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— When it comes to building a Marco Island high school, it’s more complicated than Field of Dreams’ theme for the baseball diamond: “Build it and they will come.”

The idea for a Marco Island high school has come up several times over the years, and this most recent movement has left people taking sides between Lely High School and the proposed school.

Some say the divide is not necessary.

When asked about the impact a new high school might have on Lely, Principal Ken Fairbanks said they would lose approximately 300 Island students and would likely be rezoned.

“It would be a shame for all the students, I think. Lely has been the high school for Marco Island for 34 years,” Fairbanks said.

He added that although Lely would lose many great Island students, Marco Island isn’t the only source of excellent students.

The National Merit Finalists have been East Naples residents the last two years, he offered as an example. Lely High School also has the second highest enrollment in advanced placement classes within Collier County.

“A lot of people may believe Marco Island is providing all the brains, but they’re actually found all over,” Fairbanks said.

The push for an on-Island school sprung out of the idea to use Tract K, a vacant 11-acre Island site owned by the School District, for solar panels. Superintendent Dennis Thompson, the School Board and City Council met about the idea in January and many residents stood up against it saying solar power might be a legitimate use on roof tops, but is not preferred as the primary use of four out of the 11 acres proposed by the Marco based firm, United Energy Technology.

Since the January joint meeting, Thompson has declined to comment on the potential high school, despite numerous requests from the Eagle. School District Communications Officer Joe Landon said Thompson will be on Marco Island March 3 for a community ‘In the Round’ discussion on Tract K and will answer any questions about a high school at that time.

Keith Dameron, vice president of Orion Bank, said he will release the details of the event later in February.


Proponents for the Island high school, including Fay Biles, Roger Hall and Bill McMullan, have said the D grade Lely High School recently received from the state due to FCAT scores is an important factor in building a high quality Marco school.

Mario Sanchez, a college professor and Islander leading the movement for a “Marco Island high school of excellence” said that the FCATs are not reliable standards for judging the level of education the school provides and are not his basis for wanting a Marco high school.

The number of non-native English speakers is directly correlated with the FCAT scores and school grades set by the state, said Fairbanks.

He likened the challenge to taking a test written in German on math, science, reading and writing with one year and one day to have learned the language and added that students are not getting credit for the successes they are having.

“It takes seven or eight years to get acclimated. We’ve done it to ourselves in some ways. We’re setting ourselves up to get that grade by comparing being here for one year and one day to others who have been here 15 or 16 years,” Fairbanks said.

“There is no need to tear down Lely High School in order to build a Marco Island high school,” said Roger Raymond as a 30 year Island resident, who is also the athletic director at Marco Island Charter Middle School.

“You hurt a lot of people’s feelings bashing Lely. Lely should be left out of the equation. They don’t have any bearing on whether Marco Island gets a high school,” he said.

Raymond said that the drive over the bridge and back may be the primary reason to look into the idea.

“Our kids are going to need to experience the other side of the bridge at some point anyway,” he added.

Fairbanks said the high school level may be the right time to gain that experience.

“If you go to school with the same students in elementary, middle and high school you’re missing the social skills of getting acclimated to meeting new people. Then you go to a university with 40,000 students as a freshman, it will be a real eye opener,” he said.


Tract K, which happens to be shaped like a baseball diamond, may not be the place for a high school, athletic fields or solar demonstrations any time soon due to federally protected nesting American Bald Eagles.

“The Eagles are there anyway. I think the land will stay there for the Eagles,” Fairbanks said.

Proponents of the school are looking at expanding Marco Island Charter Middle School one school year at a time, though expense has been a noted challenge.

Raymond said the athletic fields used by the middle school would not be sufficient for the high school as they are right now.

“I think competitive athletics can be done on Island. It’s a challenge, but it can be done ... (A high school) needs to be looked at,” Raymond said.

Islander Fran Busch said she was involved with setting up the Charter School and the idea of adding high school grades came up years ago.

“Everyone was a little tired after setting up the middle school and the idea lost some steam,” she said.

Jane Watt, an Island mother to two children, said she is actively working to expand the middle school, working with Busch, Paul Tateo and Raymond, who helped set up the charter school originally.

Marco Island currently has high school classes at Winterberry Christian Academy, however proponents of the new high school movement are seeking a school “open to everyone,” Sanchez has said.

