Collier County Schools superintendent search underway despite community outcry, petition

Nikki Ross
Naples Daily News
Collier County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Kamela Patton speaks during a press conference about the FLODE district and school grades, Thursday, July 7, 2022, at Naples Park Elementary in Naples, Fla.

CCPS earned an A-rating as a school district.

Despite community concern, the Collier County School Board is starting the process for finding its next superintendent. 

The board unanimously agreed to get moving on finding a recruiting firm that would then find candidates for the position. The request for proposal agreement will go before the board again in August for a second reading, where members will refine it yet again, and then will come back in September for a final reading. 

"We're not trying to rush anything," Chair Jen Mitchell, who is up for reelection, said Friday morning. 

Superintendent Kamela Patton announced in June that she would be leaving her position at the end of the 2022-23 school year, which gives the board until June of 2023 to find a replacement. 

Read More:Collier schools Superintendent Kamela Patton to leave district after 2022-23 school year.

Prior to the board's workshop on the topic Thursday afternoon, Keith Flaugh, co-founder of the Florida Citizens Alliance — a nonprofit that aims to improve education for children by empowering teachers, students and parents — held a press conference in front of the district's offices. 

During the press conference, and during public comment at both the workshop and meeting, Flaugh asked on behalf of the alliance that the board not make any decisions about a new superintendent until after the election on Nov. 8, where three board members are up for reelection.

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"It completely disrespects the voters"

As of Thursday, 1,120 people had signed the alliance's petition asking the current board to allow the new board, which will be established after the election, to make all decisions regarding Patton's replacement. Flaugh brought printouts of all the petitions to the board meeting Thursday. 

"Although not illegal, we believe it is morally and ethically wrong for the school board with three members in a challenging race for the election, to start this process," Flaugh said at his press conference. "It completely disrespects the voters."

Four people spoke against starting the process until the new board is elected during the workshop and five more during the board meeting Thursday night.

Mitchell said during the workshop Thursday if the board does things right, the process of hiring a new superintendent would extend well into the spring. 

"Some of us may not be sitting up here, but we were elected to do a job and our job is not up until November, if that is the case," Mitchell said. "I will do my job right up until the minute that I am no longer in this seat."

Mitchell added she would not push the idea of selecting the next superintendent until the election is over. 

Collier County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Kamela Patton introduces CCPS School Board Chair Jen Mitchell during a press conference about the FLODE district and school grades, Thursday, July 7, 2022, at Naples Park Elementary in Naples, Fla.

CCPS earned an A-rating as a school district.

Board member Erick Carter argued against waiting because while some board members are up for reelection, two of them, including himself, are not. 

Dan Cook, founder of the Patriot Project — an organization that organizes, educates and activates citizens to defend the American Constitution — said he's unhappy with the direction the school district is heading with the current board. 

"We have the right to instruct our school board members and so I think it's a reasonable request that we are here to ask them to wait until after the election to choose who the next superintendent is going to be," Cook said. "This election is a referendum on the job that they're doing."

The petition

The petition outlines specific issues related to the current school board such as:

  • Of the district's 48,000 students, 40% cannot read or do math at grade level, a statistic the alliance gathered from a U.S. News and World Report study.
  • Allowing Patton to train the administration and principals on Critical Race Theory.
  • Allowing "extensive, sexually explicit and age inappropriate materials" in school media centers. 
  • Allowing policies and practices promoting gender dysphoria to young students.

To read the full petition click here

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Board Member Roy Terry, who is also up for reelection, said the items listed in the petition have been "slanted" into good talking points for the alliance. 

"What does all this have to do with us following our constitutional duty to hire a superintendent?" Terry asked. "It takes a long time to hire a superintendent."

When it comes to the petition, Terry said the district is investigating the books in question, and the Critical Race Theory book in question was removed two years ago. He also said the district represents all children in Collier County and the district is currently fifth in the state for test scores.

"I don't believe they cannot read or do math at grade level," Terry said. "They're picking things out that meet what they want people to believe is going on."

Jana Greer, who is running for the Collier County School Board District 3 seat and signed the petition, said during the board workshop starting the process of hiring a new superintendent now is unnecessary. 

"We're asking for you to listen and hear and wait," Greer said. "It's not a need to push right this minute."

Vice chair Jory Westbury, who is also up for reelection this year, said they just want it to be a thorough process. 

"We don't want it to be just flying by the seat of your pants or anything like that," Westbury said. "It's too important a position."

Mitchell stressed on Friday morning that it would be a community-based process, with an abundance of opportunities for the community to give feedback on the process and the candidates. 

"This board will look forward to great participation within the community," Mitchell said Friday. "We were presented with the petition... we're just having to reassure the public that we're not trying to choose the new superintendent."

Nikki Ross covers education for the Fort Myers News-Press and Naples Daily News. She can be reached at NRoss@gannett.com or follow her on Twitter @nikkiinreallife.