Tuesday, August 18, 2015

My Report on the August 11 School Board Meeting

In last week’s post, I provided background on items to be addressed at the August 11 School Board meeting that I thought would be of interest to voters. In this post, I’ll share my thoughts on those discussions. I’ll also describe something that came up toward the end of the meeting I think voters should be aware of.

As always, my goal is to help readers be informed voters in the August 2016 School Board elections.

2016 Florida Legislative Platform - Agenda Item E90

The purpose of this item was to obtain Board approval of the District’s proposed 2016 Legislative Platform, following changes requested by the Board last month. The Platform asks the state for more funding, and more local control over testing and accountability (without saying what changes the Board would make if they had it). After agreeing to two clarifications, the Board adopted the Platform unanimously. The final document can be read here.

It’s important to view the CCPS Legislative Platform in the broader context of the national debate taking place as Congress considers updating the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) signed into law by then-President George W. Bush. NCLB itself was a reauthorization of the 1960s-era Elementary and Secondary Education Act that included Title I, the main program through which the federal government aids poor and minority children.

Last month, the House and Senate passed separate and different reauthorization bills. The House bill (H.R. 5 - Student Success Act) passed with a very close vote of 218–213. Twenty-seven Republicans, including Florida District 19’s Curt Clawson, crossed party-line to join the entire Democratic caucus in voting against the bill. The Senate bill (S. 1177 - Every Child Achieves Act) passed with overwhelming support from both sides of the aisle, 81–17, but Florida’s Marco Rubio was not among them.

A summary of the differences between NCLB and the House and Senate bills in the areas of testing, accountability, standards, teacher quality, low-performing schools, school choice, funding, federal programs and preschool can be found in “Revising the No Child Left Behind Act: Issue by Issue.” Voters should pay attention to how their elected officials vote on whatever reconciliation bill ultimately comes forward.

2015–16 Assessment Schedule - Agenda Item B6

The purpose of this item was to obtain Board approval of the 2015–16 student testing schedule, as required by state law. The proposed schedule was approved as presented by a vote of 3 to 2, with Board members Erika Donalds and Kelly Lichter in the minority.

As I described in last week’s post and as clearly shown in the District’s summary of annual student assessments, most District-wide student tests are either mandated by the state or optionally taken by students for college readiness, acceleration or industry certification. Only four District-wide assessments are under local control.

Donalds asked whether the 10th grade PSAT, listed as a state-required test, wasn’t actually optional, since a parent can choose to have her child not take the test, and if so, if that “opt-out” option could be changed to “opt-in.” She also asked about opportunities for parents to opt their children out of two of the four District-required local assessments. Both requests reflect Donalds’ frequently-expressed desire to reduce student testing. Discussion ensued, with Superintendent Patton explaining why the requested “opt-out” was not really an option.

Lichter asked how much classroom time is spent on the state-required Florida Kindergarten Readiness Screening. The Superintendent explained that this assessment is required by state law, within the first 30 days of school. She shares Lichter’s concern, saying that’s why the District and others are lobbying the State to allow the screening to be given in pre-K, leaving fewer children to test in kindergarten.

Voters should know that there is benefit to having a parent’s perspective among the varied experiences of a School Board. I was pleased to learn from the discussion that the District had already considered the opportunities to reduce testing raised by Donalds and Lichter, but it was also good to hear the concerns they expressed.

Blue Zones - Agenda Item E2

As I explained in last week’s post, this was an Information-Only agenda item, with no Board vote to be taken. At issue is whether or not the community-wide Blue Zones Project interferes with parental choice, and if so, if the Board should limit or prohibit the District’s participation in it.

Donalds expressed concerns about the Blue Zones School Pledge, specifically the list of 21 Blue Zones policy initiatives from which each school would adopt a subset toward the goal of becoming a Blue Zones Approved school. While some of the choices are already District policy (e.g. “Enforce a tobacco-free campus”), she wanted School Attorney Jonathan Fishbane to review the list to ensure it did not include measures that would require Board approval.

Donalds had other concerns as well. As reported in a post by reporter Mel Leonor in the Naples Daily News “Making the Grade” blog, Donalds said, “We do not want to tell our parents what they can send in their child’s lunch.”

Lichter expressed a different concern. “Fitness is important,” she said, “but curriculum is more pressing than Blue Zones…. I don’t want staff time spent on initiatives [like these] when we have yet to address academic issues.” Presumably she was referring to her frequently-expressed opinion that the District’s academic performance is lacking.

