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New Facility Makes Florida Ground Zero for Conservative Reform in Public Schools

“We aim to help support those school board members with the knowledge of how a school district works so they can be the public servants they campaigned to be,” the facility’s program director Bridgette Ziegler told The Florida Standard.

SARASOTA, FLORIDA — The conservative education agenda in Florida took another big step forward last week with the unveiling of a new training facility for school leaders and activists.

The Leadership Institute – a national group that trains conservatives in civic engagement – celebrated the grand opening of its new School Board Programs headquarters in Sarasota at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday.

Those who attended the event included Leadership Institute Founder Morton Blackwell, School Board Programs Director Bridgette Ziegler, Optima Ed CEO Erika Donalds, Orange County School Board member Alicia Farrant, parental rights activist “Billboard Chris” and Riley Gaines – the former University of Kentucky swimmer who rose to prominence for speaking out against men competing in women’s sports.

The 6,000-square-foot building will serve as a training hub for incumbent and hopeful school board members across the country. School board candidates can build campaign strategies with accomplished educational leaders, while active board members will have access to a robust support system to help them navigate the myriad challenges they are responsible for handling.

“There’s such a huge demand [for support],” Ziegler told The Florida Standard. “If you consider how many school board members there are across the country, it’s around 138,000 school board members in roughly 13,000 medium-to-large districts.”

Ziegler, a school board member in Sarasota County since 2014, remembers what it was like to confront a mountain of new information and dilemmas upon taking office.

“One thing that’s near and dear to my heart is helping school board members after they’re elected,” Ziegler said. “So often people spend so much time and energy trying to get their candidate across the line and then once they’re elected it’s: ‘Okay, good riddance.’”

“We aim to help support those school board members with the knowledge of how a school district works – the behemoth of the bureaucracy and education policy process – so they can be the public servants they campaigned to be.”


In addition to school board members, the Freedom Institute will utilize the facility for equipping members of the public who want to help reform their local school districts.

Over the past several years, groups like Mom’s for Liberty and Citizens Defending Freedom (CDF) have built small, localized battalions of conservative activists. Parents and other concerned citizens from these groups can utilize the new headquarters for networking and additional training on issues specific to the public school system.

Those who can’t make it to the facility can still benefit from digital resources, including a podcast called “Learn Right” that will be recorded in the second-floor studio. Ziegler will host the show and interview a variety of educational thought leaders.

“We’ll continue to provide resources digitally and on-demand, but nothing compares to in-person,” she added.

For Ziegler, the new facility signifies an important paradigm shift among conservatives concerning public education – a commitment to the grind that produces gradual change.

“Government works painfully slow. Add to that a public education institution … one that has been hijacked for almost a century by the Left,” she said. “We have to be in it for the long haul.”