Honoring the Past, Toasting the Future


Take a walk with me down memory lane to 1988.

George H.W. Bush was elected as the 41st president. Big with Tom Hanks and Die Hard with Bruce Willis were hit movies. The Dell Computer Corp. was incorporated. The Washington Redskins won the Super Bowl. Guns N’ Roses “Sweet Child o’ Mine” played on the radio. The term “World Wide Web” made its way into conversation. Cameras required film. A portable cell phone cost $2,500 and stood 10 inches tall. The big hair look was in for women and an unfortunate number of men sported the mullet style.

In Sarasota, young comedian Jay Leno performed at the Van Wezel. The Sarasota Babe Ruth Little League All-Stars went to the World Series. And private citizen Shirley Ritchey, a woman with a strong will and stronger passion for public education, gathered a group of Sarasota-area business leaders and educators to lay the groundwork for an independent organization dedicated to supporting programs and services to benefit students and teachers of Sarasota County Schools.

The Education Foundation of Sarasota County, as we know it today, traces its beginning to this grassroots effort led by Shirley and joined by leading citizens who served with commitment over the years.

Thanks to the continuing involvement of Shirley and early board members, the Education Foundation today is a nonprofit organization with the personality of a big supportive family that is celebrating our 30th anniversary year by honoring the past while looking to the future.

Since its inception, the Foundation provided programs and services that support and enrich the learning experience for students and teachers in our district. Here are a few highlights of how we have invested in our district over the first three decades:

The Foundation held the first teacher recognition event in 1989. We produced Academic Olympics in 1992 and Sarasota Thinks Festival in 1995. Our first annual “Evening of Excellence” was held in 1996. “Building Blocks for Success” grants were awarded in 1999. In 2003 we began a five-year literacy partnership with the Junior League. In 2009 we marked the 20th year of awarding “Edge of Excellence” classroom grants. We funded the first digital learning lab at Laurel Civic Association in 2013 and the first annual Hackathon was held in 2016.

And this year our College, Career, Life Readiness Initiative is taking off with the opening of new Student Success Centers, staffed by dedicated College Career Advisors provided by the Education Foundation, at North Port High School and Riverview High School.

With the passing of time we are glad to see some things fade—the mullet hairstyle, for one—and nostalgic for others. Along the way, we have said sad farewells to beloved friends and supporters, most recently James Ritchey, the husband and stalwart supporter of our founder, Shirley Ritchey.

As we honor the past with pride and respect, we are preparing toasts to a bright future for the Education Foundation and our students and teachers.

Change is inevitable and it seems fitting this anniversary falls at a time that arguably is the Education Foundation’s most transformative period since our founders experienced the thrill of beginning something important.

The Education Foundation’s many past accomplishments have been possible through the ongoing support of community and philanthropic partners, the cooperation of district leaders and the generosity of corporate and individual donors.

We continue to count on invaluable community backing as we adapt programs and services to meet the needs of a changing world and prepare our students to succeed in their own future plans.