Monday, May 23, 2016

Get ready to vote for Collier County School Board

In School Board elections less than a year away, I encouraged readers to start monitoring the candidates for School Board. It was clear that this would be an important election, with the future direction of Collier County public schools at stake. I knew that we would need many more, and more informed, voters this time around than the paltry 18 percent of registered voters that voted in 2014. 
As early as last August, two then-members of the Collier County Republican Executive Committee filed to run for the seats held by incumbents Kathleen Curatolo (District 2) and Julie Sprague (District 4) in what is supposed to be a nonpartisan election, and started raising money. They were John Brunner and Lee Dixon, respectively. Click here for what I had to say about the two back then.
The state of the race today
Curatolo and Sprague are not seeking reelection, leaving both races wide open. In addition to Brunner in District 2, Louise Penta and Stephanie Lucarelli have filed to run. In addition to Dixon in District 4, Erick Carter has filed to run. 
Based on their websites, statements at candidate forums (April 14, May 6, and May 18), letters to the editor and Facebook posts, it is clear that Brunner, Penta and Dixon align with the current School Board minority, and that Lucarelli and Carter align with the current Board majority. 
In this post, I’ll share some of the research I’ve done about each of the candidates, and tell you who I’ll be voting for and why.
District 2
John Brunner
John Brunner
Brunner, a Navy veteran, has 20 years of teaching experience in public, private, charter and home schools. His two children attend a local private school. He has a BS in education from Western Kentucky University and a Masters of Education from FGCU.
An online bio identified Brunner as “the leader and visionary of The Christian Classical Academy of Naples,” a school that closed due to “financial hardships” in 2014. At the candidate forum on May 18, which I attended, he said, “As a society, we have to get over the idea that public money going to private and religious schools is OK for pre-K but not when they get older.”
After his Christian Classical Academy closed, Brunner taught at Mason Classical Academy, the charter school founded by minority Board members Kelly Lichter and Erika Donalds, but is no longer listed on staff there. His LinkedIn profile shows no current employment. 
Brunner shares the minority Board members' distrust of the Superintendent and opposition to recent majority Board decisions. At the April 14 SWFL Citizens Alliance candidate forum, Brunner, along with Dixon and Penta, said he supports a separate attorney to represent the Board, an anonymous whistle-blower program, and rejecting all federal funding to avoid what they refer to as Common-Core-mandated testing.
He proposes a new "Office of the Inspector General" within the District to “field concerns of parents, conduct audits, review programs, maintain effective systems of control, provide impartial feedback, oversee the improvement of operations and identify fraud, waste, abuse and illegal acts.” 
Brunner opposes CCPS’ participation in the Blue Zones Project. In a letter to the editor, he wrote, “Do we want the government telling people what to eat and how to live? … The district is a government organization. As important as nutrition is for learning, I take issue with any government organization dictating lifestyles to its citizenry.”
Brunner’s campaign website is, and his Facebook pages are here and here. He has raised $18,620 through April 30, including 13 contributions of the maximum $1000 (70%) and $2,500 (13%) from out-of-county. He has made no personal loans to his campaign.
Stephanie Lucarelli
Stephanie Lucarelli
Lucarelli, a former middle-school science teacher, has four children currently attending three different Collier County public schools, including one who is gifted and one with special needs. She has a BS in Natural Resource Management and a teaching certificate from Rutgers University.
Lucarelli has a strong personal interest in ensuring that Collier County Public Schools provide a quality education for children of all abilities and all ages. Her volunteer activities demonstrate that commitment. During the past 12 years, she has served on the CCPS Head Start Policy Council, the Naples Park Elementary Parent Teacher Organization, the CCPS Accreditation Team Parent Committee and as Vice President of the Naples Park Parent Teacher Organization. 
As a former teacher active in her children’s classrooms, she is well-aware of the challenges teachers face. She says, “Our teachers need to be trusted to make the best decisions regarding their students, as well as given more autonomy over their classrooms.” 
Lucarelli supports the District’s participation in the Blue Zones Project, and sees no need to hire an internal auditor. She clearly understands that the Florida Standards are not Common Core, and that to reduce the amount of testing in our schools, we need to lobby the state legislature to change the law. At the May 18 candidate forum, she said “That’s money we’ve already collected here in Collier County. [Rejecting it] would make us the laughing stock of the whole country.”
Lucarelli’s campaign website is, her Facebook pages are here and here. She has raised $14,200 through April 30, including two contributions of the maximum $1000 (14%) and $505 (4%) from out-of-county, and a personal loan of $6,000.
Louise Penta
Louise Penta
Penta, a retired operating-room nurse, serves on the board of The Immokalee Foundation and was recently named Mentor of the Year by the State of Florida. She has an RN degree from Newton Junior College.
The District believes that “access to the tools and resources of a world-wide network and understanding when and how these tools are appropriately and effectively used are imperative in each student’s education.” But Penta disagrees. At the SWFL Citizens Alliance Marco Island forum, she said, “these devices don’t belong in schools,” and that teachers spend too much time monitoring what students are doing on their devices to make sure it aligns with the given directions.“ She said the District should go back to ”classical education,“ where children learn ”to write properly, read good literature, and develop math skills that will set them up for life."
At the most recent candidate forum (which I attended), she said Florida’s Voluntary Pre-K Program should be mandatory, “especially with our diverse population,” but offered no suggestions for how to pay for it.
When asked at the May 18 forum if she would vote to “fire or retain Superintendent Patton,” Penta said, “She’s done a lot of good things, but I would want a more comprehensive evaluation of her so we could make a good decision about what has to be done.” At the April 14 Citizens Alliance Forum, she was more ominously vague, saying, “I have my own personal opinions not to share here tonight. But when a policy comes up to the School Board, decisions have already been made by the Superintendent and her Cabinet behind closed doors. That needs to change. Control needs to go back to the School Board, and get it out of the Superintendent’s hands!” – said very emphatically, and to applause. 
