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The Sarasota County School Board picks Hillsborough's Terrence Connor as superintendent

A man in a blue suit speaks to a group of people in front of a bright yellow wall.
Sarasota County Public Schools
Hillsborough County Schools deputy superintendent Terrence Connor will be the fourth superintendent of Sarasota schools in the past five years after a 3-2 vote on June 4, 2023. He spoke during the Community Open House for the Superintendent Search the night before the vote.

The Sarasota County School Board picked Hillsborough County deputy school superintendent Terrence Connor as its new superintendent following a 3-2 vote Wednesday.

The Sarasota County School Board has selected another new superintendent after what members have called a "tumultuous" past few years.

The board elected the fourth superintendent in the past five years during a special meeting on Wednesday.

Hillsborough County School Deputy Superintendent Terrence Connor will step into the position after a 3-2 vote.

Over 30 people spoke during the public comment period. The majority offered support for Connor.

Lisa Schurr, one of the founders of Support Our Schools — a group formed in opposition to the conservative-leaning parents' right group Moms for Liberty — endorsed Connor.

 A man in a dark suit stands in front of a blurred background.
Hillsborough County Public Schools
The Sarasota County School Board selects Terrence Connor as the new superintendent in a 3-2 vote. Previously, Connor served as the deputy superintendent for Hillsborough County.

"During his interview with the board, he showed a depth of knowledge that by far exceeded that of the other three candidates," she said.

"Of the top three contenders for superintendent, his experience as a teacher, vice principal, principal, chief academic officer and assistant superintendent makes him the only qualified candidate to lead Sarasota County schools."

Jill Lewis-Spector also spoke during public comment in support of Connor.

"It's time for us to choose calm over chaos, sanity over sanctimoniousness, reason over self-righteousness," she said.

"For Sarasota public schools to accomplish this, the board must choose for our superintendent the one candidate who does not appear to have extreme views or lack of qualifications for such an important position in our district."

However, not all those in attendance wanted to see Connor in the role.

The other three finalists: Allison Foster, Charles Van Zandt and Josiah Phillips also received support from the public.

After public comment, board members named their top two choices. Once discussion began, board member Karen Rose made a motion to nominate Connor.

"There really is only one candidate that has had that proven experience over multiple years," she said. "I am going to stay with Mr. Connor as my first choice. This community deserves a top-notch candidate and I will not be able to stray from that."

Rose says she based her decision on what she called the "science" of what it takes to educate students.

Board Chair Bridget Ziegler — who voted against Connor, along with member Timothy Enos — raised concern that choosing Connor might lead to a repeat of some of the issues that have "plagued" the district in the past few years.

"I think it's my reflection of just having been up here and seen some areas of success and various of risk and whether someone has the ability to move us to the next step," she said.

The previous superintendent, Brennan Asplen, negotiated a resignation with the board in November 2022 instead of being fired.

Asplen had earned strong reviews for his performance handling the coronavirus pandemic and Hurricane Ian after being named superintendent in 2020, but he lost favor with the board shortly after Enos and Robyn Marinelli were elected in November 2020, creating a 4-1 conservative majority.

That majority, along with a number of people who spoke out against Asplen, criticized him for students' academic performance, as well as COVID mask policies, and operating an equity committee in violation of Sunshine Law.

After Wednesday's vote in favor of Connor, the board voted unanimously to authorize contract negotiations with him.

Until an agreement of a start date is set, the county's interim superintendent, Allison Foster, will stay in the position.

Hillsborough County Public Schools released a statement soon after the vote congratulating Connor on his new position.

“I am thrilled for Sarasota County; the school board could not have selected a better leader,” said Hillsborough Superintendent Addison Davis.

“Terry has contributed significantly to our work here in Hillsborough County and has helped create conditions that allow our students and teachers to make great strides. We will miss Terry, but know that his student-centered leadership will drive positive progress for our Florida Gulf Coast neighbors.”

Nothing about my life has been typical. Before I fell in love with radio journalism, I enjoyed a long career in the arts in musical theatre.
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