Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Vision for the Future

More Straight Talk


The debate regarding charter schools as a choice that parents have for their children’s education is one which has continued to the point of contention within educational circles for many years now. The contentious nature of the debate and the lack of vision for the next 20 years in education could be a detriment to our abilities to compete in an ever-competitive global economy.

Twenty years ago, Marco Island residents began their efforts to move forward regarding the provisions for their own charter middle school to provide education for children from grades six to eight. That campus grew from 14 portable classrooms to a total of 30 of those temporary education pods.

In 2007, 400 students entered into a state of the art facility on Trinidad Avenue. This was all due to the foresight and astute planning of committed local community leaders and the Collier County School Board, who wisely committed to building that facility.

Their confidence in the planning and execution of an educational experience for young students on and off the island was well founded as they worked together with the local charter school board which oversees the Marco Island Charter Middle School and its staff.

Today the Marco Island Charter Middle School ranks number four in the entire State of Florida for middle schools.

Although it initially began to insure our young children could stay on the island for their middle school experience, as a public charter school any student in Collier County is eligible to attend. Today the demand for admission exceeds availability of space at their campus and speaks volumes to the success of the 20-year-old experiment and the wonderful accomplishments of all involved.

Unfortunately, in the 20 years since the dream became a reality, charter schools have faced an uphill battle to find continued common ground between themselves and their local school districts competing for financial support and an even playing field.

We now have the opportunity to view a similar success story with the creation of the Marco Island Academy (MIA). We can again be proud of the hard work of parents, professionals and staff members for building another success story at the local charter high school on San Marco Road.

MIA is another public charter school that has excelled in making their vision for the future into the reality of another success story here in Collier County. It is one of 16 high schools within Collier County and enrollment is open to all children. Their present enrolment is 230 students, with that being split 57% male and 43% female.

MIA was granted a charter by the Collier County School Board in 2011. Its creation was due to the tenacity and drive of its founder, Jane Watt, who had the vision to carry on the successful model of the Marco Island Charter Middle School. One could never claim that Watt didn’t have the energy or focus for the mission and she successfully conquered a number of obstacles that lay in her way, but she persevered and overcame them all.

However, the task ahead is even more formidable than some of the hurdles that they have already conquered. The push back by conventional thinkers in the education world has hardened even more in opposition to the “Charter School” concept. The offer of alternative educational opportunities is a concept that continues to gain support nationwide, but also has some detractors.

Some of that success they have had may lie of the ability of charter schools to cut through traditional red tape that tends to bog down innovation within traditional school offerings. That improved degree of flexibility has become an attractive benefit to those that wish to apply rapidly advancing technology and processes within the educational field, while still remaining accountable to the same measurable academic standards of the traditional school system.

Ask anyone in business today and they will tell you those that those organizations which stand the best chances for success are with those that have the ability to rapidly adapt to changing needs and requirements.

Citizens of Marco Island sit on approximately 10 billion dollars of real estate value. If you put that in simple terms, we provide the State of Florida and the Collier County School District with approximately $52,000,000 in taxes each year for educational purposes alone. Yes, that is fifty two million dollars in taxes each year. The Collier County School budget for 2018 is well over one billion dollars for educational and capital projects.

Both of the successful charter school ventures here on the island have proven themselves very worthy of support from the District. We are thankful for that vision they had over 20 years ago when they provided the Charter Middle School the opportunity to prove itself and again were rewarded by the success of the Marco Island Academy for their continued excellence in providing wonderful educational opportunities for over 230 children within the District.

The Collier County School District has the opportunity to once again show they have the “right stuff,” as they reinvest some of those valuable dollars back into one of the most successful ventures in charter school education found in the United States. They can show they still have the vision and faith in the reality of making both public charter and public schools coexist in a system that provides for an environment that will help youngsters flourish educationally to meet the challenges of the future and into decades ahead.

The Marco Island Academy needs a campus that will meet the needs of the educational, safety and security challenges that confront us today. We can only hope that the leadership in Collier County will have the same vision for the future as did their counterparts twenty years ago and do the right thing for the right reasons.

Steve Stefanides, well-known by his nickname “Stef,” is an experienced award-winning reporter of local civic and public interest news. Stef’s More Straight Talk column (and its predecessor, Straight Talk), on a variety of subjects, is a favorite of readers who trust him to bring them the facts. A Marco Island resident, Stef contributes to the community in many ways, having served on a number of city committees, charitable groups, boards and local organizations. Contact him by email at Stef@coastalbreezenews.com

3 responses to “The Vision for the Future”

  1. Larry Honig says:

    Excellent series of points by Mr. Stephanides. Well written.

    It is amazing to realize that Jane Watt — with the overwhelming support of most of Marco Island — has made it possible for Island children to be educated all the way through high school without crossing a bridge. Nothing is permanent (except perhaps school board ad valorem taxes), but MIA has passed many tests with higher and higher scores and deeper and deeper respect.

    MIA also offers a real choice, because in many ways MIA is quite a contrast to Lely. It is a classic presentation to parents and students, of attractive but almost mutually exclusive alternatives. Students will face similar choices as they consider colleges as they near high school graduation.

    In the positive spirit of Mr. Stephanides’s “Straight Talk,” we can all hope that the new Collier County School Board — which will almost certainly include Marco Island’s own Jory Westberry — will take a close look at helping MIA the way it helped the Island’s Charter Middle School in its early days.

    • Lola says:

      Jane Watt is a hero and the obstacles she faced in the beginning were insurmountable. People can be so cruel and she overcame all of them with a phenomenal spirit❤️

  2. Bob Brown says:

    Thank you Stef for a great commentary. The key is in what you have stated. We supply a huge portion of the Collier County School Board budget and the school board needs to help all schools, especially those that excell in creating our future leaders.
    MIA has shown what their capabilities are and now we need to support for candidates that will us have a great facility for out teachers, staff, and children!

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