Penta, along with District 4 candidate Dixon, was endorsed by the Collier County Republic Executive Committee. These are the CCREC’s first endorsements in School Board elections in at least a decade, according to the Naples Daily News – a clear indication of partisanship in what are supposed to be a nonpartisan elections. (For important context about this issue, see “Local GOP decides not to censure School Board chairwoman.”) According to the CCREC endorsement, “She supports internal auditing and legal representation of the board.” 
Penta’s campaign website is, her Facebook pages are here and here. She has raised $38,850 through April 30, including 18 contributions of the maximum $1000 (46%), $1,400 from out-of-county (4%), a personal loan of $15,000 (39%), and $100 from Nick and Kelly Lichter.
District 4
Erick Carter
Erick Carter
Carter, a graduate of CCPS’ Lorenzo Walker Technical College (LWTC) Cosmetology Program, has been co-owner of Salon Zenergy in Naples for the past 18 years. Further during that time, he has served as a LWTC guest instructor and student intern host, and as a national training course instructor for Conair, Rusk Products and Martin Parsons Inc. His one child attends a CCPS middle school. 
As a parent, local business owner/entrepreneur and graduate of a CCPS adult learning program, Carter has a strong personal commitment to career and technical education. 
Carter, like Lucarelli, opposes the proposal to reject federal funding in order to opt out of testing requirements. On his Facebook page he wrote, “Rejecting the federal funding eliminates $59 million from our budget, which will have to be raised locally for essential programs like Exceptional Student Education, English as a Second Language and lunch subsidies for low income students. You’ve already paid for this funding through your federal taxes. If we reject the funding, you will be forced to pay for it a second time.”
In response to a question at the most recent candidate forum, he expressed strong support of Superintendent Patton, citing these accomplishments under her leadership: reduced the budget (by $54 million over the past five years); increased the District’s graduation rate (from 72.5% in 2011 to 84.3% most recently), and started an entrepreneurship program (in 2013; most recently enhanced with INCubatoredu). 
Carter supports the Blue Zones initiative. On his Facebook page, he wrote he is “glad that our students are learning to make healthier choices,” and pointed out another benefit as well: potentially saving the District “millions of dollars in health care costs,” which could then make more resources available for our children’s education.
Carter has been endorsed by Dr. Michael Reagen, and Brenda and Pat O’Connor
Carter’s campaign website is, his Facebook pages are here and here, and he has raised $9,500 through April 30, including one contribution of the maximum $1000 (11%), $365 from out-of-county, and personal loans of $3,500.
Lee Dixon
Lee Dixon
Dixon is a member of the Collier County Republican Executive Committee and serves on the North Naples Middle School Advisory Committee. He began his career as a golf course superintendent in 1992, and is currently the golf course Grounds Manager at Miromar Lakes. He has three children, including one with special needs. He said his experience with his autistic son and the education system
 in the county and state prompted his run for School Board.
Dixon has many connections to critics of the School Board majority. He is (or was) vice president of Parents ROCK, the group formed by Board member Erika Donalds. Donalds “liked” his May 9 “Meet the Candidate” Facebook post and invitation to his May 19 fundraiser). Following announcement of Dixon’s candidacy, Nick Lichter, spouse of Board member Kelly Lichter, posted, “Looking forward to watching my friend Lee Dixon campaign for Collier School Board,” and subsequently contributed to his campaign. Kelly Lichter and Doug Lewis, author of the 2014 “Contract with Collier County,” were members of the Host Committee for Dixon’s Campaign Kick-Off Party. 
Last year, during public comments before a School Board meeting about of the selection of Kathleen Curatolo as Board Chairman, Dixon called her “completely unqualified for the position.” He’s against CCPS’ participation in the Blue Zones project, telling ABC7 that ”the idea that an outside entity wants to come in and dictate to parents what they can and cannot put in their kids lunch box is very troubling."
Dixon has been endorsed by the Collier GOP Executive Committee, the Alliance for Religious Freedom and former Collier County School Board member Steve Donovan.
Dixon’s campaign website is, and his Facebook pages are here and here. He has raised $15,156 through April 30, including three contributions of the maximum $1,000 (20%), $255 from Nick Lichter, and $1,615 (11%) from out-of-county. He made no personal loans to his campaign. 
How I’ll vote … and why
There is no doubt that the outcome of this election will determine the future direction of our Collier County public schools. 
I want a School Board that supports the 2017 - 19 Strategic Plan recently approved by the Board majority with a 3–2 vote. I want a School Board that wants to prepare Collier’s students for success in the highly digital and STEM-oriented 21st century. I do not support changing the current curriculum or way of teaching to one more aligned with the “classical education” of the past. 
I trust our qualified teachers and administrators to choose age-appropriate, factually-accurate instructional materials, and cannot imagine handing that responsibility over to any untrained layperson, parent or not, as supported by the Board minority. 
I have confidence in the current Administration’s stewardship of the District’s financial resources and see no need to hire additional staff to do more. As presented at the August 2015 School Board meeting, the District undergoes three major external audits: Financial, Internal Funds and the state’s Florida Education Finance Program, and conducts 135 internal, self-assessment and monitoring audits of various kinds, many required by State or Federal departments and agencies. The current audit function is extensive, no doubt costly and time-consuming, and there is absolutely no evidence of a problem that would justify hiring an internal auditor. 
I oppose rejecting federal funding with the hope of being able to then disregard federal laws and directives. I can’t imagine how we would replace the current Title I funding for our low-income schools, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act funding for our ESE programs, Title I funding for our migrant students, Head Start funding for our Pre-K and early-learning students, Title II funding for teacher training, and more. Further, I don’t know that rejecting the funding would be legal, and I would not support suing the government to find out.
In the August School Board elections, I will vote for Stephanie Lucarelli in District 2 and Erick Carter in District 4.
* * * * * * * * * *
Asked about the success of his wife’s August 2014 election campaign, Nick Lichter said:
Understanding the benefits of early voting was a big learning point for us. A lot of people who don’t have children don’t participate in the school board election. But early voting targeting was effective in winning their vote.
Lichter was right. If you share my concern about the future of our Collier County public schools, please share this post and urge your friends to vote in August for Lucarelli and Carter.

