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Collier County School Board develops new set of priorities

The Collier County School Board recently unanimously  passed new mission  and vision statements and a list of new school board priorities at a recent meeting.
The Collier County School Board recently unanimously passed new mission and vision statements and a list of new school board priorities at a recent meeting.

New mission and vision statements and new school board priorities passed unanimously at a recent meeting of the newly-elected Collier County School Board.

Tim Moshier, Jerry Rutherford, and Kelly Lichter unseated three incumbents in last November’s election.

The members hope to inspire students to develop their intellectual capacities and confidence with the new vision statements. The board said the goal is for students to build strong moral character and become productive members of American society.

“Basically, I would like to go back to classical education,” Moshier said. “You know, get all the politics out of the school system.”

Naples High School teacher Cynthia Odierna asked the board members if they have her back. According to Odierna, she has to notify the administration if her students choose a nickname that may be too masculine or feminine. “I'm based on the golden rule of respect,” she said. “I respect my students, and I was overjoyed when I heard students can pick their pronouns, only for that to be taken away.”

Governor Ron DeSantis promoted the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, passed by the state legislature last March. According to the governor's website, public school teachers in Florida are banned from holding classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity.

“I'm already worried when I assign reading to my class,” Jennifer Lynn, a teacher at Veterans Memorial, said. “I have to be cautious of what I buy and bring into the classroom because I know I don't want to bring politics into my classroom. They’re just 5th graders.”

Rutherford talked about his vision for Collier schools. “Well, I made it my first priority, I think, would be promoting Americanism,” he said. Originally the new vision statement mentioned Americanism and patriotism. The final draft was changed to say that the schools will cultivate civic literacy.

He said he believes the US needs to go back to what was successful in the early years of the nation. .

“They had the four R -- research, reason, relate and record. in the founding era,” Rutherford said. “They had learned the proper way to go about education. They had an education of 95% literacy at that time, whereas the rest of the world was at 43%.”

Collier parent John Dolche said he supports the new vision.

“It just creates strong-minded individuals. You cannot educate without accurate literacy. So, I'm glad it's on the priorities.” Dolche said. “You know our children will eventually become voters, and civic literacy is the best way to get there.”

“I wonder what our board members mean by bringing Americanism and patriotism through civic literacy,” teacher Jennifer Lynn said. “I watched the stream (of the board meeting) and remembered repeating to myself that school board members are supposed to be non-partisan. But it was evident who was at what party.”

Jen Mitchell served on the school board from 2018 until last November. Mitchell said the new mission statement left her struggling for words.

“The governor campaigned on improving the teaching standards, specifically in the area of civics, which he accomplished,” Mitchell said. “The teaching standards on the Florida Department of Education website show that both our founding fathers and our founding documents are being taught.”

“As for the idea of promoting Americanism/Patriotism through literacy, I think again, it signals a lack of understanding about what is required of Florida districts to teach the state standards,” Mitchell said. She added that the new board members should have learned more during last year’s campaigns about what she called the truly substantive issues facing public schools.

“Ultimately, the students will suffer if they (the new board members) don't understand their role,” she said.

This story was produced by Democracy Watch, a news service provided by Florida Gulf Coast University journalism students. The reporter can be reached at vmamador2491@eagle.fgcu.edu.