After a lengthy discussion, the Board asked Attorney Fishbane to review the list and report back at the September 8 Board meeting, at which time the Board will then vote on how to proceed. In the meantime, the Superintendent will also delay the start of the previously planned four-school Blue Zones pilot program.

This debate gives voters an example of how a Board member’s political philosophy can affect District policy. Referring to the Blue Zones school policy initiatives as “Nanny state controls,” Southwest Florida Citizens’ Alliance leader Keith Flaugh wrote that the delay gives the public time to better understand “what specific freedoms can be lost.” Others see District participation in the Blue Zones Project as giving each school the opportunity to be part of a community-wide effort to make Southwest Florida a healthier place to live, play and work.

Internal Auditor - Agenda Item C1

Donalds, whose accounting credentials were cited by many who supported her candidacy, believes that without an Internal Audit function, the District may be at risk of financial loss or “inadvertent inefficiencies.” She also thinks compliance with Board policies and state laws should be reviewed, saying she wants to add “verify” to the “trust” the District has that staff appropriately do their jobs. She said an internal audit function is a best practice in business, and wants to bring that function to the District. As a first step, she wants to hire an outside firm to do a “risk assessment” so that the Board can then make an informed decision about if and how to proceed.

After a long discussion during which some Board members said they didn’t understand what Donalds was asking for of why it was needed, Donalds offered to get more information and the Board agreed to add discussion of a “risk assessment” to the agenda for its November business meeting.

I appreciate this suggestion from the for-profit business world. I look forward to hearing the Board discuss it further in November.

Not on Agenda: FEA Cease and Desist Order

Toward the end of the meeting, Board member Julie Sprague asked Attorney Fishbane to advise the Board how it should respond to a cease and desist letter the District received from the Florida Education Association (FEA) on behalf of the Collier County Education Association (CCEA; Teachers’ Union). Fishbane recommended that the Board make clear its intention to honor its exclusive bargaining agreement with the CCEA. Sprague asked that the recommendation be brought forward as an action item for the Board to vote on.

What came next was an angry and defensive outburst by Lichter. “What this is all about is to call me out!,” she said. “The cease and desist letter is a bullying tactic from the FEA! I did nothing wrong!” She accused Fishbane of colluding with Sprague on a “script” (presumably to bring the matter up at the Board meeting) and setting her up. Fishbane denied Lichter’s charges that he had spoken with Sprague, pandered to the Union, or tipped anyone off. “That’s not who I am,” he said.

Board Chair Kathleen Curatolo, to her credit, got the meeting back under control and the Board to accept Fishbane’s recommendation. “There is consensus that we will honor CCEA’s exclusive bargaining agreement with the Collier Public Schools,” she concluded.

To an observer (me), it was a very uncomfortable 10 minutes.

Subsequent to the meeting, I obtained a copy of the FEA letter. It claimed that Lichter made statements “advocating on behalf, and extolling the virtues, of the Association of American Educators (”AAE“)…. acting as an agent of the school board, and her express purpose is to undermine and erode the role of the [Teachers’ Union]….” As a result, the letter says, the District is facing “tremendous legal exposure” which “could be very costly to the District unless School Board member Ms. Lichter immediately ceases from making any similar statements….”

Voters should know that Lichter took actions that School Attorney Fishbane told her would put the Board and the District at risk. Those actions resulted in the threat of a “very costly” lawsuit. Fishbane said at the meeting that he repeated his opinion to Lichter on three separate occasions, yet it appears that she persisted.

As a voter, I find this School Board member’s disregard of the advice of District counsel, as well her behavior on the dais during this discussion, unacceptable.

If you have thoughts or comments on any of the above, I encourage you to share them with the Board by email:

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

In addition, please help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing 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.

Monday, August 17, 2015

August 18 School Board Work Session on Policies and More

A School Board Work Session will be held on Tuesday, August 18, at 5:30 PM at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Administrative Center, 5775 Osceola Trail, Naples.

The Agenda includes a First Reading of 16 Board Policies, a long-postponed discussion, at the request of Board member Julie Sprague, of the Board’s Governance Model - Agenda Item B15, and a discussion, at the request of Board member Erika Donalds, of the need for a Board-appointed Budget Committee - Agenda Item C17.

If you would like to give comments to the Board and/or Superintendent before the meeting, you can 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

Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing 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.

Monday, August 10, 2015

On the Agenda for Tuesday's School Board Meeting

Three items on the Agenda for Tuesday’s School Board meeting should be of particular interest to Collier parents and teachers, because they affect what goes on in the classroom:

  • the CCPS 2016 Florida Legislative Platform,
  • the CCPS 2015–16 Assessment Schedule, and
  • the Blue Zones® Project, a community-based, healthy-living initiative.

