Sarasota County Schools News

Students ‘embrace their differences’ with activities in the spirit of Dr. Seuss

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SARASOTA COUNTY, Feb. 28, 2017 – Several elementary schools in Sarasota County will celebrate Dr. Seuss’s Birthday, Thursday, March 2, which has been designated as Embracing Dr. Seuss’s Differences Day as well as Read Across America Day. Some schools have planned activities throughout the week.

The events welcome volunteer readers into schools to read favorite Dr. Seuss books aloud to young students. Throughout Sarasota and Manatee counties, the reading activities are being encouraged by the organization known as Embracing Our Differences, which seeks to help people of all ages understand and appreciate their differences as well as their similarities.

Embracing Our Differences is partnering with elementary schools and the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, with support from the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, the Patterson Foundation, the Manatee Community Foundation and the United Way of Manatee County, to celebrate the birthday of the beloved children’s book author and illustrator. Born Theodor Seuss Geisel, he is known throughout the world by his pen name, Dr. Seuss.

The Embracing Our Differences website quotes the author, “You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.” The site also notes that, “Dr. Seuss epitomizes a love of children and learning. His use of rhyme makes an effective tool for teaching young children the basic skills needed to be successful in an ever-changing world. When we celebrate Dr. Seuss and reading, we send a clear message to our children that reading is fun and important.”

The Dr. Seuss books that will be read to children at schools by guest readers include “The Cat in the Hat,” “Horton Hears a Who,” “The Lorax” and “The Sneetches.” Besides being fun to share with their whimsical rhymes and outrageous drawings, the stories have important lessons for readers of all ages.    

The following are among the many activities scheduled for schools in Sarasota County:

Ashton Elementary School, 5110 Ashton Road, Sarasota:

On March 2, Principal Chris Renouf, Assistant Principal Jacob Ruscoe and other staff members, as well as members of Dedicated Ashton Dads (DAD), will read to students in more than 30 classrooms to celebrate literacy. School hours are 8 a.m.-2:45 p.m.

Wilkinson Elementary School, 3400 Wilkinson Road, Sarasota:

The school will have guest readers at all grade levels March 2 as part of the Embracing Our Differences project. Throughout the week, Wilkinson and other schools are matching Dr. Seuss books with certain days and themes, including Wacky Wednesday (“wear your wackiest socks” and read “Fox in Socks), Theodor Thursday (“dress like your favorite Dr. Seuss character” and read “Horton Hears a Who”) and Funny Food Friday (“wear the color green and read “Green Eggs and Ham”). School hours are 8:15 a.m.-3 p.m.

Alta Vista Elementary School, 1050 S. Euclid Ave., Sarasota:

Guest readers from 9 a.m.-2 p.m., March 2, will include Patterson Foundation Governing Board Chairman John Berteau, and Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County Executive Director Jim Shirley.

Fruitville Elementary School, 601 Honore Ave., Sarasota:

The school will welcome readers from 9 a.m.-2 p.m., March 2, including School Board Chairwoman Caroline Zucker, who will share a book with a fifth grade class at 10 a.m.

Lamarque Elementary School, 3415 Lamarque Ave., North Port:

From 9 a.m.-2 p.m., March 2, North Port Mayor Linda Yates, City Commissioner Debbie McDowell and Executive Director of Elementary Education Laura Kingsley, firefighters and police officers will read to students.

Cranberry Elementary School, 2775 Shalimar Terrace, North Port:

The school will host “Bedtime Stories Family Night” from 5:45-7 p.m., March 2, for students in grades K-2 and their families. The theme will be “The World of Eric Carle and Dr. Seuss.” 

School district ‘bridge instruction and tech’ at seminar for teachers

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NOKOMIS, Feb. 24, 2017 – Two hundred Sarasota County School District teachers and representatives of the district’s technology business partners will share tips and trends at a seminar called “Bridging Instruction and Technology.” The event will be held from 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 25, at Laurel Nokomis School.

Bridging Instruction and Technology will showcase the ways technology tools are used in district classrooms. Teachers will network with their colleagues and learn from experts from Microsoft, Promethean, Blackboard, LanSchool, CDW and BrainPOP.

“This event will give teachers an opportunity to step outside of their classrooms, learn from their peers and discover how technology is used in other classrooms across the county,” said Katie Schunk, instructional technology specialist.

Laurel Nokomis School is located at 1900 E. Laurel Road, Nokomis.

