MARCO ISLAND — 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.
LELY'S "UNFAIR" GRADE
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.
ATHLETICS, MARCO ISLAND CHARTER MIDDLE SCHOOL and TRACT K
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.