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Engage, Collaborate, Inspire: 2023-24 School Year theme

Collier County Superintendent Dr. Leslie C. Ricciardelli has the heart of an educator

by Karen Hanlon

It’s that time of year again, the thrilling back-to-school 2023-24 season when everything feels new.

Two things accentuate the fresh start feeling this year: one, Collier County Public Schools (CCPS) celebrates its centennial year as a school district and, two, big changes are happening at the top of the CCPS leadership team. 

In July, Dr. Leslie C. Ricciardelli became the 20th CCPS superintendent to lead the A-rated district. In a discussion about her vision for the future, she says she still remembers the first-day possibilities. 

“I can’t wait. Remember when we got new school supplies, new backpacks? It’s the best day ever,” says Ricciardelli. “The start of each year brings renewed hope.”

There’s an authenticity to Dr. Ricciardelli’s commitment to the school district where she grew up, a district that educates approximately 50,000 students and retains nearly 7,000 employees. Her devotion is exhibited by the three decades she has dedicated to strengthening education in Collier County and Florida. 

Dr. Ricciardelli was 2 years old when her family moved to Southwest Florida to run the Anchorage Motel in Old Naples. Growing up in a family business where she cleaned rooms, made the beds and answered phones, she discovered that hard work and kindness led to loyal, repeat customers. She draws a parallel between the values she learned then and her role today.

“The better you treat people, the longer they will support you, follow you, stand by you and walk with you. I guess it comes down to the Golden Rule and doing the right thing.”

Dr. Ricciardelli attended Lake Park Elementary, Gulfview Middle and Naples High School, where she was voted “most talkative.” She remembers every teacher and principal. She earned her BA in secondary education from Flagler College (1991), a Master of Science degree (2000) in educational leadership and a Doctor of Education degree (2009) from Nova Southeastern University.

Dr. Ricciardelli worked in Broward, Orange and Seminole counties as a teacher for students with disabilities before returning to Collier County as an inclusion teacher. She’s held multiple instructional, administrative and leadership roles in education, including deputy superintendent. In December 2022, the District School Board of Collier County selected Dr. Ricciardelli as interim superintendent. 

During that time, she proved her clear vision for the district and worked to engage community partners while managing the day-to-day operations of planning and budgeting. The Southwest Florida Speakers and Trainers Association included her on its 2022 list of the 20 most effective communicators in the region. 

CCPS Board Chair Kelly Lichter states that, after a 20-school visit with principals and teachers, she has observed a noticeable boost in morale across the district, and she is confident in the board’s selection.


Dr. Ricciardelli does not shy away from the obstacles she faced to reach her position, including recent challenges: new standards, new curriculum, new assessments and teacher shortages. The region was dealing with Hurricane Ian and a new school board in addition to the national superintendent search that ended with a 3-2 vote in her favor. 

“There was angst and uncertainty about how that would end up,” she says. “But even with all that, we persevered. I am so proud and blessed to work with such an unbelievable group of leaders and teachers. It's a rare group that can face challenges like those and still get the achievements out of students that they did.”  


Dr. Leslie C. Ricciardelli

As every educator knows, resting on laurels is the equivalent of tossing those top scores into the wind. To keep her team focused, Dr. Ricciardelli selected three words for the 2023-24 school year: engage, collaborate and inspire. 

“When you think about it, isn’t that the goal of education?” Dr. Ricciardelli says, highlighting the need for students to explore, imagine and invent to reach their full potential. 

Sounds good, but how?

“It is incumbent on us to support our teachers,” she says, emphasizing each word. “They are the ones creating the vibrant and engaging classrooms.”

There has to be competitive compensation packages to recruit and retain teachers, and Dr. Ricciardelli promises to take “extras” off teachers' plates, allowing educators to focus on their craft.

Additionally, Dr. Ricciardelli is requiring schools to implement plans to celebrate employee excellence. And she’s seeking input from experienced teachers as well as from a focus group of new teachers who provide fresh perspectives.

She’s excited to create a Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council composed of 37 high school students who will meet with her directly to discuss the school code of conduct, mental health, safety and security, the school calendar and societal concerns, which could be meaningful if their solutions are used to implement real change in the schools.

