Who’s Running for School Board in the August Primaries?

Four years ago, just 18 percent of eligible voters voted in the August School Board elections. Two Board members were elected with the votes of half of them. One beat her nearest opponent in a three-way race by just over 5100 votes; the other beat his only opponent by just over 4100 votes. In all elections, but especially our School Board primaries, voter turnout determines the outcome.  

Whether or not you have children or grandchildren in Collier schools, your vote in the School Board elections is important. Among other things, the Board is responsible for hiring, evaluating and firing the Superintendent, who is the CEO of an almost $1 billion enterprise responsible for the education of 49,000 students.  

As has received much recent attention, the School Board is also responsible for approving the District’s selection of instructional materials to be used in the classrooms. See, for example, Evolution, climate change skeptics lose battle over Collier science textbooks (Naples Daily News, 6/19/18). The Board adopted the District’s recommended science textbooks by a vote of 3-2.  

Community members as well as Board members disagree on these and other matters, so it’s important to know where candidates stand and to cast informed votes.  

Collier’s School Board is elected in at-large (county-wide) elections. Voters elect all five Board members regardless of where in the county they live. While the elections are at-large, each board member must live in the district s/he represents. Elections are nonpartisan, meaning candidates don’t declare their party affiliation, and there are no closed party primaries.  

Board members serve staggered four-year terms, and there are no term limits. The position pays $39,815, set annually by state law taking into consideration the county’s population.  

Jory Westberry

In 2018, the District 1, 3 and 5 seats are up for election, but in District 1 only one person — Jory Westberry (jwestberry.com) — is running. She will automatically take the seat that will be vacated in November by Kelly Lichter, who chose not to run for a second term.  

The District 3 and 5 seats will be on every Collier voter’s ballot.

District 3 – Jen Mitchell vs. Kathy Ryan

Jen Mitchell

Jen Mitchell (votejenmitchell.com) is a 20-year Collier County resident, realtor, and mother of four all of whom attend or have attended Collier County Public Schools (CCPS). She has a BA from Purdue University in Elementary Education, and taught at Naples Park Elementary for a year. As a self-described “stay-at-home mom,” she spent 14 years as an active school volunteer. She served on the Superintendent’s District Advisory Council and in Champions for Learning’s Connect Now Project, a series of workshops that led to what became the CCPS Strategic Plan. In 2014, she became a realtor with Domain Realty Group of Southwest Florida.  

Mitchell says, “My role as a local businesswoman, combined with my years as a parent and CCPS volunteer, ((have)) heightened my understanding of the importance of great public schools.” Her reasons for running include a desire “to correct what I believe is a false narrative being written by a small but vocal minority. The sky is NOT falling, our schools are NOT failing…. CCPS is … by no means perfect … but we have excellent educators and administrators … working hard to meet and overcome the District’s challenges to give our students the best possible education.”  

Kathy Ryan

Kathy Ryan (Facebook Page) is a retired professional educator. She has a BA in Social Science and an MA in Counseling from Michigan State University. She moved to Southwest Florida 48 years ago, taking a job as a counselor at Immokalee Middle School and completing a Doctorate in Educational Administration. She ultimately spent 30 years with CCPS, as a teacher, counselor, and administrator. In retirement, she volunteers with students through the High School and Middle School Scholar Bowl Programs, High School Mock Trial, Know Your County Government, and Middle School and High School Debate. She also serves on the Naples Council on World Affairs Outreach Committee, interviewing high school juniors for scholarships for summer travel abroad, and served on several textbook selection committees last year. Her Facebook page includes a more complete list of her work history and awards.  

Because she studied Florida school law and finance in her doctoral program, Ryan says she will be a productive Board Member “from day one.” She says, “I deeply care about our public schools, and my job is not done. Working as a teacher, counselor, and administrator, it is clear to me that the role of public education is to prepare future generations to fulfill their potential and prepare them for satisfying and productive lives as adults. Currently, public education is under attack, and I hope to stem that tide.”   C

Contributions to District 3 candidates to-date

  The winner will be decided in August since there are only two people running.  