Subscribe to Sparker’s Soapbox by email here, “like” me on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Getting ready to vote in the August primaries

About 11 weeks from now, the first votes will be cast in Collier County’s 2016 primary elections, and many offices and issues are at stake.

Between now and then, I’ll be researching the candidates and issues that will be on my ballot, and sharing, as in prior years, what I find in this blog. (See here, for example.) I’ll support what I write with links to my sources, and conclude with who I’ll be voting for and why. If you find these posts helpful, please let me know. Reader feedback is what keeps this blog going!

I plan to focus on elections for School Board (see “School Board elections less than a year away”), County Commission, Constitutional Officers, the Florida House and Senate, the US House and Senate, and any constitutional amendments or other referenda that may be on the ballot.

In today’s post, I’ll summarize some of the basics about what’s in store.

The types of races and who gets to vote in which
Remember the kerfluffle in Palm Beach County when Donald Trump tweeted:

A lot of complaints from people saying my name is not on the ballot in various places in Florida? Hope this is false.

Turned out that some Trump supporters, not registered Republicans, were – properly – given ballots for the March 2016 elections with only the names of candidates in the municipal races. Because Florida is a closed primary state, only people registered with a political party can vote in that party’s primary.

Similarly, in the August primaries, there will be partisan elections, in which only registered Republicans or Democrats can vote, and nonpartisan elections, in which all registered voters, regardless of party, can vote.

However, if all the candidates for an office have the same party affiliation and the winner of the primary election will not face any opposition in the general election (i.e. no write-in candidates have qualified), then all registered voters can vote for any of the candidates for that office in the primary election.

There will also be at-large elections, in which all registered voters can vote regardless of where in the county they live, and single-district elections, in which only those who live in the district can vote.

Here is a summary of those distinctions for Collier County voters’ August elections:

When is Election Day?
Election Day is Tuesday, August 30. Early voting is August 20 - 27. Vote-by-mail ballots will be mailed out about four weeks before Election Day, or around August 2.

Things to do right now
If you won’t be in town to vote in person, or if you simply prefer the time-savings of voting from home, as I do, request a vote-by-mail (VBM) ballot. You can do it online by answering a few questions and then printing out, signing and mailing in a form, or by requesting a paper form to fill out by calling the Supervisor of Elections (SOE) office (239–252-VOTE).

If you think you’ve already requested a VBM ballot, take a minute to confirm your voter status either online or by phone (239–252-VOTE). I just checked mine and it says:

You are currently eligible to vote in Collier County. You have a standing request to receive an absentee ballot for elections occurring on or before Saturday, December 31, 2016.

