In a unanimous decision on Tuesday, the Sarasota County School Board chose Brennan Asplen III to be the new superintendent.
Acknowledging that they were presented with five well-qualified finalists, the board ultimately decided that Asplen, currently the Deputy Superintendent with the St. Johns School District, stood out above the rest.
Asplen was also a finalist for the position in 2016, and board member Jane Goodwin said he has "really seasoned and developed beautifully” since then.
“He’s gotten his doctorate degree,” she said. “He has more experience being in the number one school district in the state, St. Johns County, where he is the academic leader.”
Goodwin added that Asplen's goals align with what the board wants, including a focus on instruction and closing the achievement gaps for Black and Hispanic students.
Caroline Zucker, Chair of the Sarasota County School Board, said she sees him as someone who will be able to build trust with the community.
“He calls himself a servant leader,” she said. “He's more about the community, staff - the only one that I heard talked about having students as part of his council.”
Despite the unanimous final vote, the board came into the meeting with three leading contenders.
Board members Bridget Ziegler and Eric Robinson both voiced support for Miami-Dade Chief Academic Officer Marie Izquierdo.
“When I found out that Miami-Dade County was an A, I was a little shocked,” Robinson said. “It leads me to believe that she has the ability to tackle the achievement gap issue that we've all been talking about.”
And board member Shirley Brown said she favored Peter Licata, currently a Palm Beach regional superintendent.
“When I asked him about closing the achievement gap, he said that’s not his goal,” Brown said. “His goal is to raise the bottom level up, because you can’t just close the achievement gap by not paying attention to the top.”
During the second round of comments, all board members ultimately agreed that Asplen presented many qualities they valued in past superintendents.
Goodwin told the board that during visits to the district, Asplen spoke with on-campus police officers and bus drivers, and followed up with thank-you notes to everyone he spoke with.
“He is a great listener, he's kind and he wants to be in Sarasota County,” she said. “He really wants to come here and spend the rest of his career and he's not looking at Sarasota County as a stepping stone to another area.”
Asplen will succeed Todd Bowden, who stepped down last November after failing to act swiftly when he learned that his top deputy, Jeff Maultsby, was accused of sexually harassing a co-worker, Cheraina Bonner.
“I'm very humbled and honored to be selected,” Asplen said. “Sarasota County has unlimited potential, and it's because of the people there-- the teachers and administrators, the community and the parents-- and I honestly can't wait to get down there.”
Board members indicated contract negotiations with Asplen will be scheduled soon.