NAPLES — Parents of Naples High School students who live in Berkshire Lakes had high praise for Superintendent Dennis Thompson Tuesday night.
School Board member Steve Donovan — not so much.
The parents heaped praise on a recommendation by Thompson at the January School Board meeting, which would leave the Berkshire Lakes and Glen Eagle area at Naples High School and not rezone them to Lely High School.
They were upset that the School Board disagreed with the recommendation. The disagreement was championed by board member Pat Carroll, who represents the Lely area, and who said that with the revised proposal, Lely would lose more than 100 students, which would make the school much smaller than the other county high schools.
Carroll said rezoning the Berkshire and Glen Eagle students into Lely would redistribute students more evenly.
Fred Rogers, who lives in Berkshire Lakes, said that decision goes against the School Board’s credo that “students are our first priority.”
“Moving our kids to balance a school is not in the best interest of the kids,” he said.
Parent Jon Maines, whose daughter attends Naples High School, said he believed the board’s decision masked an ulterior motive, which is to bring in the Berkshire students to help boost Lely’s Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores.
What was worse, Maines said, was that he believed Donovan put children from the neighborhood in harm’s way by writing a letter to the editor of the Naples Daily News.
In the letter, which appeared in the Feb. 2 Daily News, Donovan took issue with Rogers, saying he had no ulterior motive in making decisions concerning Collier County school rezoning.
Donovan said he approved of the original plan because it will benefit the most students, not just a handful.
“While I do sympathize with the pleas of a few of these parents, I know for a fact that largely the argument is due to their desire not to share classroom space with children of other ethnic backgrounds,” he wrote.
Maines said that statement told Lely High School students that the children living in Berkshire were racists.
“Any school where you have new kids coming in, students are going to look for reasons to pound another kid,” he said. “And he has labeled our neighborhood as a neighborhood of racists. Where is the liability on the Collier County School Board?”
Joe Whitehead, a Collier County School Board District 5 candidate who was present at the meeting, said in his experience as a law enforcement officer, conflicts can come up that are perception based.
“Your kids could have a reasonably good chance of being victimized because of the statement he made,” he said. “One of the reasons I am here is because what they are doing to your neighborhood, they could do to mine.”
Donovan said his letter was meant to reinforce that Collier County children can get a high quality education at any of the district’s high schools. He said parents should not have belittled people who spoke in favor of Golden Gate and Lely high schools, adding parents should be willing to work with the principals and teachers to make sure transitions are smooth.
“They said they didn’t want their kids going to those schools with those kids,” he said. “If I didn’t say something, then shame on me.”
Donovan added that the district never said class size was the only reason for rezoning the high schools, adding that the change would help correct mistakes the district made in past rezonings.
But parents Tuesday night said those mistakes should not be corrected on the backs of their children.
“If we were at Lely and they were rezoning us to Naples, we would be trying to stay because it is our school,” said Steve Main, who has two children at Naples High School. “Change affects performance. ... We are just tired of being jerked around by the School Board.”