New superintendent plans busy first day

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Todd Bowden

Todd Bowden

SARASOTA COUNTY, Feb. 24, 2017 – The new superintendent of the Sarasota County Schools will be sworn in Wednesday at a public ceremony at 10 a.m. in the School Board chambers at the Landings Administrative Center in Sarasota. Todd Bowden will succeed Lori White as superintendent. White is scheduled to retire on Feb. 28.

Bowden, 45, was selected in October from a field of 49 candidates who applied for the position during a national search. He was a teacher and administrator in Hillsborough County before joining the Sarasota County Schools in 2007. He served as the director of the Sarasota County Technical Institute and as the district’s executive director of career, technical and adult education before being appointed as superintendent.

The swearing-in ceremony will be part of a full day of activities in which the new superintendent will visit schools; meet with teachers, students and staff; and engage with community members. “I plan to spend my first day as superintendent in the schools,” Bowden said. “I want to meet with the people who are working with students every day and make sure they know I am here to support them.”

Bowden plans to start the day at 6 a.m. with an interview on the ABC 7 morning news program, “Good Morning Suncoast.” His next stop will be a staff meeting at McIntosh Middle
School at 8 a.m.

School Board Chairwoman Caroline Zucker will preside at the swearing-in ceremony at 10 a.m. Twelfth Circuit Court Judge Hunter Carroll will administer the oath of office.

Elected officials, district staff and supporters have been invited to attend. The event will be open to the public and community members are welcome. A brief reception will follow the ceremony.

After the swearing-in, Bowden will travel to Venice High School to visit classrooms and talk to teachers there. He will return to Sarasota to attend a staff meeting at Emma E. Booker Elementary School at 3:30 p.m.

The final event of the day will be a reception at the Sarasota Opera House for about 100 guests. The reception will be hosted by the Education Foundation of Sarasota County, the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce and the Argus Foundation. 

Wilkinson Elementary builds up ‘STEAM’ with monthly events

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SARASOTA, Feb. 23, 2017 – Wilkinson Elementary School is hosting STEAM Family Involvement Nights on the fourth Thursday of each month from January through May.  

Each of the five nights center around one of the aspects of STEAM education (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics), with the goal of celebrating learning together with students and their families. The events run from 5:15-7:30 p.m., with dinner from 5:15-6 p.m., and hands-on activities from 6-7:30 p.m. Dinner for all of these evenings is being provided by Uncommon Kids, one of the school’s business partners.   

The January “Super Science” night welcomed 105 students and their families, who participated in interactive presentations and activities based on the science theme and sponsored by local businesses and community members.  

On Thursday, Feb. 23, the school will host Technology Time. The event will include a coding session for the computer game Minecraft, activities based on Bricks for Kids (Lego interactives), and guests from the Brookside Middle School Robotics Club, The Florida House and Faulhaber Fab Lab.

On Thursday, March 23, the theme will be Exploring Engineering. The event will include Bricks for Kids with five engineering activity stations, the planning of an outdoor Butterfly Garden partially underwritten by Cawley Construction and in partnership with the school district’s Facilities Services Department, and other activities sponsored by Engineering for Kids Sarasota, the Florida House, the Siesta Key Trolley and The Home Depot.  

The themes for the two remaining STEAM Nights, April 27 and May 25, will be Arts Awareness (music, dance, drama and the visual arts) and Magnificent Math, respectively.

Wilkinson plans to continue building up STEAM after that. Its long-term vision is a STEAM Courtyard. Principal Susan Nations explained that the concept “is being developed by our staff and students, and funded through grants and local support. Our courtyard, nestled under live oak trees, is currently dormant space. We envision the area busting with outdoor, hands-on STEAM learning stations for students and teachers, as well as a butterfly garden, complete with a ‘butterfly nursery’ and observation area. We’re excited about our STEAM Nights and our future STEAM Courtyard!”

Wilkinson Elementary School is located at 3400 Wilkinson Road, Sarasota. 

Booker Elementary teacher creates ‘Let’s Write It’ music video

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Maureik Robison-Lets Write It screen shot Feb 2017Let's Write It-student screen shots-EEB 2017

LET'S WRITE IT! In two screen shots from the “Let’s Write It” music video, Emma E. Booker Elementary fourth-grade teacher Maureik Robison and, pictured from left in bottom photo, students Antwanique Clarkson, Ra'Shya Bryant and Kanyliah Thomas, show how essay-writing is done.

SARASOTA, Feb. 23, 2017 – Maureik Robison, a fourth-grade teacher at Emma E. Booker Elementary School, is harnessing the power of music to inspire his students to write. He composed a song called “Let’s Write It.” Fellow teaching artist and actor Terrance Jackson engineered the audio recording and shot and edited a video of the song, which is designed to get students excited about writing.

