Monday, April 20, 2015

Teacher Recruitment and Retention Topic of Tuesday’s Special School Board Work Session

Research shows that teachers have the greatest impact on student achievement, more than any other factor controlled by school systems, including class size or the school a student attends.”

So begins the Collier County School District’s presentation for Tuesday’s School Board Work Session on Teacher Recruitment and Retention.

They’re doing something right: the District’s overall teacher retention rate is higher than the national average!

What are they doing to hire the best, and retain them?

What recruitment and retention challenges do they face, and how are they addressing them?

If you want the answers to these questions, this School Board Work Session is for you.

The meeting is on Tuesday, April, 21, at 5:30 PM at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Administrative Center, 5775 Osceola Trail, Naples. Agenda here.

The presentation and Board discussion will be preceded by public comments.

Attend in person, watch live on Cable 99 or on the District website, or watch on-demand at your leisure.

This promises to be a great opportunity to learn about how our District works.

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Last week’s School Board meeting: observations

I titled my last post “Important matters to be decided at Tuesday’s School Board meeting.

Having now attended the meeting, I’d have called it something different.

Yes, important decisions were reached. But as has been the case since November, comments by Board members Erika Donalds and Kelly Lichter and by members of the public were the highlights of the meeting, which didn’t end until 11 PM.

The drama began about five minutes into the business meeting, before what’s usually a perfunctory approval of the Superintendent’s proposed changes to the agenda. Despite publication of New Public Comment Procedures For School Board Meetings stating that all comments from the public would be heard before the Board discussion of business agenda items, Donalds said that consensus on those procedures had not been reached. She wanted to bring the matter back for discussion. Lichter agreed.

Lichter, and later, members of the public, suggested the possibility of a(nother) lawsuit if the public wasn’t permitted to comment on each agenda item right before (or possibly even after) it was discussed by the Board, not just at the beginning of the meeting.

Ultimately, after a 20 minute debate on the matter, the changes sought by Donalds and Lichter were defeated by a 3–2 vote. The new public comment procedures will remain in place – at least for now.

Then came public comments. Some of the topics addressed to the Board were:

  • objection to a section in a U.S. History eighth grade text book,
  • opposition to an online assignment given to a student,
  • objection to a public compilation of speakers at School Board meetings,
  • a statement that the Morgan & Morgan law firm is setting up an Education practice area and “looking for opportunities,” presumably to sue School Boards or Districts on behalf of parents

In addition, several members of the public spoke in support of Board or District policies.

It wasn’t until about 8:15 PM, 3–1/4 hours after the meeting began, that the Board took up the important matters I outlined in my last post.

Here’s my take on what happened regarding those items; minutes won’t be available until next month:

  • Board Bylaws 0160 - Meetings: approved 3–2 (Donalds and Lichtor opposed)
  • Policy 2240 - Controversial Issues: approved unanimously
  • Policy 5830 - Student Fundraising: approved unanimously with non-substantive changes
  • Board Bylaws 1010 - Board-Superintendent Relationship - will come back for a first read with changes at the May meeting
  • Charter School Fees - approved 3–2 (Donalds and Lichter opposed). Donalds and Lichter did not recuse themselves; District counsel said there was no conflict of interest because neither benefited financially from her involvement with Mason Classical Academy. See Naples Daily News story “Collier School Board will continue collecting maximum fee from charters,” behind pay wall.

Thursday’s Naples Daily News editorial, behind pay wall, said “there was progress in the 3–2 split board’s interaction, even if its typical polarized votes didn’t change.” However, it commented on “board members talking over one another” and called out a particularly inappropriate comment by Kelly Lichter:

Lichter’s ending comments were directed at her supporters: “2016 is around the corner” and “it’s going to get fixed.” That apparent reference to the next election when two board seats are up is the type of public affront to other members that wasn’t in the spirit of the consultant’s guidance to board members to try to work together.