If you want to make a change to your VBM request or to update your voter registration information, including your party affiliation, you can do it on that same screen, or from the SOE Homepage at

I look forward to doing the research to become an informed voter, and sharing what I learn with you. It’s in all of our best interests to participate in an informed way in the election process, and to take full advantage of our right to vote. After all, Democracy is Not a Spectator Sport.

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, “like” me on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Lots of interest on Tuesday’s School Board agenda

As in the past, springtime in Naples brings packed CCPS School Board agendas with much for parents and interested community members to be aware of. In this post, I’ll share the items I’m most interested in from the agenda for this coming Tuesday’s meeting.

Consent Agenda

Approval of New Charter School: BridgePrep Academy Collier County - Item B10
BridgePrep of Collier County plans to open in August with 348 students in grades K–6. It projects, at full capacity, 1000 students in grades K–8. The school is managed by S.M.A.R.T. Management, a Miami-based for-profit charter operator. According to the charter application, its mission is to immerse students in Spanish alongside traditional English-language classwork. If approved as expected, this will be CCPS’s sixth charter school.

Approval of Course Additions - Item B30
For 2016–17, the District is requesting approval to add 14 courses to the curriculum:

Approval of Articulation Agreement with Florida SouthWestern State College - Item B31
The District seeks approval of a partnership with Florida SouthWestern State College through which eligible students can enroll part- or full-time in college-level courses during their junior and/or senior years of high school. The agreement provides opportunities for dual enrollment (high school and college), early college admissions, a combined high school diploma and Associate degree, advanced placement, the College Level Examination Program (in which a student can get college credit by passing a nationally-standardized subject area exam), the International Baccalaureate Program (IB), and the Career Pathways Program (which helps prepare students for Associate Degrees and Technical Certificates).

Unfinished Business

Approval of the 2017–19 CCPS Strategic Plan - Item B15
I think the proposed 2017–19 CCPS Strategic Plan is terrific. I first wrote about it in March, and my letter to the editor about it was recently published in the Naples Daily News.

But the junior Board members found quite a few things about it to challenge at last month’s Work Session, none of which was supported by the senior Board members. Specifically, they:

  • Disagreed with the order in which the seven Plan Goals are presented.
  • Did not like having middle and high school students document their “reflections” about their experiences in a digital platform (similar to a digital diary or journal). (Goal 2 College and Career Readiness). One junior Board member called it “creepy.”
  • Proposed that STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) should not be a stand-alone goal, but rather should be incorporated into another goal. (Goal 3)
  • Argued that the Plan target an increase in the percent of students scoring level four or higher on statewide assessments; the proposed Plan targets an increase in students scoring level three or higher. (Goal 5 Student Achievement)
  • Disagreed with the use of District funds to “develop communication tools highlighting Collier County Public Schools for the District and the business community to recruit and retain employees/employers to the region.” (Goal 7 Communication and Community Engagement)

I expect the proposed Plan to be approved at Tuesday’s meeting.

First Reading: Policy 8710 Insurance - Item C3
In the interest of requring only financially significant settlements to be approved by the Board, this policy gives the Superintendent authority to settle lawsuits on behalf of the District up to $40,000. It was discussed at length at last month’s Board meeting, and is now back with revisions as a First Reading.

During public comments last month, parent-attorney Steve Bracci, who has sued the District and Superintendent on several occasions and has been involved in at least one settlement, challenged the process by which the Superintendent reaches settlement decisions, claiming it violated Florida’s “Sunshine Law.” Board General Counsel Jon Fishbane stated that he had researched the matter and concluded that it did not.

Unsuccessful in their efforts to completely deny the Superintendent settlement authority, the junior Board members asked for a formal process, now included in the policy, by which the Superintendent will report back to the Board on any settlements.

With all the time and effort expended on this matter to-date, I hope the policy will be allowed to move forward to a Second Reading.

First Reading: Policy 2262 Before and After School Child Care - Item C4
This policy is being revisited because the District will soon begin requesting bids from after school care providers for the upcoming three-year period. It was debated at length at the April 19 School Board Work Session and is returning for a First Reading.

At issue is the extent of parental involvement in the selection and retention of after school care providers. This is the issue that gave rise in 2013 to the formation by Erika Donalds, now a junior Board member, of Parents ROCK, a parents group frequently critical of the District.

It is important to note that there is no state or federal law that requires the District to provide after school care.

The revised policy provides specific opportunities for input by parents during the course of the program, and during the final year of the contract of an existing program, provides that “principals will seek parental input through the School Advisory Council (SAC) prior to making any decision regarding a change in program provider. The principal will then make the decision he/she believes is in the best interest of the school.”

It will be interesting to see if this policy continues to be debated, or if it moves forward to a Second Reading.