One of Robison’s goals in creating the music video was to prepare students for the Florida Standards Assessment English Language Arts/Writing test, which will be administered statewide in grades four through seven the week of Feb. 27.

“Let’s Write It” features Robison and his class of dancing students, taking them through the thinking process and reminding them how to follow the essay prompt from their introduction to their conclusion. The goal is to help them be successful writers for the two-hour FSA essay test and beyond, in a way that is memorable and fun. Other teachers and administrators also got into the act. 

“The inspiration for the video came from the desire to make students interested in the content,” said Robison. “I knew that if I wanted students to be interested in what I was teaching, I had to make the subject interesting to them. I know that students are excited by pop culture — the dances, the phrases, the music. The moment they are singing the song in the hallways or dancing to it with their peers, they're involved in their learning. They have ownership.”

Principal Dawn Clayton said Robison just started teaching in the 2015-16 school year and “is already an inspiration on so many levels. He’s committed to nurturing his students to help ensure their success in school and in life. He went above and beyond with the ‘Let’s Write It’ video and got his students engaged and involved in the process of creating it. It has made such a big impact on them and their thinking and writing skills.”

Robison’s advice to his students before taking the FSA Writing test? “Everything you need to be prepared for the test is in the lyrics. Listen to it, sing it and you'll be prepared no matter what prompt you are given.”

The “Let’s Write It” video can be viewed on YouTube at


Gocio Elementary awarded $15,000 grant from American Theatre Wing

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SARASOTA, Feb. 17, 2017 – Gocio Elementary School has been awarded a $15,000 Classroom Resource Grant from the American Theatre Wing to enhance the dance space of its arts program. The ATW, best known as the creator of the Antoinette Perry “Tony” Awards, is funding the grant as part of the Andrew Lloyd Webber Initiative.

The grant, one of only seven nationwide, will allow the Gocio Arts Program to improve its classroom dance floor. Many years ago, the classroom was outfitted with spongy mats glued to the concrete below. The mats are worn and need to be removed, but their removal would leave the students dancing on hard concrete. The school’s budget will not support new dance flooring, which is critical to help students safely improve their dance skills and meet state arts standards.

The prestigious award is in part the result of efforts by the Sarasota County School District, in partnership with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ Any Given Child initiative, to ensure access to a quality arts education for every child.

“Our staff and students are honored to be selected by the American Theater Wing and the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation to be one of seven grant recipients from across the country,” said Gocio Elementary Principal Steven Royce. “Through their generosity, we will be able to provide better facilities for our aspiring artists and continue to grow our culture of integrating the arts in education. Every student in our school has dance instruction, ensuring that this award will impact every single child at Gocio.”

Webber, founder of the Initiative and composer/producer of many Tony Award-winning stage musicals, including “Evita,” “Cats,” and “Sunset Boulevard,” said, “I believe passionately that the arts should be available to all young people. The grant proposals we received revealed an incredible level of need in every corner of America. This is merely a start — and a thrilling one — but I’ve never been more aware of the challenge ahead.”

With the support of the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, the American Theatre Wing is investing in public schools like Gocio Elementary to help drama teachers get more of the resources they need to provide quality drama instruction in their schools. This project is an expansion of the work Webber has been doing through his Foundation to promote and fund arts education in the United Kingdom.

In the U.S., through the Andrew Lloyd Webber Initiative, funding is provided directly to under-resourced public schools to provide musical instruments, dance floors, lighting equipment and other necessary materials to help create new and enhance existing theatre programs. The Initiative received $1.3 million in seed funding from the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation to promote diversity, equity and access to the arts. The Initiative’s focus is to bridge the gap between talent and opportunity, creating a stronger pipeline to the professional theatre for promising artists of all backgrounds. The overall goal is to foster a future generation of theatre-makers and patrons that reflect the diversity and dynamism of America. 

Heather Hitchens, president of the American Theatre Wing, said, “There is no more vital way to ensure the long-term health of our art form than to provide educational resources for young students with a passion for the theater. The need is nothing short of overwhelming, and our goals are ambitious. We are filled with pride over this year’s grants. Our focus is now on the expansion of this program Andrew started, to cover even more schools across every corner of this country.” 

Gocio Elementary is located at 3450 Gocio Road, Sarasota.

About Gocio Elementary School

Gocio Elementary School has invested heavily in arts programming as a way to engage its diverse student body in active learning. It is one of a very few Florida elementary schools to offer drama, music, dance and art to every student, and has provided many professional learning opportunities to arts specialists and classroom teachers in integrating arts into everyday instruction. As a result, the importance of the arts at Gocio has grown over the years and they play an integral role in everyday instruction.

