They’ve crossed all of their T’s and dotted all of their I’s, and now two charter high schools are ready to open in Collier and South Lee County in August.
And while the schools are opening to serve two different types of students, both schools boast smaller class sizes, a more convenient location and a tailored education, officials from the schools said.
Richard Milburn Academy South, 9230 Brookwood Court, Bonita Springs, aims to put at-risk children back on track. The vision of the academy is to provide more guidance to help students graduate from high school who normally would have struggled at local public high schools, like Estero and South Fort Myers.
“We can educate the kids, prevent them from dropping out of school and help more kids graduate,” School Director Irma Miller said.
Marco Island Academy, which is temporarily located at 1450 Winterberry Drive on Marco Island, caters to a student population interested in mathematics and science.
The school is the vision of Jane Watt. She heard Marco Island parents complain about their kids’ high school education and saw the need for a specialized secondary school.
Growing up in Ohio, Watt had a passion for marine science but never had opportunities to pursue it. After moving to Marco Island, the mother of three noticed that the curriculum still hardly addressed hands-on marine science, even in such a diverse ecosystem as Southwest Florida.
“It didn’t make sense, the curriculum was almost the same as Ohio. Except we have the Everglades and the ocean right here,” she said.
This was the catalyst for Watt and six other community members to start the nonprofit Marco Island Discovery Center to raise money for a Marco Island charter school offering specialized programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, also called a STEM program.
The community members felt it would be too difficult to implement these programs at Lely High School in East Naples, where students from the Island would normally attend high school. Watt felt that changing the curriculum at Lely would have been impossible.
“I think there are some really good teachers and programs at Lely, but I do think that at Lely — and at schools across the U.S. — students are falling behind in math and science compared with other countries,” Watt said.
The schedule will require all freshmen to take a double block of math and English.
The school received a $325,000 start-up grant from the state to use for new computers and lab equipment. There are already 70 ninth- and 10th-graders — the school is only enrolling freshmen and sophomores — enrolled to begin school Aug. 22.
Marco Island Academy can only enroll a total of 100 ninth- and 10th-graders while it is leasing a building on the Island for the first year. The school is raising money to build its own facility.
The Bonita Springs charter school has a different approach to education, working to “provide services to students who have experienced difficulty in a traditional school setting.”
There are 13 Milburn Schools across Florida and Texas.
The Bonita Springs Richard Milburn Academy South just opened enrollment three weeks ago. As of Friday, 18 students had enrolled in all four grades combined.
But Miller anticipates the enrollment will grow over the summer before its opening for the academic year Aug. 8.
Students attending Richard Milburn Academy would normally attend Estero High School. All students from Lee County are able to enroll in the school.
Some community members felt that the local Bonita Springs government ignored the new charter school.
“The school was not helped at all by our city administration,” William Lewis said in an email to Bonita Springs community members.
Lewis and other members hoped for more encouragement and involvement from the city administration, particularly because the charter school stepped in to assist students who struggled academically.
However, by nature, charter schools are independent of the local public schools and therefore must be started independently of the local administration.
Bonita Springs’ Mayor Nelson thinks that the new charter school will be an awesome addition to the area.
“These are really bright kids, some kids just need an extra hand,” Nelson said. “This school will provide them with that support.”
Marco Island Academy and Richard Milburn Academy will reduce the commute time for most students attending the schools. Transportation to and from the school must be provided by the parents or public transportation.
Both schools will provide niche educational experiences for students seeking specialized instruction and individualized attention. It is an experience that founding school members felt students could not adequately receive at the local public schools.
“It will expose students to more opportunities and give students an alternative option,” Watt said.