Sarasota County Schools News

ESE Summer Institute set for teachers of students with special needs

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SCS News

SARASOTA COUNTY, July 31, 2017 – The Pupil Support Services Department of Sarasota County Schools will host the 2017 Exceptional Student Education (ESE) Summer Institute from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday, Aug. 2 and 3, at Suncoast Polytechnical High School.  

The ESE Summer Institute was founded to provide learning experiences for teachers of students with disabilities and special needs, support personnel on campus and school administrators. The theme of this year’s Institute is “Closing the Achievement Gap.” The schedule will include teacher presentations on data and technology, positive behavior support and integrating the arts into the curriculum.

“One of our responsibilities as educators is to ensure that we are always at the forefront, providing the best methods and information for our staff and teachers,” said Sonia Figaredo-Alberts, executive director of Pupil Support Services. “Through events like the 2017 ESE Summer Institute, we bring together exceptional instructional staff from all our schools and foster an environment of sharing, teaching and learning. Our students deserve the best. When we give our staff and teachers the opportunity for continued and advanced learning opportunities it helps students with special needs thrive and succeed, regardless of the obstacles they may face.”

Suncoast Polytechnical High School is located at 4650 S. Beneva Road in Sarasota.


Brookside Middle robotics team earns state, world awards

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Brookside Middle Robotics Team

TECH TEAM: Brookside Middle School team members and advisors test their Rawr XD robot during the VEX Robotics World competition in Louisville, Ky. Pictured from left are Quinn Coomer; Joel Kaplan, team advisor; Cannon Spencer; Armand Segui (seen in profile); Andreas Zeitler and Mark Zeitler, chaperone.

SARASOTA, July 31, 2017 – The National Technology Student Association has named the Brookside Middle School chapter the number one TSA chapter in Florida. The chapter, which sponsors competitive robotics teams, also received the Chapter Excellence Award. Its faculty advisor, Joel Kaplan, was honored as the TSA Advisor of the Year.

The awards were given during the National TSA Conference, held June 21-25 in Orlando. The Advisor of the Year award is based on student nominations.

It has been a banner year for Brookside Middle School’s Technology Student Association. In addition to the number one state ranking for one team, another group of Brookside students celebrated a ranking of number 25 in the world for middle school robotics skills at the VEX Robotics Competition in Louisville, Ky., in April.

“I’ve been extremely fortunate to have such great teams of students in our TSA program this year, and I’m so proud of their accomplishments,” said Kaplan. “It has been a great honor and pleasure to be the advisor for such a dedicated team of hardworking students. To our knowledge, this is the first year a school has earned this number of distinctions in the same year, and we are very excited to see what our students continue to achieve.”

Brookside Middle School is located at 3636 S. Shade Ave., Sarasota. 

New principal named for Oak Park School

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Jamie Lowicz 2017

Jamie Lowicz

SARASOTA, July 25, 2017 – Superintendent Todd Bowden has named a new principal for Oak Park School, which serves students with special needs from pre-K to age 22. Jamie Lowicz will be acting principal of the school for the 2017-18 school year. She succeeds Edwina Oliver, who has served as Oak Park principal since April 2013 and was recently named principal of Emma E. Booker Elementary School.

“This is an incredible opportunity,” said Lowicz. “My background in special education and my love of serving students with diverse needs has led me to Oak Park. I want to honor the wonderful work Edwina Oliver has done at the school and I hope to continue to build on the strengths of this very special community of students, parents and staff.”

Lowicz has been an assistant principal at Sarasota High School since 2013. In the 2012-13 school year she was a behavior specialist at Riverview High School. She taught in Charlotte County high schools from 2006 to 2012, was executive director of the Pacesetter Academy Foundation from 1999 to 2003 and was program coordinator for the Pacesetter Academy in Omaha Public Schools in 1998-99. She also has served as a school social worker with the Houston County Public Schools in Georgia and as the director of a Head Start center in Warner Robins, Ga.

Executive Director of High Schools Steve Cantees said, “Jamie has distinguished herself as a high-performing administrator. Her experience, collaborative leadership style, and the care and respect she has for students will be a great fit for Oak Park.”

Lowicz earned a bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg, Mo., and a master’s degree in Educational Leadership from National-Louis University in Tampa.

Oak Park School is located at 7285 Proctor Road, Sarasota. 

Eagle Fest marks 6th anniversary of Alta Vista’s Eagle Academy

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SCS News

SARASOTA, July 25, 2017 – The community is invited to a free event celebrating the sixth anniversary of Alta Vista Elementary School’s Eagle Academy.