To engage its diverse student body in active learning, Gocio has made a significant investment in arts education and employs dedicated teachers for drama, music, dance and the visual arts. The school presents a full-scale musical each spring.

These efforts have been recognized by The Florida Alliance for Arts Education, which has named Gocio as a Florida Arts Model School since 2010.

About the American Theatre Wing

The American Theatre Wing is dedicated to advancing artistic excellence and nurturing theatre’s next generation: on the stage, behind the scenes, and in the audience. For a century, the Wing has pursued this mission with programs that span the nation to invest in the growth and evolution of American Theatre Traditionally, the Wing has encouraged members of the theatre community to share their off-stage time and talent directly with the theatre audience at large, whether it was singing for the troops in the Stage Door Canteen of the 1940s, or sharing their stories on a podcast today.

As the founders of The Tony Awards, the American Theatre Wing has developed the foremost national platform for the recognition of theatrical achievement on Broadway. Yet the Wing’s reach extends beyond Broadway and New York. The Wing develops the next generation of theatre professionals through the SpringboardNYC and Theatre Intern Network programs, incubates innovative theatre across the country through the National Theatre Company Grants, fosters the song of American theatre through the Jonathan Larson Grants, honors the best in New York theatrical design with the Henry Hewes Design Award, and illuminates the creative process through the “Working in the Theatre” program and media archive.

The American Theatre Wing has entered into a long-term partnership with The Village Voice to co-present The Obie Awards, Off Broadway’s Highest Honor. Visitors to can gain inspiration and insight into the artistic process through the Wing’s extensive media collection, and learn more about its programming for students, aspiring and working professionals, and audiences.

More information about The Andrew Lloyd Webber Initiative and the American Theatre Wing is available at, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Alta Vista Elementary celebrates African American Read-In

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SARASOTA, Feb. 16, 2017 – Alta Vista Elementary School will participate in the 28th annual National African American Read-In, Thursday, Feb. 23. Starting at 12:30 p.m., community business leaders; local, state and national government officials; district personnel and volunteers will read aloud to students from books authored and/or illustrated by African Americans. The event is part of Alta Vista’s celebration of Black History Month.

Scheduled readers include City of Sarasota officials Mayor Willie Shaw, Vice-Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie, Commissioners Liz Albert and Susan Chapman, Assistant City Manager John Lege, school district staff members and school volunteers.

The National African American Read-In is endorsed by The International Reading Association and The National Council of Teachers of English, among other organizations. Schools, churches, libraries, bookstores and professional organizations are making literacy a vital part of Black History Month by hosting and coordinating the Read-In in their communities. More than a million readers of all ethnic groups from 49 states, the West Indies and African countries have participated.            

“We are very excited to share in the celebration of Black History Month,” said Alta Vista Elementary Principal Barbara Shirley. “This is a wonderful annual event that promotes cultural diversity and an awareness and appreciation of African American Children’s Literature.”

Alta Vista Elementary School is located at 1050 S. Euclid Ave., Sarasota.


Sarasota High students stage ‘Broadway Dinner Theater’

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SHS Phantom of Opera from Dinner Theater Jan 2016

MUSIC OF THE NIGHT: In a scene from last year’s Sarasota High production of Broadway Dinner Theater, Parker Betts class of 2017, and Rosie Messina, class of 2016, perform a song from “Phantom of the Opera.”

SARASOTA, Feb. 13, 2017 – Sarasota High School students will stage their third annual Broadway Dinner Theater at 6:30 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 18 at Church in Motion. The event is a night of entertainment by SHS theater students, with dinner catered by Madfish Grill.

Students will perform acts from a wide range of Broadway musicals that span from “Oklahoma” to “Waitress.” The young actors use this performance as an opportunity to explore audience favorites as well as other shows that are less well-known, in an effort to share the fun and excitement of Broadway musicals.

“Dinner theater has always been one of my favorite events,” said Anna Massey, a senior who is president of SHS Theatre and co-director of the production. “It allows us the opportunity to select and perform pieces we would likely never have the chance to do in a full production of the play at school. It also allows students who can’t dedicate their time to a complete show the opportunity to perform for family and friends, and we always come away with great memories!”

Tickets for Broadway Dinner Theater are $15 and are available in advance through Wednesday, Feb. 15. Tickets are available for $20 at the door, but are often sold out before the night of the event due to limited seating. For information and to purchase tickets, email

Church of Motion is located at 578 McIntosh Road, Sarasota.

