Marco Island Charter Middle School (MICMS) has been an A-ranked school since before today’s students were born, known for fostering a climate of academic excellence. Still, it was gratifying for the school’s administration, faculty and board when MICMS was recognized as being among the top five charter schools in the state of Florida.
The notification, ranking MICMS #4 among all 240 charter middle schools in the state, came from Niche, a Pittsburgh, PA-based firm that specializes in ranking schools, colleges and neighborhoods throughout the U.S.
Now in its 20th year of operation, MICMS has a student body of “about 400 – it’s a moving target,” said principal George Abounader. As a charter school, MICMS is required to be available to students living anywhere in Collier County, not just on Marco Island, which sometimes leads to confusion and frustration from new Marco Island parents wanting to enroll their children. Sixty percent of the students live on Marco Island.
“We have a diverse student population, with one third of our students going home to non-English-speaking households and one quarter who qualify for the free and reduced-price lunch program,” said Abounader. While the linguistic diversity can present challenges for the teachers, it is a major component of what makes his school excellent, he said.
While Abounader has been at MICMS for 19 years, he is the school’s third principal, with two others coming and going quickly in the first two years.
“That’s normal for startup charter schools – you often see a lot of leadership changeover at the beginning,” he said. A big part of the school’s success, he said, comes from community support and how MICMS has been embraced by local organizations. Abounader gave particular thanks to the island’s two Rotary Clubs (including the Noontime Rotary where he has been president and Rotarian of the Year), the Kiwanis Club, which made the grant that allowed the school to debut their new $17,000 television production studio, the Island Country Club, which will host a gala celebrating the school’s 20th anniversary this winter, and the Greater Marco Family YMCA.
He has an in at the last one; Abounader and YMCA CEO Cindy Love are married. Long before that, though, the Y made it possible for MICMS to have an athletics program when they had no gym and only limited facilities on campus.
“Without the Y, we wouldn’t have had a PE program,” he said.
Now competitive athletics is a big deal at MICMS, and something that sets them apart from other area middle schools, said Abounader. They field school teams, not just clubs, in sports including football, soccer, volleyball, track and field, cross country, basketball, golf, tennis and cheerleading.
“We have the largest interscholastic sports program of any school in Collier County,” he said.
School spirit seems strong at MICMS. The marching band boasts 200 members, and has smaller breakout ensembles including the advanced band and the jazz band. Those who are not band members sing in the chorus, with both ensembles performing at community functions on a regular basis.
Academically, the school is adding new and more challenging programs, and focusing on analysis and critical thinking, rather than just memorization of data. MICMS is debuting a high school credit-bearing debate class, and a high school credit-bearing algebra class for seventh graders. This brings to three the number of high school level classes at the school, and means that next year, they will have four, when the seventh graders who complete algebra will be eligible for high school geometry.
Abounader lauded the school’s independent board of directors as a plus for Charter Middle.
“Having a local school board allows the community to get responses to their concerns more quickly. It’s a very strong part of the charter school legacy. We’re not governed by a board responsible for dozens of schools.”
Board member and secretary Allyson Richards, in turn, asked her opinion for MICMS’s excellence and recognition, named the principal.
“It’s George Abounader and the teachers he hires,” she said. “We have excellent teachers. George and the people he hires are at the root of it.” After working with him, his genuine love for the children comes through, said Richards.
“Middle schoolers, that’s a hard age to love. They’re like prickly pears at that age. Is he tough when he needs to be? Yes. But for George, there’s no such thing as a bad kid.”
The school came through Hurricane Irma just fine, with a mess outside but little damage to the buildings, which Abounader were built in 2006 and 7, to post-Hurricane Andrew building codes. One casualty was the sign out front, now lying forlornly on the ground.
MICMS even helped with the island’s recovery effort, hosting a team of 80 FEMA personnel just after the storm passed.