MARCO ISLAND — How much electricity does it take to power a brand-new high school? One Watt.
Marco Island Academy threw an open house to dedicate their new campus Tuesday, and in the bright sunshine, the shadow of Jane Watt loomed large. She is the visionary who imagined a high school for the island, and went out and made it happen.
Tuesday afternoon, MIA threw a party, an open house and grand opening to celebrate their new campus on San Marco Road. About 250 wellwishers came out to tour the facilities, congratulate the school’s creators, and in some cases, do a little school shopping for their own children’s education.
“This is so unbelievable. I’m still trying to take it all in,” said Watt, showing a group of donors and parents around. A broad, raised wooden deck connects the school’s wings of modular classroom buildings, with bright colored canvas awnings over head. Three spokes with buildings on either side radiate from the central deck, under covered, open breezeways.
When the time came for the ceremonies to begin, Watt was pulled back from the tour to the stairs of the courtyard to officiate. The Chamber of Commerce held a mock ribbon cutting no actual ribbons were severed and Watt spoke briefly to the gathering, primarily to thank the donors and volunteers who made it possible.
“If you don’t know me, my name is Jane Watt, and four years ago I had an idea for a school,” she began, before deflecting credit to the team who helped make the vision a reality. She singled out Rene and Teresa Champagne, Rick Medwedeff, representing the Marco Marriott, Timothy Truesdell and Terry McCreanor for their support and contributions, presenting them with framed certificates.
Medwedeff turned the tables on Watt, presenting her with a glass plaque and a bouquet of flowers, and hugs were exchanged all around. Speaking of tables, the Marriott donated all the furniture on the school’s central deck, as well as partnering with MIA to offer courses in hospitality and tourism.
Ninth grader Steve Vale, an MIA freshman, spoke on behalf of the students.
“I am enrolled in the ACE program, a student council representative, past editor of the school newspaper, and a member of the Key Club,” he told the group, perhaps pointing up some of the advantages of going to a smaller school.
The student body consists of 102 students, with 10 teachers, three of them part time, said principal George Andreozzi. “We just hired two more,” he said. There are no seniors yet; this year’s 11th grade will become the first graduating class next school year.
Asked if there was more work to do, Andreotti said “we have a lot of work, to be the best high school in the state, and then in the country,” but the physical plant is essentially complete for now. There are still fences of yellow caution tape, the smell of new lumber, and sod not yet grown from individual pieces into one lawn. The classrooms sport high-tech projectors and stacks of iPads, which are often used in lieu of books, said student Anna Howard.
“I’m the math teacher,” said Justin Feller. “Next year, I’ll be one of the math teachers.” Teacher Robert Eder described himself as a utility infielder, teaching English, ACE thinking skills (a curriculum developed by Cambridge University), art and social studies. He said that switching between disciplines helps keep him spontaneous and flexible.
“We’re preparing these kids for jobs that don’t exist yet,” he said. Kelly Monott teaches hospitality and tourism, physical education, health, and leadership skills, as well as coaching the volleyball team.
Another sign of the modern times comes when you step into the office, where a bank of HDTV screens show views from 17 surveillance cameras mounted throughout the school.
The charter high school originally opened in temporary quarters at the First Baptist Family Church on Winterberry Drive, space already configured as a school by the previous occupant, Winterberry Christian Academy. After a year and a half there, the faculty and students moved into the new location on San Marco over spring break, in a whirlwind of activity and volunteerism.
“As soon as the bell rang that day, the trucks were outside, with a color-coded system for where everything went,” said social studies teacher Amber Prange. “The students helped me pack, and a lot of people helped with the move.”
“This school is fantastic, a natural progression. It’s where the middle school was many years ago,” said Kat Bray, mother of two MIA students. “One day people will look at Jane Watt as another Tommie Barfield.”
“That they’ve come so far in such a short time is amazing,” said Stephanie Davis of Marco Island, touring with her husband Bruce Davis and two children. “We have an eighth grader, so we are definitely school shopping.”
“I think it’s beyond what most people envisioned,” said Bruce Davis. “I love seeing how engaged and excited the students are. They don’t just sit in class taking notes.”