District accepting school choice applications through March 20

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SARASOTA, Feb. 10, 2017 – Because of a new state law, parents and guardians of students residing anywhere in the state of Florida are now able to apply for their children to attend a public school outside their regular attendance zone. The option, as described in Florida statute 1002.31 (“Public School Parental Choice”) is called controlled open enrollment — commonly known as school choice.

The Sarasota County School District will accept applications from students who live anywhere in Florida for a possible assignment to a school identified as having available space capacity for the 2017-18 school year, unless the student is subject to an expulsion or suspension. School choice applications will be accepted from Monday, Feb. 13 through Monday, March 20, 2017. 

Since space is limited and demand is high at some schools, it is typically not possible to accommodate all requests. Options at some schools that are open to school choice are limited to certain grade levels for the 2017-18 school year, if those schools are near their enrollment capacity at those grade levels. The complete list of schools open to school choice is available at Sarasota County residents who are applying for a school choice assignment will not be displaced by applicants from outside the county.   

Schools that are open to school choice for 2017-18 may host open houses or other parent information events. Parents may visit the websites of schools on the “open” list or contact those schools for more information. 

School choice assignments will be determined by a random lottery, rather than on a first-come, first-served basis. Applications will be available beginning Monday, Feb. 13, at all public schools and at selected daycare facilities, online at, or by contacting the School Choice office at 941-927-9000, ext. 32255. Parents will be notified of school choice assignments by Monday, May 1. Parents whose children receive a school choice assignment will be responsible for providing them with transportation to and from school.

Other district options, such as charter schools, magnet schools or magnet programs, do not require the completion of a school choice application. Students interested in attending these schools or programs, including Bay Haven School of Basics Plus; Suncoast Polytechnical High School; the International Baccalaureate program at Brookside Middle, Riverview and Venice High schools; the Visual & Performing Arts program at Booker Middle and Booker High schools; the Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) programs at Heron Creek Middle, Booker, Sarasota and North Port high schools; the Law Academy at Booker High School; McIntosh Middle School’s STEM Agriscience and Arts Magnet Program; and the Venice Middle School Young Marines program, should contact these schools directly.

Gov. Scott recognizes eight educators with the Governor’s Shine Award

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Teachers of the Year with Gov Scott 2-8-17

SHINE ON: Celebrating the newest recipients of the Governor’s Shine Award on Feb. 7 are, from left, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Governor Rick Scott, Antonio Alves (Manatee County Schools), Wilhelmenia Jacobs (Palm Beach County Schools), Vicki Forte (Putnam County Schools), Susan Rodriguez (Pasco County Schools), Yolanda Pittman Martin (Hillsborough County Schools), Khea Davis (Sarasota County Schools), Matthew Burton (Broward County Schools), Benjo St. Fleur (Orange County Schools) and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

This news release is from Gov. Rick Scott's Communications Office. 

NOTE: Khea Davis of Booker High School, 2016-17 Teacher of the Year for Sarasota County Schools, was among those honored Feb. 7 with the Governor’s Shine Award, which is presented to teachers and administrators in Florida “who make significant contributions to the field of education.” Davis will be succeeded April 5 by the Sarasota County’s 2017-18 Teacher of the Year, to be announced from among three finalists named Feb. 2.

TALLAHASSEE, Feb. 7. – During a meeting of the Florida Cabinet Tuesday, Feb. 7, Governor Rick Scott recognized eight outstanding educators with the Governor’s Shine Award. The Shine Award is presented to teachers and administrators in Florida who make significant contributions to the field of education. The teachers honored today were recognized for their commitment to student success.

Governor Rick Scott said, “I am proud to present these eight educators with the Shine Award today. Great teachers help ensure our students are prepared for higher education and careers. I’d like to thank these teachers and educators around the state for their impact on today’s students and generations of students to come.”  

The following educators were presented with the Governor’s Shine Awards:

Antonio Alves, Manatee County – Alves teaches mathematics and geometry at Lincoln Memorial Middle School and is a member of the High Impact Teacher Corps.

Matthew Burton, Broward County – Burton is a fourth grade teacher at Oakland Park Elementary School. He was the 2017 Oakland Park Elementary Teacher of the Year and is a member of the High Impact Teacher Corps.

Khea Davis, Sarasota County – Davis teaches English and Creative Writing at Booker High School and is the 2017 Sarasota County Teacher of the Year.

Vicki Forte, Putnam County – Forte teaches mathematics to seventh and eighth grade students at George C. Miller Middle School. She was the 2015 Miller Middle School Teacher of the Year and is a member of the High Impact Teacher Corps.