Approval of District Participation in the Blue Zones Project - Item E3
Readers may remember my past posts about the opposition to Blue Zones by the junior Board members and their followers. One of my favorites is “Learnings from a lawsuit and a text message” (November 12, 2015), describing Mr. Bracci’s lawsuit claiming that the Superintendent violated Florida’s “Sunshine Laws” by participating in Blue Zones steering committee meetings.

Over the objection of the junior Board members, four schools participated in a Blue Zones Project Pilot Program during the 2015–16 school year and have been successfully validated as Blue Zones Project Approved schools. I expect this item to pass without the support of the junior Board members.

New Business

Approval of the Capital Improvement Plan for 2017–2036 - Item C173
The Capital Improvement Plan identifies and proposes funding for projects and services related to facilities, real property, technology, maintenance, transportation, security, and health and safety. It forecasts 5, 10 and 20 year needs. Of note in the Plan:

  • Elementary and middle school enrollment is not projected to exceed capacity within the next five years.
  • High school enrollment is projected to exceed capacity by the 2019–20 school year, so a permanent addition at an existing high school and a future new high school are planned.
  • In view of these capital needs, the referendum millage in the General Fund will be phased out and the Capital millage will be restored.

Approval of the 2017–18 Academic School Calendar - Item E2
Highlights of the proposed calendar include:

  • First day of students = August 16
  • Thanksgiving break = November 22 - 24 (Wednesday - Friday)
  • Winter break = December 22 - January 3
  • Spring break = March 12 - 16
  • Last day of students = May 31

The District surveyed 825 community members, including 447 parents, about the proposed calendar. For the survey questions presented, 62 percent or more respondents said they like the proposed dates.

I applaud the District for bringing this item forward earlier than in the past. It reflects a sincere desire to give employees, parents, students and the community even more time to assist them in making vacation and other plans. Also to be commended: a recommendation will be made during the 2016–17 school year for the 2018–19 calendar, beginning the process of having calendars in place two years in advance.

This post addresses just some of the items on a very long agenda that contains quite a few controversial topics. I fear another very long meeting. Consider taking a minute to thank the School Board members and Superintendent for all they do for Collier’s students:

Kathleen Curatolo -
Erika Donalds -
Kelly Lichter -
Julie Sprague -
Roy Terry -
Superintendent Kamela Patton -

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, “like” me on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Coming up Thursday: forums for the Florida House and Senate primary elections

In our overwhelmingly conservative county, it’s likely that whoever wins the Republican primaries in August will go on to represent us next year – be it on the Board of Collier County Commissioners, in our county Constitutional Offices, in the state legislature or in the US House of Representatives.

There will be a lot at stake in Rick Scott’s last two years as governor, including such issues as tax cuts, education funding, fracking legislation, growth incentives, medical marijuana and spending to protect the environment and protect the Everglades.

So I encourage all Collier voters, especially those leaving town for the summer, to attend as many candidate forums as you can so you can be an informed voter in the August elections. It’s not too soon to become informed, and there’s no better way to do so than by seeing and hearing the candidates in person.

In this post, I’ll tell you about the forums to be held this coming Thursday, April 7, and the candidates who were invited to participate in them. In future posts, I'll be writing about other important elections that will take place in August.

Another reminder
As I’ve written before (see here, here, here and most recently here), because Florida is a closed primary state, only registered Republicans can vote in the Republican Party primary. The last day to change or register your party affiliation if you want to vote in a party primary in August is August 1. But don’t wait. Do it now … and while you’re at it, request a vote-by-mail ballot.

Florida Senate - District 28
If you live anywhere in Collier County, you live in newly-drawn Senate District 28. Current Senator Garrett Richter, who has served the maximum eight-year term, is vacating his seat, and current House Representatives Matt Hudson and Kathleen Passidomo are vying to succeed him.

It will be a hard-fought and expensive race. Passidomo has Ricther’s endorsement, but Hudson has the money advantage, having raised $418,500 through 2/29 to Passidomo’s $244,100.

Hudson had a 20-year management career at Walgreens and subsequently became a licensed real estate broker. He has lived in Golden Gate Estates since 1990. His campaign website is

Passidomo is an attorney who has lived in Naples since graduating from Stetson University College of Law in 1978. Her campaign website is

As with all races, our challenge as voters is to identify differences between the candidates. Both Hudson and Passidomo received A grades on the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Report Cards each year they’ve been in office, indicating that both voted nearly lock-step with the Chamber’s position on Florida Business Agenda bills.

I also compared their votes (Hudon’s here; Passidomo’s here) on what Vote Smart calls “Key Votes” between 2011 (Passidomo’s first year) and 2016 and found that they voted the same way in all but a few cases:

2011 - HB 1127 - Abortions. Hudson voted Yay, Passidomo was they only House Republican who voted Nay. Bill passed House 81–37.

2012 - HB 277 - Prohibits abortions during the third trimester. Hudson voted Yay; Passidomo voted Nay. Bill passed House 78–33.