I’d say the Naples Daily News was being overly kind.

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Important matters to be decided at Tuesday’s School Board meeting

In this post I’ll share some of the agenda items to be addressed at this Tuesday’s (April 14) School Board meeting at the Everglades City School in Everglades City. I hope the Board will work efficiently and cooperatively to reach consensus on each item.

Board Bylaws and Policy Changes

These are some of the Board bylaws and policies that will be read for the second time at Tuesday’s meeting. Click each title to open the proposed item to be discussed. If no substantive changes result from Board discussion, the items will be voted on by the Board.

Board Bylaws 0160 - Meetings
The proposed change addresses the controversy that arose at prior Board meetings when new Board members Erika Donalds and Kelly Lichter sought to place items on a Board meeting agenda that did not necessarily have the support of the Superintendent or Board Chair.

It also addresses past controversy over public participation at Board meetings. As proposed, the Bylaws would allow comments that are personally directed at individual Board members or the Superintendent. The change is the result of the settlement last month of a lawsuit, Bracci v School Board, brought by parent-attorney Steven J. Bracci. See Naples Daily News story here.

Policy 2240 - Controversial Issues
The proposed change addresses the Barron Collier Choir matter that was the subject of much controversy last year. See my prior posts “Support the School District’s Compromise” and “Tuesday” for background. While the change addresses co-curricular performances held at a religious venue, it does not address choral programming that contains religious content.

Policy 5830 - Student Fund-Raising
The proposed change addresses the sale of food items that don’t meet USDA school nutrition standards. See Naples Daily News story here.

Bylaws 1010 - Board-Superintendent Relationship
The proposed change addresses how suggestions for new Board or District policies and revisions to existing policies are to be handled, and provides for public input on whether suggestions merit further study. As proposed, only “If the Board believes, as a matter of consensus, any such suggestion merits further study” will an item move forward. This was one of several much-debated topics discussed at the facilitated Special Board Meeting last month. See Naples Daily News story here.

New Business

Charter Schools
This agenda item results from a complaint by parents at three of Collier County’s publicly-funded charter schools (Mason Classical Academy (MCA), Gulf Coast Academy and Marco Island Charter Middle School), according to a Naples Daily News article. According to the article, “charter operators and parents say their schools stay open by pinching pennies and are asking the school board to lower the fee, or get rid of it altogether.”

Collier School Board member Kelly Lichter is president of Mason Classical Academy; Board member Erika Donalds served as an advisory board member for MCA and at least one of her children attends that school, and Donalds’ husband Byron Donalds serves as MCA’s vice president.

It will be interesting to see if Ms. Donalds and Ms. Lichter recuse themselves from a vote on this matter in view of their involvement with Mason Classical Academy.

Not on the agenda but could come up: public comment on the election of Kathleen Curatolo as Board Chair

According to minutes of the March 10 School Board meeting:
To resolve the controversy that arose at the November 17, 2014, Organizational Meeting the Board agrees to provide an opportunity for [parent-attorney-litigant Steven J.] Bracci and members of the public to speak at the April 2015 regularly scheduled Board Meeting on the issue of electing Kathleen Curatolo as the Board Chair. As a matter of Robert’s Rules of Order, this would allow for the possibility that the motion to change Board Chair could be brought up for discussion at a Regular Board Meeting. 
Tuesday’s Meeting

The business portion of the meeting starts at 5:30 PM at the Everglades City School. As noted on the District website:
As agreed upon at the March 31, 2015, Special School Board Meeting, public comment procedures will change beginning with the April 14th Regular School Board Meeting. Public comments will be time certain starting at 5:30pm. Public comments will be presented in the following order:

1) Consent Agenda speakers- The comment card must be submitted prior to the start of the Consent Agenda comment period.

2) The Board will then act on the Consent Agenda.

3) General public comment speakers- The comment card must be submitted prior to the start of the general public comment period. Informational items must be addressed during general public comments.

