Monday, July 27, 2015

My hopes for Tuesday's School Board meeting

This coming Tuesday evening will be packed with not just one but two School Board meetings. The regular monthly meeting will begin as usual with academic highlights and recognitions at 5 PM followed by the business agenda beginning at 5:30 PM. That meeting will adjourn at 6:30 PM for a Hearing about the proposed 2015–16 District Budget. When that meeting ends, the regular Board meeting will resume.

In this post, I’ll tell you what I’ll be hoping for as I watch the regular Board meeting. Click here for the agenda.

Governance Model Review - Agenda Item C1

In 2010, the School Board adopted a Governance Model to codify the way the District School Board of Collier County will operate. It includes:

  • Roles and responsibilities of the Board and the Superintendent
  • Policies review process
  • Strategic plan
  • Superintendent evaluation process
  • Board evaluation process

At the request of Board member Julie Sprague at last month’s meeting, the Board will discuss revisiting and possibly making changes to the Model. Discussion will include date and time of the review session and selection of a facilitator to lead the discussion, as well as any related cost.

While the Model worked well for previous Boards, this would be an opportunity for the two newer Board members (Erika Donalds and Kelly Lichter) to express their views and, if shared by the majority, changes to the Model could be made.

In my opinion, past interactions on the dais between the three senior Board members (Kathleen Curatolo, Julie Sprague and Roy Terry) and two newer Board members make obvious the need for an outside facilitator – and one whom all Board members trust to be impartial. The newer Board members were critical of the Florida School Boards Association (FSBA) representative who facilitated a previous session, and support an alternative coalition of school boards because of differences with the FSBA. An FSBA facilitator would likely not be acceptable to them.

As I watch this discussion, I will be hoping for a unanimous vote to hold a session to discuss the Governance Model, led by a facilitator acceptable to all five Board members.

Outside Counsel for the Board - Agenda Item C2

Donalds and Lichter want the Board to have its own attorney, separate from the District’s, believing there’s an inherent conflict of interest currently with the District General Counsel representing the Board, the Superintendent and staff.

A Summary of Issues accompanying the agenda says there are examples of both models both in Florida and nationally. With respect to conflicts of interest:

… While this rarely occurs, since the corporate direction, policy, and operational goals are typically an alignment, it is the responsibility of the General [Counsel] to assess the conflict and bring in outside counsel if needed.

According to the Summary, the District has only had three conflicts of interest since 1992.

The issue has been raised before, but this is the first time it has been an agenda item to be voted on. A March 2015 Naples Daily News article reported that:

Board Chairwoman Kathleen Curatolo says she can’t justify the expenditure. “I’m not interested in hiring a separate [counsel] because it’s far too much of a burden on taxpayer dollars,” she said.

But Lichter says the board counsel would pay for itself because there ultimately could be less lawsuits over procedural issues. The last such lawsuit, settled last month, cost the district $6,500.

Therein lies the real issue: the recent spate of lawsuits brought against the District by a few disgruntled parents. It began with suits filed by parent/attorney Steve Bracci concerning the District’s 2013 decision to make changes to its after-school programs. That decision led to the formation of Parents ROCK by now-Board member Donalds. (Background here.) Bracci subsequently brought other suits, as did parent Cory Seegmiller, after Curatolo told him to “speak to issues and not people” while addressing a Board meeting.

At the June Board meeting, Sprague asked District General Counsel Jonathan Fishbane to comment on “the frivolous lawsuits filed against us.” Fishbane said that “very, very many” suits have filed, referring to those filed by Sports Club, Parents ROCK and Bracci, and the District has won them all. Most recently, all five federal counts brought by Seegmiller were dismissed while his two state counts are still pending. Fishbane said the cost to the District of these suits was “a lot of money … more than $100,000.” (See 2–1/2 minute clip of the Sprague/Fishbane exchange about the lawsuits here.)

Watching the discussion Tuesday evening, I will be paying attention to the way Board members conduct themselves. My hope is that they listen respectfully to each other, keep an open mind in considering the need for two in-house lawyers (or lack thereof), and then vote so that this matter can be closed once and for all.

School Board Self-Evaluation - Agenda Item C280

At its discussion of the Board Self-Evaluation at the June meeting, Sprague proposed that the Board conduct another self-evaluation in November, when they will have been together for a full year. The idea is that they will take steps between now and then, including the facilitated Governance Model Review meeting discussed above, that will help them work better together, resulting in an improved evaluation.

Given the terrible results reflected in the mid-year evaluation (see my post of June 3), I hope the Board votes unanimously in support of this motion on Tuesday.

Should the suggestion come up, I would not support any effort to change the evaluation instrument between now and then. The reason to do another evaluation is to compare the Board’s May and November assessments to see if there is improvement. Changing the questions would make a like-for-like comparison impossible.

Further, since the self-evaluation is part of the Governance Model and linked to the strategic plan, the time to consider changes to the instrument is after the Board agrees on any changes to the Governance Model and after it adopts the next multi-year strategic plan (scheduled for 2015–16).