Winterberry, the school at the Baptist church, is a private school, costs more than $5,000 each year and offers primarily on-line courses.

FGCU’s College of Education Dean Marci Greene has been speaking with Biles and Sanchez about potential partnerships.

“We are forced to take a very conservative approach when considering new partnerships that would involve FGCU funding and/or staffing because of the serious fiscal constraints under which we are operating for the University,” said Susan Evans, FGCU spokeswoman and chief of staff.

© 2009 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 13

lauralbi1 writes:

This is wonderful how all the avenues are being explored. This idea has got to financially stand on it's own as it seems apparent that CCSB is not going to buy into it. But if the costs can be driven down by sharing the Middle School, then it might be worth a look. As someone else said, this is not about Tract K. Maybe we could get CCSB to let Marco sell Tract K and use the money to expand the Charter School for a High School.
Ed Issler

marcoislandres writes:

Maybe a new elementary school with pre k on tract k would work then the high school and charter school could share the current property.

happy6 writes:

ed...and maybe you can get your solar panels too....why not admit you are against the school...anything but a school seems to be your and your cronies want to build the solar plant and that's a sad fact.BUT the eagle is watching you fools.

liberator100 writes:

van: get a life!
You are the BIGGEST fool on Marco.
May an eagle nest on top of your house and you will have to leave the Island!!!

faithfultrojanette writes:

We love you Mr. Fairbanks!

fairandbalanced writes:

Here's a novel idea: Rather than throw the baby out with the bath water, look at what the problems are with Lely and put the community energy together to fix it. If language deficiency is the issue, then figure out a method to provide (and demand) a level of proficiency in order to move forward. Maybe an extra year of high school for non-English speakers to specifically learn the language.

sailingalong writes:

marcoislandres has the right idea. We are the cash cow that is supporting the CCSB. They are not going to give us back any more of the $60 million a year to educate our 1500 students than we force them to. This ripoff has to stop. Parents wake up!!! Our children deserve a quality high school.

happy6 writes:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Fossil writes:

Bussiness opportunities for Marco Island investors are not relevant and shouldn't be. Lely high school's problems are not relevant. The feelings of the students and parents of Lely are not relevant. Removing several hundred students from Lely classrooms are not relevant. The fact that the Super cannot think out of the box is not relevant(he has a boss too). Only Marco Island's needs should be examined when considering a new school. Marco Island's needs and the education of our children are all that matter here. All the rest is diversionary conversation to create confusion and obfuscate. Parents of Marco Island, use your numbers and start getting loud. The politicians will hear you if you want them to. No one is going to give your child a good education. That is something you must fight for. Marco Island isYOUR community, DEMAND your politicians listen to you and give our community a high school. A good school close to home. Making certain your child has a good education and has a safe place to go to school is your job as a parent. Write letters to the School Board, the County and State Government. Be agressive, your children's future depends upon YOU!

playballonK writes:

Good point Fossil! You parents may think you're facing a huge hurtle but basically you're only fighting a handful of greedy oppurtunist who have made Marco Island their little economic petri dish.
These are the guys who want to turn Marco into Miami, screw the families, 'they don't bring the $$$ like developers, time shares, businesses and

sailingalong writes:

Right on Fossil!!! Very well stated.

Marcoptomist writes:

What other city the size of Marco Island does not have it's own high school? You certainly do not have to leave Marco Island or socialize with 2000 other students in order to be able to function in society. I grew up going to school with the same 50 classmates from elementary school, all the way through high school in a town of 1400 people. I went on to a Public University with 8000 students. I never felt more prepared and better served than the education I received in my small town. I also gained the experience of learning how to get along in a small school where you are not just a number, but, a person that everyone cares about. By the way, going to this small school with the same students for 18 years, is an experience I would not change. It tought me to care for others, watch out for them, teach them, help them, chear them on, pressure them to succeed. Believe me, when you are not just a number, you want to succeed and not have others that you know see you fail. When you are in a big school, you can get lost in the crowd. By the way, I never felt like I could not fit in when I attended the large University, nor was it an "Eye Opener". In todays world, it is even less of an issue as I see children exposed to much more than we ever were with the internet and cable television. I seriously doubt that any child being raised on Marco feels they are sheltered. I don't know of many children that don't make it across the bridge. Again this is not about Lely, rather, why in the world would a city the size of Marco not have their own high school?

playballonK writes:

optomist; I think you know the answer to your own question.

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