Dr. Kamela Patton (LC '12)
When it was time to honor a Leadership Collier Foundation alumnus with this year’s Distinguished Alumni Award, our winner, Collier County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Kamela Patton, stood out for her commitment to the entire Collier County community and her dedication to ensuring its future is bright thanks to its future residents, employees and leaders.
The award is presented each year to an individual who fulfills the mission of the Leadership Collier Foundation through his or her continued education and work toward community solutions in the public interest. Dr. Patton fit the bill perfectly, according to Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Michael Dalby.
“We’re looking for those who have led significant, impactful efforts, embodying the LCF tagline: Be Informed, Be Engaged and Be the Difference,” Dalby says. “This year, in light of Dr. Patton’s game-changing leadership in public education and CCPS’s annual participation in our LCF programs, we felt Kam was most deserving of this recognition.”
Past recipients of the LCF Alumni Association Distinguished Alumni Award are Michael McComas, CJ Hueston, Ted Soliday, James French, Don York, Ed McNamara, Bud Hornbeck, Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, Carlton Case, Jeff Fridkin, Alan Reynolds, Fred Thomas, Terri Douglas, Barbara Berry, Scott Salley, Tom Schneider, Russell Budd, Patrick O’Connor, Paul Marinelli, Dave Weston, Donna MacNiven, Bart Zino, George Drobinski, Jan Kantor, and Patrick Neale.
Dr. Patton is a Leadership Collier Class of 2012 graduate and has continued to give back to LCF in a variety of ways, including serving on the LCF Board of Advisors from 2012-2015, returning to speak to LCF and GAIN classes, and having the school district support one staff member to complete the LCF and GAIN programs each year.
Patton was surprised with the award recently--the same way her own Golden Apple Award-winning teachers have received their awards. She was formally honored at the Leadership Collier and Growing Associates in Naples Class of 2019 graduation ceremony on Thursday, April 18, 2019.
The Distinguished Alumni Award is far from the only honor Dr. Patton has received during her eight-year leadership of CCPS. She has been named Superintendent of the Year by several statewide education associations and received honors from diverse organizations including the NAACP, Boys & Girls Club, Salvation Army, and several Southwest Florida publications’ “who’s who” lists.
But, says Dr. Patton, the Distinguished Alumni Award “is very special because this is a special community. You’re very honored when you’re recognized by a group that has so many distinguished alumni. The LCF family is made up of so many leaders and people who are so passionate about this community.”
In fact, ensuring she joined a Leadership Collier class was one of the first things Dr. Patton did when she moved from her previous role at Miami-Dade County Public Schools. “The first call I made was to get into this program,” Patton said.
Dr. Patton’s tenure has focused on connecting the community with the district and its diverse community of 48,000 students and 7,000 teachers. Many of these connections have come from Patton’s involvement with LCF and its alumni from her class and others.
“I’m grateful that Leadership Collier has directly connected me to this community,” she says. Of her status as an LCF graduate, Patton says it creates an automatic connection with more leaders in Collier County than her role as superintendent could have otherwise.
“You don’t even have to know that person to know you have a connection (due to LCF),” Patton says. “The community support is just unprecedented.”
Those LCF connections have become integral as the district begins working toward its new goal to ensure every student has a plan for “college, career, and life.”
Programs geared toward ensuring students are ready for the post-high-school world, no matter where it takes them, include a robust internship program for high school students, mentoring programs for students interested in trades, and the Future Ready Collier program.
Supported by the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, Future Ready Collier is a “network of organizations, businesses, schools and community members working to ensure every child is ready for kindergarten and every young person enters adulthood with a vision and plan to accomplish that vision.”
LCF even came to the rescue before and after Hurricane Irma when the school district turned into the county’s sheltering system, ultimately providing shelter for 17,000 people at 28 buildings. Alumni helped connect the district with “whatever we needed.”
Many residents would be surprised to learn some of the unique challenges the school district faces, including a population where 66 percent of students are provided free or reduced-price lunch, 103 languages and dialects are spoken, and more than 60 percent of students are considered economically disadvantaged.
Despite these and other hurdles, CCPS has excelled under Dr. Patton’s leadership and is now ranked third of 67 county school districts in Florida – up from number 33 just a few years ago. The graduation rate has also increased to 92 percent, up nearly 20 percent from seven years ago.
Dr. Patton credits the strides CCPS has made with “laserlike focus on individual students,” as well as looking at each student as a whole person rather than simply a set of grades and test scores. “Academics will catch up because they know we care about them,” she says.
As part of the district’s three-year strategic plan, a new focus on social-emotional wellness includes advisory boards for students to provide district leaders their feedback on programs and new ideas; community-building events such as school movie nights and nights at the fair for CCPS employees and their families; time during the day for students to collect their thoughts and organize their days; and even “buddy benches” for students to extend an offer of friendship to someone new.
Ultimately, Dr. Patton says, the district’s efforts to prepare students should mean students feel confident coming out of school and into whatever life they choose ready to become the next generation of leaders in Collier County.
“When we shake their hands on the graduation stage and ask our kids, ‘What’s your pathway?’ they know their answer,” says Dr. Patton.
Thank you for your leadership in our community, Dr. Patton!