Preliminary 2016 Florida Legislative Platform - Agenda Item E90

The Board will hear a presentation on the District’s proposed priorities for the 2016 State Legislative Session. The items included are in reaction to legislation passed during the 2015 Session and/or based on other key issues anticipated to come forward during the 2016 Session.

Three of the five priorities pertain to funding:

  • Substantially increase the Base Student Allocation to cover inflation, workload adjustments and provide salary increases for teachers and other district employees.
  • Restore funding so that students can meet requirements for advanced study and industry certified programs without financially penalizing school districts.
  • Create and fund a separate program exclusively for the 100 low (reading) performing elementary schools so that funding follows the identified students/schools and is not mixed with other programs, and districts have flexibility in how the extra 180 hours per year are scheduled and provided.

In addition, the District wants the Legislature to extend the transition timeline for full implementation of the new educational accountability system until July 1, 2017. The Rationale for Legislative Priorities summarizes five reasons this extension is needed.

Finally, the District wants the Legislature to eliminate student learning growth as a required component of teacher and school administrator evaluations. According to the Rationale:

Teachers and school administrators do not receive student learning growth (value-added model - VAM) data until after the following school year has already started. At that point, teachers have already established professional growth plans for the year based on the feedback received at the end of the prior year on instructional practice and based on the individual student assessment data that has been reviewed. The VAM serves no meaningful purpose when it is received. Student assessment data should be used for its original intent, to inform instruction in the classroom and to guide decisions about professional learning, and not as a means to evaluate employees.

It’s important for all of us – teachers, administrators, parents, students and community members – to understand the difference between the things local School Districts can change on their own, and the things they have no control over because they are mandated by state or federal law. By watching the presentation and Board discussion of this agenda item, I hope to further my understanding of these differences.

School Board Comments

One of the last items on the agenda is School Board Comments. This is an opportunity for each Board member to make any comments she/he wants about any topic. Having read the summary of Board member comments in the minutes of last month’s meeting, I realized that much of interest is discussed and that this portion of the meeting – despite the late hour – should be monitored by the public. We can’t know in advance what comments Board members will make, but I plan to watch for items like those last month that provide insight into District matters not otherwise known by the public.



For more information about the meeting, including the agenda and all related materials, visit the School Board Meeting Agenda Page of the CCPS website.

If you have input to share with the Board and Superintendent about any of the agenda items, you can attend the meeting in person (be sure to register in advance), or email them:

Kathleen Curatolo - curatoka@collierschools.com
Erika Donalds - donale@collierschools.com
Kelly Lichter - lichteke@collierschools.com
Julie Sprague - spraguju@collierschools.com
Roy Terry - terryro@collierschools.com
Superintendent Kamela Patton - patton@collierschools.com



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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Public comments at the last School Board meeting ... and looking ahead

In my last post (“A report on the June 9 School Board meeting”), I reported on the Board’s discussion and subsequent three-to-two-vote to approve its annual self-evaluation and evaluation of the Superintendent. I had written in depth about both processes in a previous post. I believe awareness of the outcomes of these annual Board assessments is critical to being an informed voter in School Board elections. Here’s why.

The Board’s self-evaluation is an important component of the Board’s Governance Model. Responses reflect Board members’ assessments of how effectively they are functioning as a Board and furthering the District’s strategic plan. Since poor Board conduct almost caused the District to lose its accreditation in 2007/2008 (more here), voters should monitor the annual self-evaluation for signs of trouble. And as I wrote last month, this year’s evaluation is cause for concern.

Similarly, voters should monitor the Board’s annual evaluation of the Superintendent to ensure she is meeting expectations. This year, fortunately, she is. (See my post and the Naples Daily News editorial “Supt. Patton deserves all the accolades she received in 2015 evaluation,” behind pay wall.)

My mission - what drives me to write this blog - is to encourage and facilitate community involvement in civic affairs and, ultimately, informed, fact-based voting. I hope those previous posts did that.

In this post, I will deliver on last month’s promise to report on the public comments that preceded the business portion of the Board meeting (acknowledging that my notes may not be complete), and how I will cover public comments going forward.

2–1/2 hours of public comments

Twelve community members made comments generally in support of Board members, District staff and/or the Superintendent. Thanks to the Great Schools, Great Minds YouTube Channel, you can actually watch clips of several of those speakers, including:

  • Beth Povlow, president of the recently-formed Coalition for Quality Public Education (C4QPE), who introduced the Coalition as having been "born out of the frustration at witnessing increasingly dysfunctional School Board meetings." Click here.
  • John Lynch, a spokesman for C4QPE, who encouraged Board members to commit to another facilitated session to “resolve [the Board's] difficulties through compromise, discussion and negotiation.” Click here.
  • Eric Otto, a Collier County parent, who summarized and commended the District on the results of the recent parents’ survey. Click here.
  • Roseanne Mello, a Collier County parent, who thanked the Board and Superintendent for providing an excellent public education for her son, who recently graduated magna cum laude from a Collier high school and was accepted to NYU on a half-scholarship. Click here.
  • Reynerio Joseph Muradaz, a rising junior at Gulf Coast High School, who said that the possibility of “the loss of accreditation is terrifying” and reminded Board members of their responsibility to all 45,000 CCPS students, not just the minority of voters who elected them. Click here.
  • Dianne Mayberry-Hatt, a retired educator who served as a trained facilitator of the 2009 Champions for Learning Connect Now community engagement initiative, who shared the ground rules used in the Connect Now community conversations “that enabled diverse points of view to be heard,” and suggested that it’s time for Connect Now 2.0.  Click here.

