If you’ve tuned into a Sarasota County School Board meeting within the past two years, you’ve seen a rising level of vitriol. Area parents, grandparents, people without children, people who live here five months out of the year, people who live outside the county and people whose kids don’t even go to public school often add their two cents as public speakers—speaking out on everything from mask mandates to the curriculum, often with raised voices and unkind words.
And outside of school board meetings, those not-so-kind words are often stoked on Facebook. In September, a Facebook page devoted to information and conversation about the school system that was managed by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune was shut down. A representative from the newspaper wrote that "due to the extent of conflict and misinformation in this group we are unable to devote the resources to properly moderating it." The page had 4,300 followers.
And where does all the not-so-kind commentary go? It weighs on the hearts, minds and shoulders of those whose job it is to ensure students get what they need to thrive at school. That's why Dr. Jim Minor, Riverview High School's International Baccalaureate coordinator and a longtime educator, created the "We Love Sarasota County Schools" Facebook page.
“The predominant narrative is unkind to our faculty, staff and board. Our community in large part isn't modeling civil behavior, it’s modeling disrespect and it’s manifesting in our schools,” says Minor, who—with Michael Kinsey and Dwight Josey—co-founded the "Support Sarasota-Manatee Black-Owned Businesses" Facebook page last year. “On my campus alone, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of great things happening everyday. The transfer of knowledge from adults to kids, the relationships—it's amazing what our teachers are doing.”
Minor started We Love Our Sarasota County Schools on Oct. 22, and it has already grown to 1,458 followers. Its "wall" is open and anyone can post there, as long as it's not negative or political. If it is, "it gets deleted, no questions asked," Minor says. "There are plenty of other avenues for that and this is not one of them."
What you will find are posts ranging from proud teachers sharing a student's success to grateful parents and engaged community leaders amplifying the good. The page is about nurturing a place for teachers and faculty to “viscerally know that we support them,” he says.
And that support may help with retention. Schools across the country are short-staffed, including in Sarasota, where parent households recently received a mass Sarasota County Schools email seeking applicants to fill teaching positions.
"A lot of our master teachers are exploring their retirement options. Who wants to put up with what's been going on?" Minor asks. "I feel I have to do whatever I can on behalf of my profession. Otherwise, we'll cease to be."