In addition, the Board will discuss whether the District should create the new position of Internal Auditor.

In this post, I’ll provide some background on each of these items and explain what you should know about them to be an informed voter.

CCPS 2016 Florida Legislative Platform - Agenda Item E90

Each year around this time, agencies of local government and other interested parties in Florida develop a set of legislative actions they want their elected State House and Senate representatives to take on their behalf in the next state Legislative Session. Organizations present these “Legislative Platforms” to their local “representatives ”Legislative Delegation" at a day-long meeting and public hearing.

Collier County’s Legislative Delegation consists of State Senators Garrett Richter and Dwight Bullard and State Representatives Matt Hudson, Kathleen Passidomo and Carlos Trujillo. This year’s meeting and public hearing will be on Thursday, October 15 (details here).

The Board considered a proposed Legislative Platform for the School District at its July 28 meeting. See my posts here and here. On Tuesday, it will consider and likely vote on a Platform revised to reflect last month’s comments.

The first item in the Platform concerns testing and teacher evaluations, which generated a good discussion last month. As I wrote then, “This may be one of the most important areas of education policy facing [Florida] School Boards and state legislators today.”

As revised, this item provides for greater flexibiliy (i.e. local control) over student, teacher and school-administrator evaluations and student assessments. It reads: The District School Board of Collier County urges the Legislature to:

Extend the transition timeline for full implementation of the new educational accountability system until July 1, 2017 and provide flexibility to school districts that includes an alternative, state-approved, locally developed student and educator (instructional personnel and school-based administrators) evaluation system that measures state standards and is correlated to Florida’s accountability system. Such flexibility must include the valid and appropriate use of new state and local student assessment results for personnel evaluations, performance pay, and school grading. Such flexibility may include alternative assessments, alternative methods of testing including paper-based exams, and/or elimination of Florida’s Value-Added Model (VAM) data as a required component of teacher and school administrator evaluations (s.1012.34, F.S.).

The three additional Platform items are requests for increased funding for specific purposes, noting that:

Through 2013, Florida still ranked in the bottom quintile … in per pupil spending at $8,433 compared to the $10,700 national average. Implementation of state mandates and policy expectations on performance pay [require] adequate funding.

We Collier County voters will want to see whether our elected School Board members support the District’s priorities, and later, whether our elected state representatives supported the actions requested by the Board.

The 2015–16 Assessment Schedule - Agenda Item B6

Last spring, the Florida Legislature passed and the Governor signed into law a wide-ranging Educational Accountability bill (HB 7069) that was in many ways a response to the growing outcry about the number of standardized tests being given in the public schools. Placing more responsibility on local School Boards, the new law requires, among other things, each School Board to approve its District’s schedule of statewide standardized testing and district-required tests. It also requires each District to publish the testing schedules on its website and submit the schedules to the state Department of Education by October 1 of each year.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the Board will be asked to approve the District’s proposed 2015–16 Assessment Schedule. Materials provided in advance for public review are:

  • A PowerPoint presentation on the Assessment Schedule Requirements of HB 7069, to be made by Associate Superintendent Luis Solano, and on the proposed 2015–16 CCPS Assessment Schedule, to be made by Dr. Cheng Ang, Executive Director, Assessments, Accountability and Data Management.
  • An easy-to-read chart with information about each of the 2015–16 student assessments, separated between the 10 state-required tests (Florida Standards Assessment - FSA, Florida Comprehensive Assessment - FCAT 2.0, Florida End-of-Course Exam - EOC, and more), four District-required local tests (Pre-Test, Quarter 1 Benchmark Assessment, Quarter 2 Benchmark Assessment and District Post-Test), and seven student self-selected tests for college readiness/acceleration/workforce (ACT, SAT, AICE, AP, PSAT, PERT and industry certification assessments). The chart summarizes, for each test, its subjects, grade level, time allotted, paper versus computer, how results are used, and more.
  • A very helpful Glossary of Assessment Terminology

By requiring Board approval of the testing schedule, the Legislature has given parents, students, teachers and community members an opportunity to give input to the Board before they vote. I am interested to see if the public takes advantage of this opportunity, and if so, what their comments are.