Nine community members made comments generally critical of the District and Superintendent. They included:

  • Steve Bracci, a Collier County parent and litigant against the Collier County Public Schools (CCPS),
  • David Bolduc, a Collier County parent and Parents ROCK president,
  • Doug Lewis, a Collier County parent and author of the pre-election “Contract with Collier County, Florida Voters.” Mr. Lewis’s reading from “Dreaming in Cuban,” a novel available at five Collier high schools, caused a bit of a stir.

Four community members spoke in support of restoring an invocation to the beginning of School Board meetings. (See “Know Your Rights: Religion in Public Schools,” by ACLU of Tennessee). On a related note, School Board member Kelly Lichter’s husband Nick commented on the subject on the Sparker’s Soapbox Facebook Page on July 8, writing in part: “WE THE PEOPLE want the invocation …. An invocation before school board meetings is sorely needed in Collier County. Maybe it will help alleviate some of the disdain the three senior board members have towards the public.”

Byron Donalds, husband of School Board member Erika Donalds, Vice President of the Mason Classical Academy Charter School’s Governing Board and 2016 candidate for Florida state legislative District 80, addressed the Board to state that “racist and divisive remarks [were] said to Board members at this dais” and that “politics is happening at this podium.” He was referring to a previous speaker’s reference to the Mason Classical Academy as the “Mason Academy for Middle Class White Students.” (Read more in Mr. Donalds’ letter in the Naples Daily News, calling the characterization a “vile, racist remark,” and in “One of Collier’s top schools drawing criticism for its racial makeup,” both behind pay wall.)

Four community members spoke on other topics.

It was a long 2–1/2 hours, during which upwards of 30 people took advantage of their opportunity under School Board Policy 0169.1 to address the Board and Superintendent. I encourage you to listen to the speaker clips at the Great Schools, Great Minds YouTube channel and/or watch some of it through the Video-on-Demand recording of the Board meeting.

My reporting on public comments going forward

I’ve learned a lot about our community by watching and listening to public comments at School Board meetings. Mostly I’ve heard about issues that critics of the senior Board members and the Superintendent think are important. I’ve seen a small number of angry people complain and criticize the same things month after month, with little hope of changing the outcome before the next election.

The good news is that those frequent critics have energized and engaged another group of voters - community members, parents, grandparents, and at least one student - to become more informed and involved.

The Coalition for Quality Public Education (C4QPE) and Great Schools, Great Minds’ website, Facebook Page and YouTube Channel would likely not have formed without the ongoing disruption and unpleasantness displayed by some of the frequent speakers at School Board meetings.

That civic engagement has strengthened my commitment to what I am doing. It has also made easier my decision that reporting on the public comments portion of School Board meetings is not critical to furthering my mission to encourage and facilitate community involvement in civic affairs and, ultimately, informed, fact-based voting.

Going forward, readers of this blog can expect continued reporting on Collier School Board actions as they relate to CCPS policy, governance, performance, and the strategic plan – things I believe informed voters should know. In addition, I’ll be expanding my scope to include information about upcoming elections, candidates for County and statewide office, and issues I think are relevant to voters’ decisions in the 2016 elections. I hope you’ll stay tuned.



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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A report on the June 9 School Board meeting

In this post, I’m going to tell you about the actual business conducted at last week’s monthly School Board meeting, along with some personal observations. In my next post, I’ll report on what happened in the 2–1/2 hours of public comments.

June 9 School Board meeting - 5:30 PM

The Agenda for this month’s meeting contained 96 items. It’s not as bad as it sounds, though, because 78 items comprised the Consent Agenda, i.e. items presented for Board approval without discussion unless a Board member requests it.

None of the consent items was pulled for discussion, not even Item 9, approval of a new kindergarten through 8th grade charter school. See the 643-page application here and related Naples Daily News article here. Florida law gives local school districts little power to reject charter applications as long as specified requirements are met, hence (presumably) the lack of Board discussion.

Next came a proposed change to the Agenda by Board member Erika Donalds (defeated on a 3–2 vote) and comments from about 30 public speakers. I encourage you to experience some of them yourself through the Video-on-Demand recording on the District website, beginning about 30 minutes in.

At around 8:15 PM, the Board meeting “really” began

First, two items of unfinished business (adoption of School Board Bylaw 0100 - Definitions and Policy 1010 - Board-Superintendent Relationship) were approved unanimously on their Second Reading, having been discussed at great length at previous meetings.

