Monday, October 18, 2021

A May to Remember for MIA

The week of May 12, 2019 is one that will go down in Marco Island Academy history.

It began with a groundbreaking ceremony heralding the impending start of construction of Phase One of high school’s first permanent buildings. The celebration included the announcement that just a few days prior, MIA benefactor Myrt Rose had donated the $1 million needed to reach the Phase One fundraising goal of $4.5 million.

But that wasn’t the only exciting news revealed there. It was also announced that after Rose’s donation, another $2.5 million had been raised to finance Phase Two.

Over the next few days, an additional $2 million was donated. As a result, MIA’s board of directors decided at week’s end to forego completing the $12.5 million project in three phases and instead build the facilities all at once.

Jane Watt, MIA’s founder and board chairman, was thrilled with the unexpected turn of events.

“My family and I have prayed every night for a miracle to happen to help us raise the necessary funds and to give me guidance on the school,” she said. “In the past week, that miracle has happened. Our dream is becoming a reality. I am so thankful for everyone who has played a role in our success.”

Work will begin in June on the project, which will include:

  • A two-story building including a multi-use gym with a stage and a school lobby at a cost of $4.5 million;
  • A three-story addition to that building containing an academic center with 16 state-of-the-art classrooms;
  • A soccer field and lastly, removal of the modular classroom buildings the school has utilized.

Completion is expected to take one year.

“We will likely move into the new building some time in 2020,” said Watt at week’s end. “Our dream is the beginning of the 2020 school year, but we understand there are circumstances outside our control; permitting, weather, et cetera, that could delay us.”

During her remarks at the ceremony, she said it was 10 years ago that she, Gayle Thawley, Kim Polley and Dianne Wetjen decided to found the public charter high school. With free office space at the Esplanade Shoppes, they and other volunteers sold donated jewelry and wedding dresses to raise funds, along with holding an annual 5K run.

“People would stop by the office and ask me where the school was located,” said Watt. “I would smile and reassure them, ‘It’s coming.’”

Marco Island Academy opened in the fall of 2011 in a small classroom building rented from the Family Church of Marco Island. There were 68 students in grades nine and 10. A grade level was added each school year until MIA was a traditional, four-year high school.

Growth led to a shift of operations in 2013, to what was then a vacant parcel along San Marco Road. Donations from the community totaling $1.8 million were required to lease the land and prepare the campus, including adding the modular buildings that house classrooms and offices.

A few years later, the lease and its option to purchase were about to expire. The property owner informed the school that the tract would be sold if the option wasn’t exercised. It was then that MIA supporters Bill and Karen Young saved the day by providing a low-interest, $2 million loan to enable the school to buy the property. In February, the couple forgave the loan and donated the land to MIA.

Watt took time to thank MIA’s past and present board members, its advisory board, administrators, faculty, staff and students, as well as MIA parents and the community for their contributions and support.

She also cited the contributions of her fellow co-founders and staunch backers, like Rose, who’ve provided major financial assistance and helped in other important ways over the years.

Among them were:

  • Rene and Tish Champagne
  • Marianne and Dinos Iordanou
  • Terry and Andrea McCreanor
  • Scott and Brenda Rhinehart
  • Steve and Charlotte Garske
  • Corrie Grado
  • The JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort
  • Ronda Balham
  • Doug and Margaret DeCamp
  • Allen and Debbie Hobbs
  • The Marco Patriots
  • Victor Rios
  • Tom and Lola Sinelli
  • Dwight and Rita Stiehl
  • John and Mary Lou Watt
  • The Marco Island Women’s Club

“Thank you all so much for believing in our dream,” said Watt.

She also lauded MIA Principal Melissa Scott for her work since coming aboard in 2013.

“After meeting her for the first time, I knew she had to be part of our school,” she said. “Our entire board agreed. Little did we know that she would transform our entire school culture for the better. I had finally found the person who could help make our school exactly what we had envisioned.”

After joining in the ceremonial turning of earth, Scott said she was amazed and overwhelmed to see construction poised to begin and at the communal effort that made it possible.

“I’m inspired by everybody who gave,” she added. “I’m just so excited for the kids. Look at how this community comes together and how much they believe in kids. I’m just overwhelmed.”

Rose had pledged $100,000 towards Phase One before deciding she was interested in making a larger donation that carried with it naming rights. Her $1 million pledge means the school’s entry pavilion will bear her name.

Other significant exterior naming rights, all valued at $2 million, that have been reserved include:

  • The Arts and Athletics Facility – Dinos and Marianne Iordanou
  • The Academic Center – Rene and Tish Champagne
  • The Campus Name – Kurt and Lori Lacks

Rose was succinct in explaining the reasons for her support for MIA.

“I’m a former art teacher and I’ve been involved with kids all my life,” she said. “It’s very important thing to me. The future of our country is these kids. It’s so important they have a place. They’ve done a fabulous job with what they have and it’s just blossoming.”

