Planning for a public charter high school for Marco Island moves ahead, with the leader of the effort saying it could open by fall 2011.
Jane Watt, president, says the motto of Marco Island Academy is “Empowering the Next Generation.”
“We have made quite a bit of progress over the past 15 months. As of today, there are over 170 volunteers for the Marco Island Academy, and this number keeps growing,” she writes. “We have a fundraising/informational office that has been donated to us at the Esplanade,” a shops/condos complex on the island.
Watt engages in an e-mail question-and-answer exchange with the Daily News. — Jeff Lytle / Perspective editor
1. Do you have a site yet?
The Marco Island Academy will share land with the Greater Marco Island YMCA. The architects have designed a LEED-certified campus that incorporates recycled rainwater, rooftop gardens, a biolarium and outdoor “living laboratory” and much more.
Naming rights are now available for different areas on the campus.
We are willing to meet individually with anyone who is interested in naming rights to the school to show them the design. At this time, we have not shown the design to the public.
We have also identified a temporary location, so that our school can open by our target date of August 2011. I am not able to disclose the temporary location at this time.
2. How much money do you need to get started and where will it come from?
At this point, we only have an estimate of the cost of the new school and YMCA facilities. The Marco Island Academy will be approximately 53,000 square feet including a gymnasium at approximately $200 per square foot, but this is a very rough estimate only. We have not bid the project out yet.
We are actively seeking private and corporate sponsors to pay for the school. We also have a team working on grants. We are not seeking any tax dollars for this project. We have formed a 501(c)(3) Florida nonprofit — the Marco Island Discovery Center — whose sole purpose is to raise funds for the Marco Island Academy.
3. What kinds of curriculum and activities can your school have at first?
The academy will offer the AICE Cambridge Curriculum. The Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) is an international diploma that students can earn via an advanced academic curriculum and assessment program written and administered by a nonprofit department (Cambridge International Education) of the University of Cambridge in England. AICE not only prepares students to get into a university with up to 30 hours of college credit, but also provides them with the skills required to be successful once there.
A study done by the director of admissions found that AICE program graduates attending the University of Florida had an average end-of-freshman-year grade-point average of 3.46, whereas students coming from other accelerated mechanisms such as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate had an average GPA of 3.12 and 3.10, respectively.
AICE is not currently offered in any other public high school in Collier County.
I have assembled a team of local experts (including three Ph.D.s, two masters in education, one teacher and one masters of business administration) who have been working and researching the various curriculums available and they chose the AICE Cambridge Curriculum.
We also visited the Oasis Charter High School in Cape Coral. They are using the AICE Cambridge Curriculum and recommended it to us as well.
Aside from the competitive academic curriculum, the Marco Island Academy will also feature a few specialized programs. We have developed a partnership with Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society to infuse environmental literacy into the curriculum. This collaboration will provide a fantastic opportunity to create a seamless, integrated, holistic educational experience that will provide a solid foundation based on science and environmental science with connections to the social sciences. The portion of the science curriculum that will be added by the Ocean Futures Society will link all science-related activities to the Florida Sunshine State Standards for science education.
Basically, Dr. Richard Murphy, the director of Ocean Futures, will spend about 10 days on Marco exploring the Gulf, estuary and surrounding environment. Then he will write some of our science curriculum based on his observations. This is the first time the Jean-Michel Cousteau has implemented his program directly into a high-school curriculum.
In addition, we are going to offer a resort management and culinary arts program. The goal is to work with local resorts and restaurants to offer internships and practical learning experiences for the students to prepare them for their future.
Marco Island Academy is going to offer a well-rounded high-school experience including a variety of different clubs and sports. The academy plans to offer basketball, volleyball, soccer, baseball, softball, tennis, golf, track, cross country, swimming, band, drama, art and music.
4. Are the Collier County School Board and superintendent behind you?
It is my sincere desire to work with the Collier County School Board as a team. I have met with most of the School Board members and am looking forward to meeting the superintendent next month.
5. What is your projected initial enrollment and where will those students come from?
We are anticipating 170 to 200 students the first year. We plan to offer grades nine and 10 the first year. We hope to attract students who currently attend the Marco Island Charter Middle School; this includes students from Marco as well as the surrounding communities.
6. How can readers get more information?
Please visit www.marcoislandacademy.com (we are completely redoing our website and it will be complete in the next two weeks), call our office at (239) 404-3622 or mail us at 740 N. Collier Blvd., Suite 107, Marco Island, 34145.
7. There will be no Collier County Public Schools money — local, state or federal — involved, even for ongoing operations?
Charter schools are tuition-free public schools funded primarily by state and local tax dollars and based on per-capita enrollment. The Marco Island Academy will seek grant money and private and corporate sponsors to pay for the construction of its school; therefore buildings and associated costs will not impact local taxes. We also have a team working on grants. Many of the local residents have expressed a concern that the Marco Island Academy will increase their taxes, but this is simply not true.
8. So there will be public money involved, for operations, which includes staff salaries.
There will be public money involved for operations — just like the Marco Island Charter Middle School.
9. In view of the ongoing struggles of the existing charter school for the middle-school grades on Marco, would it make more sense to shore up the finances there before expanding to a high school?
I would check with George Abounader, the principal, about the Marco Island Charter Middle School’s financial situation. It is my understanding that their finances are much better than has been portrayed in the media. It is unfortunate that charter schools receive less public funding than other traditional public schools considering the fact that both are open to all students in the district. As a whole, it is always more difficult for charter schools because they have to raise the money to make up for that difference on their own. This is true for all the charter schools. In order to succeed, you have to perform better with less money than the traditional schools.
10. Do you have any architectural renderings?
Yes, but we are not sharing them with the general public yet. We are going to share the renderings with members of (Marco Island) City Council and individuals who are interested in naming rights first.
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Watt adds: The Marco Island Academy will have one of the most innovative designs for a public charter school in the world, but more important than the design is the educational opportunities for the students. We will strive to provide the best possible education to all students through hands-on learning experiences, a personalized academic adviser for each student, student-run enterprises, a focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the AICE Cambridge Curriculum, mentorship programs incorporating local professionals, and a close collaboration between the teachers, students and parents as well as the YMCA, the city and local businesses and organizations on the island.
Watt has a bachelor’s degree from Miami University of Ohio with a major in zoology and a minor in Spanish. She studied Spanish in Puebla, Mexico, at la Universidad de las Americas, and worked as a pharmaceutical sales specialty representative for Eli Lilly for four years. She was also district manager of the Cleveland division of Southeast Equity Title for five years. For the past 10 years she has been a full-time mother raising her three children, ages 10, 7 and 3. She attributes her passion for education to her mother, who taught eighth-grade science for 30 years. She says she is fully committed to making a positive contribution toward local public education and hopes it gives all students the best possible opportunity to experience success in their lives.