4) Business Agenda public comments- Speakers may comment on any proposition (voted) item. The comment card must be submitted prior to the start of the comment period for each proposition upon which the Board will take official action by vote.

5) The business portion of the meeting begins after public comment concludes.
Please note:
You can now submit a public comment request card online.  The School Board Speaker Registration Card online form can be filled out online CLICK HERE 5 hours prior to each Board meeting. Filling out an online registration card prior to the meeting will hold your place in line to speak.  
Thanks to these new procedures, the business of the Board should progress more quickly than it has in the past.

I hope you’ll consider attending.

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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Bad bill stopped, but I learned a lot

The Florida Citizens’ Alliance did me a favor last month when it announced “a major victory in the effort to reverse course on the implementation of Common Core."

By making me aware of a bill they wanted the Florida Legislature to pass, they showed me how they want to change public education in Florida. As I wrote here and here, I didn't like what I saw.

Fortunately, their bill didn’t get the necessary support in the Legislature. According to an April 3 post on their website, "Given the current status of the bills, we are formulating a new action strategy. We will have the first new action item ready on or about Monday April 6th."

As a result of their efforts, I’ve learned some things progressive voters like me should know.

Florida Citizens’ Alliance

Florida Citizens’ Alliance (FCA) is “a coalition of citizens and grassroots groups working together through education, outreach and community involvement to advance the ideals and principles of liberty." Their "initial focus has been protecting our 2nd Amendment “Right to Keep and Bear Arms” here in Florida…”

"We have just begun expanding our scope to take on a second critical issue with the addition of the “Stop Common Core” initiative….

“Overall, the mission of the Florida Citizens’ Alliance is to provide tools and support for a decentralized county-by-county effort to empower citizens who are interested in preserving their individual liberty to work together within their communities and counties to advance a rebirth of Liberty in Florida.”
FCA’s supporting organizations include 17 groups with “Tea Party” or “TP” in their name, and the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition.

SWFL Citizens' Alliance

FCA's local affiliate SWFL Citizens' Alliance (SWFLCA) similarly describes itself as "a coalition of citizens and grassroots groups working together through education, outreach and community involvement to advance the ideals and principles of liberty." It says:
"We hope to develop a dynamic partnership with all groups seeking to inspire a rebirth of liberty in Southwest Florida. In our role as a coalition, we value working together while supporting and encouraging the initiatives of local groups in their communities."
SWFLCA's supporters include the Libertarian Party of Collier CountyStop Common Core FloridaCollier 912 Freedom Council, and more.

Their political agenda

FCA believes that "The vast majority of governance should be through local governments and sovereign states. We, the people have a much better chance of influencing government at the local and state levels, so it is critical to ensure that these levels of government retain the power to protect their citizens by limiting the federal government and its ubiquitous overreach of powers."

Keith Flaugh, founder of both FCA and SWFLCA and a frequent public speaker at Collier School Board meetings, actively lobbied for the anti-Common Core bill.

SWFLCA hosted a series of Collier School Board candidate forums before the 2014 elections, and later reported that “many Florida School Board Candidates won election or re-election after publicly opposing Common Core (rebranded as the Florida Standards) or opposing the accompanying high stakes testing regime.”

The list of winners includes at least one School Board member from each of 28 of Florida’s 67 counties, including, from Collier County, Erika Donalds and Kelly Lichter.

Donalds is one of FCA’s Founding Directors & Advisors, an organizer of the Collier 912 Freedom Council, and a founding member of Parents R.O.C.K. (Rights of Choice for Kids).

Lichter is a member of SWFLCA, Secretary of the Collier County Republican Party, and founder and President of Collier County's Mason Classical Academy Charter School.

Both Donalds and Lichter signed the “Contract with Collier County, Florida, Voters,” pledging to make "major reforms" to the way our School District operates.

