Cietek Wants Schools Focused On Commonalities

Todays News

Nora Cietek would just as soon avoid politics altogether. A candidate for Sarasota County School Board, she frequently tells voters she’s an educator, not a politician. “If I had to do five intense interviews to get this job, I’d rather do that,” she said.

The Venice retiree worked 30 years in education in New York, where she served as a classroom teacher, school principal and eventually a district level administrator in charge of special education. She’s lived in Sarasota County more recently, and with an open seat on the School Board, sees the need to put her experience to use here.  

“It was a way I could pay it forward, a way to use my skillset to help Sarasota County maintain their ‘A’ grade and have equitable programs for all children,” she said.

Cietek feels her background working in all levels of education allows her both a 30,000-feet view on a school district’s broader needs and a comprehension of the challenges facing educators every day.

As she watched contentious school board meetings overtaken by political rhetoric, Cietak hopes to bring an ear and calm demeanor to address parents’ concerns. “There’s heightened talk about children, and sometimes their delivery isn’t so great,” she said. “But I have talked to some who have been regulars who speak to the board. Communication is something I’d like for us to work on. That would bring more harmony to the team.”

What most upsets Cietek about the political discourse right now remains how little conversation seems focused on students’ individual needs.

She sees that approach helping address even hot-button issues, like those raised by individuals angry about parents’ rights. She references legislation allowing challenges of learning materials available within district schools. “If a parent doesn’t like a book, we should ask ‘How would you like it so your child doesn’t interface with that book?’” Cietek said. That could respect parents’ fears about the contents of some material without completely censoring it. 

It could also go a great deal of distance, she said, in refocusing all involved on finding commonalities between what parents, teachers, students and the wider community want public education to provide.

Whatever druthers she may have brought to a campaign, she hopes interfacing with voters leading into the Aug. 23 School Board election offers the community a glimpse of how she would handle herself on the board. 

“It has been a real positive. The amazing people I’ve met are very focused on whatever they believe in,” she said. “The passion has just been incredible.”

There’s been a level of partisanship around the races she doesn't appreciate. Gov. Ron DeSantis endorsed a slate of Republican candidates, including Cietek’s opponent, Tim Enos. But Cietakn said she believes the nonpartisan race should be focused on issues affecting all students and families. Decisions regarding schools should not be made, she said, based on whether school leaders hold the same political beliefs as families.

“That’s how I will govern when I sit on the board,” she said. “And I will be listeneing through that lens. If people have an agenda, why are they pushing it? And what is motiviating them if it is not helping kids.”

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