Four running for school board District 1 seat
Cape Coral voters can cast a ballot in two of the four non-partisan Lee County School Board races in the Aug. 23 election.
The Cape is split between two districts, seats 1 and 4, depending on address, which will determine in which of the two voters may cast a ballot.
The District 1 race, to be decided by voters who live in the district — which includes parts Cape Coral and North Fort Myers and Pine Island– features four candidates, Christine DeVigili, Kathy Fanny, Sam Fisher and Cathy Stout.
The longtime incumbent, Mary Fischer, opted not to seek re-election.
The District 4 race, to be decided by voters who live in the district — which includes parts of Cape Coral, North Fort Myers and Dunbar — features four candidates, Jason “Big Mama” Jones; Debbie Jordan, the incumbent; Dan Severson and Gerri Ware.
Seat 6 is at-large, meaning voters countywide may cast a ballot in a three-way race featuring Tia Collin, Jada Langford Fleming and Denise Nystrom.
The seat for District 5 is also up for grabs.
In District 1:
Christine DeVigili, born and raised in District 1, decided to run for the seat due to her faith in God and love for Florida and this country.
“I’m an eighth generation Floridian and lifelong resident of Cape Coral, proud wife to a U.S. Army combat veteran and mom to three wonderful girls, two in public schools and one that I homeschool,” she said. “I spent the better portion of the last decade as the elementary children’s ministry director for one of the largest and diverse non-denominational churches in Lee County. This is where I first discovered my heart for SWFL kids and families.”
She said her career has included managing a team of teachers and volunteers to implement lessons, activities and supervision for K-5 classes during multiple weekend services.
“During my time there, I was able to grow the ministry from around 75 regularly attending kids and approximately 30 leaders to over 400 regularly attending kids and over 100 leaders. When COVID sent everyone home, like so many other parents, I was given a front row seat to what was going on in my kids’ classrooms. That is when I knew I had to get involved,” she said.
Now she is a homemaker and caregiver who said she has attended more than 110 Lee County school board meetings, making it her full-time job to garner knowledge of the issues in the schools.
“In my capacity as the state director for Power 2 Parent I’ve helped countless families advocate for their children’s education, and now I want to continue to advocate for Lee County children, families, and my community as your next Lee County District 1, School Board member,” DeVigili said. “Now more than ever we need leaders that are strong and courageous, and not afraid to make tough decisions. I have attended every school board meeting, fighting this fight for more than a year, and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.”
She wants voters to ask themselves who they want representing the best interests for the children.
“I think I speak for the majority of parents when I say that we don’t need another nice guy, and we certainly don’t need another politician sitting on our local school board. The time has come for parents, not politicians, to engage in the political process in order to protect the future for our children,” DeVigili said.
She wants to move for immediate change for public comment during board meetings, as she thinks it is important for the board to look at policy 1.11 to see where the rights of the people are being infringed.
“Everything the public is subjected to, simply to petition its government for a redress of grievances is designed to intimidate and dissuade them from engaging with their government. From the automatically locked doors during business hours, only on school board meeting days, to the full on bag search and body wanding, to placing the public at the back of the room and grossly limiting their time for comment,” she said. “Every single bit of it is completely inappropriate. Once elected, I cannot wait to move for immediate change in this area. It is the very least that any of our elected school board members can do.”
Kathy Fanny, who moved to southwest Cape Coral 12 years ago with her husband, Lew, is very involved in her community and church.
Fanny has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in education and educational fields and spent 38 years as a public school teacher. She was also a Title 1 reading specialist for 26 years.
“I understand what it takes for our schools to succeed. It’s important to recognize that all of our District 1 schools are designated as Title 1 schools, qualifying them for additional federal resources.
“I know how to follow state, federal and local mandates to tap into all the resources available to us. I have developed Individual Improvement Plans for each student to succeed. I have had to document parental involvement. I know how to listen and be balanced and inclusive.”
Fanny said a well-educated population attracts businesses to the area and brings well-paying jobs, as well as attracts good families, the building block of neighborhoods and community.
“Well-educated high school students feed our fine public universities and create excellence there as well,” she said.
Fanny wants to make sure that all schools are adequately staffed, so they can implement a plan to bring students up to grade level.
“In District 1, 40 percent of our students are below grade level in literacy and math in grades K-3. Lee County schools are facing some challenges and I am confident that, with the right people in place, we can meet these challenges and thrive,” she said.
Sam Fisher, an attorney and small business owner, has been a resident of Lee County since 2008 and a Cape Coral since 2013.
“As a father of three children in the district, I became increasingly disappointed with the actions and direction of the school board. We deserve a school board that reflects the conservative principles of our community and puts the children at the forefront of their priorities,” he said. “Currently, we have a board that is so distracted by fighting among themselves that they are unable to focus on their responsibilities. Parents, stakeholders, and taxpayers are rightly frustrated that their voices are being ignored and I am running to represent them.”
Fisher said as a small business owner he knows what it takes to make payroll, as well as working hand and hand with staff, vendors and community members. As an attorney, he understands how the Constitution, laws, policy, and procedure work and how to present a logical argument with rational solutions.
He also is a former Oasis Charter School Governing Board member and former deputy administrator of a local state agency.
He has been endorsed in the non-partisan race by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Fisher said he wants to empower parents, put children first and support teachers and staff.
“I will focus on giving our kids a great education, developing a transparent budget and involving our parents, stakeholders, taxpayers and community members in the process,” Fisher said. “I will bring professional leadership that will focus on our kids receiving a great education, empowering our parents and improving our school security. Board meetings should be professional and productive.”
Cathy Stout decided to make Cape Coral her full-time residence in 2016 after visiting Florida for more than 20 years. In 2020, when her children graduated, she decided it was time to run for the school board because she believes there needs to be a parent’s voice on the board.
“I know from my own experience as a PTO chairwoman, involvement is the key for making an impact. Keeping parents and stakeholders, our taxpayers, informed on the school district’s business is an element that must be 100 percent transparent,” she said.
Stout is an administrator for her family business, as well as a Realtor and community event coordinator and planner.
“Both my professional experience and passion will be a great asset to the school district in budgeting and spending, marketing, and community outreach in several programs and events,” she said. “I would communicate on a continual basis with my constituents and encourage their involvement in meeting attendance, as well as sitting on committees on various areas of operations of the school district.”
She said the foremost priority is security for children and staff in schools.
“In today’s world we must do everything possible and take action to provide a safe environment in our school district,” she said.