PHOTOS/POLLS Candidate wants uniforms required at all Collier public schools

Kevin Perez, 6, and other first grade students kick a ball around during recess Wednesday at Golden Gate Elementary School. School uniforms are a hot button issue for school board candidates this year. Students at Golden Gate Elementary are expected to wear navy blue or khaki pants, shorts or skirts and a polo shirt of any color. Lexey Swall/Staff

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Kevin Perez, 6, and other first grade students kick a ball around during recess Wednesday at Golden Gate Elementary School. School uniforms are a hot button issue for school board candidates this year. Students at Golden Gate Elementary are expected to wear navy blue or khaki pants, shorts or skirts and a polo shirt of any color. Lexey Swall/Staff

— Breana Wielgos, 12, doesn’t mind wearing her uniform to the Marco Island Charter Middle School.

“It’s okay. It could be worse,” said the seventh-grader, who was dressed Friday in a navy blue polo shirt, khaki skirt and sneakers. “I would like to wear different colored shirts, or shirts with designs on them.”

In Collier County, 33 of the district’s 51 schools require students to wear a school uniform. One Collier County School Board candidate would like to see that go from 33 to 51.

District 5 candidate Joe Whitehead, a retired Naples police detective, is campaigning on the issue of uniforms in all schools.

“Uniforms help to transform the campus environment in a positive way. When we positively change the environment we can impact education,” he said.

Whitehead called uniforms a “social equalizer” that help contribute to a decrease in the number of incidents of disruption and violence while instilling pride in the students.

Joe Whitehead

Joe Whitehead

“Most private schools require uniforms. Most private schools have good track records regarding graduation rate, achievement and student success. Most children never attend private schools due to the costs. If we can use some of the components that private schools use, such as uniforms and better discipline, we are able to provide a better quality of learning environment to all children. This gives low- and middle-income families the opportunity to experience a campus environment for their kids that might often be only available to the wealthiest in our society,” Joe Whitehead said.

“Most private schools require uniforms. Most private schools have good track records regarding graduation rate, achievement and student success. Most children never attend private schools due to the costs. If we can use some of the components that private schools use, such as uniforms and better discipline, we are able to provide a better quality of learning environment to all children. This gives low- and middle-income families the opportunity to experience a campus environment for their kids that might often be only available to the wealthiest in our society,” he said.

Attempts to reach Whitehead’s opponent, current District 5 School Board member Roy Terry, were unsuccessful.

Currently, the Collier County School Board’s policy has been that a uniform policy must come from a school’s request. Before being approved for uniforms, schools must conduct surveys of parents, staff members and students to show the School Board there is a majority supporting the policy.

Golden Gate Elementary School Principal Marilou Andrews said having buy-in at the school level is essential for implementing a uniform policy.

“It works for us here,” she said. “I am not sure it would work or be needed at other schools.”

Andrews said every school community has a right to decide if they think anything from fashion trends to haircuts is inhibiting the quality of student learning.

When Andrews became principal at Golden Gate Elementary, she went to the School Advisory Committee to make changes to the Golden Gate dress code.

“Our dress code used to be very specific. Students had to wear light blue polos with the school logo on them. But with the state of the economy and the fact that we get so many students who transfer from other schools, we changed it to be almost any color of polo shirt and we allow students to wear navy blue bottoms,” she said.

Golden Gate Elementary students must come to school in polo shirts that are solid or have a Golden Gate Elementary logo and either a skirt, walking shorts, capri pants or pants in khaki or dark blue. Students also must wear sneakers.

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Andrews said students are allowed to wear polo shirts in whatever colors they want, except navy blue, red or black, which she said the school requests because of gang activity in the area that focuses on those colors.

Andrews said uniforms offer students comfort and safety. The clothes are comfortable and requiring students to wear tennis shoes helps protect their feet at recess and in gym class.

“And when you are on a field trip, it is easy to spot our kids,” she said.

Students who do not comply are sent to the office where they are given clothes that comply with the uniform policy, Andrews said.

“It usually takes one time,” she said. “But to be honest, we don’t have a big problem. It’s been ingrained in them for so long, it’s not something that’s questioned.”

Golden Gate High School is the only high school in the district that has a specific dress code. The school’s standard dress was implemented six years ago under the objective that students would “dress for success.”

