Marco Island Academy breaks ground for new permanent campus

Lance Shearer

Marco Island Academy (MIA) has always been groundbreaking. Monday morning, they got literal about it.

Supporters and benefactors joined the students and faculty for the official groundbreaking ceremony for what will become the school’s permanent facilities, allowing them to leave behind the pre-fabricated modular structures that currently make up the MIA campus. The school’s leaders also took the opportunity to announce exciting news about a flurry of fundraising activity, which jumpstarted the building program and might allow the process to be completed faster than previously anticipated.

The island’s charter high school opened in 2011, founder Jane Watt told the group assembled on the school’s open central deck, “against all odds, including pushback from the district and the local community, in a small classroom building we rented from the Family Church.”

They added a grade level each year, and in 2013, grew out of that facility and into the present campus.

“I will never forget the day the modulars came over the bridge,” said Watt. Those temporary buildings served the school well, even making it through Hurricane Irma with minimal damage, but were never the longterm solution to housing MIA.

Marco Island Academy is an A-rated high school, ranked in the top two percent of the nation’s most challenging high schools, designated a High-Performing Charter School by the Florida Dept. of Education, and ranked as one of the nation’s most academically challenging schools by the Washington Post. MIA has achieved academic excellence while working out of what is essentially a trailer park, but Watt and her supporters dreamed of a permanent home.

This spring, the school kicked off a capital campaign to build a permanent campus, a three-phase process that will continue for years. Phase one, an athletics and arts center, will sit on currently vacant land just to the west of the modular classrooms, and cost $4.5 million. The plan calls for an academic center to make up phase two, at a cost of $6.5 million, and final completion and soccer field in phase three, with a cost of $1.5 million.

That adds up to $12.5 million, a daunting number, but in a period of four days, the school got $3 million closer to realizing their dream, said capital campaign co-chair Marianne Iordanu.

“Two days ago, our total was a little over $3,800,000. I can honestly say I was a bit concerned that we may not make our goal before summer,” said Iordanu. “Then stepped in Myrt Rose. She had already donated a substantial sum for which we were so grateful.”

Rose donated an additional million dollars. Islanders Rene and Tish Champagne, also major benefactors of the school, gave an additional $1.5 million, and Iordanou and her husband Dinos, her co-chair, doubled their gift to $1 million.

With the surge of donations, and Bill and Karen Young converting their $2 million loan to buy the land under the school into a gift, the prospects for speedy completion of the capital campaign and construction of the school took an upswing.

Watt thanked additional donors and supporters of the school and its campaign, including Scott and Brenda Rhinehart, Mark and Michelle Melvin, Terry and Andrea McCreanor, Alex and Luke Iordanou Allery, Krystina Iordanou, and Jim and Shirley Balk, all of whom will have various components of the new school bear their names. Naming opportunities for additional facilities still exist. The school has debuted a new website devoted to the capital campaign, “Graduating to a Permanent Campus,” at, said Watt.

She also thanked Principal Melissa Scott for “transforming our entire school culture for the better,” as well as board and advisory board members and the JW Marriott for their contributions to the school.

After the remarks, acknowledgements, and singing of the school song by the student choir, everyone trooped out to the site along San Marco Rd. where a long line of shovels and another long line of sugar sand awaited. Two dozen donned hardhats and flung a ceremonial shovelful of dirt to officially kick off the construction. The gold-plated shovels went to the Watts’ garage to await future groundbreaking ceremonies.

Actual building is scheduled to commence next month, and if all goes according to plan, said Watt, students will begin using the new phase one facility in fall 2021.

Marco Island Academy is a 501 (c)3 charitable organization.