Three candidates are vying for the District 1 seat on the Collier County School Board.
One of the hopefuls, Jory Westberry, seeks reelection. She currently serves as the board’s vice chairwoman. She is facing Jerry Rutherford and Kimberly Boobyer in the Aug. 23 primary.
A longtime Collier resident, Westberry began and ended her district career at Tommie Barfield Elementary School. She started out teaching gifted students and retired in 2015 as principal after 14 years with a few jobs in between (elsewhere in the district).
“I am running for reelection to the Collier County School Board because I am invested and devoted to our school district and want the best for our students, teachers and parents,” she said.
Collier School Board District 3 features incumbent, former member, newcomer
As a former teacher, assistant principal, principal and mentor to new teachers, the incumbent said she’s witnessed significant progress that’s been made in more than a decade in the school district — and she has the “full confidence that progress will continue with a supportive, knowledgeable board that works hard to meet and exceed standards,” she said.
In her eyes, the district’s most pressing issues are:
- Unwarranted misconceptions about school curriculum and teacher practices
- The continued implementation of the new Florida BEST Standards, along with the introduction of new curriculum
- The search for a new superintendent
“The importance of finding a superior superintendent can’t be overstated,” Westberry said. “This will require dialogue with all stakeholders in every area of the community.”
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On misconceptions about school curriculum, Westberry said, the board has tried to address them at meetings and through responses to emails — and will continue to do so with hopes of clearing up what she said are fallacies.
With the introduction of the new statewide curriculum, she said it’s important for the district to provide effective in-service training, support and time for teachers to learn and effectively align the new standards with new textbooks in each school.
BEST stands for Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking. The state’s new standards for mathematics and language arts are a replacement for previous ones based on Common Core, which has fallen out of favor.
LGBTQ discussion in schools
As for Florida’s new and controversial law limiting LGBTQ discussion in schools, Westberry said kindergarten through third-grade teachers “were not exposing their students to sexual conversations” anyway.
“The health curriculum, based on the Florida standards, begins in fourth grade and the focus is on health,” Westberry said. “The curriculum is sent home to parents at least two weeks ahead of the lesson, and parents have the opportunity to ‘opt out’ their child as they have in past years.”
Critical race theory topic
She insists critical race theory, or CRT, isn’t taught in Collier schools, so it’s not on her list of priorities as a current or future member of the school board. The theory suggests racism is embedded in the country’s legal systems and policies.
With an ear to the ground, Westberry said she hasn’t heard of any teachers trying to push the controversial concept.
“With the focus that the governor has brought to CRT, and no examples of CRT found in our schools, I highly doubt this would be a problem. If a concern was brought to our attention, it would be investigated,” she said.
In terms of student safety, Westberry said: “Collier County far outpaces many other districts.”
She credits in large part the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, which provides trained youth relations deputies to all schools and conducts drills on location when students are out on break.
Additionally, she noted, each school has one entrance for visitors, with a video doorbell where identification must be shown before entry, and there’s enhanced safety fencing with locking gates.
Schools regularly conduct safety drills in session, so students and staff know the steps to follow when real threats arise, Westberry said.
Hector Manley sex abuse case
Asked about the Hector Manley sex abuse case involving the ex-teacher found guilty of molesting 20 elementary school students as young as 5 in the district between 2015 and 2019, she declined to comment on it, including how it slipped through the cracks, citing ongoing litigation.
According to the Collier County’s Supervisor of Elections office, Westberry has raised a little more than $4,100 in support of her campaign.
Here’s a look at who she’s competing against in the District 1 race, after another candidate dropped out early on:
Jerry Rutherford: Less talk, more action
After speaking on myriad issues at school board meetings countless times for more than 35 years, Rutherford said he decided he didn’t want to be on the outside looking in anymore. So, he joined the school board race.
“On the outside, there is no vote … I will be a better guardian of the children and their education with a vote,” said Rutherford, a Naples resident since 1982.
As a devout Christian, he’s fought to distribute Bibles in schools and to institute prayer at school board meetings.
A veteran of the Air Force, Rutherford has worked in sales and construction. He’s a successful entrepreneur, having owned a painting business in the Naples area for more than 20 years. He also served as a substitute teacher in the district for three years.
