Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Celebrating Our Schools



More Straight Talk 

Steve “Stef” Stefanides

Every morning when I get out of bed I look around me and marvel at the wonderful place we live. The thought that went into designing and laying out this island was truly a stroke of genius. However, someone bigger than us all provided the Mackle Brothers with a wonderful canvas to create such a great community.

The sheer beauty of the Ten Thousand Islands, the majesty of the Gulf of Mexico, and the splendor of our wonderful beach leaves visitors and guests in awe every time I am lucky enough to give someone the “Stef Tour” of the island.

You can’t help but be beaming with pride when you get the privilege to show off this great place we call home. I am especially proud to point out those things we are responsible for as residents. Things such as our excellent medical facilities, the well maintained parks and our beautiful Veterans Memorial are amongst the many features I like to show off.

It’s also very easy to brag about how efficiently we run our community and the world class Fire/Rescue and law enforcement services that keep us safe. The hard working staff over at the Parks and Recreation Department, along with all the other dedicated personnel who are there every day to service our needs.

My good friend Dusty Rhodes would remind me not to forget the wonderful restaurants that dot our landscape and always let us leave smiling.

There are three other venues I like to show off in addition to all these other wonderful features on our island, and that involves the schools we have. Marco is not just a retirement community, it is a well-balanced, vibrant and energetic community to live in, and that includes our wonderful young people.

I have to believe that is one of the reasons that younger families chose Marco to call home and raise their families. Its climate, the safety of the community and its sheer beauty are natural attractions for all enjoy.

Tommie Barfield Elementary, the Island Montessori School, the Marco Island Charter Middle School, and of course, the Marco Island Academy are all located here on the island. All of these venues provide a sound and resilient foundation for our young people. They serve as a wonderful springboard for a successful post-education experience for the next generation, which will lead our communities and the nation in the future.

As I sat in Rotary last week I had the privilege to sit next to my friend Tarik Ayasun who was there to speak about the Marco Island Charter Middle School. Tarik serves as the Chairman of the Board for the school.

What surprised us all was the fact that the school had been in existence for 19 years now and holds the distinction of being recognized as “A High Performing Charter School,” by the Florida Department of Education. It has held an “A” rating for 16 years of its existence, with the last 15 consecutive years having received that coveted “A” rating. This is quite an accomplishment, as 37% of its students go home to non-English speaking homes, but excel at their studies.

The Charter School, while working within the Collier County School District, has its own school board that sets policies and budgets. Funding is provided primarily through the state, but passes through the local district, that maintains 2% of those funds for “administrative” costs. The school, therefore, has to raise the additional funds, and this year will be required to raise approximately $170,000 to close that shortfall in the financial needs.

Approximately 100 students quality for free and reduced lunch programs. However, unlike the other public schools within the district, the Charter Middle School receives no funding for that program from tax dollars.

Just like Tommie Barfield and the Marco Island Academy, the Charter Middle School is one of the finest schools you’ll find within the State of Florida or within the United States. One of the strong pillars in the foundation of that success lies in the community involvement within the school.

Marco Island can be very proud of all its schools, but in the 19 years of its service to the island, the Marco Island Charter Middle School has earned a special place in the hearts of all islanders.

Congratulations to the staff, students, parents and the community itself for supporting such wonderful educational endeavors for our young people. I hope you’ll consider the Charter Middle School when they hold their fundraisers and events during the year.

Steve Stefanides, well-known by his nickname “Stef,” is an experienced award-winning reporter of local civic and public interest news. Stef’s More Straight Talk column (and its predecessor, Straight Talk), on a variety of subjects, is a favorite of readers who trust him to bring them the facts. A Marco Island resident, Stef contributes to the community in many ways, having served on a number of city committees, charitable groups, boards and local organizations. Contact him by email at

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