But Passidomo voted for seven other “key” anti-abortion bills, according to Vote Smart, and most recently voted for the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

2015 - SB 290 - Authorizes concealed carry during emergency evacuations. Hudson voted Yay; Passidomo did not vote. Bill passed House 86–26.

2016 - HB 1325 - Revises various economic incentive & tax refund programs. Hudson voted Nay; Passidomo voted Yay. Bill passed - House 79 - 39. (The bill gives impact fee waivers to certain companies.)

As of now, only Republicans have filed to run for this Senate seat. If that remains the case, all qualified voters regardless of party affiliation will be entitled to vote in the August primary.

Florida House - District 106
If you live in coastal Collier County, you live in District 106 and have been represented by Kathleen Passidomo since 2011. Find your district here.

Like the Senate race, with the incumbent not running for another term, this is a wide open election. So far, two Republicans, one No Party Affiliation (NPA) and no Democrats have filed to run.

Lavaigne Ann Kirpatrick (R) is a former Registered Nurse and current candidate for a Master’s in Public Administration at the University of South Florida. She ran unsuccessfully for the Board of County Commissioners twice, losing to Fred Coyle in 2010 and to Penny Taylor in 2014. She reported $1,000 in contributions through 2/29. Her campaign website is

Robert Rommel (R) sold the mortgage company he co-founded and moved to Naples in 2002. He now co-owns three restaurants – two in southwest Florida, one in New Jersey. He has raised $48,700 through 2/29. His campaign website is

Brandon Smith (NPA) ran unsuccessfully for the Congressional District 19 seat in 2012, receiving less than two percent of the votes and losing to Trey Radel. He has raised $15 through 2/29. He doesn’t have a campaign website; his campaign Facebook page is here.

Florida House - District 80
If you live east of I–75, you probably live in District 80 and have been represented by Matt Hudson since 2007. Find your district here.

As in District 106, with the incumbent not running, this election should be interesting. So far, two Republicans have filed to run; no Democrats or NPAs.

Joe Davidow (R) is a practicing attorney in his own law firm, Willis & Davidow. He received his undergraduate degree from Virginia Tech and law degree from St. Thomas University. He was one of six candidates in the 2012 Republican primary for Congressional District 19, receiving two percent of the votes and losing to Trey Radel. He has raised $28,100 through 2/29 and his campaign website is

Byron Donalds (R) serves on the Board of Trustees for Florida Southwestern State College, formerly Edison State College, having been appointed to the post by Governor Scott. He has an undergraduate degree from Florida State University in Finance and Marketing. Like Davidow, Donalds ran unsuccessfully in the CD 19 Republican primary, but won Collier County with 28 percent of the votes. With CCPS School Board members Kelly Lichter and Erika Donalds (his wife), Donalds is a founding Board member of the Mason Classical Academy Charter School, where he now serves as Board Vice President. He has raised $90,000 through 2/29. His campaign website is

I hope I’ve piqued your interest enough that you will join me Thursday to hear what these candidates have to say – both to us and to each other.

When: Thursday, April 7
4:00 - 5:30 PM - House Districts 80 and 106
6:00 - 7:30 PM - Senate District 28

Where: Hodges University, John White Community Room, 2655 Northbrooke Drive, Naples

Moderated by former Naples Daily News editorial page editor Jeff Lytle. Free of charge, open to the public, first-come seating.

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, “like” me on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

A great opportunity to learn: CCPS Community Forums this week

Three community forums will be held this week to inform and seek input from community members and CCPS employees about the 2017 - 19 strategic planning process. In this post, I will provide some information that I hope will inspire you to attend one of the upcoming meetings to learn about what’s happening in our schools and take advantage of the opportunity to share your thoughts, suggestions or concerns as the District's next strategic plan is being developed.

The CCPS Strategic Plan is important because it codifies District priorities and guides District decision-making. According to the School Board’s Governance Model, the Superintendent is responsible for recommending a Strategic Plan to the Board for approval.

You can review a draft of the community forum presentation on the District website.

I found it helpful that the presentation begins with the process by which the three-year Plan is being developed. As in the past, it aligns with the District’s vision (“All students will complete school prepared for ongoing learning as well as community and global responsibilities”) and mission (“By providing exceptional educational opportunities that motivate and engage each student”). That reminds us all of the big picture.

And as in the past, the Plan appropriately takes into consideration the District’s challenging cultural, home language, and socio-economic demographics: majority minority students; third highest percentage of English Language Learners in Florida; 57 percent of pre-K - third graders from non-English speaking homes; highest percentage of migrant students in the state.

The District began working on the Plan in May 2015, and to-date has consulted with school and District-based leaders and goal-specific community organizations. This week’s community forums and one held last week in Immokalee seek input from community stakeholders and District employees.

With this input, a revised draft will be published on April 12 for discussion at a School Board Work Session on April 19, revised and published again to incorporate Board input on May 3, and presented to the Board for approval on May 10.

