her professional expertise and her experience with NeXt Generation Learning, a broad school-reform program introduced to the Sarasota County Schools in 2004.
White, 54, grew up in Sarasota and is a product of the Sarasota County Schools. She attended Alta Vista Elementary School, Sarasota Junior High School and was a member of the first graduating class of Pine View School.
She graduated from Florida State University in 1977 with both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in Interrelated Areas of Special Education. She began her career in the Sarasota County Schools in 1977 as a special education teacher at Ashton Elementary School.
In 1984 she accepted her first district administration position as an early childhood specialist. She subsequently served as an elementary supervisor, supervisor of curriculum, director of curriculum and executive director of curriculum before being appointed associate superintendent.
White said she previously expressed reservations about being appointed superintendent because she loved her job as head of the curriculum division. “I’m the kind of person who loved whatever job I had,” she said. “I loved being a teacher. I loved being a curriculum specialist. But when I’m asked to lead, I’m going to do it.”
White said she is fully committed to providing continuity for the NeXt Generation Learning district strategic plan to build and promote even greater student success. “I’ve lived my life in Sarasota County,” White said. “I’ve raised my children here. We have something very special here. I believe we can have a very smooth transition and can move forward without losing any ground.”
Before she assumed her new position in 2008, Mrs. White shared her thoughts on leading a school district with then-student reporter Grier Ferguson of the Sarasota High School Sarasotan. The following are excerpts from Ms. Ferguson’s article.
Q: Who do you see your client as being?
A: Ultimately I feel my client is the student. That’s certainly very close to the parent, as well. But the ultimate client is the student. I think in meeting the needs of that client, that student, we need to have a focus on the needs of the teachers—the resources and tools the teachers need to do this work and what parents need for information, and how we can connect with the community so that we can bring in additional resources of time and expertise so that they can help us improve the educational environment. So it’s all focused on what we can bring to the student, but it’s looking at those other customers who can help us with that mission.
Q: What is the best thing about Sarasota County Schools?
A: For me, it’s the people. It’s the bus driver and the cafeteria worker. It’s all the people involved working together for our students. There’s such a commitment that you feel an energy and excitement about this work. You feel it when you are out in the schools. You feel it from the teaching staff, secretaries, security aides — there is this focus on what’s good for our students.
Q: What is the biggest challenge facing Sarasota County Schools?
A: Right now, I think (as in the rest of the state of Florida) it’s the budget situation. We are looking at a budget reduction that looks at a per-student allocation going back to the levels of 2006-2007, and our operational costs are much greater now than they were then. And so there is such a challenge in how we continue to provide this high-quality education when we’ve got that kind of significant reduction of resources — how we learn to do things differently and still provide that level of education.
Q: What would you like state legislators to do differently?
A: I think in the state of Florida we have to examine our funding structures to see if there are ways to look at revenue sources differently to provide more stability during these times of economic downturn. I would hope, given these times of economic challenges, that they don’t have new legislation that puts new mandates on us that requires new things without the revenue sources to support it.
Q: Did you always know when you were growing up that you wanted to be involved in education?
A: I did. I certainly think I always knew. I was born to be a teacher. My poor brother and sister not only had their regular schooling, we played school after school, too. I made sure I was always the teacher. So I have always been drawn to education — to be a teacher —specifically in the area of special education.