If he’s elected, his priorities are to:
- Ensure proper education that helps everyone succeed
- Improve safety and mental health for students and teachers
- Address budgetary concerns
When it comes to how the district is handling growth, Rutherford said there’s definitely room for improvement.
“Instead of building new schools, the school board could look to refurbish and redevelop existing infrastructure locally. Classrooms need to look at manageable sizes as the teachers are overwhelmed, overworked, and underpaid for the amount of children in these larger classrooms. Many students are facing mental well-being challenges that the teachers need adequate assistance with,” he said.
Critical race theory topic
On the topic of critical race theory, Rutherford said the superintendent signed a form stating it would not be taught, but the “textbooks do the job without any help.”
“It shows up in all the grades,” he said.
Supplemental teacher materials proposed in the board’s recent textbook adoption included CRT-related “propaganda,” Rutherford said.
LGBTQ discussion in schools
As for the new limits on LGBTQ discussion in schools, he said: “There are several special interest LGBTQ groups which are targeting the students on campuses under the guise of religious freedom on campus. At this time, it is being explored how to address these particular organizations, who are asking children to engage in drag shows and sexually implicit situations that are placing minors at risk.”
Hector Manley sex abuse case
On the Manley sex abuse case, Rutherford said: “Previously there were indicators that this individual was a problem, which went unaddressed. I would see to it that all employees are properly vetted to avoid placing minors with covert sexual predators.”
In response to the affordable housing crisis, he said teachers deserve a raise. He sees it as a much better solution than subsidized or specially arranged housing.
“The school board is seeking to provide a land contract type arrangement with the county to develop housing specifically for teachers and essential personnel. If the teachers are paid a livable wage, it is not necessary for elected officials to intervene on how/where they live as they can afford housing,” he said.
While the average teacher in Florida now earns $47,000 a year, Rutherford pointed out that the average median income now tops $98,000 in Collier County (for a family of four).
“The teachers are being paid well below 50% of what it costs to live in this area. Do we truly want to be in the business of regulating where our employees live or paying them for merit and allowing for their choice?” he asked rhetorically.
Rutherford has raised the most money of the three candidates — almost $9,000, according to the Supervisor of Elections website.
Kimberly Boobyer: the fundamentals
Asked why she’s running for the school board, Boobyer said it’s because she wants to “restore the foundations of academic excellence and traditional values for all students.”
“I want to ensure that parental rights are respected and that a parent’s fundamental right to determine the upbringing, education, medical and mental health of their child are protected,” she said.
With the passage and signing of Florida’s new Parental Rights in Education law, Boobyer said she wants to be “instrumental in bringing back parental engagement that has been lacking in recent years.”
“I believe that parents should have more transparency in their child’s education,” she said.
With more than 20 years of experience as a golf instructor, Boobyer said the profession has helped her strengthen her leadership and communication skills, and hone her ability to build trust and rapport with individuals as well as teams.
She’s also familiar with the school system as a mother of a 16-year-old daughter with Down Syndrome.
If she wins the election, her priorities will be to:
- Achieve academic excellence
- Recruit and hire a new superintendent
- Maintain an exemplary safety record
On average, Boobyer claims only 62% of students in third to 10th grades achieve satisfactory or higher test scores in language arts and math, which is unacceptable.
She wants a study of all the schools and grades, most especially where there are more than “38% failure rates.”
What she describes as failure rates, others deem as the number of students not at grade level.
“The study will yield where the problems lie and then the district will formulate a solution that will finally address this issue,” she said. “For too long, we have stated that we are better than the state in 21 out of 21 assessments, ignoring the academic failure of individual students.”
On the search for a new superintendent, she said, the school board will need to develop a plan of action that includes “researching best practices of other districts, as well as formulating a comprehensive job description for this position.
“The board should do a complete assessment of the input from the various stakeholders within CCPS (Collier County Public Schools). The objective would be to have a pool of candidates to select from that meet or exceed the qualifications outlined by the board,” she said.
In terms of safety, she agrees the Collier County Sheriff’s Office has done a good job in providing resource officers at every school for nearly 40 years, but feels it’s a situation that still requires close monitoring.
