When longtime CEO/Principal George Abounader decided to retire after 21 years at Marco Island Charter Middle School, he didn’t have to look far for his successor.
Just a year earlier, Abounader hired Michele Wheeler to replace his longtime colleague Maureen Marcoux as assistant principal at the A-rated middle school.
“Maureen Marcoux was my go-to person,” Abounader explained. “She was one of the founding teachers and administrators of Marco Island Charter Middle School. Maureen retired last year from the assistant principalship after 20 years of service to our students, faculty and community. Her brilliance and professional skills that she demonstrated on a daily basis jettisoned the school to the level of success and achievements that it enjoys today.”
High praise for his colleague. And what a great opportunity presented itself when Abounader was able to hire Wheeler and groom her to be his successor.
“Michele Wheeler brought several years of experience in leading a K-12 school to MICMS,” Abounader said. “That experience proved invaluable as she stepped into the assistant principalship. With the scope of knowledge that she demonstrated during this past year, promoting her to the principalship was a logical move. I am so confident in her leadership ability that I believe Michele will take the school to new heights.”
Taking the high achieving middle school to new heights will be no easy task. MICMS has been an A-rated school for 19 of its 22 years—including 18 years in a row. However, Wheeler seems ready to accept the challenge.
“I’m honored to be the next principal of the school,” declared Michele Wheeler. “I’m a little nervous. He’s been here for a very, very long time. It’s going to be hard to fill those shoes. But I’m excited about it.
“It was very beneficial for him to be here on campus and for me to observe how he worked with the students and the teachers and the parents. I know George puts students first, and that’s my philosophy as well. We’re educators and we’re in the business of educating children. Our primary job is to make sure the kids are getting what they need, academically as well as emotionally, so they’re prepared for the next stage, which is high school. Middle school is a very rough time. So being able to get them through this rough time is very important.”
Wheeler has a clear picture of the school’s strengths as she prepares to take charge.
“The strength of this school is that the majority of the teachers have been here for a very long time,” she stated. “They know the kids, they know the parents, they know the community. Most of our students have had family members who have gone through the school system because it’s been established for so long. I feel the teachers know a huge portion of the community.”
Wheeler, who has lived on the island since 1997, has not worked in education on Marco. She is looking forward to growing her roots on the island. “I’ve always worked off the island. I don’t really know a lot of the people on the island in an academic setting. I’m really looking forward to learning all of the kids’ names, finding out who they are and what they do.”
Wheeler has taught at the elementary, middle school and high school levels. “When I went to Everglades City, it’s a Pre-K through 12th. So, I’ve worked with 3–year–olds through 12th grade.
“Everglades was a small community,” Wheeler said, “there were only 200 students in the entire school. You know every student and their family personally. I was there for 8 years. It was easy to get to know everybody. Having the kids for such a long time—you had the kids from 3-year-olds until they graduate high school. You get to know them very well. Here we only have the students for 3 years, so you have to get to know them quicker. And there’s twice as many students here in only three grade levels.
“I love getting to know the kids in my community. I knew kids in the community before, because my kids play sports. I would meet their friends, but now I get to meet more of them. I would much rather be in the hallway with the kids or having lunch with the kids than being in my office. I love to be out with them to see how they’re doing and how things are going.”
Abounader’s example has been important to Wheeler’s growth. “One of the biggest things in having George here is his guidance in showing me how to present to the board, and what the board expects,” Wheeler shared. “That insight into how the board functions.
“The budgets are created by the board, but the principal also has a say in it. It’s different than a traditional public school. When my son started at MICMS, I started coming to the board meetings even before I knew I would have a position at the school.
“It’s a new challenge for me. I like change. I like to do things that are challenging to me. I’m currently working on my doctorate—which is challenging to me. I like to learn new things and grow as a person. I find challenges like that exciting.”
Wheeler’s a big sports fan, and she’s aware of the athletic reputation of MICMS. “I’m a huge Kentucky basketball fan,” Wheeler said enthusiastically, “there’s a lot of Kentucky fans in Florida.
“I was the Athletic Director when I first went to Everglades City. I loved, loved, scheduling the athletic events and going to the games. It was just a fun part—I think it really builds school spirit. I love it. I just love stuff like that. I think the students love to see their teachers and their school staff at the games supporting them. I think that’s something that’s really cool to see.”
While she may be a little nervous, Wheeler is mostly confident and thrilled about her opportunity to lead the middle school into the future.
“I’m really excited about this,” she proclaimed. “I’m really looking forward to it.”
Can she see herself having a long career like Abounader?
“Absolutely,” she said enthusiastically.