COLLIER COUNTY — If the Collier County School Board held a popularity contest Tuesday evening, Big Cypress Elementary School Principal Angela Lettiere would have been the winner, hands down.
“Mrs. Lettiere is our family,” Big Cypress parent Pam Nichols said. “Don’t split up our family. We love her. There must be a better decision you can make than splitting up our family.”
But support from about 50 parents and teachers could not save Lettiere from being transferred to Sabal Palm Elementary School Tuesday night. The transfer is part of Collier County Superintendent Kamela Patton’s administrative shake-up, which was passed unanimously by the board Tuesday evening.
The shake-up saw principal changes at 14 schools.
However, only one school saw its community step up to fight for its principal. Lettiere is moving to Sabal Palm Elementary School and Patton has asked Lake Trafford Elementary School Principal Robert Murray to take the helm at Big Cypress.
Those that came to the meeting left saddened that their support couldn’t prevent their principal from leaving.
“I feel just as defeated as the day I heard (this was happening),” said Big Cypress PTA President Jennifer Stoneburner, blinking back tears. “You hope you have the power to change the status quo.”
Some of the changes, Patton said, had to come as a result of state requirements for certain schools, which required some changes to be made.
The state’s differentiated accountability and requirements for schools receiving School Improvement Grant allocations have specific processes that require the removal of an administrator when certain criteria are met, according to the Florida Department of Education. Those requirements can include a declining school grade and decreases in the percentage of Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) criteria the school is meeting.
School Board Chairwoman Julie Sprague told the audience before allowing public comment that the decisions to move principals were made after school grades came out about two weeks ago. She praised Patton for meeting with staff, board members and discussing the issues with the public who called upset about the change in administrators.
In addition, one principal left the district and two others were promoted, necessitating a principal move, Patton said.
Patton stressed the moves were not about punishments or demotions, but about applying a principal’s skills at a school where he or she could be best utilized.
“If I felt a principal couldn’t be a principal, that principal would not be a principal,” she said. “These principals will bring a different way of looking at things. … We have tried to match the skill set to the school.”
Parent Michael Giusto, who has two children who attend Big Cypress Elementary School, said a change in leadership means a change in culture.
“It’s all about relationships,” he said. “Angela knows our kids by name. She knows their strengths, their weaknesses. She knows the families.”
Giusto said teachers who are at Big Cypress this year might choose to leave next year to go with Lettiere, further harming the school community.
“It is not fair to reward someone who has not met the standards set (by Lettiere),” he said.
Giusto said if the district wanted to change principals, they should have promoted William Jackson, Big Cypress’ assistant principal, to the top job.
“That’s promoting someone who knows the culture,” he said.
Fifth grade teacher Lisa Lindsay asked the board to think about the children at Big Cypress when making their decision.
“Some of our kids come from broken homes, some are homeless, some have drug-addicted parents. Very few principals hug their children daily,” she said. “My concern is for the children of Big Cypress Elementary. … The new principal is not going to know where these kids are coming from. Angela understands these issues and those children need her.”
Several speakers praised Patton for calling them individually and discussing the change-up in principals. Patton, in turn, praised those that came to the meeting for their passion.
“It is my absolute promise we will be along with you during this change,” she said.
Board member Pat Carroll said Patton had to "hit the ground running" and said she approved of the changes.
"It was unexpected - the negative impact we saw as a result of the changes in (the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test). It's a big job, but she did it well," she said.
In a news conference before the meeting, Patton said she will be happy to meet with school communities who want to talk about the change in principals. She said letters will be going home to all affected families about the changes and said each principal must complete a checklist at their new school to ensure he or she is up to speed on everything from the budget and dismissal procedures to who the grade level chairs are.
Patton said often, well-performing schools are not supported physically with the presence of the superintendent. She assured parents she would be checking in on the changes going on at the school.
“I am not asking someone to come in and make sweeping changes,” she said.
Stoneburner assured Patton that the school community would be keeping an eye on the new principal as well.
Connect with K-12 education policy reporter Katherine Albers at www.naplesnews.com/staff/katherine-albers/.