Schools Still Need Improvement



Much has been written about my employment as a treasurer for political campaigns and my work as a CPA. As a candidate running for the Sarasota County School Board, I think it’s much more important to discuss why I am running for the position, and why I am passionate about improving our schools.

Sarasota County has a lot to be proud of when it comes to our schools. As a member of the Sarasota County Schools Financial Advisory Board, I have toured, explored and been exposed to many facets of our education community. Our best asset is the quality of our teachers. The amount of time and dedication they put into their passion should make every citizen of our community proud. The second biggest sense of pride comes from the fact that our community, every four years, renews the school tax referendum. This provides much-needed support for essential programs, but more importantly, it shows a level of commitment and support from our community to our school system.  

However, there are areas that still need improvement. Sarasota County schools score better than all of the counties in Florida but one. While we are an A district, we are not an A district for all. The most glaring example is for minorities and working parents. Caucasian students in Sarasota are proficient for their grade about 76 percent of the time while an African-American student hovers around 40 percent.

I was particularly dismayed when the new school test results were released, and roughly one-third or approximately 14,000 children were not proficient on grade level. At the next Sarasota County School Board meeting after the results were released, the meeting was packed, with a long line of people filling out public comment cards. I thought now the community would demand better for our students. Now the parents would let the board know that having a D school was unacceptable. Instead the talk was centered on bathrooms and what gender should be allowed inside them. While this is an important issue, it should not be the only issue we discuss. 

We have plenty of programs that could have a positive impact on these children’s lives. The teachers only need funding and support to implement these programs. One obvious need is programming that teaches emotional well-being. Helping kids understand their emotions and explaining how to deal with them will trickle down and improve the learning environment across the board. If we teach kids to effectively handle peer pressure, bullying, test anxiety, anger, divorce and general teenage emotions, we can have a major impact in our classrooms.

My wife and I decided to be one of the funders for a program that does exactly that. Social Black Belt is being used for 297 students at North Port High School right now. This has been successful in other high schools in Sarasota County. Christine and I know that giving children utilize these proactive tools can change lives. I have seen first hand how this program affects students. When I am elected to the Sarasota County School Board, one of my goals will be to expand this program throughout the county. These programs are incredibly cost effective, especially when one calculates the cost of not doing them.

My wife and I have also funded programs at Booker High School. We are not only supporting emotional wellness education, such as Rachel’s Challenge at Booker, but we also have awarded multiple scholarships and programs to reduce the achievement gap. The principal, Dr. Rachel Shelley, is truly dedicated to the students and the mission of Booker High School. When you meet her you cannot help but realize that we have to do everything possible to support her endeavors. Christine and I have rented out the Blue Rooster on April 28 and paid for 150 dinners for an inaugural fundraiser to benefit the Booker High Foundation. Since we have paid for all upfront costs, all proceeds will go directly to programs helping the students. We encourage the community to support these important programs, which support the academic atmosphere of our classrooms and ensure the success of our students.

Eric Robinson is a candidate for Sarasota County School Board.

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