By Tamas Mondovics

Students, teachers and some 80 special guests have gathered in a brand new ‘cafetorium’ for plaques and presentations, as well as a ribbon cutting last month on what school officials called a gleaming new 12,000 sq. ft. charter school in Ruskin.

The celebration at Redlands Christian Migrant Association (RCMA) Leadership Academy located off U.S. 301, on the campus of Beth-El Mission, at 18234 U.S. Highway 301 South in Wimauma, marked the end of a fundraising campaign that began in 2008, a construction project that began in March and final touches on a cafeteria and auditorium that opened just one week prior.

School officials proudly emphasized that collectively the festivities’ honored guests generated more than $1.5 million in donations for the project.

According to RCMA Director of Communications and Marketing Bill Coats, opening this fall Leadership Academy, currently cares for 52 students in grades six and seven, but at capacity, will serve 132 students in grades 6-8.

“It is a sibling to the 12-year-old RCMA Wimauma Academy, an elementary school next door,” Coats said. It was created to provide high-quality education customized to the bi-cultural lives of south Hillsborough County’s low-income families are extensions of RCMA’s larger role of early childhood education for Florida’s rural poor that runs 18 child care centers in the Tampa Bay area and 71 statewide.

RCMA Leadership Academy now boasts eight classrooms, a 900 sq. ft. area for administrative offices, the cafeteria and auditorium.

Honorees included Gary Wishnatzki, an RCMA board member and owner of Plant City-based Wish Farms, which along with an annual tennis tournament, accounted for more than $330,000 in donations to the Leadership Academy building campaign.

In Wishnatzki’s honor, the school named the cafeteria bearing his family name as well as planted a live oak on the grounds and mounted a painting of strawberry pickers in the office.

Also on the roster of honored guests was Tampa businessman John Kirtley, founder of Step Up For Students and leader of Florida’s movement for parental choice in schools.

Kirtley personally donated $100,000, while Step Up for Students matched that amount.

“A live oak was also planted in front of the school in honor of Kirtley and his family,” Coats said.

Also honored were two local groups that contributed more than $50,000 apiece: the Interfaith Council of Sun City Center and the Community Foundation of Greater Sun City Center.

“Building this school was like giving birth,” said Mainster. “Once it was done, we could forget all the pain.”

For more information about RCMA Wimauma Academy, please visit


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