Saturday, July 19, 2014

Collaborating on conversations with the School Board candidates

The following was written by my good friend and colleague Dianne Mayberry-Hatt of Naples.  It has been an honor and a pleasure to collaborate with her in a series of  one-on-one conversations with the Collier County School Board candidates. The hours we’ve spent have made us better-informed voters than we would have been otherwise, and we’re looking forward to sharing our insights with you in the coming weeks. 

But first, to explain why we did what we did, here is the first of several planned “guest posts” by Dianne:
In an earlier post, readers learned that the upcoming School Board primary is important “because the people we elect will make policies that will directly shape the young people who become voting citizens and leaders of Collier County’s future.”  As a retired teacher, principal and school board member, I have a keen interest in local elections and I am aware of the impact the School Board’s decisions has on all the stakeholders.     
We decided that learning all we could about the School Board candidates was essential before offering our opinions to others. Our initial plan was to attend various forums, review campaign materials and utilize Internet searches in an effort to get to know the candidates. However, while these sources provide information about qualifications and platforms, their lack of depth and nuance makes it difficult for us to predict how effective the candidates would be as Board members.  
Also realizing it would be hard for the candidates to convey their views, concerns, motivations and goals to the voters in an at-large election, in a sound-bite society, in this county of 183,000 voters, we offered another option.
We invited each candidate to meet with us for a 45-minute conversation to discuss his or her candidacy.  Each conversation began with “When and why did you decide to run for the School Board” and concluded with “What would a successful 4-year term look like?”  Candidates also had the opportunity to expound upon issues of their choosing and respond to specific questions about standards and assessments, among other topics.   One of us led the conversation, while the other took copious notes. We made every effort to moderate each conversation similarly. 
Candidates were aware that we would share our impressions in Sparker’s Soapbox.
The outcome of this venture more than met our expectations.  Eight of the nine candidates participated.  (District 1 candidate Jacob Winge did not, despite several personal invitations.)  Each seemed open and forthright in their responses.   Each appeared earnest and confident they would be elected. 
Collectively there are six educators (retired, former or current), one CPA, one policy consultant, and one student.  Two candidates have children attending Collier County public schools.  Two have campaigned previously.  One is an incumbent.  All have college degrees.  Two are associated with the founding of a new charter school.  Two are supported by TIGER - a group associated with the teachers’ union.  Three appear to be supported by SW Florida Citizens Alliance - a statewide coalition “advancing ideals and principles of liberty.”  One has been endorsed by the Greater Naples Better Government Committee- a local political action group. 
The School Board is a key player in the governance of our children’s education.   Though the candidates’ skills, experiences and associations are relevant when trying to determine who the candidates really are, our conversations provided insights not accessible any other way.  What do they really stand for?  How will they determine policies as members of the School Board?  As our conversations unfolded, stark differences between candidates became evident. 
With something as important as the education of our children at stake, we hope to offer objective but substantive profiles of each candidate in future posts to aid “you the people” in making reasoned choices in an election that will have great impact on the tenor and future of our community.
Stay tuned. And please keep your comments and suggestions coming!

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