The school’s capital campaign is still short of its goal of $12.5 million. A website has been created for the effort, Donations can be made there, including for unreserved naming rights. The fundraising effort can also be tracked there.


Testimonials From MIA Supporters

Mark Melvin. | Submitted Photos

Mark Melvin

For My Community – For the Children: I have only lived on Marco for a short time, just over a year, but I have been so impressed with what Marco Island Academy has done in such a short time. When I saw the building campaign, I knew I had to be involved. At first it was just helping the school with the integration of IT and security in to the design. As I got to see first-hand the value and the benefits of MIA it became clear to me, I had to find a way to help in a much larger way. MIA is a critical resource for Marco Island. Though the majority of the people who move here are retired, we still have very good percentage of families with children. Providing a place for all of our children to learn, thrive and become a part of our incredible community is so important to the long term success of our community. The children of our families should not have to be bussed for an hour or more each way to go to High School. Additionally MIA has provided an environment where the kids can grow and find themselves, as well as thrive and excel, look at the performance of the school and the ratings, not many established schools can even claim this success.”

Scott and Brenda Rhinehart

Brenda and Scott Rhinehart. | Submitted Photos

“We have been coming to Marco Island since the early 1980s. While living in Pennsylvania, we were very involved with a small Christian school that served the inner-city children in York. This small school began with classes for Kindergarten through second grade — and was held in a local church. Logos Academy is now in a permanent structure and educates children from K through 12. This happened because of the special students who attended — and the support of the community. After moving full-time to Marco Island in 2010, we were looking for a way to be involved in our new community. The moment we heard about Marco Island Academy and discovered the wonderful opportunities being offered to the students of the island, we knew we wanted to become involved.

We do not have children or grandchildren that will ever benefit from the wonderful education being offered at Marco Island Academy. However, we feel very strongly that it is important to offer the students on the island (and all of Collier County, if they so desire) the opportunity to choose MIA as their high school. We want to help these students achieve their dreams.

Marco Island Academy is a high-performing school of excellence! This success is directly related to the special relationship between the students, the dedicated staff, the strong and talented teachers, and the community. We would like to invite every island resident (whether full or part-time) to join us in our support of the capital campaign to build a permanent high school on the island. The time has come — the time is NOW!

Sharon Lockwood, GM JW Marriott Marco Island | Submitted Photos

Sharon Lockwood, GM JW Marriott Marco Island

In beginning my role as General Manager of the JW Marriott Marco Island, I was fortunate to be able to assume participation as a Board member for Marco Island Academy. In my past General Manager roles, I was involved with the Hospitality High Charter School in Washington, DC and clearly understand the value and need of charter public schools within the community.

I quickly understood how special MIA is to not only to our community of Marco Island but also for Collier County students. MIA offers a wonderful option to those students who are looking for a more personalized educational experience than alternate local public schools. The option of acceptance at MIA is important for many students in this county, including the children of our JW Marriott associates who live and work here.

In my first visit to the school, I was amazed at the commitment of the administration and teachers to create a best in class environment for these students in their current temporary structures. I can only imagine the endless possibilities when a permanent school structure is available for our next generation of leaders.

The JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort and I are proud to be supporters of Marco Island Academy!

Karen and Bill Young. | Submitted Photos

Bill and Karen Young

“I believe education is the gateway to the future for the children and our island. A couple years ago, when Marco Island Academy’s greatest need was to secure a permanent location, I loaned the school $2,000,000 to purchase the land. I always planned to forgive the loan and donate the land to the school. But I was waiting until the school proved it was ready to move forward with building a permanent campus. That day has come. Karen and I are very excited to have played a major role in helping MIA’s dream become a reality. I hope you will join us!”


Tish and Rene Champagne. | Submitted Photos

Rene and Tish Champagne

We have become supporters of Marco Island Academy, the public charter high school on the island, because it offers high quality, skill-based academic programs of study focused on Science, Technology, Environment and Communications. Students develop important skill-sets such as Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, Communication Skills in Writing and Public Speaking and how to work in a Team environment. These skill-sets are important whether the graduate moves on to a university, career college or the workplace.

The Academy completes Marco Island’s K-12 offerings. A high quality local K-12 school system is so important in attracting young professionals with families who aspire to gain employment in one of the island’s hospitality service industry companies – hotels, restaurants, fishing, boating or other service oriented businesses.

The staff and faculty at Marco Island Academy devote significant attention to each student, not only in a classroom environment, but in the Academy’s various athletic programs, student clubs and personal mentoring. This close interaction between students, faculty and staff contributes toward assisting incoming freshmen to blossom by the time they become graduating seniors.

We are very proud of Marco Island Academy and look forward to continuing supporting the Academy as it “graduates to a new permanent campus.” We hope you will join us in the Capital Campaign to build a permanent campus.


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