Policy 1010 reflects a significant change in how suggestions for new policies or revisions to existing policies can be made. The matter arose when Donalds and Lichter wanted several matters considered in the past, and felt they were being unfairly prevented from doing so. As revised:
"Such suggestions will be placed on the next agenda and addressed at a public meeting. Because such suggestions are linked to potential future District policy development and/or revision, the public will be given the opportunity to speak on whether any such suggestion merits further study. If the Board believes, as a matter of consensus, any such suggestion merits further study, the Superintendent shall have staff research the matter. The Superintendent will report staff’s findings to the Board and recommend to the Board whether a new or amended policy should be developed and brought forward as a first reading at the next biannual policy review work session."
There were then two information-only presentations. First, the District’s legislative lobbyist gave a Preliminary 2015 Legislative Review and Status, “preliminary” because final school funding and other outcomes would not be known until the state’s special Legislative Session ends toward the end of the month.

Then, a First Reading of the 2015–16 Student Progression Plan was presented, along with a document showing changes from the prior year. The Plan sets forth the rules, administrative procedures and promotion criteria by which students advance from grade to grade. It specifically addresses how parents are to be kept informed about their child’s progress. Parents, students, other interested citizens and school personnel are the intended readers of this document. There was no Board discussion; presumably the Plan will have a Second Reading at the next Board meeting.

The Board’s self-evaluation

Next, the Board’s self-evaluation was presented. As I wrote last week, I’m not surprised that it took a terrible turn this year. Everyone agrees that the message sent is concerning.

What to do about it is another story. In “School Board, a negative direction” (behind paywall), the Naples Daily News Editorial Board recommends reinstating appointed citizen advisory boards on curriculum and financial matters to address the lack of trust evidenced by the Board’s self-evaluation. Several community members I’ve spoken with agree.

But I am skeptical that individuals appointed by our polarized Board members would be any more willing to compromise than the Board members themselves. And I have no doubt that meeting the requests of the newly-empowered committee members would only add to the already significant time District staff currently spends meeting Board and community member requests. We don’t need more bureaucracy.

Instead, I urge the Board to do what they are supposed to do: work professionally and with positive intent, compromise, and get things done in the best interests of the children. I support Board member Julie Sprague’s request for another professionally-facilitated session focused on the Board’s Governance Model and another Board self-evaluation in November, when this group will have served together a full year. Watch a clip of her comments here.

The Superintendent’s 2014–15 evaluation and 2015–16 goals

To me, the most substantive Board discussion at Tuesday’s meeting concerned the Superintendent’s 2014–15 evaluation and proposed 2015–16 goals. You can watch it here, starting about five minutes into the video.

As I explained last week, the evaluation consists of two equally-weighted parts:
Donalds objected to the form of the evaluation, which had been approved by the predecessor Board a year ago.

First, she was troubled by what she called a “disconnect” between the Strategic Plan’s Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and the performance objectives being evaluated. In a memo she sent fellow Board members the day before the Board meeting, she wrote:
… Our evaluation must be based on how effective the actions of our Chief Executive were in achieving our shared goals, not merely whether she has taken actions or implemented strategies without ties to defined, measureable outcomes. ….
This is difficult to understand without comparing the Strategic Plan and Evaluation documents. Here’s an example using the first of the Strategic Plan’s six goals: “Expand Early Childhood Education to Enhance School Readiness and Early Learning.” That goal has three KPIs:
  1. Increase by four percent the number of CCPS VPK students who meet the criteria for Kindergarten Readiness as defined by the Florida Office of Early Learning.
  2. Strengthen and monitor Family Literacy programs at one hundred percent of elementary schools and develop and implement three Parent Academies one of which will focus on early childhood education.
  3. Provide professional learning opportunities by offering six sessions, two sessions annually, for community Pre-K providers.
The Plan lists a number of Strategies for each KPI for fiscal year 2015. As an example, the Strategies for the “increase by four percent” KPI are:
  • Conduct a minimum of two annual meetings with site Pre-K principals to review assessment data and to implement improvement strategies ….
  • Analyze the impact of professional learning efforts from previous year by ….
  • Promote communication by planning and delivering quarterly early childhood updates ….
By comparison and to Donalds’ point, the two performance objectives for this goal in the Superintendent’s evaluation instrument are:
  • Expand professional learning opportunities for community based agencies, based on identified needs.
  • Share best practices gathered from elementary reading coaches/principals to create a Family Literacy Collaboration website.
Board Chair Curatolo strongly disagreed with Donalds that the Strategic Plan’s KPIs should be the metrics evaluated. In her view, “No one goal can determine if student learning measures have been met. It’s collective.” There was a lengthy debate, well-argued by both sides.

Curatolo and Donalds have very different educational backgrounds, professional training, and career experiences. Curatolo is in her third four-year term as school board member, has a Certification in School District Administration, and has received Master Board Certification through the Florida School Board Association. Donalds’ education and professional experience is in accountancy and global management accounting, and this is the first year of her first term as a board member.

