MARCO ISLAND — Collier County School Board candidates sounded off about their stance on preventing intolerance and bullying following the infamous “kick a Jew day.” A chance to hear candidates’ take on a proposed Marco high school was also a primary draw to the forum hosted by the Jewish Congregation of Marco Island on Wednesday night, attendees said.
It was Nov. 19, 2009 when a student complained of being kicked because she was Jewish. Several North Naples Middle School students were suspended for kicking students.
The 10 students received one day of in-school suspension.
Several months later, in March 2010, the school board addressed the mission of a resurrected diversity committee that had been removed by Superintendent Dennis Thompson prior to the kicking event.
Candidates voiced their stance on the committee and if it should be reporting to Thompson or the board.
Candidate Joe Whitehead of District 5, which includes Golden Gate Estates and Immokalee, said committees representing the community should advise the board on any related policies.
“You kick anyone as an event, it should be followed by a ‘put someone in jail’ event,” said the former Naples Police Department detective.
The two-term District 1 incumbent Pat Carroll said it’s more of an operational issue than a policy issue and that’s why the committee appropriately reports primarily to Thompson.
“The board should take control and keep control, period,” said Eric Cox, a retired business man also vying for the District 1 seat, which includes East Naples and Marco Island.
The five Collier County School Board members are elected by voters countywide in nonpartisan races for staggered four-year terms.
Voters will choose three candidates, one in each of the three districts with open seats, during the primary election Aug. 24.
Roy Terry, who is vying to stay in Richard Calabrese’s District 5 seat since being appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist in January, thought the committee would be more effective if students were also taught positive character traits in class. Terry was formerly a principal at Lely and Palmetto Ridge high schools.
District 3 candidate Barbara Berry, who served on the school board in the ‘80s and early ‘90s and on the county commission in the late ‘90s, said the committee should be answering to the school board. “The power of the school board has been usurped by the superintendent,” said Berry, vying for Steven Donovan’s seat.
Buxton, running as a successful businessman, was absent and represented by his campaign manager, Bob Murray. Thompson is appropriately acting as the CEO of the organization, said Buxton’s representative. “It’s a good committee. Let it work,” he said.
Ryan, a retired teacher and administrator with 30 years experience in Immokalee, said she would like to see more committees with staff and the community working together.
District 1 candidate Roseanne Winter, who became popular as a former a principal at Naples High School, took an even stronger stance.
“This superintendent doesn’t like committees. He doesn’t want the public involved in making his decisions. It takes too long. If he can’t handle it, he needs to be replaced,” Winter said.
District 5 candidate Mary Ellen Cash, an instructional specialist, said the diversity program was lacking and more bullying prevention is needed.
Marco residents Jessi Dawson, Greg Havemeier and Kathy Campbell said they came to the forum to hear about the proposed high school.
“I’m optimistic. It sounded like most of them are behind it on the surface anyway,” Havemeier said of the charter school.
Tract K is an 11.6 acre vacant piece of land near Tigertail Beach deeded to the school district by the island developer Deltona Corp. at a cost of $10. It has no deed restrictions, is zoned residential and has construction limits due to regulations protecting bald eagles there.
Carroll, who once opposed selling the property, now recommends control be given to Marco Island City Council because of several land use issues with the proposal to put the charter high school there.
Ryan, Whitehead and Cash took the strongest pro stance on the charter school proposal. Berry and Terry said they would be more amenable to the idea if Lely and Golden Gate high schools were considered for magnet schools with specialties such as social science, math or arts. Winter said she needed to do more research on those issues as did Cox. Buxton questioned the feasibility of the charter school and whether the land was large enough for a school.
Candidates comments on Tract K, charter high school
Pat Carroll: Changed her stance and is no longer against selling Tract K. Would now like City Council to have authority of the property. Can support the charter school although she declined to take a stance on the application as she will soon vote on it. She stressed that it’s a Marco community decision. She is committed to doing everything she can to make Lely High School successful although the charter school would take students and resources away from Lely.
Roseanne Winter: Needs to research more about both issues. “Everybody supports a charter school. They have a passion that’s very difficult to recreate frequently in public schools.” If the curriculum fits a niche that is needed and can’t be provided by other schools in the system, than she could support it, but also had concerns about 8,000 current open seats.
Eric Cox: No stance yet as he intends to further investigate how the decisions will affect students.
Reg Buxton (absent and represented by campaign manager Bob Murray): Questioned whether the creation of the charter school and its placement on Tract K, which seems too small for most schools, were even feasible. “The whole question is ‘can it be done?’ We also have a high school here. We have a balancing act with Lely and Golden Gate high schools.”
Kathy Ryan: Supports a Marco Island charter high school. Didn’t take a stance on the future of Tract K, but said financially, it may be a matter of maintaining a property that isn’t being used by the school system currently.
Barbara Berry: Didn’t take a strong stance on either issue yet. “Tract K still needs a full vetting before anything is done with that property.” Due to a charter school’s affect on Lely High School if built, she would like to see a magnet school at Lely, perhaps for the arts.
Mary Ellen Cash: Supports the charter school, but was not yet familiar enough with Tract K to take a stance. “If I were a parent on the island, I would not want my children to go over the bridge every day.”
Roy Terry: Supports the charter school but wants it to be combined with turning Lely and Golden Gate high schools into math or social studies magnet schools. Was somewhat skeptical of a high school on Tract K. “With the eagles ... whether it fits a high school on that property. I probably could support it if they got around the conservation problems. I’d have to look at it.”
Joe Whitehead: Supports the charter school because they involve parents and the community in children’s lives thus minimizing a root of social ills. “Schools to some degree have become surrogate parents. Charter schools by their very nature get the parents and the community involved.” He believed it was the intended purpose for Tract K to be used for a school but said logistics including the eagles, traffic and other issues still needed to be addressed.