NAPLES — With her sister and a dozen friends from Miami watching, Kamela Patton officially became the head of Collier County Public Schools on Wednesday afternoon.
Circuit Court Judge Lauren Brodie administered the oath of office to Patton, making her the county’s first female superintendent since Ruby Alderman, who left office in 1926.
“Congratulations and best of luck,” Brodie said as she hugged Patton.
Patton’s appointment came after Interim Superintendent Gary Brown stepped down. Brown had been superintendent since the Collier County School Board fired Dennis Thompson in April. Patton thanked Brown for the “marvelous job” he did filling in and said she was excited to get to work.
Patton’s first order of business was to meet with members of the district’s senior staff.
“We had a good conversation about what needs to happen,” she said of the meeting. “And later this week, I am going to attend two high school graduations. It’s a great time to start.”
Patton said one of the first things she plans to implement is an internal weekly briefing system, which will give staff members at least a three-week “heads up” for project due dates and deadlines.
“It was a good meeting,” Chief Instructional Officer Martha Hayes said. “She’s a good listener.”
Patton said in a press conference before she was sworn in that the district’s budget is her first priority. The Collier County School District is facing a $51 million budget shortfall.
She also wants to review students’ Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test results.
According to state scores released last week, Collier third-graders took a step back in the math portion of the FCAT, with 72 percent scoring at or above grade level, compared to 74 percent last year. The rest of the FCAT results will be released in the coming weeks.
“We will receive the rest of the student grades on the FCAT and we will see what adjustments need to be made,” she said.
When pressed about whether she thought Collier’s scores were bad, Patton wasn’t willing to put the district down.
“We had a new set of Sunshine State Standards this year,” she said. “You would expect to see a drop in grades. We held the line in reading. The math is the story, but math is also the hardest change to make. It may be the way it is rolled out.”
Patton also said she plans to meet with the teachers’ union and plans to make teachers and communication with teachers a priority.
“I want them to feel empowered and part of the team,” she said, adding teachers have already approached her in schools, at the grocery store and the gas station to talk about the district. “They seem positive.”
When asked about her contract, which Patton signed last week after she had proposed some drastic changes, Patton said she was ready to move forward.
“We had negotiations and it means just that, we negotiated,” she said.
Part of that contract will give Patton $500 a month in car travel expenses for her to go to the various schools in the district. When asked which ones she would go to first, Patton said some of her first stops would be in Everglades City and Marco Island, two places she did not get to during the interview process.
“I would also like to tap into our struggling schools, so I can get a visual of what’s happening there,” she said.
Board Chairwoman Julie Sprague said she has not given Patton any direction as to what she would like done first.
“I have complete confidence in her,” she said. “She controls the day-to-day operations and I will trust the decisions she makes.”
Patton said, as she did when she interviewed, that she doesn’t need to fix Collier County Public Schools.
“Collier County is not broken,” she said. “I think I bring enhancements to a school district that is already great.”
A video of Patton’s news conference and swearing-in ceremony are posted at www.collierschools.com.
Connect with K-12 education policy reporter Katherine Albers at www.naplesnews.com/staff/katherine-albers/.