My own education and career are similar to Donalds’. I understand her point of view, although I don’t necessarily agree that a school district superintendent’s evaluation should be modeled on that of a corporate CEO. I am less familiar with the model Curatolo was supporting, and her experience and training in school board administration add value to the discussion. Hearing during the meeting how much more structured and demanding the Collier Superintendent’s evaluation is compared to other Districts in Florida was also interesting and relevant.

Regarding the second part of the evaluation, professional standards, Donalds objected to the subjectivity involved in evaluating them, and to the equal weight given to the quantitative (performance) and qualitative (professional standards) parts of the evaluation.

Curatolo agreed with Donalds that the overall assessment should more heavily weight the objective performance metrics than the subjective professional standards. Sprague disagreed. Pointing out that the professional standards came directly from the Connect Now Community Statement, she said she would not support lowering the weight of that section.

The discussion continued until ultimately Chair Curatolo called for a motion to approve the 2014–15 Evaluation and 2015–16 goals, which passed 3–2. While board members agreed on the evaluation, Donalds and Lichter voted no because they were unable to make changes to the goals.

In my view, one of the Board’s most important responsibilities is setting the Superintendent’s goals and evaluating her performance. To that end, having an effective evaluation tool is critical. I hope there will be more discussion and ultimately consensus reached on a revised set of evaluation metrics for the 2016–17 year.

Conclusion

My mission - what drives me to write this blog - is to encourage and facilitate community involvement in civic affairs and, ultimately, informed, fact-based voting. I hope this post did that, even if I didn’t tell you who said what during the 2–1/2 hours of public comments. That will be the subject of my next post, where I will also give my thoughts about how I might cover that part of Board meetings going forward.



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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

School Board and Superintendent evaluations on agenda for June 9 meeting

At Tuesday’s School Board meeting, the Board’s annual self-evaluation and evaluation of the Superintendent will be presented and discussed.

I’m not surprised that the Board’s self-evaluation took a terrible turn this year, reflecting senior Board members’ frustrations with the behavior of the two new Board members both at and outside of Board meetings, and new Board members' frustrations with their new peers.

Unexpectedly, however, the Board’s evaluation of the Superintendent showed significant improvement over last year’s. This was the case even though when there was lack of unanimity, the new Board members' ratings were always the lowest.

In this post, I’ll share how the evaluation process works, with links to relevant materials so you can dig into them yourself. I’ll also share my observations of both evaluations and my concerns about their implications. As always, I urge you to let our elected Board members hear from you on these matters, either by email or in person, before they vote on the evaluations at Tuesday’s meeting.

The Board’s Self-Evaluation

The Board has been using the same evaluation instrument for the past six years. Areas covered include Board/Superintendent relationship, governance, policy-making, Board members’ conduct during and after Board meetings, and community/stakeholder relationship. Each Board member is asked to rate the Board on 34 indicators using a five-point scale (Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree and Strongly Disagree).

For the 2014–15 year, all 34 indicators moved in a negative direction compared to the prior year, meaning the Board views itself as less effective this year than last on every metric. Even more telling, all five board members rated the Board’s performance favorably in just four of the 34 indicators. It rated its performance unfavorably in 30 of the 34 indicators.

The worst ratings numerically were on these indicators:

#7 - The School Board and the Superintendent work together to create a climate of good faith and goodwill through team work and clear communication.

Mrs. Curatolo commented that “While the special meeting helped move us in this direction, we [are far] from a highly functioning board. Political agendas, lack of trust, and clearly pushing agendas which are not in the best interest of all students block us from high-level functioning….”

#11 - The School Board plans and conducts meetings in a businesslike manner, following accepted parliamentary procedures.

Mr. Terry commented, that “You never know what direction the meeting will take. We can take hours discussing procedural issues that had already been decided at a previous meeting. Example, when the public can speak.”

#14 - The School Board and the Superintendent work well together in a spirit of mutual trust and confidence.

Mr. Terry commented that “The lack of trust by a few Board members in the Superintendent and the rest of the Board is a problem. This causes a large amount of extra work for the Superintendent and her staff.”

And by far the worst rating (2.0 Disagree):

#17 - “Once a decision is made, all School Board members work together to support and implement the decision.”

Mr. Terry commented that while the District has no opt out of testing policy, “one Board member informed people how to opt out of testing.”

This is a TERRIBLE result. And the last year’s self-evaluation wasn’t much better. Comparing the 2013–14 to the 2012–13 indicators, only three of the 34 indicators moved in a positive direction, 17 were unchanged and 14 got worse.

Our school district nearly lost its accreditation in 2007 due to Board behavior and how it operated as a governing board. According to the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce at the time, in an article titled “School Accreditation: What It Means for Collier County":

To be blunt, graduation from a school system that loses accreditation means the students’ high school diplomas are – in a word – worthless. And if those kinds of penalties aren’t enough, history has shown an entire community can be thrown into chaos by the loss of its schools’ accreditation. Students jam adjoining counties’ schools, entire families relocate to other parts of the country, property values plummet, federal and state financial support dries up." 