Lastly, regarding collaboration – there’s the community.

“Our schools do not exist in isolation,” Dr. Ricciardelli says. “They are an integral component of the larger community fabric.” 

Dr. Ricciardelli’s mantra to engage, collaborate and inspire permeates all her initiatives. When she speaks of inspiration, she can’t help but talk about her experience with the teachers whose impact extended far beyond the walls of their classrooms. 

“I had Collier County’s very best,” she says, reciting the names of multiple educators who influenced her career, including an English teacher who instilled confidence by proofreading her work for other classes and a social studies teacher whose workbook packets on the branches of government inspired her own. “I knew I wanted to teach government the same exact way he did.” 

Perhaps she remembers how it felt to walk through the halls as a Collier County student when she shared some wisdom with her team. 

“Look at the students who walk through your doors every day. Never forget the unique opportunity you have to help grow and develop them into incredible individuals. By nurturing our students’ innate talents and encouraging their unique perspectives, we can unlock doors to boundless possibilities.”


Karen Conley is President, CEO and founder of Charity for Change, a nonprofit social-emotional learning educational organization funded by philanthropy. For information, visit

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Teaching Children Two Kinds of R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Respect for others and what they value helps children develop positive, healthy relationships.

by Karen Conley, President, CEO and founder of Charity for Change


Respect is a foundational character trait that lays the groundwork for well-rounded social and behavioral skills. Furthermore, knowing what it looks like to receive respect helps kids feel safe to express themselves and communicate with others. There are two parts to respect: self-respect and respect for others.


Teaching Respect for Self

Self-respect is a measure of your self-worth. It is understanding your value and appreciating your character and dignity. When we encourage a child’s self-respect, we are helping them develop their identity and individuality. This development directly impacts their thoughts, behaviors, values and emotions.


The benefits of self-respect include the following:

  • Looking inward to find happiness, esteem and worth

  • Taking care of yourself physically, mentally and emotionally

  • Committing and upholding your values and morals

  • Establishing personal boundaries


There are a few things that help children learn their value and self-worth.


One is encouraging positive self-talk, especially after mistakes. When a child is struggling or has made a misstep, take the time to use the incident as a learning opportunity.


Another is helping children recognize when it is okay to walk away from people or situations that are abusive or disrespectful.


Finally, adults need to pay attention to their own self-worth and acknowledge their own value. Children are sponges and tend to model the behaviors of those around them. So, if they hear adults talking badly about themselves, even if it is self-deprecating, they may think it is acceptable to feel the same about themselves.


Teaching Respect for Others

Respect for others comes in a variety of forms. It includes respect for family, friends, teachers, elders, authority figures, animals, possessions, etc. Teaching kids to respect others can help them succeed at school, in relationships, in future careers and in life. Taking the time to cultivate respect in a child can help them learn and value:

  • Appreciation

  • Empathy

  • Gratitude

  • Honesty

  • Patience

  • Self-Control

  • Trust

So how does one teach respect? A large part is leading by example. Modeling respect and having positive interactions with others can help children understand the value that others bring. Take the time to point out the good and importance of other people.


Additionally, give children age-appropriate tasks and chores. Explain to them how they are helping build a better home life or supporting their classmates through these responsibilities. And show gratitude when their chores are completed so they understand the worth of a job well done and what appreciation looks and feels like.


Practicing respect helps children develop into kind and considerate individuals whom others can trust and respect. When kids learn the value of respect, it can lead to other positive attributes, such as:

  • Tolerance: Respect helps children value and appreciate each other’s differences. This understanding will help them address potential conflict with confidence and accountability, working toward positive outcomes and communicating more effectively.

  • Listening: Children who respectfully listen to others without interruption also demonstrate excellent communication skills. Listening helps children become better communicators and build positive relationships.

  • Open-Mindedness: Approaching individuals and situations respectfully helps children be open to new ideas and not make snap judgments or assumptions. Keeping an open mind can broaden their possibilities and opportunities throughout their life.



Empowering Girls Through STEM, Civic Engagement, and More

Character development, knowledge and skills are a few of the advantages to participating in Girl Scouts.

by Kimberly Blaker

The beginning of a new school year also marks the opportunity for girls to join Girl Scouts. If your daughter is already a Girl Scout, she's probably already eagerly anticipating the start of a new year with old and new friends and adventures.


