Four candidates are vying for the Lee County School Board seat 1: Christine DeVigili, Kathy Fanny, Sam Fisher and Cathy Stout.
Incumbent Mary Fischer is not running for re-election and has said she supports Fanny in her bid to represent the district which encompasses the southern and western parts of Cape Coral.
“I believe in term limits and I think three terms is enough,” Fischer said. She added that she was ready to move on and let new ideas shine through.
“I taught my first class in New York in 1960, so maybe it’s time for me to change my approach,” Fischer said.
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The August 23 non-partisan primary will see the top two voters advance to the November 8 general election if no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote.
The District 1 candidates brought a variety of issues to the forefront of the race, but the top priority was financial transparency and accountability, increased teacher compensation, and increased parental involvement.
DeVigili, a lifelong Cape Coral resident, said she was running for the school board to fight for her community.
“I am passionate about…the future of my community,” DeVigili wrote in an email. “I believe that to protect the integrity of education, we must uphold the rights of every parent, the safety of all students, the fair treatment of our educators and the voice of our community, and that is exactly what I will do.”
She has worked in a variety of positions, including as a waitress, office administration, and construction management. This, she says, gave her a wide range of skills.
She also worked for several years as the director of elementary children’s ministry for one of the largest non-denominational churches in Lee County, growing the ministry. She, however, quit her job in 2020 to homeschool her children. It was there, she says, that she learned the school system was “broken”.
After enrolling at Liberty First University, which has since become Liberty First Society, an organization that teaches the history and application of the United States Constitution, trains activists and warns against the “socialist scheme”, DeVigili got involved with Power2Parent.
Power2Parent is a Nevada-based nonprofit that says parental rights are under attack and works “to inform, organize, and mobilize parents for the fundamental protection of parental rights,” according to GuideStar, a profiler. non-profit. DeVigili has since become the Florida president of Power2Parent.
DeVigili’s top three priorities for the school board are:
- Protect parents’ right to decide what and how their children learn at school
- Increase teachers’ salaries, improve teachers’ working conditions and create opportunities for professional development
- Financial Transparency and School Board Accountability
DeVigili proposed forming a Parent Council Advisory Committee, made up of in-person, virtual and homeschooled parents. This, she said, would help increase parental involvement and improve student achievement.
“I will prioritize reopening our schools to parent volunteers and do everything I can to make PTOs popular again (at all levels),” she wrote.
Plus, she said, Lee County taxpayers deserve to understand how their tax dollars are being spent. DeVigili called for line item budgeting made available and accessible to taxpayers as well as zero-based budgeting and forensic auditing by internal and external auditors.
“If we don’t vote informed in August, we are losing another generation to mediocrity when we could propel them into a prosperous future,” DeVigili wrote. “For parents, if we don’t take a more active role in raising our children, then we have no one to blame except ourselves if we are unhappy with the outcome. … For teachers, the biggest issue is job security because of the current corruption in our school district.”
She urged voters to educate themselves before ticking a box on their ballot.
Learn more about DeVigili at www.christy4leeschools.com.
Fanny has worked as an educator for 38 years through a variety of grade levels and positions. She spent 26 of those years in a very poor school eligible for Title 1 federal funds.
She taught for 12 years at a creative arts high school and ran a career mentorship program for students. She worked alongside students, parents, and administrators on an advisory board to improve programs and hire additional staff.
She wrote in an email that the low levels of reading skills among school children are of great concern to her.
“We are at a critical point in Lee County Schools,” Fanny wrote. “Only 40% of our (third grade) students are proficient in math and reading. Only 45% of secondary students are proficient. This is woefully insufficient. Our school board needs to make this a top priority.”
According to Fanny, the top three issues facing schools in Lee County are:
- Respond to the fact that 40% of K-3 students in District 1 are below grade level in literacy and math
- Improve teacher retention and attract new teachers
- Addressing student mental health
Fanny proposed retaining failing students instead of promoting them alongside their peers, adding small group after-school tutoring programs, increasing teacher salaries while reducing class sizes and to hire additional mental health workers to improve the student and teacher experience in Lee County schools. .
“As an educator, I have faced these issues before,” Fanny wrote. “I have experience with solutions that work.”
Learn more about Fanny at www.votekathyfanny.net.
Fisher previously worked in the state’s Regional Office of Criminal and Civil Disputes, handling administrative, budgetary and legislative duties. He was also a board member of the Oasis Charter School System.
Fisher said those experiences prepared him for a role on the Lee County School Board.
“I understand how a school operates and have experience managing a budget and setting policy,” Fisher wrote in an email. “I have demonstrated my ability to make tough decisions and put students and parents first.”
Fisher’s top three priorities for the board are:
- Board members spend more time listening to parents
- Budget transparency and potential reductions in administrative and transport budgets in favor of increased salaries for teachers and bus drivers
- School Safety and Guardian Program Implementation
“We need leaders who will listen to parents, taxpayers, and other stakeholders while ensuring our children receive a high-quality education,” Fisher wrote.
He said he wanted to add school resource officers to every school in Lee County as part of the Guardian program, set up after the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. The program allows schools to employ and train teachers and other employees to carry firearms into schools as well as hire school security officers.
“We need to ensure current security measures are followed at each school and assess vulnerabilities so they can be addressed,” he said.
Fisher added that he wants to see a more conservative school board in Lee County.
“As a district father of three and a taxpayer, I am increasingly disappointed with the actions and direction of the Lee County School Board,” Fisher wrote. “We deserve a school board that reflects the conservative principles of our community and puts children at the forefront of their priorities.”
Learn more about Fisher at www.VoteSamFisher.com.
Stout was born to American and Korean parents. Her father was in the military and she said his background and upbringing had a profound impact on his opinions. As a multiracial woman, she says, she learned how important it is to mix students and families.
Embracing and welcoming diversity improves engagement and improves academic skills such as critical thinking, problem solving and writing — for students of all races, she wrote.
“Raising in a military life gave me first-hand experience of family sacrifice for the love of our country,” Stout continued. “Being American/Asian too, I believe, has helped me realize that we are all equal under our beautiful American flag.”
Stout’s top priorities for the school system are:
- Strong Leadership and Respectful School Board Meetings
- Increase transparency of school board process and decision-making
- Improve school safety
“Unfortunately, our school board culture has become a war zone,” Stout said, referring to the fighting that has erupted at Lee County school board meetings over the past year.
“How could we expect our teachers, administrators, staff, students, and their families to associate themselves with a world-class education when we can’t have respectful school board meetings?” Stout said. “This is something that needs to stop immediately…I feel there needs to be a call for peace.”
She added that one way forward could be to increase the transparency of what the board is considering and its decision-making process.
Quoting Governor Ron DeSantis, Stout wrote that “every child needs a safe and secure learning environment.”
“As a board member, my top priority is to ensure that our schools meet the highest standards of safety and that mental health issues associated with school violence are addressed,” he said. she declared.
Educational journalist Nikki Ross contributed to this story.
Kate Cimini is an investigative reporter covering Florida. Share your story at (239) 207-9369 or email [email protected]