The event will be held from 5-7 p.m., Thursday, July 27 at the school, 1050 S. Euclid Ave. in Sarasota. Eagle Fest will be a fun-filled evening of food, family-friendly activities and friendship.

“We can’t think of a better way to celebrate the efforts of staff, students and families during our six-week long Eagle Academy than with a fun-filled festival,” said Alta Vista Elementary Assistant Principal Holly Heim. “It’s a great way to bring our families together for a time of fun, celebrate our students and thank everyone for their support.”

Students, family and the public are welcome to attend. The festival will feature a cookout, face painting, finger nail painting, simulated tattoos, inflatables, a family photo booth, community information fair, video games, art and gardening activities. Also featured will be the Summer Reading Event, which will take place in the school’s media center. It will feature storybook characters, photo opportunities and a chance to bring a new book home to foster a love and appreciation of reading.

For more information, contact Jackie Ekstrom at


About the Eagle Academy

The Eagle Academy took flight at Alta Vista Elementary in 2013. It was made possible by local philanthropists Joe and Mary Kay Henson, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County and Sarasota County Schools. Additional Summer Learning Academies modeled on the Eagle Academy — a two-generation effort that prepares students for the coming school year while training their parents in various job skills — are now being implemented at several elementary schools in Sarasota County.


Local students get lessons in computer security at CyberCamp

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CyberCamp students 7-25-17

CYBERSLEUTHS! Students work together to defend their computers against simulated cyber-attacks.

This news release is from the Education Foundation of Sarasota County.

SARASOTA, July 24, 2017 - The Education Foundation of Sarasota County was one of the distinguished organizations across the United States selected to participate in the 2017 season of the Air Force Association’s (AFA) CyberCamp Program. During the week of July 17-21, 2017, 45 Sarasota County middle and high school students participated in the inaugural CyberCamp, hosted in partnership with Riverview High School and the Sylint Group. The international cybersecurity firm donated over 20 hours to teach the sold-out camp and connect the AFA curriculum to the real-world field applications. Riverview High JROTC cadets and the Sarasota-Manatee AFA chapter also provided volunteer assistance.

“Partnering with the Sylint Group allowed students to work side by side with industry professionals in this rapidly expanding field,” said Jennifer Vigne, Education Foundation President. “It is incredibly important to expose students to a wide variety of career options and the AFA CyberCamp is the perfect opportunity.”

The camp included hands-on opportunities for the students to learn cyber safety, cyber ethics, and critical network security skills. Each AFA CyberCamp culminates in an exciting team-based competition that puts the campers in the role of IT administrators tasked with finding and addressing cybersecurity vulnerabilities in simulated network environments. The local AFA CyberCamp competition closely mimicked AFA’s annual CyberPatriot National Youth Cyber Defense Competition, which will enter its tenth season in October.

“Sylint was proud to be able to provide these aspiring young cybersecurity students the opportunity to learn from some of the most knowledgeable and highly skilled instructors in the country” said Brigadier General Charly Shugg, USAF, Retired, a senior partner at Sylint and the local AFA Chapter Secretary. “Our nation’s public and private sectors are in great need of people with cybersecurity skills and we hope this AFA CyberCamp is the beginning of a very rewarding career path for some of these students,”

About the Education Foundation of Sarasota County

The Education Foundation of Sarasota County is an independent partner working to advance philanthropic support for Sarasota County Schools. Its mission is to enhance the potential of students, promote excellence in teaching and inspire innovation in education. Guided by the belief that education changes lives, the Education Foundation strives to match each donor’s passion with high-impact projects created to ensure students graduate with purpose and are prepared for a post-secondary pathway. The Education Foundation of Sarasota County and its philanthropic investors are champions for students, teachers, and schools. For more information, visit                          

About Sylint Group

Sylint Group, Inc. provides leading edge expert services in Cyber Security, Digital Data Forensics and eDiscovery. Clients include numerous global and domestic companies in the financial, manufacturing, retail, power, and healthcare industries as well as various government entities. Sylint is one of only 15 organizations accredited by the National Security Agency (NSA) and National Security Cyber Assistance Program (NSCAP) for Cyber Incident Response Assistance (CIRA). Sylint is also certified as a Payment Card Industry (PCI) Security Standards Council as a Qualified Security Assessor (QSA) and PCI Forensic Investigator (PFI), one of only 14 companies qualified to perform such forensic investigations on behalf of VISA, MasterCard, AMEX and other Card Brands in the United States. Headquartered in Sarasota, Florida Sylint has been in operation since 1999.