Only positive changes
Since the District is doing well (see “Kudos to Collier public schools for A grade, fares well vs. others in state,” Naples Daily News editorial, 2/15/16), I am pleased that the proposed Strategic Goals modify only slightly those of the current Plan. The Goals for 2017 - 19 are:

  1. Early Childhood Education
  2. College and Career Readiness
  3. Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (the current Plan does not include the Arts)
  4. Highly Talented and Engaged Workforce
  5. Student Achievement
  6. Maintain Fiscal Responsibility
  7. Communication - Parent and Community Engagement (new)

I am very happy to see the addition of the arts to the current Plan’s Goal #3 focus on science, technology, engineering and math. As someone who benefited from a liberal arts education, I feared our students were not getting what I consider to be an important part of their education.

I'm intrigued by the change in Goal #5 from "narrowing the achievement gap on statewide accountability assessments" in the current plan to simply "student achievement" in this plan. According to the Naples Daily News, Superintendent Patton said, "We think it’s more correct at this point in time that you don’t get credit for narrowing a gap. We need to lift everybody up. You can’t leave anybody behind."

I find it interesting to see the addition of a new Goal #7, Communication. (See Naples Daily News  "Community involvement a key part of Collier Schools’ strategic plan.") This makes overt what I perceive to be an already strong commitment to engage with the District's external constituencies.

I look forward to hearing the District’s explanation of why they made both of these changes.

As in the current Plan, there are, for each Strategic Goal, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) by which to monitor progress. KPIs are to be “SMART” (Specific; Measurable; Attainable/Action-Oriented; Relevant/Realistic; and Time-Bound), enabling the Board and the community to objectively evaluate the District’s performance.

Work within each KPI is guided by strategies set forth in the Plan that are to be reviewed and revised annually based on changing needs.

Included in the presentation about each Strategic Goal is an impressive list of community organizations with whom the District collaborated, along with the KPIs and first year strategies proposed for each goal.

Presenting this information at the Community Forums will be the senior leaders of the District:

  • Goal 1 - Jennifer Kincaid, Executive Director, Elementary Programs
  • Goal 2 - Dr. Leslie Ricciardelli, Executive Director, Secondary Programs
  • Goal 3 - Dr. Traci Kohler, Director, STEM Resources, Instructional Technology and Media Services
  • Goal 4 - Ian Dean, Executive Director, Human Resources
  • Goal 5 - Luis Solano, Associate Superintendent, Curriculum and Instruction
  • Goal 6 - Bob Spencer, Executive Director, Financial Services, and Patrick Woods, Executive Director, Student and Staff Projections, Allocations and Reporting
  • Goal 7 - Greg Turchetta, Executive Director, Communications and Community Engagement

When and Where
  • Monday, March 28, at Lely High School, 1 Lely High School Blvd, Naples
  • Wednesday, March 30, at Gulf Coast High School, 787 Shark Way, Naples
  • Thursday, March 31, at Barron Collier High School, 5600 Cougar Drive, Naples

Each meeting begins at 4:30 PM for District employees, and at 6 PM for community members.

If you can’t attend one of the meetings, email your comments to Board members and the Superintendent:

Kathleen Curatolo -
Erika Donalds -
Kelly Lichter -
Julie Sprague -
Roy Terry -
Superintendent Kamela Patton -

I’m really looking forward to attending one of this week’s meetings. It will be interesting to hear the District leaders take us through the presentation, and I expect to learn a great deal.

I hope you will join me in this opportunity to learn about our District and share your thoughts with District leaders.


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, “like” me on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Comments of interest from last week’s School Board meeting

I attended the regular meeting of the Collier County School Board on March 8 (minutes here; video here). Two comments made at the end of the meeting impressed me: Board Vice Chairman Roy Terry’s remarks regarding the current public discord between supporters of charter schools and supporters of traditional public schools, and Superintendent Kamela Patton’s report on the number of CCPS graduates who needed remediation classes upon entering Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) in the Fall 2015 term.

Roy Terry’s remarks
Roy Terry
Mr. Terry was clearly troubled by what has become an ongoing, mean-spirited and disrespectful (my words, not his) back-and-forth taking place at School Board meetings, in the community and on social media between supporters of traditional public schools and supporters of charter schools. (Supporters of “home rule” and “parents rule” are being seen and heard more and more, too, through Terry didn’t mention them.)

He praised the variety of educational opportunities our District offers to meet the needs of Collier families and said, “I think we as Board members should make sure we recognize that all of our schools … deserve the support of all in Collier County, whether you’re a public school fan or a charter school fan or a private school fan.”

He gave examples of the many strengths of Collier County schools and teachers, and concluded by saying:
I don’t like to see things on Facebook and other places that [put] down one side or the other. I think all you’re doing is hurting children. You’re not making progress for one side or the other of the equation, so I think we need to stop some of that.
From usually mild-mannered Mr. Terry, those are strong words indeed. You can watch a YouTube video clip of his remarks here.