“With the increase of recent school shootings, this will be an area that will be requiring constant attention and evaluation of procedures to ensure that CCPS students continue to stay protected,” she said.
In her eyes, the district is doing a good job at keeping up with growth with a new high school expected to open in 2023 in North Naples near the intersection of Veterans Memorial Boulevard and Livingston Road.
Critical race theory topic
As for critical race theory, she said the district has “continually stated that they are following the statute and the governor’s orders in refraining from teaching it,” but she questions whether it’s true.
The theory, she said, has been “noted anecdotally when teachers deviate from the curriculum and pull unauthorized information from the internet.”
Also, she claims the district trained administrators, principals, assistant principals and other employees using the book “Unconscious Bias in Schools” — “a developmental approach to exploring race and racism.”
“This was a clear indoctrination of CRT into the district staff. It is certainly my position once on the board that I will be cognizant of any inference that promotes CRT when choosing curriculum or programs,” Boobyer said.
Collier schools spokesman Chad Oliver said the district used the book but not to promote CRT.
“The book was one of many items used as part of a broad conversation with administrators around barriers that have the potential of impeding student learning,” he said. “The purpose was to provide increased academic rigor for all students to be successful, ensure grade-appropriate assignments, and reinforce high expectations from instructional staff to meet the expectations of Florida Department of Education State Standards.”
When it comes to detecting teachers who are advancing the theory — and enforcing the rules — situations seem to be “handled on a case-by-case basis,” Boobyer said.
“I am not privy, but I would certainly hope that CCPS has warned teachers about teaching CRT within their supplemental materials and that they have appropriately reprimanded any offending teachers. As a school board member, I would ensure that effective strategies are in place and being enforced,” she said.
LGBTQ discussion in schools
She said she’s confident the district will enforce the new law banning discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, “dealing with non-compliant teachers on a case-by-case basis.”
“As a school board member, I will work actively to ensure compliance of this new law,” Boobyer said.
Hector Manley sex abuse case
On the Manley case, she said it represents a “total failure” on the part of Collier County Public Schools.
“Every time this issue was brought before CCPS, prior to sentencing Hector Manley, the CCPS excuse was that they could not discuss a criminal investigation. When I become a school board member I will make sure that we have open lines of communication and procedures in place so that this never happens again,” Boobyer said.
On a related front, she said she’d work to ensure that there are policies and procedures in place to deal with the emotional and mental health of every student affected by this or other types of abuse.
Affordable housing crisis
When it comes to the affordable housing crisis, Boobyer said: “It is not the role of the government to provide housing.”
“CCPS has available programs highlighted on their website for new employees as well as current employees to deal with affordable housing,” she said.
Also, she pointed out Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently announced the launch of the Hometown Heroes Housing Program, which offers down payment and closing cost assistance for first-time homebuyers such as police officers, teachers and nurses.
Sharing her thoughts on gun safety, Boobyer said she doesn’t “believe that schools should ever be labeled as a gun-free zone.”
“That would be an open invitation to criminal activity of all kinds,” she said.
Gun control issues in schools
Florida dealt with gun control issues in schools after the Parkland shooting in 2018.
“The state raised the age of gun ownership from age 18 to 21. I do not believe that Florida gun control laws need to go any further,” Boobyer said.
She questions whether new rules proposed by Congress will “do anything to further protect students in schools,” she said.
The proposed bipartisan bill would expand background checks for prospective gun buyers between the ages of 18 and 21 and could add several days to the waiting period for the purchase of firearms, among other protective measures.
In her campaign, Boobyer has raised nearly $8,000, according to the Supervisor of Elections office.
School board members are elected countywide in Collier. District 1 covers East Naples with Interstate 75 to the north and the coastline including Marco Island to the south between State Road 29 and Santa Barbara Boulevard and County Barn Road.
The primary election is slated for Aug. 23, with early in-person voting running from Aug. 13-20. To win, a candidate must get more than 50% of the vote.
Otherwise, the top two vote-getters move on to the general election, which is scheduled for Nov. 8.
School board races are nonpartisan, which means candidates’ political affiliations aren’t listed on the ballot.
Three seats are up for election this year. Board members serve four-year terms.