According to the Naples Daily News, the two “represent hard-line conservative views. Both have been vocal about their support for school choice and disdain for federal- and state-mandated learning standards. On the dais, their views have resulted in a divided five-member board, where votes usually come down to three against two. Donalds and Lichter often are in the minority.”

FCA's lobbying effort

FCA uses grassroots email marketing to assist in its lobbying effort. Check out the list of email blasts the group has issued in the past few months, which includes:

What progressive Collier County voters should know

It’s important for progressive Collier County voters to know that these ideologically-motivated groups are out there, and what they want to do.

It’s important to know that the contentious behavior associated with our School Board meetings since November is likely to continue. The two conservative Board members affiliated with these groups have a bully-pulpit from which to publicize their positions and recruit supporters to their cause, and they've been effective at getting local attention.

Like-minded candidates will no doubt run for the two School Board seats up for election in 2016. If they win just one of the two seats, they will control the Board.

This isn’t just happening locally. It’s happening across the state and across the country. A quick Google search of “anti-common core school board” resulted in 3.6 million hits.

Many Collier voters - perhaps many of your friends - don’t pay attention to what’s happening with our schools. They don’t monitor School Board meetings. They aren’t aware of the ideological battle under way.

Help me raise their awareness now. We can’t wait until the August 2016 primary elections. There’s too much at stake.

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Friday, March 13, 2015

"A major victory in the effort to reverse ... Common Core!" (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this post, I explained what SB1496-Assessments and Accountability would do, put the bill in a broader national perspective, and pointed out the local efforts to support it.  In this post, I’ll give you my take on what’s at stake, and suggest some next steps.

What's at stake: educational standards
Florida ranked 32nd of 50 states in the 2014 Education Week Chance for Success Index. This index is a compilation of 13 individual metrics including preparation in early childhood, performance of the public schools, and educational and economic outcomes in adulthood.

While Florida is in the bottom half of the states in the national ranking, the nation is in a disappointing position as well. An evaluation of education systems worldwide by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) ranked the United States 36th of the 64 countries tested in 2012. Our mean PISA score was below the PISA country average in mathematics, and only at the PISA average in reading and science.

The lack of competitiveness of Florida’s and America’s schools concerns me. It concerned the drafters of what came to be known as the Common Core State Standards as well - which is why the standards were developed in the first place. (See my prior post about Common Core.)

It seems obvious that having each local school district choose its own educational standards, a feature of SB1496, will only make matters worse. In my view, all public schools in the United States should be held to the same high standards, developed by professional educators who are experts in their fields. Therefore I oppose the changes to educational standards that are proposed by SB1496. What’s at stake is the competitiveness of our nation.

What's at stake: testing
There is a consensus among all interested parties, including the Governor and Florida legislators as well as superintendents, educators, parents and students, that there’s too much testing in Florida’s schools.

It is a concern nationally as well. According to a report last year by the Center for American Progress, 49 percent of parents think there is too much standardized testing in schools. But that same report cites another poll in which 75 percent of parents said regular testing is important.

For the same reasons (national competitiveness) I do not support local control of standards-setting, I do not support solely local control of testing.

To me, what’s important is not how frequently kids are tested, but what is tested, how well the test results reflect what students know, and whether those results are used to improve instruction and assess our competitiveness with other districts, states and nations. The less instructional hours devoted to accomplishing those goals, the better.

I support legislative and district-level efforts to reduce the frequency of testing and the amount of time students spend taking tests, but I do not support SB1496’s removal of statewide standardized tests and the requirement to participate in national and international education comparisons. Nor do I support its allowing each district to choose its own pre–2009, national norm-referenced assessments.

I hope the Legislature finds a way to reduce the amount of testing while maintaining the ability to compare student achievement from district to district, state to state and nation to nation. Only in this way will stakeholders know which districts need help so they can attempt to address the problem. Again: what’s at stake is the competitiveness of our nation.