Dr. Wilhelmenia Jacobs, Palm Beach County – Jacobs is the AVID teacher for students in grades 6-8 at Lake Shore Middle School and is a member of the High Impact Teacher Corps.

Yolanda Pittman Martin, Hillsborough County Pittman Martin teaches fourth grade English and  Language Arts at Sulphur Springs K-8 Community School and is a member of the High Impact Teacher Corps.

Susan Rodriguez, Pasco County – Rodriguez is a fifth grade English and Language Arts teacher at Pasco Elementary School and is a member of the High Impact Teacher Corps.

Benjo St. Fleur, Orange County – St. Fleur is a fourth grade teacher at Shingle Creek Elementary School and is a member of the High Impact Teacher Corps.


Sarasota Middle School student’s art showcased at state capitol

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SMS artist Anna Lazzara-Art in the Capitol 2017SMS teacher Tracey Brooks-Anna Lazzara-Janel Dorn Jan 2017

ART IN THE CAPITOL, TOP PHOTO: Sarasota Middle School student Anna Lazzara’s work was inspired by Cubism and her love of music. BOTTOM PHOTO: Pictured from left, Sarasota Middle School art teacher Brooks Tracey, student Anna Lazzara and Principal Janel Dorn celebrate the selection of Lazzara’s painting to be displayed in the state capitol building in Tallahassee during the 2017 legislative session.

SARASOTA, Feb. 6, 2017 – Artwork by a seventh-grade student at Sarasota Middle School is being displayed in the state capitol building in Tallahassee. Anna Lazzara’s painting, an abstract depiction of musical instruments, was delivered to the capitol building by State Sen. Greg Steube and will hang in the capitol during the 2017 regular legislative session, March 7 through May 5.

Art in the Capitol is a statewide visual arts competition for students in grades six through eight, administered by the Florida Department of Management Services and the Department of Education. Each school district in Florida holds a student competition annually; the works are judged in December by a statewide committee of high school art teachers whose students have not submitted items for consideration.

Asked about her inspiration for the subject of the painting, Lazzara said, “I have a passion for both the performing and visual arts. I included a wide array of colors to express the way I feel when I listen to music. I’m very proud to share my piece with our state government officials and happy to be able to show my love for art, while representing Sarasota Middle School!”

Sarasota Middle School principal Janel Dorn and Lazzara’s art teacher, Brooks Tracey, are excited and proud.

“I’m so impressed with Anna's work and her passion for artistic expression,” said Dorn. “It’s so incredible what our students can do and the level of talent they display! It’s a special honor for our young artists to have their work displayed at the capitol. Programs like this encourage our students to pursue their creative interests. Special thanks to our dedicated teacher, Mr. Tracey, for supporting our students.”

Tracey said, “All my class projects incorporate learning about an important art movement, developing artistic skills and exploring practical applications of those skills for future careers. For this particular project my students studied Cubism and the philosophies and styles of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Anna really fell in love with this style and went above and beyond the project requirements. Her piece is a modern adaptation of a classic style.”

Tracey adds, “As both an alumnus of Sarasota Middle and a faculty member here, I’m honored to have one of my student’s works represent Sarasota County in our state capitol. It’s an honor to come to work every day and work with such talented students.”

Sarasota Middle School is located at 4826 Ashton Road, Sarasota.

Sarasota High graduate receives Top in Country awards on two AICE exams

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SHS student Sydney Askins

AICE STUDENT: Sydney Askins, a 2016 graduate of Sarasota High, has been awarded “Top in Country” award for scores on two different Cambridge AICE exams: the Literature in English exam and the A Level History exam.

SARASOTA, Jan. 26, 2017 – A 2016 Sarasota High School graduate has been awarded “Top in Country” award for her scores on two different Cambridge AICE exams. Sydney Askins received the award for her performance on the Literature in English exam and the A Level History exam.

Askins was one of only two students in the U.S. to achieve the “Top in Country” Literature in English award. The other student, Dana Buckhoy, also attended a Sarasota County public high school. Askins currently attends the University of Florida; Buckhoy, a 2016 graduate of Booker High, attends Santa Fe College. Both institutions are in Gainesville.  

During a three-year period of taking Cambridge (AICE) exams, Askins has been awarded Top in Country for five different subjects and Top in World for one exam score. There were also 28 students from SHS that earned Cambridge Scholar Awards for their exam scores during the June 2016 testing series. 

AICE is the Advanced International Certificate of Education, an international educational program developed and administered by the University of Cambridge, an 800-year old institution based in Cambridge, England. In Sarasota County, the AICE program is offered to students at Booker, Sarasota and North Port high schools; a middle-school program is offered at Heron Creek Middle in North Port.  