Blue Zones - Agenda Item E2

Last October, NCH Healthcare System, Blue Zones, LLC and Healthways announced the launch of the Blue Zones Project® of Southwest Florida. According to the press release:

The Blue Zones Project® is a major initiative to improve the well-being and longevity of residents of Collier and South Lee Counties in Southwest Florida. The Blue Zones Project brings together citizens, schools, employers, restaurants, grocery stores and community leaders to improve the living environment so healthy choices are natural and often unavoidable. NCH is bringing the Blue Zones Project to Southwest Florida in support of its 10-year vision to make the region an even healthier, happier and more vibrant place to live.

This is an Information Only item, brought forward at Board Chair Kathleen Curatolo’s request at last month’s Board meeting. At that same meeting, Board Member Erika Donalds called the Blue Zones® initiative “a fad.”

I think it sounds like a great idea, and I’m interested to learn more about it at Tuesday’s meeting.

Does CCPS Need an Internal Auditor? - Agenda Item C1

This item, which appears in the District/School Operations section of the Agenda, was requested by Ms. Donalds. Under “Recommended Action” (i.e. what action the Superintendent would like the Board to take on the matter), is simply stated, “Pursuant to Board Member request.”

The District has provided two documents for the Board and public to review before the meeting:

  • A 2-page document listing the three major external audits already conducted at CCPS: Financial, Internal Funds and the state’s Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP), and CCPS’ outstanding performance on the four most recent FEFP audits.
  • An 8-page document listing an additional 135 internal, self-assessment and monitoring audits of various kinds the District currently conducts, many required by State or Federal Departments and Agencies.

Together, these documents make the case that the District’s current audit function is extensive, no doubt costly and time-consuming. If the Superintendent thought there was a need for an Internal Auditor, she would have made that recommendation – but she didn’t. I am interested to hear the discussion, see if a compelling case to hire an auditor is made, and if so, and see how the Board members vote.

Public Input Requested

Last month, the Board asked for input from the community on these matters. I hope you will take the time to consider them and share your thoughts:

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
The meeting is this Tuesday, August 11, beginning at 5 PM.


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Monday, August 3, 2015

My take on last week’s School Board meeting

In last week’s post, I shared my hopes and what I’d be looking for as I watched the July School Board meeting. In this post, I’ll tell you what happened. Several important matters will come back for a vote in the coming months; I’ll tell you what they are. You’ll want to email Board members with your input.

Governance Model Review
I had hoped the Board would unanimously support Board member Julie Sprague’s suggestion to hold a meeting to discuss the Governance Model, led by a facilitator acceptable to all five Board members. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

As soon as the item was introduced, Board member Erika Donalds proposed, and Board member Kelly Lichter seconded, a motion to discuss the Model as part of an already-scheduled Policy Work Session, not in a separate, facilitated meeting. After discussion, Donalds’ motion passed 3-to–2, with Board member Roy Terry joining Donalds and Lichter, and Sprague and Board Chair Kathleen Curatolo opposed.

The Governance Model will be added to the agenda for the August 18th Work Session on Board Policies. That agenda is already quite full, with more than 15 policies to be considered, so it will be another late night.

Curatolo asked Board members to seek input from the public. If you want the Board to work together differently than they have been these past months, please take a few minutes to read the Governance Model. Then share your thoughts, concerns and suggestions with the Board members. Their contact information is at the end of this post.

Outside Counsel for the Board
For background for this item, see last week’s post.

As soon as the item was introduced, Lichter made a motion, seconded by Donalds, to amend the current contract with District General Counsel Jonathan Fishbane so that he reports to the Board, not the Superintendent. If a conflict of interest were to arise, they want it to be the Superintendent who has to hire outside counsel, not the Board.

The discussion was generally respectful, but no minds were changed. Lichter’s motion failed, 2-to–3, with Curatolo, Sprague and Board member Roy Terry dissenting.

Contrary to my hope that this would put the matter to rest, Donalds later wrote in an email to supporters that “we can expect that this will continue to be an issue.”

School Board Self-Evaluation
As I wrote last week, Sprague proposed this agenda item because of the poor marks the Board gave on its self-evaluation in May. See my post of June 3 for details. I hoped the Board would unanimously support the motion, and that they would do so without making any changes to the evaluation instrument, so that a like-for-like comparison would be possible.

As soon as the item was introduced, Donalds proposed, and Lichter seconded, a motion to discuss improvements to the evaluation instrument to be used next year, rather than conduct another evaluation using what they consider to be a flawed instrument in November.

Curatolo said she’s not opposed to reconsidering the evaluation instrument at a later date, but that she thinks it is “important to utilize baseline data” and to reevaluate in November as proposed. Terry said he sees value in doing the same evaluation again, but not discussing it at a Board meeting. “Our Board meetings are long enough,” he said.

