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Superintendent Terrence Connor begins tenure with bumpy listening tour

Written by on Saturday, September 2, 2023

For the new superintendent of Sarasota schools, the first two weeks were a trial by fire, between Hurricane Idalia and anxieties swirling around a student who was recently Baker Acted. 

By Ramon Lopez

Original Air Date: September 1, 2023

 

Official Transcript

Johannes Werner: For the new superintendent of Sarasota schools, the first two weeks were trial by fire. During the first event of a listening tour through the county, an incident involving death threats against teachers faced Terrence Connor with employee and parent anxiety. And then came Hurricane Idalia. Yesterday, the new schools chief resumed his listening tour. Ramon Lopez has the details.

Host: Sarasota County Superintendent Terry Connor Thursday night resumed his so-called listening tour at Riverview High, part of his 100-day plan to learn about his new school district through various school visits. In his first year with the Sarasota County School system, Connors’s tour began at Venice High where he spoke to both teachers and parents. Whereas the discussion at all the school stops was expected to revolve around the basic ABCs of education, Connor spent much time at Venice High answering questions about a serious safety and security incident involving Lakeview Elementary and Sarasota Middle School.

But in his magical mystery tour of the county schools, Connor presented his vision for maintaining and improving overall academic performance.

Terrence Connor: It all comes down to ensuring that we have excellence. It can’t get where we want to be, if we aren’t intentional about how we’re going to get there, and that comes through accountability, it comes through monitoring, and it comes through expectations. And so, if we’re going to ensure having the best academic outcomes for every student, I believe these are the things we have to focus on. That’s through setting high expectations for students, that comes through support and effective instruction and curriculum alignment. It becomes through monitoring, assessing student progress, and it comes through making data-informed decisions. That’s an intentional pathway for us to get the best, not only out of our teachers and staff, but out of our students [unintelligible].

Having to enhance climate culture, empowering our educators and ensuring the excellence that I’m focused on as I come in and transition into this school year, and as time evolves and I learn more and more about our school district, and I hear from constituents, and I hear from our internal stakeholders, that we’ll be able to improve upon. But again, our motto now is “Every student, every day.”

Host: Connor described why he decided to teach.

TC: I come from [unintelligible] county, that’s where I grew up. I understand the power of education as a first generation college student. I had parents who were blue collar workers, my mom was a waitress, my dad was a construction worker. They understand, beyond high school, how to navigate those waters. Always told people, if you just work hard, have good grades, hopefully everything works out. So I had some great teachers and counselors along the way who really supported me and told me what was necessary to get on that path to college. If it weren’t for them, I don’t think I would have been inspired to be a teacher.

Host: The 41-year-old leader of Sarasota schools moved quickly up the ladder of public school leadership. He started out as a seventh and eighth grade science teacher at Ocean Way school in Duvall County, rising to positions of assistant principal and then principal at various elementary and high schools there. He then worked as Chief of Secondary Education and Chief Academic Officer, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction for Clay County district schools. He came to Sarasota County from Hillsborough County, where he served as Deputy Superintendent and Chief Academic Officer.

The day after he was sworn in as the new Sarasota school chief, Connor reorganized the district’s top administration posts to help him steer the school system. School veterans are reassigned and Connor brought in from outside new people for local leadership posts. The school board voted in mid-August to put the school’s five-year overarching strategic plan on hold to let the newly arrived Connor bring the plan in line with his vision. Terry Connor welcomed the move.

TC: I think it’s an absolute opportunity for—And I think at anytime we have a new superintendent coming in to a school district, it’s important to evaluate what’s working, what’s not working. So we’re looking at the strategic plan as a starting point, and the board allowing me to pause and really dive deep into those areas of opportunities that may need revision. There’s been definitely communication around enhancement of academics as a part of the strategic plan. So I think it’s a great opportunity for me to really dive deep into that, and I’m looking forward.

It’s a multi-phase approach, right? I think in the first few days, my transition plan around the first 30 days is listening to all of our different stakeholders, and then taking data through reviewing our metrics, reviewing our audits, reviewing our different reports, so that we can have a holistic, comprehensive view of things. It’s going to probably take me around, you know, I’m shooting for 100 days, more or less, to get to that point. And then of course, developing our next steps will take a little time after that as well.

Host: The listening tour stop scheduled to take place at Booker High on Tuesday, August 29th, was postponed because of Hurricane Idalia. A virtual tour event is set for Friday, September 1st from 5:30pm to 6:30pm with details to be announced on the school board’s website.

Booker High teachers and schools staffers will meet with Connor on Thursday, September 7th, between 5 and 6pm in the high school cafeteria. There is no event just for parents on the schedule.

And finally, Connor has set up a Spanish language Listening Tour event on Saturday, September the 9th in the Tuttle Elementary cafeteria between 11am and 12:30pm.

This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.

 

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