Girl Scouts of the United States of America (GSUSA) is open to girls from kindergarten through high school. They begin as Daisies and eventually become Ambassadors. Along the way, girls enjoy countless experiences in which they acquire proficiency badges, pins and, at the highest level, gold, silver and bronze awards. More importantly, though, are the knowledge, skills and character development opportunities.


Field trips are a big part of the activities of Girl Scouts. They can range from visiting a variety of museums, touring a manufacturing plant or going on a hiking adventure. In high school, Girl Scouts might take trips to another state or even travel abroad.


What does Girl Scouts offer?

Founded by Juliette Gordon Low on March 12, 1912, the purpose of GSUSA is to empower girls and inspire them to make the world a better place by helping them develop courage, confidence and character.



GSUSA recognizes the importance of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to girls' futures. Therefore, GSUSA has initiatives, partnerships and sponsorships with several organizations, such as the National Science Foundation (NSA) and NASA as well as corporations including Google, Dell and AT&T. Through these, girls are provided a variety of opportunities to experience STEM and to plan for their futures in STEM industries.

Girl Scouts can also earn a variety of badges through STEM activities, including innovation, digital art, financial literacy, science and technology and naturalist badges.


Developing an appreciation and respect for our environment is another crucial part of being a Girl Scout. Through several programs and activities, girls learn about nature and environmental issues. Girl Scout camping has been a long tradition through which girls have the opportunity to experience the great outdoors.


There's also a Girl Scout Ranger Program in which girls can earn a variety of badges by visiting national parks and participating in various activities in conjunction with their visits to the parks.



GSUSA is a secular organization, meaning girls of all faiths as well as of no faith are welcome. Recognizing the importance of faith and spirituality to many girls and their families, Girl Scouts are encouraged to take spiritual journeys through their own religious faith. Through their journey, they can earn the My Promise, My Faith pin.


Civic Engagement

Because GSUSA aims to help girls develop leadership skills, the organization encourages civic duty. Girl Scouts hold a wide variety of beliefs and values and are encouraged to think for themselves, forming their own opinions and ideologies. GSUSA has created a nonpartisan initiative, called G.I.R.L. Agenda (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader), through which girls are inspired, prepared and mobilized to create positive change.


How to join

Girls can find local troop options and sign up by visiting



Kimberly Blaker is a freelance writer. She also owns an online bookshop, Sage Rare & Collectible Books, specializing in out-of-print, scarce, signed and first editions; fine bindings; ephemera; and more at

Engage, Collaborate, Inspire: 2023-24 School Year theme
Teaching Children Two Kinds of R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Empowering Girls Through STEM, Civic Engagement, and More


Southwest Florida’s Culinary Scene Turns Up the Heat Next Month

Showing support for local restaurants and one worthy nonprofit has never been so delicious.

by Guy Clarke, Sizzle Dining 2023 Founder

Check out what’s cooking in the kitchen as more than 95 Southwest Florida restaurants participate in Sizzle Dining, the charity dining promotion returning Sept. 7 through Sept. 27.


Enjoy meals at top eateries for $19 or $29 for two-course lunches and $29, $39 or $49 for three-course dinners and help give back to feed hungry children. For every Sizzle meal purchased during the three-week event, each participating restaurant will donate $1 directly to Blessings in a Backpack of Southwest Florida, a local 501(c)(3) charity that feeds 400 food-insecure elementary students in Lee and Collier counties every weekend during the school year.

This year’s event gives a taste of new restaurants, hidden gems waiting to be discovered, while also revisiting treasured favorites in Naples, Marco Island, Bonita Springs, Estero, Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Sanibel Island and Babcock Ranch.

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From fine dining to casual neighborhood restaurants, diners can sample some of the best tastes Southwest Florida’s culinary scene has to offer.


Sizzle Dining is easy. Simply pick from participating restaurants, found at, make your reservations directly with each restaurant and enjoy.


Buon appetito!

Southwest Florida’s Culinary Scene Turns Up the Heat Next Month
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