Sunday, October 17, 2021

Bush, Rhee, guest speakers at benefit luncheon for Marco Island Academy

Michelle Rhee and others. Submitted

Michelle Rhee and others. Submitted

By Jane A. Marlowe

Marco Island Academy hosted a luncheon fundraiser on June 16 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Miami. Former Governor Jeb Bush and Michelle Rhee, former Chancellor of Schools in Washington, DC attended the luncheon and shared their views on the need for continued reform in public education across the entire country.

Jane Watt, Chair of the new charter high school informed the guests about the school’s latest plans to move into the former Winterberry Christian Academy site on the campus of the Baptist Family Church on Marco Island. The school is modern and well designed. It will provide ideal facilities while site preparation continues at the San Marco Road location where the academy intends to make its home.

Governor Bush, known as the Education Governor during his years in office, praised Jane Watt’s “dogged determination” to bring about the charter high school on Marco Island. He is the founder and chair of the Foundation For Excellence In Education which offers resource and planning services to school systems throughout the country.

“Education and education reform should be a national priority. One third of our children are ready for college when they graduate 12th grade. NOT ACCEPTABLE.”

The Governor answered his own question-how to solve the problem-in many ways. He discussed innovation, great ideas and solutions. “Change the structure of education. Offer more choices, demand higher accountability, provide rewards for good teachers.”

The Governor commented that Marco Island Academy will challenge the system as it now exists. He believes firmly that if each state changes the structure of how education is offered we will see positive change in the public school system.

In 2010, Michelle Rhee resigned her job in Washington, DC, a difficult decision for her to make. Her friends set up a website for her and she was mystified. “Why would you do that?” Because people will want to know what you are doing, what you are thinking about education.” Then she received an e-mail from two moms “desperate for help” from Marco Island. Thus began her relationship with the founders of Marco Island Academy, Jane Watt and Jody Barrett.

Rhee has founded Students First, which as its name implies, places students at the forefront of its commitment to the transformation of public school education. She perceived in her conversations and e-mails with Jane and Jody that they were putting the interest of children first in their goal to open a charter high school on Marco Island and offered to help them with information, support and fund raising.

Ms. Rhee was sympathetic to Marco families who supported the idea of a charter high school and faced opposition from many islanders who disagreed with the project. “We are still not where we want to be.” However, she assured the gathering that “a high performing charter school can succeed in the state of Florida.” She described herself as a very, very outspoken proponent of charter schools.

Governor Bush and Ms. Rhee engaged in a stimulating Q and A, answering questions for nearly an hour. The Governor told about the struggle to open the first charter school with no precedent to follow. He personally came down from the Governor’s office in Talahassee to assist with cleaning and preparing the facility for its opening along with families and students who would be attending from Liberty City, one of the poorest areas of Miami.

There are now 300 charter schools in Florida. Governor Bush encouraged the audience to “stay involved in the academy now that it is about to open. Get the community involved. Aspire to be the #1 model in the state.”

Michelle Rhee commented that “what we are bad at is not having our own muscle, our universal force coalescing around our universal fight. We have to decide what kind of country we are. Tell me the zip code and I can tell you what their educational outcome will be. If we are going to live up to our ideals we must fundamentally transform public education. The only thing that will help us regain our position in the global marketplace is to fix our education system.”


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