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Lee County School Board, District 7, at large, non-partisan primary

By Staff | Aug 18, 2016

Five candidates are battling for the new, at-large District 7 seat on the Lee County School Board.

In 2014, Lee County voters approved expanding the school board from five to seven members. As of November, the five original seats will be elected from their district, while the two new seats – District 6 and District 7 – will be elected countywide. The five original seats had been voted on countywide.

In the Aug. 30 primary election, voters can select from Derrick Donnell, Guido A. Minaya, Cathleen Morgan, Chris Quackenbush and Betsy Vaughn for District 7. School board races are non-partisan.

The top two vote-getters will move on to Nov. 8 general election, according to the Elections Office. However, if a candidate earns over 50 percent of the votes in the primary, the seat is won outright.

* Derrick Donnell

Age: 52

Residence: Cape Coral

Occupation: Teacher and adjunct professor

Education: Doctorate in curriculum and instruction, bachelor’s in science, master’s in science and certification in educational leadership

Family: Married with two children, one adult and one in high school

A career educator, Derrick Donnell has worked for the School District of Lee County for about 20 years. He also served eight years on the Cape Coral City Council, before terming out last year.

According to Donnell, there is a disconnect between the community and school board.

“When there is a disconnect, you have lost the trust and confidence, and that is important because we are all in this together,” he said. “We’ve got to gain the respect, confidence and trust of the community, and I know I can be very helpful with that.”

One of his priorities would be to re-establish a bond between the board and community.

“More understanding, better communication,” he said.

Keeping good teachers would also be a focus for Donnell.

“I want to work closely with the superintendent to make sure that we develop policies and strategic plans and goals that assist in the retention of highly effective teachers within our district,” he said.

If elected, the budget would also be a priority.

“We need to create an efficient budget with the community, which includes a continuous and sustainable revenue steam,” Donnell said. “The funding mechanism is not there now.”

Asked what separates him from his opponents, he pointed to his experience.

“I have worked in the district approximately 20 years, and I have actually taught classes from kindergarten all the way through 12th grade,” Donnell said. “I have taught higher education from freshman to senior. I have also served as a coach, school principal and district administrator.”

He was also a commissioned officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.

“You put all that together, I think those characteristics make me uniquely qualified and uniquely experienced,” Donnell said. “But most of all, I’m the husband of a current school teacher and the father of a current school student.”

Before he began campaigning, he spoke with community members about the education system.

“So I do understand the issues and challenges that face the Lee County School District,” Donnell said.

“I am a team player who listens very critically to all members, respects all members, and I’m able to build a bridge between the community and governing board,” he added.

For more information, search Facebook for “Dr. Derrick Donnell for Lee County School Board.”

* Guido Minaya

Age: 57

Residence: Cape Coral

Occupation: Chief executive officer/chief learning officer of Minaya Learning Global Solutions

Education: Bachelor’s in political science, master’s in business administration and doctorate in education

Family: Married with two adult children

Guido Minaya serves as the vice chair of the Lee County School Board’s Equity and Diversity Advisory Committee and he is a recent graduate of the Lee County School Foundation’s Partners in Education Program. Minaya is also part of the FutureMakers Coalition for Southwest Florida.

He pointed to the apathy toward remedying the district’s issues as his reason for running.

“Twenty-six percent of our students in Lee County do not graduate from high school,” Minaya said. “Thirty percent of our Latino students do not graduate, 39 percent of our African American students do not graduate and 50 percent of our Haitian American students do not graduate.”

“This should be unacceptable to all of us,” he added.

Minaya noted that the district’s current budget is $1.4 billion.

“We are not getting a satisfactory return on investment. More importantly, our students’ futures are compromised,” he said. “There presently is not the urgency needed on our school board to correct this critical issue.”

One priority would be to improve school board, administration and public communications.

“A reasonable strategic plan was developed a couple of years ago,” Minaya said. “The school board and administration never converted it into a workable plan, which could he managed on a weekly, monthly or on a quarterly basis. This should be the guiding management tool that allows for substantive discussions on an ongoing basis with regard to growth, capital funding, graduation rates and teacher retention trends.”

He also cited improving graduation rates and decreasing high school dropout rates.

