My friend and colleague Dianne Mayberry-Hatt and I interviewed the School Board candidates together, but independently reached our decisions about our endorsements. The fact that we came to the same conclusions is - we believe - a reflection of our shared values and beliefs. In this post, Dianne shares the rationale for her decisions.
Throughout my career as a teacher, principal and school board member I learned how vital advocacy and community activism are to the well-being of our schools. This is why in retirement I continue to be involved in education and most recently in the upcoming School Board election.
This particular election cycle has taken on a fervor I’ve not seen before. With the candidates’ use of technology, their campaign slogans are seemingly everywhere. Their messages are slick and snazzy, using sound-bites to inform us of platforms. We even see endorsements and financial contributions to some campaigns by those who don’t live in our community. It reminds me of a well-organized political campaign.
A historical perspective may illuminate why this troubles me.
The last decade had its tumultuous years when civility and mutual respect were often absent from Collier County School Board proceedings. The eroding relationship between the Board and administration shook the public confidence in the school system.
By 2008, the rising public outcry was heard and addressed by Champions for Learning (formerly The Education Foundation of Collier County). They convened a series of 50 small group conversations throughout the county, hosted and led by trained community members who asked the question: “Do we, Collier County citizens, share enough educational values and expectations to lift and empower us and in turn, the school system, to be the best it can be?” As one of the lead facilitators of Connect Now, I witnessed a group of engaged community members, reflecting a range of perspectives, express a resounding "yes" to this question.
The outcome of this project was the Connect Now CommunityStatement, which detailed the community’s aspirational priorities around education and set forth a blueprint for tackling the challenges facing our schools. It was published by the Naples Daily News as a 4-page insert on April 5, 2009.
The School Board embraced this Community Statement as a guide going forward with their work. In the years that followed, meaningful programs such as community partnerships, strategic planning and STEM initiatives, inspired by Connect Now, were started. This has been a good beginning for all that still needs to be accomplished.
As the current School Board campaign got underway, I realized that the newly elected Board members may not be aware of or support the Connect Now Community Statement. It was then that I had the idea to hold one-on-one conversations with each of the candidates.
The 45-minute conversations I had with each candidate helped me synthesize their detailed CVs (curriculum vitae) into comprehensive portraits of eight very different individuals. (Candidate Jacob Winge, District 1, did not meet with us.) All this acquired information has been invaluable in determining the best candidates, but there are other factors to consider. Do the best candidates necessarily create the best Board? What really matters to me as a voter is which candidates can work collaboratively with skills, talents and perspectives that are respectful of and complementary to the whole.
With this history in mind, and the knowledge and insight I gained about the candidates over the past weeks of my research, I’ve made my decisions.
In District 1, I will vote for Kathleen Greenawalt. She supports the District efforts to-date. She has a clear understanding of the role of the School Board and knows the value of compromise amongst colleagues. She is a strong advocate for teachers and public schools.
The other candidates in this district
Jacob Winge chose not to meet with us nor did he provide enough information for me to consider him.
Kelly Lichter is deeply involved in the opening of a charter school. Having read through the Mason Classical Academy application and attended an informational presentation, I support the concept of charter schools and believe that choice has its place in public schools. In fact, I dreamed of opening my own school during my career because of frustrations I faced as a teacher. Because of the founder’s passionate commitment and robust leadership, I anticipate that her charter school will succeed.
However I do not believe that Mrs. Lichter will support the kind of initiatives Connect Now suggested or ones now in the School District's plans for the coming years. I am still troubled by the challenges that her involvement as President of the Board of Mason Classical Academy charter school could bring to her role as School Board member. The focus should be on the work of the District, not the potential conflicts of a particular individual, and I don’t believe this issue can go away.
In District 3, I will vote for Luis Bernal. He has an extensive history of volunteer efforts on behalf of the District and his child’s school. His professional experiences as an international development consultant and his credentials in public policy will serve the School Board well. As a civic leader, he is highly regarded by the business community. Mr. Bernal’s bilingual, multicultural background offers a voice for the under-represented student population, which is the majority. Luis Bernal is an outstanding civic leader who has much to offer our community and he will undoubtedly and invaluably be a consensus builder for the Board.
There are 3 other qualified candidates in District 3, each with laudable credentials.
Kathy Ryan has breath and depth to her history as an educator in CCPS and is highly regarded by many for her service to the education community.
JB Holmes is presently employed by CCPS as an alternative education teacher. He brings a wealth of business acumen and experience with contract negotiations.
However because there is already one educator sitting on the board, an incumbent running for reelection who is a retired educator, and another educator already endorsed, I believe the Board as a whole would be better served with different skills and talents.
Erika Donalds has extraordinary qualifications. Her well-organized and professionally presented campaign draws supporters beyond Collier County. But running an outstanding campaign does not necessarily make one an ideal School Board member. I am not convinced that she would work collaboratively on the School Board because of my understanding of her vehemently expressed views and what I perceive to be her ambitions. Her association with Kelly Lichter, a candidate in District 1, and with the new charter school, Mason Classical Academy, could be problematic, even if it turns out to be just perception.
In District 5, I will vote for Roy Terry. He has been a teacher, coach, vice principal, central office administrator, high school principal and School Board member during his decades of service to CCPS. As an incumbent, Mr. Terry wants to maintain stability and continue the progress achieved during his term. He supports college and career-readiness for all students, and while he supports continued attention to the academic needs of all students, he wants more attention focused on students in the upper 25% of achievement. He understands the challenges of standards and high-stakes testing. He also supports more decentralized decision-making for principals, and replicating the Champions for Learning’s “Real World Learning Model” (currently in place at Golden Gate High School) in other high schools. Mr. Terry listens first, considers what he hears, and acts rationally and with clarity, all for the benefit of students.
The other candidate, Dr. Tom Andler, has been a teacher and principal in the Midwest and superintendent in a district of 150 students in North Dakota and most recently a science teacher in CCPS, now retired.