One can never say too much about the extraordinary array of lifestyle amenities that await newcomers to Southwest Florida once they opt to live here. More often than not, however, these much-deserved kudos involve the region’s top-rated beaches, its limitless recreational opportunities; and, or course, its embarrassment of riches with respect to the visual, performing and culinary arts.
No less deserving of praise is the superb array of educational amenities—spread throughout the community—that enables students of all ages to take advantage of a broad range of unique learning opportunities that few Florida communities can equal. For families with school-aged children, this is perhaps the single most important amenity to consider before deciding where to settle in the Sunshine State. As well, for adults who view life as one continuous opportunity to absorb new ideas, discover new interests and develop new skills—Southwest Florida is one large laboratory of learning.
To aspire to the highest standards of academic excellence is an easy thing to do. To actually attain them is something else altogether. For this reason we can all be extremely proud of the teachers, administrators, staff and student leaders who make our schools stack up so impressively against other Florida communities; and indeed against other states.
Sarasota County’s public school district currently ranks tenth among Florida’s 66 counties; which are collectively shown to constitute one of the most improved statewide school systems in the country. People actually leave California, once known for having one of the best school systems in the country, so that their children can attend school here. One school in Sarasota County alone —Osprey’s Pine View School for the Gifted—has won something of a trifecta among the state’s public schools. Pine View—which accepts students into grades two through 12—is at once rated the best elementary school, the best middle school and the best high school in the State of Florida, based on FCAT reading and math scores compiled by Schooldigger.com, a web site that empowers parents to access detailed profiles of over 136,000 schools across America. As well, Business Week magazine put Pine View at the top of the list for “Best Overall Academic Performance” among all public high schools in Florida; and in 2008 ranked it among the 11 best high schools in America. At practically the same time, U.S. News & World Report also named Pine View the eleventh best high school in the nation.
One of the best known private schools of its type in the world is to be found at Bradenton’s IMG Academies, the most advanced, state-of-the-art, multi-sport training and educational facility ever created for athletes. With two academic college-preparatory schools attended by students from over 46 states and 80 countries—one affiliated with the Pendleton School, the other with the University of Miami—IMG Academies is the largest and most successful school ever created for devoted athletes. Its Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy counts among its illustrious alumni such legends of the game as Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Maria Sharapova; and the Williams sisters—Venus and Serena.
For parents intent on a more traditional private school education for their children, the region offers more than 20 such private and parochial schools; most of which are united in their efforts to prepare students for the rigors of academic and campus life at America’s best colleges and universities.
Speaking of colleges and universities, what could be more apropos than University Parkway—one of Sarasota-Manatee’s principal east-west roadways—leading to no less than seven institutions of higher education in Sarasota and Manatee Counties? Indeed, though people tend to regard Southwest Florida as a resort community—or as Florida’s cultural hub—we can also be justifiably dubbed a college town. Within minutes of University Parkway are found such noteworthy institutions as The University of South Florida/Sarasota-Manatee, New College of Florida, Ringling College of Art & Design, Keiser College, Argosy University, Eckerd College and the State College of Sarasota-Manatee. Formerly known as Manatee Community College, the State College of Sarasota-Manatee officially adopted its new name on July 1st after its board of trustees voted to pursue four-year workforce degrees and become a “state” college.
As recently as this year New College of Florida was named the number two best value in a public college or university by The Princeton Review and USA TODAY; while it’s Sarasota neighbor, the University of South Florida, was ranked among the top 50 on the same list of schools that offer exceptional educations at reasonable prices. With total enrollment approaching just 800 students, New College recently announced eight Fulbright Scholars for 2009-10. Amazing.
Just to the south of these two schools lies the 35-acre campus of Ringling College of Art & Design, which now includes 90 buildings, and attracts close to 1,100 students from 43 states and 23 foreign countries. The college—often mentioned in the same rarefied tones as the Rhode Island School of Design and New York’s Parsons School of Design—is recognized as being among the best and most innovative visual arts colleges in the United States as well as a leader in the use of technology in the arts.
It’s well worth mentioning that each of these colleges and universities offers a full menu of classes, degree programs and lecture series for the inquisitive adult learner.
Having each of these world-class public and private institutions anchored within the community—not to mention the students, faculty and staff members who populate each of their campuses—is another huge reason why the cultural fabric of this community is woven with such richness and diversity. For those deciding whether Southwest Florida is the best community to live, work, play and raise a family, add one more huge checkmark to the plus column.