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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