I, too, have been troubled by the words and tone of some of what I’ve seen and heard at School Board meetings and on social media. With the upcoming School Board elections, I fear it will only get worse. Whether supporting or criticizing the District, Superintendent, Board members or charter schools, I wish some of our community members and School Board members would be less vituperative and more respectful. What kind of example are they setting for the young people in our community?

What Mr. Terry said needed to be said, and I applaud him for it.

Superintendent Patton’s comment
Kamela Patton
The other thing that impressed me was a comment Dr. Patton made toward the end of her closing remarks. She told us that the District had finally received some long-awaited data on the remediation rates of CCPS graduates who go on to college. Only Florida Gulf Coast University has provided the requested data so far, after what I surmise was many requests made by the District of more than this one higher-ed institution.

Of the 373 CCPS students who entered FGCU in the Fall 2015 term, 10 (2.7 percent) needed remediation, less than half the rate (5.9 percent) of FGCU’s out-of-state students.

This is a terrific reflection on our administrators, teachers and students, and something that deserves more public attention.

By way of background: incoming first-year students who lack the skills necessary to perform college-level work at the degree of rigor required by the institution are required to take remedial classes before being allowed to take regular college courses. A high remediation rate suggests that a school or district is doing a poor job preparing its students for college.

I did a Google search that revealed that, in some circles, high remediation rates for public schools are used to justify the need for Common Core standards and/or charter schools. See, for example, a January 2013 report prepared for the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics under contract with American Institutes for Research titled First-Year Undergraduate Remedial Coursetaking: 1999–2000, 2003–04, 2007–08. Setting the context, the report began:
A primary goal of the U.S. Department of Education’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Blueprint for Reform is to improve the college readiness of high school graduates (U.S. Department of Education 2010). College readiness is a complex benchmark and has been measured in several ways, including transcript analysis (Adelman 2006) and standardized test scores (ACT 2005). One such measure, and the focus of this [report], is remedial coursework enrollment. [links to sources added by me]
The report cited a 20 percent overall remediation rate for first-year undergraduate students enrolled in institutions of higher education in the 2007–08 academic year! See also, for example, How College Remediation Rates are Distorted — and Why (Update) in the July 7, 2014 Washington Post.

I subsequently received from the District the FGCU chart referred to in the meeting. In addition to the data shared by Dr. Patton, the chart showed that 119 full-time freshmen from 28 Florida school districts needed remediation upon entering FGCU in the Fall 2015 term, or 5.1 percent of those enrolled. Seven districts accounting for 96 freshmen had no students needing remediation, and seven districts accounting for 140 freshmen had ten percent or more students needing remediation.

Given Collier County’s demographics, I’d say our District is doing a very good job in preparing students for college!

I, like Dr. Patton, would like to see the remediation rates for CCPS graduates from ALL post-secondary schools they attend – and see it on a regular basis.

But for now, I say “Congratulations” to CCPS students, teachers, administrators and District staff for what appears to be a job well done in preparing our students for college.

I’m glad the District will continue to focus on college and career readiness in the 2017 - 2019 Strategic Plan, and urge them to use the remediation rate as one of the metrics to measure its performance toward that important goal.

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, “like” me on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Monday, March 14, 2016

I've decided

Tomorrow is Election Day. I've finally decided who I will vote for in Florida’s Republican Presidential Preference Primary.

I wrote just over a month ago that the possibility of a Trump presidency is terrifying. I registered as a Republican to vote in that party’s primary election to try to keep him from becoming the nominee. The question I’ve struggled with since then was who to vote for.

Why I waited
I've had my mail-in ballot for over a month, and early voting had been available since March 5th. But I waited until the last minute mainly because Florida’s Republican Party will award 100% of its delegates to the winner of the primary (“winner take all”), unlike in other states where they have been awarded until now on a proportional basis. So it seemed to me that the only way to block a Trump nomination is to vote for the candidate who has the best chance of beating him.

Rubio has consistently been second in the Florida match-up polls, but I waited to make sure he didn’t drop out before Election Day. As recently as last week, CNN reported that “A battle is being waged within [Rubio’s] campaign about whether he should even remain in the Republican presidential race ahead of his home state primary on March 15.”

But Rubio has consistently said he’s staying in, and I can’t put off my vote much longer.

It looks pretty hopeless
That said, the chances of anyone but Trump winning the Florida primary are remote. The average of the most recent polls show him ahead of his closest challenger, Rubio, by close to 20 points.

Yes, polls can be wrong. See, for example, “Why were the polls in Michigan so wrong?,” about Hillary’s loss to Sanders in Michigan. But in Florida’s case, being wrong would mean someone OTHER than Trump would win … which would be fine with me.

I’m voting for Rubio
For now, the Republican with the best chance of beating Trump on Tuesday is Rubio. So that’s who I’ll be voting for.



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, “like” me on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.