NAPLES — Collier County School Board members spent Tuesday preparing for their big test.
They looked over their materials, asked questions and reviewed the schedule.
“I think we’re ready,” School Board Chairwoman Pat Carroll said when the meeting was over.
Today, a review team from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement (SACS-CASI) will conduct its follow-up visit with the Collier County School Board, district officials and the community.
The follow-up is necessary after a four-person Quality Assurance Review Team agreed to keep the district on warned status last year. Though the district demonstrated many strengths in its June review, the review team found that the district still had a problem with board governance.
To fulfill the standard, according to SACS CASI policies — which accredits school districts — the district must operate under a board that, among other things, “permits the administrative team of the school to implement policies and procedures without interference.” Members of the district and the community led the review team to conclude that board governance is “dysfunctional.”
“It boils down to we must be cooperative. We must be respectful,” said Board member Richard Calabrese.
Joe Abalos, executive director for accountability with the district, said the team will look at how the Collier County School Board is addressing board governance in three areas: a review of its policies, the installation of board training, and a board self-evaluation instrument. Though the team found the district had made progress on some issues during its past visit, most of the progress was minimal.
Since the past visit, district staff and board members have worked with NEOLA, a consultant agency specializing in school board policy revision and maintenance, to analyze, update and initiate an ongoing revision and communication plan of Collier board policies.
The Collier County School Board passed a revision of those policies last year. That revision brings the policies, some of which had not been reviewed in 30 years, up to date.
Board members also participated in workshops facilitated by the district’s accountability department to perform self evaluations to determine the board’s strengths and challenges as a governing body. Board members invited now current board member Julie Sprague and her opponent in the general election, Joe Paterno, to attend the workshops before the election.
That is not to say there have not been slipups. Superintendent Dennis Thompson reported to the accreditation team in January Calabrese’s comments on a naplesnews.com video interview with Daily News Editorial Page Editor Jeff Lytle. His concern was over statements Calabrese made pledging to make sure the purchasing department is efficient with taxpayers’ money, which Thompson says is the superintendent’s call.
Calabrese later apologized during a School Board meeting. At the same meeting, board colleague Kathleen Curatolo apologized for publicly expressing “disappointment” at Calabrese’s remarks.
Curatolo’s remarks treaded on the verge of a Sunshine Law violation because, though there is no problem with a board member discussing an issue, another board member cannot get involved in a discussion and comment on a colleague’s comment.
The review team will arrive tonight and begin its work Thursday. On that day, the team will meet with Superintendent Dennis Thompson, school principals, 30 community members and observe part of the School Board’s meeting.
On Friday, the team will meet with the School Board members individually and review documentation.
Abalos said the team will gather information, deliberate and make a recommendation to Mark Elgart, president and chief executive officer of AdvancED, which SACS-CASI is part of.
“There is no timeline as to when the report will be submitted,” he said.
Synthia LaFontaine, coordinator of school improvement for the district, said the School Board is ready.
“I am 100 percent confident,” she said.
Collier County School District officials decided to go for district accreditation after all of the public schools in the district received individual accreditation The district received accreditation in May 2007 on the warned status. Accreditation is good for five years. When the accreditation team comes to review the district’s progress next year, the status of the district will either be clear, probation or loss of accreditation for the district and all of its schools, according to the report.