What's at stake: data collection
I would be very surprised if data currently reported to the state or federal government isn’t “anonymized, de- identified, and aggregated.” I simply do not share the concern of those who fear the government’s collection of information from our schools. Unless and until there is a problem, I think the benefits of measuring and monitoring the results of our schools exceeds any concerns about hypothetical privacy infringement. Without measurement and monitoring, how will we know how our schools and students are performing? So I do not support the provisions of SB1496 to put additional laws in place to limit data collection. What’s at stake - once again - is the competitiveness of our nation.

What's at stake: sex education
Sex education is taught in public schools because young people are sexually active, and they start at an early age. According to the U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services Office of Adolescent Health, a 2011 survey of Florida high school students found that eight percent had sexual intercourse for the first time before age 13, and 16 percent had sexual intercourse with four or more people. In a 2009 nationwide Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 48 percent of female high school students and 53 percent of male high school students in Florida reported ever having had sexual intercourse, and 37 percent of both male and female respondents reported being currently sexually active (defined as having had sexual intercourse in the three months prior to the survey).

It is inevitable that requiring parents to explicitly allow their child to participate in sex education (i.e. opt in) as opposed to the current opt-out law that requires the parent to forbid the child’s participation (i.e. opt out) will result in more teen pregnancy. This will make it harder for those teens to focus on their studies and complete school. Ultimately - again - the competitiveness of our nation is at stake.

Next steps
Florida Legislators have introduced over 100 bills concerning education for consideration this session. It is very likely that something will be passed that changes current law concerning each of the areas addressed by SB1496.

We know that the people behind the bill are working hard to get its key provisions passed into law. And there are many ways to get that done. It doesn’t have to be this specific bill; they can amend other bills to include their desired language.

I urge you to consider what’s at stake. Then write or call each of the elected officials who represents Collier County in Tallahassee and share your views on the issues - educational standards, testing, data collection, and opt-in vs. opt-out sex education - rather than this specific bill.

Governor Rick Scott - (850) 488–7146
State Senator Dwight Bullard - (850) 487–5039
State Senator Garrett Richter - (850) 487–5023
State Representative Matt Hudson - (850) 717–5080
State Representative Kathleen Passidomo - (850) 717–5106
State Representative Carlos Trujillo - (850) 717–5105

Contact them regularly. Let them know you’re watching them and that you care. Don’t let those who don’t share your values be the only voices they hear.

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Monday, March 9, 2015

School Board Meeting civility at risk

“No names, please: Parent challenges board’s bid to keep comments from getting personal.”

That title on a front-page story in Sunday’s Naples Daily News was meant to get your attention. It got mine. (Online article behind paywall here.)

Two School Board members and some community members, according to the Daily News article, object to School Board policy 0169.1 that has been interpreted to mean speakers cannot personally make comments by name about or to members of the Board, the Superintendent, or staff. Yet according to the article, "similar policies in other school districts are not uncommon. The Miami-Dade School Board, for example, doesn’t allow speakers to address board members by name and bans 'personal attacks.'"

Those of us who have attended or watched meetings where Board members, the Board attorney and/or the Superintendent have been addressed personally know how important this policy is for keeping meetings civil.

At issue is this sentence:
The presiding officer may: 1. interrupt, warn, or terminate a participant’s statement when the statement is too lengthy, personally directed, abusive, obscene, or irrelevant;… [emphasis added]
The policy to be discussed Tuesday proposes either removing the words “personally directed,” or replacing those words with:
The presiding officer may: 1.interrupt, warn, or terminate a participant’s statement when such statement is too lengthy, abusive, obscene, irrelevant or repetitive. Comments that are personally directed are allowed when they are authorized speech that are related to the topic being discussed or within the scope of District business so long as such comments are not abusive, obscene, irrelevant, or repetitive;
While examples could no doubt be posited of a personally-directed comment that is not abusive, obscene, irrelevant or repetitive, allowing personally-directed public comments starts the Board down a slippery slope. I want the Board Chair to have as much discretion as possible to ensure that speakers maintain decorum at Board meetings; removing the words "personally directed" limits that discretion.