Sandy Crihfield, Askins’ former social studies teacher, said, “I served as a mentor for Sydney while she took three of my classes at Sarasota High School. She once told me, ‘Everyone thinks I do nothing but study. I don’t. I’m an effective and efficient student with a life outside of academics.’

“She truly is one in a million; it has been my privilege to know and work with her. She is a young woman who can change the world.”

The Outstanding Cambridge Learner Awards program celebrates the success of learners taking Cambridge examinations in over 160 countries around the world.

Sarasota High School is located at 1000 S. School Ave., Sarasota.


Booker High students to stage quirky comedy ‘Almost, Maine’ Feb. 9-11

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BHS Almost Maine cast Feb 2017

MAINE ATTRACTION: Booker High students Jonah Duchesne-Shaw, left, and Amy Levison are among the cast members in the romantic comedy “Almost, Maine,” which runs Feb. 9-11.

SARASOTA, Feb. 3, 2017 – The Booker High School Visual and Performing Arts Theatre Department will present “Almost, Maine” at 7 p.m., Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 9-11 in the VPA Theatre. This quirky romantic comedy by John Cariani explores loves lost and found. The play is designed to melt the hearts of audience members, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Set in the mythical “Almost,” an “almost town” in the middle of wilderness at the border of Maine and Canada, one emphasis of “Almost, Maine” is falling into and out of love – the approach and the aftermath. While there is plenty of humor, many of the nine vignettes are tinged with the pain of longing and heartbreak.

“This show deals with a community of people who all have to face the intricacies of love,” said director Sunny Smith. “But it’s not about love in the conventional sense of how we think of it. It’s more about the parts of love that surprise us, knock us down or change our image of who we are.”

Smith said that, along with fitting into the “community” theme that the VPA Theatre Department chose to explore this season, “Almost, Maine” was selected for another reason: it’s the most-produced play among U.S. high school theater programs and has much to offer young actors.

Because the play is made up of vignettes, Smith was able to cast many students — offering performance opportunities for more than 20 young actors. She noted that, because of this structure, actors can focus their attention on shorter scene work, allowing them to explore their depth as performers. Some of the play’s most heartbreaking scenes examine the deep pains of loss, some of which young actors have never experienced.

“You have to peer into your soul to fully appreciate the stories within this play,” Smith said, noting that, in some scenes, the teens are portraying older married couples whose spark has long since been snuffed. “Somehow these kids pull from what they know about love in their lives. It’s interesting how wise they are.”

Smith said one of the show’s great appeals is that there’s something for everyone. Love and loss are universal, and the presentation of them in this piece involves the funny — and sometimes absurd — moments that punctuate relationships.

Smith opted to allow students to cut their directing teeth as assistant directors, assigning one student for each scene. “These students do some great, meaty work as assistant directors,” she said of her young assistants, “putting their fingerprint on the overall piece.”

Tickets for “Almost, Maine” are $15 for adults, $10 for seniors and $5 for students with an ID. They are available at the Booker High School VPA box office; by calling 941-355-2967, menu option 1; or online at

The VPA Theatre is at 3201 N. Orange Ave., Sarasota.


Sarasota County Teacher of the Year finalists surprised at 3 schools

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RHS-BJ Ivey and Paul BurnsTatum Ridge-Holly Houghton-BrownPine View-Christine Braun

SURPRISE! TOP PHOTO: High School Teacher of the Year and Riverview High basketball coach William “BJ” Ivey, at left, is congratulated by Principal Paul Burns. MIDDLE PHOTO: Tatum Ridge Elementary School teacher Holly Houghton-Brown basks in the admiration of her students and colleagues after learning she is the district’s Elementary School Teacher of the Year. BOTTOM PHOTO: Pine View School teacher Christine Braun, center, celebrates being named Middle School Teacher of the Year with members of the Teacher Tribute Tour team. Pictured from left are Education Foundation President Jennifer Vigne; Jeff Rutter of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a Teacher of the Year sponsor; Superintendent and Pine View alum Lori White; Braun; School Board Chairwoman Caroline Zucker and Todd Bowden, incoming superintendent. Photos by Rod Millington.

This news release is from Sarasota County Schools and the Education Foundation of Sarasota County:

SARASOTA COUNTY, Feb. 2, 2017 – Teachers at three public schools in Sarasota were surprised Thursday, Feb. 2, when they were revealed as the district’s 2017-18 Teacher of the Year finalists. The annual Teacher Tribute Tour team included Superintendent of Schools Lori White, School Board Chairwoman Caroline Zucker, Education Foundation President Jennifer Vigne and other representatives of the Foundation and the school district, past winners and special guests, who congratulated the teachers as their students and peers helped celebrate the event. One of the three finalists will be named the district’s overall Teacher of the Year on April 5.

