All of us have witnessed what we consider to be miracles at sometime within our lives. Those miracles may just involve a group of volunteers pulling together to do what some might have said was impossible at the moment, but with determination, focus and commitment they accomplished what some had doubted would be possible.
That probably reflected the views of many on our small island paradise twenty years ago when parents on Marco Island chose to take on the formidable task of creating what has become known as one of the most successful charter middle schools in all of the State of Florida. They will promote 140 students on May 31 into the ninth grade as they leave the Marco Island Charter Middle School (MICMS). (Class photos of graduating students may be found on page B-16-17.)
The three-year contract with the Collier County School Board was approved on March 19, 1998 by a unanimous vote of the board. That vote took vision, trust and courage regarding the desires of the Marco Island residents to provide an opportunity for their children to not have to leave the island early in the morning and return as the sun began to set over the Gulf of Mexico.
As part of the Articles of Incorporation for the new school they spelled out the purpose for their endeavor to include the following:
- Improve student learning.
- Increase learning opportunities for all students, with special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for students who are identified as academically low achieving.
- Encourage the use of different and innovative learning methods.
- Increase choices of learning opportunities for students.
- Establish a new form of accountability for schools.
- Require the measurement of learning outcomes and create innovative measurement tools.
- Make the school the unit for improvement.
- Create new professional opportunities for teachers, including the opportunity to own the learning programs at the school site.
- Two decades ago these types of innovative ideas were taking root throughout the country. The first charter school law was passed in Minnesota in 1991. That legislation was followed by a similar law in California in 1992. Florida would follow four years later when it passed its legislation in 1996.
Residents such as Paul Tateo, Al Diaz, Ed Walsh, Fran Busch, Paula Tateo, Bob Mulhere, Jim Ebaugh, Jamie Greusel, Kris Sebausture, Frank Lazzaro and Shirley Hagerson amongst many, many more, served on the original executive boards over the early years. They were joined by hundreds of parents and volunteers to make the school a success.
“It truly was a community effort,” said Bob Mulhere, one of the early supporters of the MICMS.
Getting the approval for the school’s new charter was a major feat. However, the efforts to pull together a campus, which included 14 original trailer classrooms, required another Herculean effort that took many thousands of volunteer man-hours. The hard work and energy by many within the community made the campus a reality, welcoming the first 198 students for the combined grades of 6, 7 and 8.
Erik Condee of Condee Cooling and Electric was in high school when the school first began, but recalls his grandfather and dad’s involvement. “They would assist the fledgling school by allowing their electricians to donate their after-hours time and the company would donate materials to help set up the campus and bring it to life with electricity,” said Condee.
Eventually that campus grew to 30 of those portable trailers, with approximately 340 children receiving an award winning education. In 2006 the Collier County School Board would once again demonstrate the courage and wisdom of voting the funds for the construction of a permanent home for the Marco Island Charter Middle School.
The Collier County School Board’s wisdom and faith in what began as a dream less than a decade before saw 400 students enter their new home, where once stood 30 trailers which had earlier housed students, faculty and staff.
“I think we’ve really demonstrated what a collaborative effort can produce between a public charter school and the public school system when you work together for the benefit of the children within a community,” said George Abounader, the longtime principal of MICMS.
Over their twenty years of existence the school has been awarded numerous academic and scholastic awards, including being named as a “High Performing Middle School,” by the State of Florida. They were also named the #4 Best Charter School in the State of Florida.
“I really believe the small school environment provides our students with a wonderful opportunity to excel here,” said Allyson Richards, a member of the MICMS Board of Directors.
Today, 20 years later the Marco Island Charter Middle School will be saying goodbye for the summer to their student body, as a new class of sixth graders prepare to leave their elementary schools and enter MICMS. This, at the same time that the 140 eighth graders prepare to enter the high schools of their choice.
“I can’t tell you what a wonderful feeling it is to have successfully promoted these children to the next set of challenges in their educational journey. We are also humbled by the confidence that the parents of all these children bestow upon us each year to provide them with a strong foundation for success as they move forward in life,” said Tarik N. Ayasun, president of the Marco Island Charter Middle School Board of Directors.
More information can be found about MICMS by visiting their website at www.micms.org.