This is not the first time Curatolo has shown that she is listening and seeking ways to compromise. That’s the kind of behavior I’d like to see from all the Board members. Had Donalds seen it as such, she might have proposed an amendment enabling the Board to approve the motion unanimously: adding a commitment to discuss revisions to the evaluation instrument as part of the strategic planning process.

Instead, Terry’s amendment - that the evaluation be conducted using the same instrument, with results to be reviewed at the November Board Work Session - was accepted, and the final motion passed 3-to–2, with Donalds and Lichter opposed.

Preliminary 2016 Florida Legislative Platform
In my last post, I shared the District’s five proposed priorities for the 2016 State Legislative Session.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the discussion focused mainly on changes to the draft to better convey the District’s desired changes to two of the areas of concern: the state-mandated accountability system (i.e. testing of students), and use of the value-added model (VAM) in teacher and school administrator evaluations.

This may be one of the most important areas of education policy facing School Boards and state legislators today.

Topics discussed included computer-based versus paper-and-pencil-based testing, and the use of state versus local versus nationally-normed tests, as well as pros and cons of each. Not surprisingly, while Board members don’t like the current state mandates, they don’t agree on what they would do instead.

They did agree that they like the option of “local control,” and directed Ian Dean, Executive Director of Human Resources, to bring a revised draft reflecting the Board discussion back for further consideration and approval at its August 11th meeting.

By listening to this discussion, I had hoped to gain better understanding of those things the state controlled and those controlled by the District, and I did. I am also beginning to understand the educational policy issues and differing views of the Board members.

According to old adage, “Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it.” Clearly there’s a problem with the current state mandates, but if the Board votes to decentralize control over testing and teacher evaluations, what will that do to our ability to benchmark CCPS against other Districts? Who will develop the tests, or decide which tests will be used, and based on what criteria? How and when will local teachers’ and administrators’ input be requested and accommodated? The devil is in the details.

I hope many community members, parents, teachers and administrators give input to Board members on this important policy matter in the short time between now and the August 11th Board meeting.

Board Member and Superintendent Comments
Again this month, despite the late hour, much of importance was addressed during this final, open-ended part of the meeting.

Invocations at Board Meetings

Earlier in the evening, during Public Comments, Collier Resident Jerry Rutherford, president of World Changers of Florida and a long-time advocate for prayer in the schools, requested permission from Chair Curatolo to “offer a prayer for the School Board.” In consultation with District Counsel Fishbane, permission was granted, with the understanding that Rutherford’s prayer would be part of the three minutes he, like any member of the public, had to address the Board.

Addressing “Almighty God and Our Heavenly Father,” he offered a specific prayer for each Board member, the Superintendent, and the District Counsel – by name, and concluded by saying, “So be it. In Jesus’ name.” (YouTube clip here.)

As the first item of Board Member Comments, the Chair asked Counsel Fishbane to provide some history on the matter of Invocations at public meetings. He did so (YouTube clip here), concluding that the constitutionality of Invocations at School Board meetings had not yet been decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. As a result, he said, should CCPS decide to allow the practice, it would risk being sued. He then recommended a number of guidelines that should be followed if the Board decided to proceed. (YouTube clip here.)

Board members agreed to decide the matter at its November 17th organizational meeting. Curatolo urged them to do their own research, read relevant legal cases, and talk to community members – another important opportunity for you to weigh in.

CCPS Participation in the Blue Zones Project

Superintendent Patton serves on the steering committee formed to help develop a strategy for the community to become a Blue Zones community (see February article in the Naples Daily News), and Curatolo wants to learn more about the matter at an upcoming Board Work Session. Lichter and Donalds expressed reluctance. After discussion, the Board agreed to add the item to the agenda of its October 20 Work Session.

Let your voice be heard
As described above, the Board seeks input from the community on several matters they will be deciding in the coming months:

  • Changes to the District’s Proposed 2016 Florida Legislative Platform, specifically regarding the state’s educational accountability system, testing and teacher/administrator evaluations (August 11 Regular Board Meeting);
  • Changes to the Board Governance Model (August 18 Work Session);
  • CCPS Participation in the Blue Zones Project (October 29 Work Session); and
  • Invocations at School Board meetings (November 17 Organizational Meeting).

Given the importance of these matters to the governance, effectiveness and competitiveness of our District, I hope you will take time to consider each of them and share your thoughts with Board members and the Superintendent:

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

The agenda for the next Board meeting should be available online this Wednesday, August 5.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.