The accreditation team at the time recommended that the District do a self-evaluation of its performance as a governing body, develop an in-house effectiveness training program with the specific objective of improving its ability to work as a governing body, and complete a comprehensive external review of its policies. It did so, and worked very hard over the next two years to get the “warned” status cleared.

And now look where we are.

Elections have consequences - even ones with very low voter turnout. We community members should be very concerned, both about the dysfunction reflected by this year’s evaluation, and by the negative trend.

We need to let those whose behavior we aren’t happy with know that we expect better.

The Superintendent’s Evaluation 

The Superintendent’s employment contract requires an annual evaluation based on goals agreed upon by the Board and Superintendent at the beginning of each school year.

The Superintendent’s evaluation is in two parts:


Each of the Superintendent’s performance objectives and professional standards is rated by each Board member on a four-point scale. The ratings of the five Board members are averaged, and then the combined rating on each part is weighted 50% so that the Superintendent’s overall rating is the average of the ratings of the two parts. An overall rating of 2.4 or above is Satisfactory; 2.3 or below is Unsatisfactory.

For the 2014–15 year, the Superintendent’s rating is 3.69, a significant improvement over the 2013–14 year of 3.24, which had been adversely affected by the ratings of former Board member Pat Carroll. For the 2012–13 year, the Superintendent’s rating was 3.78.

In the current year evaluation, all five Board members said the Superintendent completely met 31 of her 38 performance objectives, and completely or mostly met four. Two were linked to statewide tests for which results were not available.

Ratings on the 20 professional standards were more disparate, with the new Board members responsible for all the “needs improvement” and “not acceptable ratings.” Specifically, on “Demonstrates tact and diplomacy in working with individuals and groups,” and “Responds appropriately when faced with unforeseen events,” Lichter’s rating was the lowest possible: “not acceptable." On the latter, Donalds’ rating was "needs improvement," though Donalds agreed with the other three Board members in giving an excellent rating to "Demonstrates tact and diplomacy."

It is the Board’s responsibility to set measurable performance objectives for the Superintendent, and I’m pleased with the near-unanimity of the Board’s ratings on these measures.

However I’m concerned about the divergent ratings on the professional standards metrics, and disappointed that specific examples of those situations where Ms. Lichter and Ms. Donalds said the Superintendent’s performance “needs improvement” or is “not acceptable” were not provided with the evaluation posted online. Hopefully they were provided to the Superintendent in writing.

Tuesday’s Board Meeting

The business portion of the Board meeting begins at 5:30 pm this Tuesday, June 9. View the agenda here.

There are three opportunities for public comments, all at the beginning of the meeting before staff presentations or Board discussions:

  1. To address any item on the Consent Agenda (Agenda Items 7 - 84);
  2. To address anything not of the agenda, under General Public Comments (Agenda Item 86); and
  3. To address a specific agenda item, e.g. Board Self-Evaluation (Item 91) or Superintendent Evaluation (Item 92)

If you wish to speak, you must register before the meeting begins, indicating which agenda item you wish to address or if you have a general comment. You may do so online five hours before each meeting, or in person at the meeting.

If you are unable to attend the meeting but want to give comments to the Board and/or Superintendent, you can email them:

Kathleen Curatolo - curatoka@collierschools.com
Erika Donaolds - donale@collierschools.com
Kelly Lichter - lichteke@collierschools.com
Julie Sprague - spraguju@collierschools.com
Roy Terry - terryro@collierschools.com
Superintendent Kamela Patton - Patton@collierschools.com



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Thursday, May 28, 2015

CCPS: responsive to Collier parents, despite what Parents ROCK says

Last night around 10 PM, Parents ROCK sent out an email with the subject “CCPS suggests pornographic reading - Parent WARNING!

Click here to read the email, which begins:

On May 12th, school district administration presented the school board with the Keep Learning Alive Summer 2015 Learning and Resource Guide. This guide included reading lists for all grades in CCPS. The MIDDLE SCHOOL reading list linked to goodreads.com, and contained a book called ‘Beautiful Bastard’ by Christina Lauren. This book is, without a doubt, pornography."

This morning, Parents ROCK President David Bolduc issued a press release announcing a press conference today at 1 PM at the Collier County Public School (CCPS) Administration Building. It said in part:

Here are examples from a few books recommended on the [CCPS] summer reading list for as early as 6th grade!

“Beautiful Bastard” - Well, it is way too steamy for us to write, but it involves his fingers running up her thigh and into her underwear and describes a few things he does to her while there, and you will find the ‘F’ word on several pages too. Visit Parents ROCK on Facebook for a link to the highly inappropriate content and language.

“The Truth about Alice”. On page 1 it states, “Alice Franklin slept with two guys in the very same night in a bed at my house. She slept with one and then, like five minutes later, she slept with the other. And everybody knows about it…one of those guys… (Who yours truly messed around with more than once)…died in a car accident. And it is all Alice’s fault.”

Several parents are horrified their children are being exposed to this pornographic content and demanded an explanation as to why the CCPS would endorse such inappropriate material for Middle School students.

How outrageous! Our School District recommending books like these to our children??