“Other districts across the country are peeling back the onion and finding out why certain groups of students do not succeed,” Minaya said. “I would look at similar sized school districts with similar demographics and do the research on what is working.”

A final priority for him would be ushering in 21st century education.

“This means better integrating traditional classroom models with blended learning and online learning models,” Minaya said. “We presently have a $150 million-plus line item in our budget and do not have a well thought out implementation plan on how we are going to optimize these investments.”

Asked what sets him apart, he cited his professional and personal background.

“I have worked in large companies and led world-class education and training teams for Fortune 500 companies. I know how to optimize reduced budgets and how to scale mission-critical programs,” Minaya said. “I am also Latino and when 35 percent of students in the district are Latino, I would be the only school board member who could communicate with them in Spanish and English.”

He added that he will work with community groups to find solutions to the district’s problems.

“I think we have lived with a school board who is reluctant to share more challenging information with our community with regard to the poor graduation rates and capital funding issues,” Minaya said. “It is time for transformational leadership and that starts at the top with board.”

For more information, visit his campaign website at: drminaya4lcsd.nationbuilder.com/ or find him on Facebook by searching for “Dr. Guido Minaya for Lee County School Board.”

* Cathleen Morgan

Age: 68

Residence: Bonita Springs

Occupation: Lee County School District board member, District 3

Education: Bachelor’s in political science and government, master’s in businesses administration and master’s in education

Family: Married with two adult children

As a sitting school board member, Cathleen Morgan has advocated for strategic educational and operational planning, financial planning and program accountability, and effective board engagement in student performance oversight. Morgan also served two terms on a school board in another state.

Asked about running, she noted that high-performing districts have high performing boards.

“While we have outstanding schools and quality education professionals in many schools, transformational change is needed to tackle our most difficult and demanding problems,” Morgan said.

“With the right school board team supporting our superintendent, we can have a school system that reflects the quality education in our district, graduate students ready for work and life, provide quality professional support and working conditions for district staff, and inspire local confidence in the Lee County Public Schools,” she added.

Morgan listed several areas of focus if she were to be elected to the new at-large seat.

“A quality governance team – board and superintendent – leading strategically,” she said.

Morgan also noted grade-level student competence in English, language arts and math.

“A teaching and learning culture that embraces creativity and initiative,” she said.

Responsible long-term financial planning is another priority for her.

Asked about what separates her from her opponents, Morgan pointed to her previous time serving on another school board and her current time served as a member of the Lee County School Board.

“Prior experience on a high-performing school board,” she said.

“Current experience working to change the leadership culture and to raise the bar for student achievement using strategic planning and data based decision-making,” Morgan added.

For more information, visit her campaign website at: cathleenmorgan.com/ or find her on Facebook by searching for “Cathleen Morgan for Lee County School Board District 7, At-Large.”

* Chris Quackenbush

Age: 69

Residence: Fort Myers

Occupation: Realtor

Education: Associate’s degree in real estate investing and construction management with a focus on website programming and stock brokerage certificate from the New York Institute of Finance

Family: Married with two adult children

A local investor and Realtor, Chris Quackenbush serves on the district’s Continuous Systemic Improvement Committee and participates in the book review and strategic planning committees.

Quackenbush pointed to her two granddaughters as the reason for her run for the seat.

“There is nothing more important to our future than educating our children,” she said, adding that she has “great concern” for the current situation. “For too long we have rested our hopes in public schools that are demonstrably failing our community.”

Quackenbush noted that math test scores have dropped 23 percent in the last four years.

“When 1 percent would raise concern, 23 percent indicates unprecedented, massive and systemic failure,” she said. “Nearly half are below grade level in math and English.”

As for what her focus would be, Quackenbush stated that she would increase standards.

“End Common Core with its crazy math and upside down history, restore cursive writing,” she said.

Quackenbush would also work to end value-added model, or VAM, scores.

“Increase time for learning by ending useless tests used only to grade teachers,” she said.

Another priority would be to restore local control and end unfunded federal and state mandates.

Quackenbush cited her board and financial experience as what sets her apart.

