Marco charter high school plans expand to eco-friendly, community campus

Brandon Helmer, 14, of Indiana visits Marco Island with his extended family, who supports the concept of a charter high school on Island specializing in the arts and sciences with a focus on sustainable, green living as presented by proponents of the plan Wednesday evening at Marco Island Charter Middle School.

Photo by KELLY FARRELL, Staff // Buy this photo

Brandon Helmer, 14, of Indiana visits Marco Island with his extended family, who supports the concept of a charter high school on Island specializing in the arts and sciences with a focus on sustainable, green living as presented by proponents of the plan Wednesday evening at Marco Island Charter Middle School.

— What started as a polarizing debate on the need for an on-island high school has turned into some ambitious plans from a small but growing and dedicated group. The proposal for a charter high school calls for a six-acre-plus complex to include a sustainable living camp, performing arts and educational community center.

About 30 people listened intently to the significant developments gained in the plans over the past several weeks at a presentation Wednesday evening at Marco Island Charter Middle School.

Educator Lynne Irvine, new to Marco from Northern Michigan, Islanders Jane Watt and Tara Hagan presented their progress on creating a master plan for the center, which is being backed by their newly formed non-profit, Marco Island Discovery Center, Inc.

The non-profit goes by the same name as the center of the complex is to have. The plan, presenters said, includes a central, three-story, resort style building surrounded by pods, which will house the four grade levels to be served by the high school academy.

The focus of the center will be science and performing arts, with the architecture and educational offerings promoting sustainable living, organizers said.

A black box theater, community organic gardens and organic swimming pools are among the planned features.


Watt said the idea is for the facilities to draw on and be used by people of all ages in the community, from out of the state and from across the world.

Dual enrollment will allow for after school hours, open to everyone, including retirees with marine biology or other interests, to either learn or teach, by offering lectures or mentoring, Watt said.

The academy is to be a public charter high school offering exceptional education, organizers said.

“I know No Child Left Behind is leaving way too many children behind,” said Irvine.

The school is to include the same populations as served by Marco Island Charter Middle School and Tommie Barfield Elementary, Watt said.

Marco Island Charter Middle School Principal George Abounader said about 30 percent of the school’s population is from off Island, including Everglade City, Fiddlers Creek, 6L Farms, East Naples and South Naples.

Planners say they believe a higher percentage of off-Islanders will likely attend the school which is planned to accommodate about 96 students per grade level or just under 400 students.

Watt said she hopes the Marco Island Academy will be able to recapture many of the students who are currently attending private schools and draw them back into the public Collier County school system. About 125 eighth-graders go on to high school from Marco Island Charter Middle School and about 10 percent of those students currently go on to a private school, said Abounader.

That’s what Erin Homuth, 12, and parent Tiffany Homuth, said is planned for Erin when she graduates.

“When I go to high school I’d go to this (proposed) school or I’d go to Seacrest. I wouldn’t go to Lely,” Homuth said.

She added that she likes smaller learning environments and had even asked to be home schooled before finding Seacrest Country Day School, a private school in Naples, as an option.

Tiffany Homuth said she doesn’t dislike Lely High School and respects principal Ken Fairbanks very much.

“It’s just that as a parent you have to be very involved because there are a lot of opportunities to go astray. At a smaller school, there is less of an opportunity to fall off the bandwagon,” Tiffany Homuth said.

Resident Gayle Thawley questioned whether sports would be an opportunity for students.

Athletics are one aspect still being worked out, but Watt said she doesn’t anticipate sports being able to compete with larger public high schools in the area.

“Charter schools are all about choice. We can’t be everything to everyone,” Irvine said.


Organizers say it’s far too early in the planning to determine approximate costs to construct the compound. Once land is determined, the costs are expected to come into focus, Watt said.

“I think you should go before council because there is a rumor that you’ll be looking to after people’s tax dollars,” said resident Jay Santiago.

Funding sources won’t be taxes, organizers maintain.

Grants and philanthropy are expected to pay for the project and grant opportunities grew with the scope of the project, Watt said.

The most profitable portion of the non-profit’s plan is the summer camp which is hoped to draw people internationally and support summer tourism, organizers said.

Business learning will also be a component of the academy.

“We plan to remove the wall between the high school and the real world,” Irvine said of students’ opportunities to contribute to the Farmers’ Market and other enterprise possibilities.

Send donations for the Marco Island Discovery Center to:

970 Cape Marco Drive #1706 or to M&I Bank, 800 North Collier Boulevard, located in the Esplanade.


Tract K, a vacant 11-acre site near Tigertail owned by the Collier County School District with an American Bald Eagle, is the primary location, organizers say. They will go before the Planning Board 9 a.m., Friday, to explore location options.

The school is still slated for Fall 2011 and the camp to open summer 2011, Watt said.

To see plans visit and check back to for more coverage on location, athletics and response from the ideas.

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Comments » 5

joetf404 writes:

I think this is fantastic. My family is very excited about this endevour.

ChuckKiester writes:

So am I. This fits right in with what my hope and vision of what this island can become---self reliant and home to a diverse population, old, middle aged and young. In order to support our businesses and work towards this goal, we need to do everything in our power to entice a year-round population. Yes, we are a tourist destination and that's fine, but we don't have to adopt policies which drive our middle-income and retired people off the island. Chuck Kiester

lauralbi1 writes:

If Grants and Philanthropy pay for this project and the tuition pays for the teachers and maintenance, this would be a model for the entire Country. I agree with Mr. Kiester's comments above. I only hope (and according to what has been said it does not) that this project does not depend on tax or financial support from Collier County or Marco Island.
Good Luck and any support citizens as a group can provide should be solicited.
Ed Issler

Fossil writes:

lauralbi1, the community welcomes your approval and willingness to support this project. Hopefully, you will work to convince some of your wealthy friends and business owners to give hefty annual contributions to this worthwhile project. Someone will be by soon to solicite your own generous donation to this worthy cause. Together we can make this happen.

lauralbi1 writes:

Boy, these blogs are great and really show how meaningless so many of the comments are. As an example, Posting #4 above incinuates that Fossill actually knows my personal life and my personal situation. I assure anyone reading this (all 10 of you) that this is not the case. It is even more laughable that Fossill actually thinks that he speaks for the "Community" which could not be further from the truth. And that has been proven over and over again. Also, maybe friends of fossill could tell him how to spell solicit.
I can honestly say that I am NOT able to contribute financially to this worthy cause. I will certainly give of my time, as available, to assist in fund raising.
Another idea might be that since Mr. McMullan was caught stealing merchandise off the shelf by the manager of Marco Office Supply (confirmed by John Putnam), maybe we can solicit his assistance in selling merchandise to raise money.
Ed Issler

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