The first stop for the Teacher Tribute Tour bus was the Riverview HighSchool gym, where William “BJ” Ivey was surprised by White as High School Teacher of the Year for the district.

Speaking to students in the bleachers, his family members, RHS colleagues and the Tribute Tour team, Ivey said, “I’m blessed to have great students who make me a good teacher. I care about them as people. Sometimes the task of learning can be overwhelming. In the classroom, I try to ‘coach’ my class and make it about more than just books.”

A native of Sarasota and teacher at Riverview for 11 years, Ivey has taught a wide range of social studies classes, including International Baccalaureate World History Honors and AP Psychology. He has also served as the head coach for both the girls and boys basketball teams during his time at Riverview, as well as the Nike Team Florida basketball coach. Ivey was named Florida Association of Basketball Coaches Class 8A Coach of the Year in 2016.

Ivey earned a bachelor’s degree history from the University of South Florida and a master’s degree in education curriculum and instruction from National Louis University in Tampa.

Next, the bus pulled into Tatum Ridge Elementary School, where fourth-grade teacher Holly Houghton-Brown was revealed as the district’s Elementary School Teacher of the Year.

Houghton-Brown said she was “excited and thrilled” to be selected. “This is one of the most special days of my teaching career, “ she said; then quickly added, “It also happens to be my husband Tom’s birthday, and he’s here to celebrate with me. He was my inspiration; he didn’t have a very positive experience in school. I wanted to make a difference for students like him.”

Her teaching philosophy? “Education is not just about academics. It’s also about character. I try to encourage empathy, kindness and generosity, so students know what it means to give back.”

Houghton-Brown began her career in education as an exceptional student education teacher at Laurel Nokomis School in 2004 and has been at Tatum Ridge since 2005.  She has also taught fifth grade and currently serves as chairwoman of the Tatum Ridge Literacy Committee. Houghton-Brown has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Utica College of Syracuse University (N.Y.), a master’s degree in special education from the College of Saint Rose in Albany, N.Y., and is currently pursuing her doctorate of education in curriculum and instruction from the University of West Florida in Pensacola.

The final stop on the tour was Pine ViewSchool, where Christine Braun was named the Middle School Teacher of the Year. A social studies teacher who began her career at Pine View in 2005, Braun currently teaches seventh-grade civics. She is certified in gifted education and English for speakers of other languages (ESOL).

“This is my first job as a teacher,” Braun said. “I absolutely love coming to work each day and being with students and my fellow teachers. I honestly could share this honor with every one of them.”

Asked about her influences, Braun said, “My first-grade teacher in Warren, Michigan — Ms. Suardini — was an inspiration. She taught me to keep trying and never give up. When I was in college I went back to visit her and she was still teaching first grade. She told me she didn’t ever want to retire. I feel the same way.”

Braun holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Oakland University in Michigan and a master’s in curriculum and instruction from the American College of Education in Indiana. She describes herself as a “late bloomer;” she received her degree in education at age 37.

About Teacher of the Year

The Teacher of the Year program is co-produced by the Sarasota County School District and the Education Foundation of Sarasota County and is made possible through the funding and support of community partners. Each of the three finalists will receive a cash award from the Education Foundation, sponsored by Sunset Auto Group. The overall district Teacher of the Year for 2017-18 will be announced from among the three finalists at a celebration to be held Wednesday, April 5, at Michael’s On East in Sarasota. The individual Teachers of the Year for each school also will be honored at that event. The district Teacher of the Year will represent Sarasota County Schools at the Florida Department of Education-Macy's Teacher of the Year program and will serve as a spokesperson for and representative of the teaching profession at various events throughout the 2017-18 school year.

About the Education Foundation of Sarasota County

The Education Foundation of Sarasota County is a supporting partner that exponentially enhances the educational experiences available to the children of Sarasota County. Its mission is to strengthen the community by investing in educational opportunities for the students, teachers, and schools. The Foundation works to match donor’s passions with high-impact projects and initiatives that help every child in Sarasota County rise to their full potential. It achieves this mission through scholarships, access to advanced technology, supplies needed for creativity to flourish, and funds for educators’ professional development. The Education Foundation of Sarasota County and its philanthropic investors are champions for students, teachers, and schools. For more information on the Education Foundation of Sarasota County, call 941.927.0965 or visit

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