Collier School Board candidates participate in final debate before early voting begins

NDN School Board Candidates Forum

Candidates up for election to Collier County's ...

Joe Whitehead

Joe Whitehead

Roy Terry

Roy Terry

Kathy Ryan

Kathy Ryan

Barbara Berry

Barbara Berry

Rosanne Winter

Rosanne Winter

Pat Carroll

Pat Carroll

— There was a few laughs and a lot of intense discussion as the candidates for Collier County School Board in Districts 1, 3 and 5 participated in one of their final debates before early voting begins Monday.

If the candidates weren’t already daunted by the amount of work facing them should they be elected, Wednesday evening’s forum gave them something to think about.

The forum, which was co-sponsored by the Naples Daily News and The Education Foundation of Collier County, focused on the challenges and opportunities that will present themselves to the district and the School Board in the coming months and years.

Questions were posed by a panel, including Connect Now co-chairman Alan Horton, former state representative Dudley Goodlette and Naples Daily News editor Phil Lewis. The candidates were asked a variety of questions, including how they would create a new superintendent’s goals; their thoughts on Amendment 8, which would relax class size requirements slightly; and how they would improve student performance for all students.

One of the liveliest points of the evening came when Goodlette asked the candidates how they would have approached Senate Bill 6 and improved it. Senate Bill 6 was a controversial piece of legislation that would tie teacher pay and tenure to student learning gains. The Legislature passed the bill but it was vetoed this spring by Gov. Charlie Crist.

District 1 candidate Rosanne Winter, a retired educator and the former principal at Naples High School, said student performance is important, but the district should also consider whether teachers are correctly delivering a set of proven professional behaviors to students.

“You base their performance by giving teachers expectations, ensuring they know what to expect and evaluating them on that. And following through,” she said. “If I could tell the legislators anything, it would be, ‘Do no harm.’ Don’t do anything that won’t bring good teachers to school districts in Florida.”

Former Collier County School Board member and District 3 candidate Barbara Berry said the biggest problem with school reform is that it often falls squarely and only on the shoulders of teachers. She said as a former teacher herself, she never thought she had tenure and teachers today don’t believe they have tenure either.

“When you lay this entirely on the teachers, you are not reforming education. You will throw away a lot of good teachers,” she said.

District 5 candidate Joe Whitehead said Senate Bill 6 was a “distance in failure formula,” where the further the legislators were removed from the legislation they were trying to pass, the more mistakes they made.

“It’s a long way from here to Tallahassee,” he said to laughs.

Whitehead said schools and school districts should not have to conform to a one-size-fits-all policy. He said the local communities should have a stake in what happens to their schools and to student performance.

“You improve performance by improving the stake people have in the process,” he said.

District 1 School Board member Pat Carroll said legislators feel educators are not moving fast enough on reforms. That perception, she said, has to change.

“The legislators feel the education community is stonewalling them,” she said. “Until the education is willing to meet the legislature halfway, there will be legislation passed without consideration of consequences.”

The candidates were also asked if the district should adopt its own standards outside the state’s prescribed Sunshine State Standards for curriculum. The standards are what students in Florida are expected to meet by the end of the year.

Kathy Ryan, a retired educator and a candidate for the District 3 School Board seat, said she has no problem with setting standards and goals for students. She said as an educator, it is her job to help the students get to those standards, but also to provide them with a “soft landing” when or if they don’t meet the standards.

“That’s part of the discussion we need to have. Every child will not meet the standards. The question is, what do we do with all of those kids?” she said.

Berry said not every child was college-bound and the district should not shut doors to those students, citing the importance of vocational education.

When it came to discussing how to improve student achievement, District 5 School Board member and candidate Roy Terry said it was important that the district communicates with students about what is expected of them. He criticized the district for adopting a 50 percent rule, which does not allow students to receive a grade of less than 50 percent, and an attendance policy for high school that does not tie attendance with grades as examples of ways that communication has broken down.

“It all revolves around having good teachers in the classroom,” he said. “We need good teachers, we need well-trained teachers who feel supported.”

Carroll said it also revolves around giving students life skills, like balancing a checkbook, which would help prepare them for the larger world.

The forum will be available on naplesnews.com after Oct. 15. The program will also be aired on The Education Channel, cable 99, on the following dates: 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 17; 2 p.m. Monday, Oct. 18; and 1 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 19.

The election is Tuesday, Nov. 2.

Connect with K-12 education policy reporter Katherine Albers at www.naplesnews.com/staff/katherine-albers/.

© 2010 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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