About the Air Force Association CyberPatriot Program

The CyberPatriot National Youth Cyber Education Program was created by the Air Force Association in 2009 to attract students to cybersecurity and other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines critical to our nation's future.  In addition to the annual National Youth Cyber Defense Competition and the new AFA CyberCamp program, CyberPatriot has launched an Elementary School Cyber Education Initiative designed to introduce young students to online safety. To learn more about CyberPatriot, visit

Donors fund pre-school pilot program for school district

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SCS News

SARASOTA, July 24, 2017 — The Sarasota County School District will establish two full-time pilot programs for four-year-old children at Gocio Elementary, beginning in August. The program, approved by the School Board July 18, will include a three-year study to gauge the academic impact of high-quality preschool instruction on young children. The classes will be taught by two certified master teachers and two certified paraprofessionals. Students who live in the Gocio Elementary attendance zone will be eligible; the school is located at 3450 Gocio Road in Sarasota.

The program is made possible through Joe and Mary Kay Henson, local philanthropists who partnered with the Community Foundation of Sarasota County and Sarasota County Schools to help launch the Eagle Academy at Alta Vista Elementary in 2013. Summer Learning Academies modeled on the Eagle Academy — a two-generation effort that prepares students for the coming school year while training their parents in various job skills — are now being implemented at several elementary schools in Sarasota County. Mary Kay actively volunteers in Title 1 classrooms and collaborates with schools to maximize student impact. The Hensons have committed $700,000 over a three-year period to fund the initial set-up and costs related to this study.

After approving the grant at the July 18 School Board meeting, board members expressed gratitude to the Hensons for their ongoing commitment to students.

“Saying ‘thank you’ is not enough,” said School Board member Jane Goodwin. “Mary Kay and Joe traveled all over the country and checked out best practices for preschool programs. They are truly interested in the achievement of every student in our district.” 

Superintendent Todd Bowden added, “The Hensons are true visionaries who know the value of educational excellence, which begins in preschool. They keep education at the forefront of every discussion.”

Laura Kingsley, assistant superintendent/chief academic officer, said the district will provide an update on the implementation of the preschool program to the School Board on Nov. 7. “We look forward to recognizing the Hensons for their dedication to our children. They are true local treasures.”

The young students in the program will be immersed in learning through a rich curriculum incorporating a variety of experiences. Upon completion of their preschool experience, they will be able to transition into Gocio’s Summer Learning Academy. Students participating in the Academy will have the benefit of a year of school-based academic learning before beginning kindergarten.

Gocio Elementary Principal Steve Royce said he is thrilled that the program is coming to his school. “Early childhood learning is foundational to a student’s academic success; we can see its impact across our nation. The opportunity for students to participate in this study and then attend our Summer Learning Academies creates a pathway for students to be successful in school. Through this path, we can create a greater level of school readiness and overcome many of the challenges that our children face today. We are truly thankful for the Henson’s generosity and the opportunity that the school district has given us to participate in this study.”


Sarasota County School District earns A grade again

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SCS News

SARASOTA COUNTY, June 26, 2017 – The Sarasota County School District has earned another A grade for 2016-17 and is one of only two of the state’s 67 districts to have earned an A every year since grading began in 2004.

School and district grades were released today by the Florida Department of Education.

“Credit for this outstanding accomplishment is due to the hard work of our students, teachers and school leaders, and we also greatly appreciate the support of families and school support staff,” said Todd Bowden, superintendent of Sarasota County Schools.

The district is graded on 11 different criteria, including test scores in language arts, math, science and social studies, the graduation rate and the number of students in middle and high school that take accelerated and advanced course work. Those areas have been a focus, particularly on the success and learning gains of the students who score in the lowest 25 percent of the test results.

“Though we are proud of retaining an A grade, we know that we have more work ahead to maintain the excellence within Sarasota County,” said Bowden. “Our goals will continue to focus on three main initiatives of maintaining excellence, helping our lowest-performing students, and preparing every student for college and careers. We are working hard this summer to put plans in place to make sure next year is even more prosperous for our students because earning a high grade is only important if it reflects real continued progress for every student, every day.”

Notable highlights from the school grades report include:

  • In Sarasota, 42 schools maintained an A or B rating.
  • Alta Vista Elementary School, a Title 1 school, rose from a C to an A as did Sky Academy, a charter school.
  • Sarasota County had seven C-rated schools, one D-rated school and no F-rated schools. 
  • Ten Sarasota schools increased their rating from a B to an A school or a C to a B. 
  • Two Sarasota schools decreased from an A to a B rating, two decreased from a B to a C and one decreased from a C to a D.

Additionally this year, the district’s FSA scores were well above state averages at all grade levels, and the percentage of students who were proficient in English Language Arts and math increased at nearly all grade levels.

For more information, including all school and district grades statewide for 2016-17, visit

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