By Jennifer Vigne, President, Education Foundation of Sarasota County

Decisions. We are fortunate to live in a community where we have a multitude of choices—where to eat, shop, play or live just to name a few. Sarasota County is lauded for its beaches, its arts and culture, and its A-rated school district. It’s the collective strength—each on their own merit individually—that makes our community so special.

When trying to decide where to eat with such a vibrant restaurant scene, we may consider several factors such as the ethnic cuisine, atmosphere or location. If we’re looking to shop, we may consider quality, price or variety of items available. You get the point—one size doesn’t fit all. We each have our own needs, wants and desires, which make each one of us uniquely and wonderfully made.

As it pertains to schooling, choice is just as important. Like trying on a pair of shoes for a proper fit, students and parents should similarly seek a school that is a good fit. The most prevalent option that is often discussed is private versus public. Yet that should not be the metric of comparison or the center of the discussion. Each and every school in our community should be evaluated on its own merit and how it may align with your family values, your child’s strengths and interests.

It is no accident that Sarasota County public schools is one of only two A-rated school districts in the state of Florida since 2003 when the rating system went into effect. With 52 schools and more than 2,500 teachers, we are incredibly fortunate to have a multitude of choice in our public schools alone, and it is important to understand the uniqueness of each of these schools to determine the right fit. Leadership, culture, programmatic themes, extracurricular activities and course offerings are essential factors to consider.

You may already know that Pine View School (grades 2-12) is rated as the top high school in Florida according to US News & World Report or that Booker High School Principal Dr. Rachel Shelley is Florida’s Principal of the Year. But do you also know that Sarasota High School has a MaST (Math Science and Technology) Research Institute that requires highly motivated students to complete in-depth research projects; Booker High School has a highly regarded VPA (Visual Performing Arts) program that includes instruction in dance, digital design, music, theatre and visual art; Riverview High School has its own planetarium; Venice High has an IB (International Baccalaureate) program and executive internship program; North Port High has its own VPA program along with drafting labs, industrial culinary arts kitchen and an indoor/outdoor café; and Suncoast Polytechnical High School offers the only Game/Art and Animation program in the country? And, those are just a few highlights from our highly rated high schools. Our middle schools offer just as many options.

Sarasota County Schools is hosting a 2-day Middle School and High School Showcase on Jan. 16 and 17. I encourage you to attend. It’s an excellent opportunity to meet with school leadership and staff, ask questions, gain information and learn more about the varied public middle and high schools in one evening. Tuesday, Jan. 16, the showcase will be held 5:30-7pm at Suncoast Technical College in North Port, and Wednesday’s event will take place the same time at Suncoast Technical College in Sarasota. More information can be found at www.sarasotacountyschools.net.

Fit is important. As much time as we take to select the right restaurant, store or pair of shoes, so too we should make informed decisions about our child’s schooling. We’re fortunate to live in a special community with amazing public schools providing us an incredible menu from which to choose. School choice is available and the choice is yours.