Read the proposed policy changes here.

But there is a line between maintaining decorum and violating a speaker's First Amendment rights. According to the Naples Daily News, Collier parent Cory Seegmiller filed a lawsuit last month against the School Board and Board Chair Kathleen Curatolo claiming his freedom of speech and freedom of equal protection were violated because he was stopped from speaking at a Board meeting as a result of this policy.

The article quotes Seegmiller’s lawyer as saying Curatolo will be served during Tuesday’s Board meeting.

The proposed changes to the policy are on Tuesday's agenda to be discussed by the Board toward the end of the meeting.

If you’re concerned that the proposed change will make it harder to maintain the civility of Board meetings, please join me at the Board meeting or email Board members with your comments.

School Board Chair Kathleen Curatolo -
School Board Member Erika Donalds -
School Board Member Kelly Lichter -
School Board Vice-Chair Julie Sprague -
School Board Member Roy Terry -

The business portion of the meeting begins at 5:30 PM Tuesday, March 10, at the District Administration Building, 5775 Osceola Trail.

I hope to see you there.

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Saturday, March 7, 2015


I try hard to ensure factual accuracy in all my posts, but unintentional errors are inevitable. I encourage readers to point them out to me as soon as possible, so that I can publish corrections.

On March 6, Jared Grifoni, Chairman, Libertarian Party of Collier County (LPCC), messaged me through the Sparker’s Soapbox Facebook Page. He wrote, in part:
I have recently noticed that some of your blog posts contain a good deal of factual inaccuracies. I think you are mischaracterizing some of the Libertarian positions vis-à-vis local control/common core/SB864/etc in an effort to lump everyone you disagree with together. Perhaps it’s easier to create a monster when dealing in generalities instead of specifics?"
He then pointed out several statements that I would like to correct:

In a post on February 1 and again in a post on March 5, I said that representatives of the Libertarian Party of Collier County (LPCC) urged the Board of County Commissioners to support the Florida Education Stakeholders Empowerment bill. The LPCC has never endorsed the bill.

In a post on February 1, I said Jared Grifoni is a past chairman of the LPCC and a regular public speaker at School Board meetings and workshops. Mr. Grifoni is the current Chairman of the LPCC, not a past Chairman. And according to Mr. Grifoni, the first time he addressed the School Board was in January 2015 and he has not spoken at or attended a school board workshop to date.

In a post on February 9, I said, “The Resolution [petitioning Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature to enact legislation to 'restore the local School Boards’ control of educational standards, curriculum, and student assessments']" was initially put forward at a Board of County Commissioners meeting by Mr. Grifoni, Peter Richter, Vice Chairman of the LPCC, and Keith Flaugh, who leads the Southwest Florida Citizen Alliance. The Resolution was read into the record at the BCC meeting by LPCC Vice Chairman Peter Richter, not all three people mentioned.

In a post on February 16, I wrote, “Don’t let a very vocal but small group led by the Southwest Florida Citizens Alliance, Libertarian Party of Collier County and Parents ROCK disrupt the way our District is run.” According to Mr. Grifoni, “No officers of the LPCC have spoken at any of the book review workshops yet you have lumped the LPCC in with the SWFL Citizen’s Alliance and Parents ROCK as part of that effort.”

I would like to thank Mr. Grifoni for pointing out that I conflated the actions and interests of the Libertarian Party of Collier County, the SWFL Citizens Alliance, and ParentsROCK. While this was unintentional on my part, he is correct. The groups may share positions on some issues (e.g. opposition to Common Core), however they do not necessarily share positions on all issues.

I appreciate that Mr. Grifoni took the time to provide his feedback.  I encourage other readers to do so as well.