“Part of it is that psychological component,” Principal Jose Hernandez said. “You have that added value that social competition becomes a non-issue. You can’t tell a $5 polo from a $35 polo.”

Unlike their counterparts in elementary and middle school, Golden Gate High School students can wear things like jeans. Hernandez said the students have also brought forward changes to the dress code in recent years, asking the School Advisory Committee to allow them to leave their shirts untucked and wearing hooded sweatshirts — as long as they keep the hood off their heads.

Hernandez said it has worked for Golden Gate.

“What you don’t see here are issues where a midriff is exposed or shorts are too short. When you deal with the small stuff, the bigger things take care of themselves,” he said.

But Hernandez said the dress code would only work with buy-in from staff, parents and students.

“You can create every policy in the world, but if you don’t believe in its value, no one will support it,” he said. “Having the buy-in is essential.”

“We had some incidents where kids were being made fun of because they did not have $200 jeans,” Tommie Barfield Elementary School Principal Jory Westberry said. “The uniforms eliminate the differences between the haves and the have-nots.”

Tommie Barfield Elementary School Principal Jory Westberry said uniforms became the standard dress at her school about five years ago.

“We had some incidents where kids were being made fun of because they did not have $200 jeans,” she said. “The uniforms eliminate the differences between the haves and the have-nots.”

At Tommie Barfield, students are allowed to wear a collared shirt or their Tommie Barfield Elementary T-shirts, which may be worn on the days the students have physical education class or on Fridays.

“They can wear any color shirt they want except the colors the Charter School has,” she said, referring to Marco Island Charter Middle School’s choice of navy or light blue.

Students have to wear khaki, black, brown or blue pants and tennis shoes.

“We had little girls coming to school in heels ... students in flip-flops, which can be dangerous when you are in gym class or playing on the playground,” she said.

Breana said she sees the value of wearing tennis shoes to class.

“People trip up the stairs anyway,” she said, referring to students going upstairs at the Charter Middle School. “You shouldn’t do anything to add to that.”

While Westberry said the dress code has been a mostly positive addition to the school, she did say that some parents initially resisted, upset that their child’s freedom to choose his or her clothes was being taken away. That said, she said parents now love the change.

“They buy four or five shirts and a couple of pairs of pants and they are done,” she said. “Students do have some freedom with the dress code.”

__ Connect with 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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Comments » 4

kosherdeli writes:

It sounds like Joe Whitehead should be the next Collier County School School Superintendent. There is no question about it Mandated School Uniforms for every child in every school in Collier County from Pre-K through 12th Grade will definitely help to transform a campus environment in a positive way too all schools. As far as having to conduct a survey of parent’s staff members and students before a School Uniform Policy can be approved, is absolutely ridiculous. School is not a Fashion Show, School is a Learning Center where we send children to be Educated! A Uniform Policy must be a Two Way Street for both Students and Teachers alike, because as your children get into the upper grades the Teachers blend right in with the Students making it near impossible to tell then apart. Students’ Navy or Kaki Bottoms, a Variety of Different Colored Tops possibly certain Colors for each grade. Teachers a more professional style, for the Male Teachers Neatly Pressed Slacks & Dress Shirts with Ties and Causal or Dress Shoes No Sneakers, Female Teachers Neatly Pressed Dresses or Skirts with a Blouse and Causal or Dress Shoes No Sneakers. Let’s not forget the Principals and there staff, Male Neatly Pressed Suits or Sport Coats with Dress Slacks, Ties and Dress Shoes, Female Neatly Pressed Dresses or Skirts with Blouses and Dress Shoes. It’s not the 50’s or 60’s all the Schools are Air Conditioned so don’t complain, remember your supposed to be a Professional.

Beach_Bums writes:

"Let’s not forget the Principals and there staff, Male Neatly..."

Just to prove your point, had you worn your uniform to school, you would have spelled the word "their" correctly.

livingonmarco writes:

I like uniforms for students. Faculty and Staff at all schools should dress correctly. Look at some of the teachers at MICMS, they look like they just rolled out of bed or wearing their suggestive clothing to work.

RayPray writes:

Porky Fascistic adults always drool to have kids parade around for them in uniform.

Uniform = undifferentiated, stale

What this country needs is kids who are the exact opposite of this, i.e., dynamic, creative, imaginative.

(Perhaps, such qualities would be too much to expect from jaded staff and pedagogues, though.)

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