Local business leaders weigh in on Collier school district challenges

Collier County superintendent Kamela Patton addresses parents and teachers from Big Cypress Elementary School during a school board meeting at the Martin Luther King Jr. Administrative Center in Naples on July 19, 2011. Despite the pleas from parents and teachers at Big Cypress Elementary, the school board voted unanimously to approve the principal changes. Greg Kahn/Staff

Photo by Greg Kahn

Collier County superintendent Kamela Patton addresses parents and teachers from Big Cypress Elementary School during a school board meeting at the Martin Luther King Jr. Administrative Center in Naples on July 19, 2011. Despite the pleas from parents and teachers at Big Cypress Elementary, the school board voted unanimously to approve the principal changes. Greg Kahn/Staff

Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce President
Mike Reagen

Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce President Mike Reagen

Collier County schools Superintendent Kamela Patton has taken major steps in improving the relationship between the school district and the community, a group of local business and community leaders said Thursday.

But there's more work to do.

The district needs to "connect the dots" between the area's 400 gated communities, which often operate as their own worlds, said Mike Reagen, president and CEO of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce.

"We're a place, not a community," he said.

Reagen's comments came during a CEO briefing the superintendent held Thursday. A group of 15 leaders of organizations including Arthrex, Wells Fargo, the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, and the Collier County Sheriff's Office sat down for lunch with Patton in her conference room.

Thursday's meeting was the second CEO briefing she has held this year, and was aimed at gathering input on how to better engage the community. Patton began the meetings last year.

Before asking for feedback, the superintendent gave a rundown of the district's demographics and its priorities and ran through community engagement initiatives already under way, including town hall meetings, email newsletters and conferences. The district is always looking for more ideas, she said.

"A small idea has a big impact, so that's why I say we take any ideas," Patton said.

Her guests were full of ideas, from opening the schools to community members to doing more to let people know about the financial need in the Golden Gate and East Naples communities. Many spoke of the challenge of engaging with the people who live in the county's gated communities. That is one of the Sheriff's Office's biggest challenges, an agency representative said, and it has worked to overcome it by going directly to the communities.

Reagen and others suggested the district visit the communities or meet with the Presidents Council of Collier County, which represents them. They said the district should tap into those community members, especially those who have successfully led major companies, and leverage their talents to benefit local students.

Todd Foege, principal of EFG Consulting Group and a former leader of the Naples Children & Education Foundation, said more people in the community need to know the district is past its days of quick superintendent turnover and a partisan school board.

The need to communicate the district's good news was a theme at the briefing, with the leaders recommending that administrators share stories such as those of students who beat the odds and earn scholarships and admission to top schools.

"We need to do a better job at sharing our story," Patton said.

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