District 5 – Darlene Alvarez vs. Mary Ellen Cash vs. Roy Terry

Darlene Alvarez

Darlene Alvarez (darlenealvarez.com) is a sales consultant at payroll company Paychex, an adjunct marketing professor at Keiser University in Fort Myers and a mother of four, all of whom attend or have attended CCPS. She has a BA in Criminal Justice from Old Dominion University, a Masters in Management and Human Resources from the University of Maryland and a certificate in Human Resource Management (the latter two having been earned while her children were in school), and is currently working on a Doctorate in Business Management and Marketing at Capella University. She has lived in Naples for 18 years.  

Alvarez says her decision to run for school board grew out of an awareness that “there are not enough candidates to fill the gap of employees that need to be hired,” and that she wants to create a stronger connection between Collier graduates and local businesses. She supports “a career minded curriculum, workforce ready electives, strong business outreach programs with internship programs, collaboration with teachers and community educators, advanced placement of college courses, vocational and career-technical courses.” Her “goal as school board member is to promote collaboration with teachers, parents, administrators, and Collier businesses.”  

Mary Ellen Cash

Mary Ellen Cash (cash4district5.com) is a 15-year Collier resident and retired professional educator. She has a BS in Business from the University of Maryland, an MA in Counseling from the University of Central Florida, and professional certifications in English as a Second Language, Spanish and Counseling. During her 23-year career, she taught in Department of Defense schools in Europe, Muscogee County Public Schools in Columbus, GA, and the inner city schools of Orleans Parish, LA. She is fluent in Spanish and speaks French.    According to her website, Cash serves as a Teacher on Special Assignment (TSA) for the Federal & State Grants Department, and engaged in the Migrant Education Program, Take Stock in Children, College Reach Out Program, Scholar’s Club and the Collier County Education Foundation’s Partners in Education.   

As mentioned above, approval of instructional materials is one of the responsibilities of Florida School Boards. (See also here.) In a February 2017 affidavit posted on the Florida Citizens Alliance website, Cash expressed several concerns about CCPS operations. Regarding the instructional materials used in the District, she wrote, “I have witnessed students being taught evolution as a fact of creation rather than a theory …. I have witnessed children being taught that Global Warming is a reality…. There is a liberal agenda being taught in our schools…..”   Cash says her priorities as a School Board member would be school safety, competency-based curriculum, teacher and administrative retention, and training and fiscal responsibility.  

Roy Terry

Roy Terry (electroyterry.com) is the current CCPS School Board Chairman. He has a BS from Western Maryland College (McDaniel College) and a Masters in Education from Colorado State University.   For the past 39 years (32 in Collier County), he has been a teacher, coach, athletic director, assistant principal, principal and School Board member. He retired from CCPS in 2009, was elected to the School Board in 2010, and was reelected in 2014. 

Now running for a third term, he said in a recent candidate forum that is running in part to ensure continuity on an otherwise relatively-new School Board, and says this would be his last term on the Board.   He has served on the boards of YMCA of Collier County, Collier County Education Foundation, South Florida Center for Educational Leadership and as the District 6 Representative to the Florida School Boards Association. He has also contributed as Chairman for the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, Past President for Naples Babe Ruth Baseball, Founder and President for Collier County Coaches Association and Past President for the Rotary of Immokalee, where he is currently an active member.  

He was recently credited by the Naples Daily News for gaining unanimous School Board support for his proposal to allocate to Marco Island Academy Charter School $1.26 million of the expected proceeds from the District’s sale of its 11.5-acre Tract K. If reelected, Terry wants to formulate a plan to provide affordable housing for the county’s teachers and police force.  

Contributions to District 5 candidates to-date

A review of contributions to the 2018 School Board candidates noted one by a sitting by sitting Board member: $250 on 6/27/18 to District 5 candidate Cash by outgoing District 3 member Erika Donalds.  Full disclosure: I have personally contributed to the campaigns of Jen Mitchell and Roy Terry.   Unless one candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote in August, the top two vote-getters will face off in November.  

Meet the candidates

  There are two upcoming opportunities to meet and hear from School Board candidates before the elections:  

  • Monday, July 30, 5:30 – 8:00 PM – Candidate Town Hall – NABOR Conference Center, 1455 Pine Ridge Road, Naples, FL (Sponsored by Naples Area Board of Realtors (NABOR))
  • Tuesday, July 31, 4:30 PM – Politics in the Park Old-Fashioned Political Rally and Straw Vote – Naples Conference Center, 1455 Pine Ridge Road, Naples, FL (Sponsored by Naples Daily News, NABOR, CBIA, The Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, Florida Weekly, 2.10 Home Buyers Warranty)

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