The Parents ROCK email says, “This guide included reading lists for all grades in CCPS,” and its press release says, “Here are examples from a few books recommended on the summer reading list for as early as 6th grade!”

But that’s not accurate. The District’s reading guide only includes book recommendations for grades Pre-K to 5. I downloaded the 22-page Summer 2015 Learning and Resource Guide, and checked. Neither book appears.

Actually, I was impressed. The Guide is a wonderful document and I encourage you to review it. Its stated purpose is to help parents to:

AVOID THE SUMMER SLIDE! It is very important for students to continue to practice their academic skills even though school has closed. This “Keep Learning Alive” Learning and Resource Guide gives parents a variety of ideas to keep children practicing English Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies while not in school.

Rather than recommending specific books to middle and high school parents, it offers “some helpful links to help you and your child find rich, engaging books to read this summer.” Among ten sources listed, including Best Fiction for Young Adults from the American Library Association and 2015 Summer Reading Programs from the University of Central Florida and the University of South Florida, are two webpages from Goodreads: high school book lists and middle school book lists.

Goodreads is a website hosting crowd-sourced sets of book recommendations.

“Beautiful Bastard” appears on a Goodreads middle school book list titled “Best boy hates girl then loves her books.” It is tagged as “Adult Fiction > Erotica” and “Erotic Romance.” I agree with the concerned parent. This is definitely not appropriate summer reading from teenagers.

“The Truth About Alice” is tagged as “Young Adult > Teen,” “Young Adult > High School,” and “Young Adult > Coming of Age.”

Here’s the District’s explanation of what happened:

Last year we provided parents, our partners, with more than just a summer reading list. Keep Learning Alive was developed to include reading, writing, math, science, social studies, and career and technical summer activities. In this year’s version, we expanded our Keep Learning Alive Summer Learning and Resource Guide. In an effort to provide a variety and abundance of reading choices for parents and students, we provided links within our summer reading resource to several national reading websites.

A concern was brought to our attention Wednesday, May 27th about a potentially inappropriate book that was located via one of the national links. We immediately reviewed the matter and took corrective action. The district in no way encourages the reading of these inappropriate materials. These web sites were reviewed by district staff in April prior to selection and release of the reading resource. Our website had linked to a page that listed traditional middle school reading lists. At some point during the last few weeks, the website changed the available books and reading lists on this page. We have contacted the site and shared the concern about inappropriate material being available in these sections. [emphasis added]

We are now only offering parents a single Florida Department of Education approved reading resource. In this digital world, we cannot control when and how websites change their content. However, we can control how we use this content going forward and we will do that. The posted reading choice materials are provided in an effort to help our students continue their reading throughout the summer. We regret any difficulty that the link may have caused. Education is a partnership between the school district, parents, students, and community members. This is a time when this partnership worked to the benefit of our students.

Parents ROCK stated in their email that within two hours of receiving the concerned parent’s email, they took action. Two hours! That’s what I call being responsive!

But that’s not good enough for Parents ROCK. Their agenda is to find fault and criticize the Superintendent and senior School Board members, make teachers and school administrators afraid of making a mistake, and stir up fear among parents that somehow their children are not safe in our schools.

Parents ROCK chose to use this situation to rev up its base and gain media attention with an inflammatory email and press release, instead of presenting it as the District did: as an example of the successful working partnership between the District, parents, students and community members.

Parents ROCK’s agenda is a political one. It has nothing to do with what’s best for kids.

The fact that there was an inappropriate book on one of ten web resources offered to parents (NOT kids) is not what should be getting media attention.

What SHOULD be getting attention is the District’s effort to help parents help their children “avoid the summer slide” with this terrific 22-page Summer 2015 Learning & Resource Guide.



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Saturday, May 16, 2015

What to expect at the next School Board meeting

The next School Board meeting is a Workshop on Tuesday, May 19. Unlike a regular Board meeting, no votes may be taken at a workshop; its purpose is Board discussion of materials presented by District staff.

You can view the agenda on the District's website here.

The meeting will begin with public comments, which, unlike at regular Board meetings, must relate to one of the items on the Workshop agenda. Then the Board will hear staff presentations on three topics:


All three topics should draw interesting public comments. The Assessment presentation, which is in response to Board member Erika Donalds’ request several weeks ago for raw scores so she could do her own analysis of student performance, could draw speakers both in support of and opposed to district-wide end-of-course exams. See my May 8 post “End-of-Course Testing Next Likely Controversy.”

What: School Board Workshop
When: Tuesday, May 19, 2015 - 5:30 P
Where: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Administrative Center, 5775 Osceola Trail, Naples 34109
Watch live: here or Cable 99

Public Comment Policy and Speaker Registration Form: here

And save the date! Plan to attend the June 9 School Board meeting, at which the Board’s self-evaluation and its evaluation of Superintendent Patton will be on the agenda.



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Friday, May 15, 2015

An astute and concerned reader


My May 11 post, “An informed electorate is our best defence,” elicited some great reader responses, most of which were conveyed to me privately. In this post, I want to share with you one that was made anonymously through the Sparker’s Soapbox website. The writer appears to be someone who is following the School Board closely and has given the situation a great deal of thought.

