Together we can change the course of education in America!
The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.
My husband Jim and I moved from Ohio to Marco Island, Florida, in 2004 with our two young children, Johnathan and Olivia. Soon after, our third child, Jacob, was born a Floridian. We loved Marco Island with its friendly laid-back community and we put down roots.
Both valuing education, Jim and I had researched the island’s elementary and middle schools and were impressed by the two local schools. However, we were concerned about the low performing local public high schools in the district.
Four years passed all too quickly. By that time, our concerns began to multiply over secondary education. The public high school that was zoned for our children to attend was a ‘D-rated’ school in a neighboring town over thirteen miles away. With no concrete plan for a high school in the community, Jim and I rec- ognized there were only two choices. We could move to another community with an excellent K-12 public school system or send our children to a private high school.
There was a small group on the island that had formed to talk about a charter high school initiative. Reluctantly I attended one of the meetings to learn more about it. The group was disorganized and divisive in nature. Disappointed, I returned home and told Jim that there was little hope for a high school in our community.
“There is another option,” he said. “You could start it.” I looked at him like he was crazy. How would I have time to do it? I was raising our family. Not to mention the fact that I didn’t have a background in education. Nor did I have any idea how to start a charter school. But he kept nudging me forward. Slowly I began to foster the idea.
Was this the moment I had waited for my whole life? Before I knew it, I was dedicating my life to create the best public charter high school possible, not for just my children, but for all children.
I believed it was my calling, but there was some uncharted water ahead. When I first began the process, I had no idea there would be opposition. And I certainly didn’t understand why. However, over time I have spoken with other founders of charter schools and many have had a similar experience. What I have learned is that human nature resists change, even if the change is good.
Some people didn’t want a school near their home. Others thought the school would increase their taxes. Some residents had older children who went to the local district school and were offended that I didn’t want the same for my children. Some people didn’t like the fact that charter school teachers were not part of the union. The school district felt like we were taking money away from their other schools. The bottom line is there were many who actively fought against the school. To succeed, I had to overcome all of the obstacles put in my path. Some of the attacks became very personal against me.
Fortunately, I was never alone. Many incredible people helped me achieve this dream. I could not have done it without them. The school is now in its fourth year of operation. Thanks to the dedication of a talented group of volunteers, board of directors, administrative leaders, teaching staff, parents, and wonderful students, the Marco Island Academy has become a huge success.
The experience of starting the school has given me a fuller understanding of Ghandi’s words, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I believe we all have an opportunity to make a difference.
Get Fighting for Kids on Amazon
Fighting for Kids is a chronicle of Jane Watt’s personal courage, perseverance, and strength of character throughout the charter school process in the state of Florida. She birthed an idea that was complete, compliant, and compelling and made an academic difference in the lives of public school children now and in years to come. I am humbled and honored to have been a part of Jane Watt’s charter school legacy that is now Marco Island Academy, a public charter high school.
The Student Leadership Academy of Venice
National Advisory Board Member, Marco Island Academy