Collier School Board member Richard Calabrese retiring

Collier County School Board member Richard Calabrese listens to debate over the sexual education curriculum at the Martin Luther King Jr. Administration Center in North Naples on July 30, 2009. Chief Instructional Officer Martha Hayes presented the current sex education curriculum to the School Board on Thursday. The request came from the board at its June meeting after board member Richard Calabrese said the district's policy of sex education needs to change. Greg Kahn/Staff

Photo by GREG KAHN

Collier County School Board member Richard Calabrese listens to debate over the sexual education curriculum at the Martin Luther King Jr. Administration Center in North Naples on July 30, 2009. Chief Instructional Officer Martha Hayes presented the current sex education curriculum to the School Board on Thursday. The request came from the board at its June meeting after board member Richard Calabrese said the district's policy of sex education needs to change. Greg Kahn/Staff

— He was a Collier County School Board member through good health and bad.

But Richard Calabrese’s latest work on the board has proved to be too much for him.

Thursday afternoon, Calabrese announced his intention to resign his post as school board member effective Jan. 1, 2010.

“I have fought a good fight. I have taken up challenges and I have run into a lot of brick walls,” he said. “But I am not able to keep fighting the way I used to and the public deserves a full-time board member.”

Gov. Charlie Crist will now have to appoint a replacement board member until the November 2010 election, when Calabrese’s term was scheduled to end.

Calabrese naturally had some thoughts about who that person should be.

“I hope he appoints someone very much like me,” he said. “I think somebody like me is needed. I think it needs to be someone who doesn’t settle for the status quo.”

The job of a school board member takes a lot of responsibility, Calabrese said in explaining his decision to resign. Working on the superintendent’s evaluation and the recent updates to the district’s sex education policy have put a lot of stress on him and taken a toll, he said. Stress is exactly what physicians told him to stay away from, he said.

Calabrese was admitted to Physicians Regional Medical Center in North Naples on May 26 after suffering a heart attack and spent several months recovering.

Calabrese, 74, said he had been having angina-like feelings and it was a warning to him to focus more on his health. Angina is pain or discomfort in the chest and is a symptom of a heart problem.

“I regret that my health issues have forced me to leave my work unfinished, but I take satisfaction in the work I have been able to accomplish,” he said.

Specifically, he mentioned his work in the creation of a high school for performing arts, updating the districts bylaws and initiating the naming of Mike Davis Elementary School.

“I have always worked for the betterment of teachers and students first,” he said. “It is a privilege to serve.”

Cal Boggess, president of the Collier County Education Association, the union that represents teachers, said Calabrese’s decision is a loss for the teachers.

“He has always been a staunch supporter of just compensation for the teachers. In the many conversations I have had with him as president (of the union), he has always spoke about it,” Boggess said. “We have always considered him a friend.”

Fellow board members were supportive of Calabrese’s announcement.

“I wish you only the best and I hope your health continues to improve,” said Vice Chairwoman Kathleen Curatolo.

After suffering his heart attack, Calabrese said he did not resign his post because he was making progress.

“I was able to come back quickly and stronger, he said. “I thought I would be able to do it, but it took its toll.”

Calabrese established himself as a force since taking office in November 2006. He led the charge for the ousting of former Superintendent Ray Baker and admitted that he contacted current Superintendent Dennis Thompson before he was brought to Naples for an interview, though he denied offering Thompson the job before the position was vacant.

Baker sued the district and Calabrese was part of a board that elected to settle with Baker for more than $500,000.

This summer, Calabrese created controversy again with a scathing review of Thompson and charged him with nepotism and creating a culture of intimidation for staff critical of his policies.

Board Chairwoman Pat Carroll accused Calabrese of violating the School Board’s code of conduct and reported him to the district’s accreditation team. Board member Steve Donovan brought up the idea of censure of Calabrese, although other board members disagreed.

Recently, Calabrese has also spearheaded changing the sex education policy at the district to become more comprehensive and include wording specifically addressing that the use of contraceptives will be taught. He said that policy change, which will be voted on in November, will be his last important work with the board.

“I desperately want it to go through,” he said, tears filling his eyes. “The nightmare I have is that a child with AIDS will look at me and say, ‘Mr. Calabrese, I wish you would have told me sooner.’”

Two community members have filed to run for Calabrese’s seat in the November 2010 election: retired Palmetto Ridge High School Principal Roy Terry and retired Naples Police Department detective Joe Whitehead.

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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