“I have built several successful companies from nothing and had over 1,500 employees. This brought community responsibility and I was on about 25 different boards,” she said, adding that she chaired the the American Electronics Association board. “President George H.W. Bush appointed me to the IRS Commissioner’s Advisory Board and also sent me with a delegation of 13 business leaders to travel Europe and meet with legislators and business leaders to evaluate the implications of the coming EU.”

“I have been trusted for careful business and government decisions and projects, none of which are more important than turning our Lee County School District around and serving the needs of our 92,000 students and future leaders of Lee County,” Quackenbush added.

However, she has been working on school issues for many years.

“The last five focusing on federal overreach of Common Core and legislative efforts to change,” Quackenbush said. “It is time for proactive change led by local leaders and legislators locking their arms together with a plan to end Common Core, high stakes redundant testing, and restoring local control.”

For more information, visit her website at: www.chrisquackenbushforleecountyschoolboard.com/ or find her on Facebook by searching for “Chris Quackenbush for Lee County School Board.”

* Betsy Vaughn

Age: 69

Residence: Fort Myers

Occupation: Retired educator

Education: Bachelor’s in English and master’s in education

Family: Divorced with two adult daughters

In May 2014, Betsy Vaughn retired from a 38-year career as a secondary language arts teacher. She served as a department chair for 19 years before relocating to Florida, and Vaughn has experience with curriculum development, budgeting, textbook adoption and professional development presentations.

For Vaughn, she has a desire to continue to have a hand in the educational system.

“I am proud of the small role that I played in helping to shape the lives of two generations of students during the five-decade span that I was a secondary language arts teacher,” she said.

“Although I am no longer in the classroom, because I believe that education is the key to freedom and prosperity for the individual, the community, and the nation, I wish to continue to devote my energy to a field that is truly a part of me with the hope of making Southwest Florida’s little corner of the world a better place in which to live,” Vaughn added.

Asked what would be a priority if she were elected, she cited fiscal responsibility.

“Since the recession of 2007, the Lee County School District has incurred a staggering half-billion dollar debt,” Vaughn said. “A combination of a cutback in funds from the state and the swift population growth were major contributors to the shortfall of funds, but increasingly, the board’s lack of foresight in cutting costs and in seeking new revenue is equally to blame.”

The hiring and retention of highly qualified teachers would also be a focus.

“To attract high quality teachers, the district must move forward to enhance its image as a ‘world class school system’ – in other words, as a place where a person is proud to work. Competitive salaries and benefits must be offered to veteran teachers, as well as to beginning teachers,” she said. “All schools must have highly effective principals at the helm, as ineffective school leadership is a major cause of teacher dissatisfaction and turnover.”

Vaughn would also establish a working relationship between the Lee County School Board and Lee County Board of County Commissioners, as well as all local city councils.

“Seventy percent of our students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Lee County schools must address the need to provide better services to the growing number of children who live in poverty, as poor children face a host of academic obstacles that are not shared by their more affluent peers,” she said. “The Lee County School District cannot cure the obstacles faced by economically-disadvantaged students without the cooperation of all local resources.”

As far as what sets her apart from the rest, Vaughn pointed to her experience and skills.

“I have a proven ability to work collaboratively and to build consensus. I am a team player, but I am unafraid to take a minority position,” she said, adding that she has sound judgement and makes reason-based decisions. “I have excellent communication skills. I have the ability to really hear what is being said.”

Vaughn noted that she is also a career teach, not a politician.

“I have no ideological agenda,” she said. “My loyalty is to the students, staff and stakeholders of the Lee County School District and not to special interest groups.”

For Vaughn, the first step is restoring credibility to the school board.

“The board must connect with all stakeholders and must educate voters on the fiscal challenges of a school district that is growing by nearly 2,000 students annually,” she said. “I plan to build bridges rather than to create walls to make our community all that it can.”

For more information, visit her campaign website at: betsyvaughn2016.weebly.com/ or find her on Facebook by searching for “Betsy Vaughn: Proactive Choice for Lee County School Board.”

The new, at-large District 6 seat on the Lee County School Board will also be on the primary ballot. Like the District 7 seat, the race is non-partisan and voters countywide will be able to cast a vote.

Districts 2 and 3 are also up this election, but only voters in Fort Myers can cast a ballot.