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Charter Authority looks to mend rift

By Staff | Apr 7, 2017

With the Cape Coral Charter Schools Authority and Superintendent Nelson Stephenson having parted ways, the school system will set about mending fences with city departments and implementing controls and policies identified in the internal audit in addition to searching for a permanent superintendent.

Jackie Collins, principal at Christa McAuliffe Elementary School since 2010, has embarked on her first days in her new role as the interim superintendent. Stephenson expressed confidence in having established a strong foundation of qualified individuals to carry on the business of making the charter schools successful in the future.

“We have established new policies and a process that we never had before,” Stephenson said. “I know Jackie well, we worked well together and I know she will do a good job as the interim.”

The school governing board reluctantly voted to terminate Nelson’s contract “without cause” Tuesday after first asking Nelson if he would re-consider his decision to not sign a new contract to replace the one expiring June 30. The board then agreed it would provide a letter of recommendation. As per his current contract, he will also receive four months severance compensation.

“I know the ins and outs of the system. I am happy to help in any way I can,” Collins said. “I want to help the system move forward with its relationship with the city and keep things running smoothly until the new superintendent is in place. My heart is in teaching the kids. “

“I think most of our path is set, speaking for the board,” said City Councilmember liaison and chair of the governing board Jessica Cosden. “The system will continue, our teachers will be in school teaching the kids. I’m more focused on our budget for the next three years. The city does three years, so it makes sense for the charter schools as well.”

Like Stephenson, governing board vice chair Robert Zivkovic is confident in the ability of the people in leadership roles to guide the charter schools into the future.

“The administration team has been doing the heavy lifting ever since I’ve been on the board,” said Zivkovic. “They will continue to move us forward and do what needs to be done. For six months before Stephenson came on, our principals stepped up in the same way.”

Besides beginning a local search for a new superintendent, the system must hire a new principal for Oasis High School. Shannon Treece will leave the position at the end of the semester to become principal at the new Babcock High School.

“One thing we have to do is comply with the state requirement to have one (electronic) device for each student by 2019, so we are headed in that direction,” said Cosden. “The other major thing we have to make a decision on is the Christa McAuliffe portables, which soon have to go. We have to decide how we will expand, by replacing the portables or building a classroom addition. These two issues are in the forefront for the near term.

“Our long term goal is to fill our seats with kids,” Cosden added. “We want to be at capacity, not over. Just an open seat here and there. That helps bring in funds so we can do more.”

One of the more outspoken members of the governing board, Zivkovic restated his puzzlement as to why City Council decided to discuss the charter school audit at its last meeting because the administrative issues are being handled already.

“The money we are talking about is the fundraising and supplemental fees our teachers collect,” said Zivkovic. “It comes from things like supplementing bus fares for field trips and things. Policies need to be in place so our teachers know how to handle those funds and are not accused of stealing money; those policies will be followed. At the joint meeting with city council I asked the Mayor that when she has an issue she should come to us, but she never has.”

Cosden confirmed some of the process changes have been implemented, saying Stephenson was holding off on them until he had the audit results, which are now available.

“With the results we have implemented many changes, but it will take time to get them all done,” said Cosden. “Mending fences with the city is a main focus. Personally, I am concentrating on the personality of the next superintendent and how that person will interact with the city.”

In the short term, the governing board will use the resources of the city’s HR Department in advertising the open superintendent’s position instead of hiring a recruiting firm at this point. The reasoning is a national search conducted the last two times resulted in finding local candidates to fill the position.

The board is willing to wait several months before hiring the next superintendent because, as board member Tami Traiger put it, “most candidates that were available likely have taken positions in preparation to start the next school year. I envision the next year as holding down the fort.”

The board will create a search committee made up of five to seven persons representing parents, teachers and board members.

The board agreed to appoint Cosden as the point person to work with the city HR staff in advertising the open position and screening applicants as they come in.