(S)he began with this comment that illustrates the chilling effect a few litigious community members and public-records-requesters are having on the public’s freedom of speech:
I’ll take advantage of this opportunity to make an anonymous post, because the reformers’ threats of lawsuits and other tactics make it difficult to speak freely. Thank you for offering a safe space to speak.
(S)he then offered this assessment of the strategy of the two junior School Board members and their supporters, and where she fears it will lead:
A strategy revealed: first undermine confidence, then replace with something new (but not necessarily better)

Collier County education reformers are an odd mix of libertarians (who support home-rule and gun rights, but oppose censorship), conservative parents (who want to take control of instructional materials to protect children from immoral works), ultra-conservatives (“real” conservatives who have “freed themselves” from the Republican Party), and parent fans of the new board members.

This appears to be their strategy:
  1. Replace the superintendent with someone who will let the board control operations.
  2. Replace two of the three senior board members with reformers in 2016. Presumably, that’s why the parent-attorneys and their elected officials are targeting Mrs. Curatolo for lawsuits. [See here and here.] Which reformer will try to replace her - one of the parent-attorneys who orchestrated the lawsuits, or a homeschooling mother who wants to enforce high standards of purity in the classroom? [Don’t miss this YouTube video starring that mother, titled “The Brainwashing and Indoctrination of Our Children.”]
  3. Opt out of testing and dump federal standards, so no one will know how well Florida students are doing.
  4. Censor all instructional materials. However, do not use the “C” word, please. Reformers prefer "textbook review.” Remove all references to what reformers call “victims rights,” such as Japanese internment camps or Chinese coolie laborers. Finally, delete references to communism, socialism, climate change, overpopulation, because if no one uses these words, these things disappear.

These reformers have not articulated a detailed plan for the public education. Based on campaign promises, we can expect more public funds to be diverted to charter schools, which will adopt the Hillsdale College Charter School model, like Mason Classical Academy (where [School Board member] Lichter and [School Board member] Donalds’ husband are on the board). This model emphasizes fact memorization over critical thinking, ancient classics over modern classics. If that doesn’t sound bad, consider that Collier County’s advanced studies courses (Advanced Placement, Cambridge AICE, dual enrollment) all require students to think critically.

Low standards and double standards do not make for an attractive reform package. Reformers use public funding to advance their ideological agenda through charter schools, then whine that the administration is “stealing” from them. They hail themselves as civil rights heroes for breaking laws they happen not to like, but sue the district – or threaten to sue it - when they perceive the staff or other board members haven’t followed state laws to the letter. Reformers insist on detailed budget analyses for every purchase the district proposes, but neglect to apply the same due diligence to their proposals.

They accuse the district of using funds inefficiently, yet waste district resources probing for information to use against anyone who opposes them. They want to strengthen the whistleblower policy, hire an internal auditor and another attorney, presumably to gather more ammunition. They request district test scores that would require many staff-days to provide. These resources should be used to improve our schools.

The reformers’ constituents model the behavior of their elected officials. The parent-attorney who sued the district to change the civility policy so the board chair could be attacked complained because other public commenters took advantage of the new policy to criticize him, instead of focusing on the issue.

These antics are difficult to watch, but important to recognize, because they put the district at risk of another state accreditation agency warning.

The writer is referring to the fact the Collier County School District almost lost its accreditation in 2007 because it had a dysfunctional School Board.

Why is losing accreditation a concern? According to the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce at the time, in an article titled “School Accreditation: What It Means for Collier County:”

To be blunt, graduation from a school system that loses accreditation means the students’ high school diplomas are – in a word – worthless. And if those kinds of penalties aren’t enough, history has shown an entire community can be thrown into chaos by the loss of its schools’ accreditation. Students jam adjoining counties’ schools, entire families relocate to other parts of the country, property values plummet, federal and state financial support dries up."

My anonymous reader concluded her/his comments with a call to action. (S)he wrote:

The superintendent and senior school board members are doing their best to protect school personnel and resources, but they need our help. Tune into the school board meetings and write an email, or a letter to the editor, or give a public comment to support our public school staff. We are one school board seat away from taking experienced educators out of decision-making roles, and replacing them with members of this coalition. [emphasis added]

Fellow citizens, if you want a system that prepares young people to memorize facts and follow orders, and if you want a school system that’s run by taxpayers, elect more reformers. If you want a school system that teaches young people to think for themselves, prepares them for the best colleges and universities, and allows schools to be run by professional educators, re-elect the senior board members, or find new ones just like them.

I share the concerns so well-expressed by this anonymous writer. And I echo her/his call to action.

We must each do all we can to raise awareness of what’s going on right here in our community. There is so much at stake.

Please help by staying informed yourself, and urging your friends to subscribe to Sparker’s Soapbox.



Please share this post with your friends. You and they can subscribe to Sparker’s Soapbox by email at www.sparkers-soapbox.blogspot.com, “like” me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.