Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Improving economy, scholarships help Hernando private schools increase enrollment

Hernando Christian Academy leader Ken Alvarez says school rolls are creeping back up.

Hernando Christian Academy leader Ken Alvarez says school rolls are creeping back up.

Just a few years ago, the future of Hernando Christian Academy didn't look so rosy.

In the midst of a recession that brought double-digit unemployment to Hernando County, enrollment at the private Brooksville school plummeted. In just three years, the number of students shrank by more than half, dropping from 430 to 205 by the 2010-11 school year. The school's board of directors entertained the idea of shuttering the doors.

"We had to cut probably 50 percent of our personnel," said superintendent Ken Alvarez.

But the downward trend stopped. And the school stayed open.

Now, with the economy rebounding and a greater awareness of scholarship opportunities, enrollment has begun to creep back up.

"We're headed back," said Alvarez. "But we're still a pretty good ways from where we were before the economic downturn."

After facing uncertain economic times in recent years, Hernando County's other private schools find themselves in a similar position, with most reporting slight increases or steady enrollment numbers for the 2013-14 school year. Meanwhile, the Hernando County School District has seen four consecutive years of slight contraction.

One major factor in student growth that private school administrators cite: greater awareness of Florida's scholarship program for children from low-income families.

The number of students attending private schools on tax-credit scholarships is at an all-time high in Hernando, according to Step Up for Students, the nonprofit organization that administers the scholarships.

As of early September, just more than 500 students in Hernando received the scholarship, up from 376 the previous year.

That's an increase of roughly 35 percent, the highest yearly jump in the Tampa Bay area.

Alvarez credits the scholarship, along with the McKay scholarships for disabled students, with boosting enrollment.

"They've afforded a lot more families the opportunity to go to private schools," he said.

This year, the school's enrollment is at 238. It was 225 last year and 217 the year before.

Alvarez says the school, which also attracts a number of international students, offers small class sizes and a strong educational environment.

"The people involved in the school really have a love for the school and treat each other well," he said. "It's a real inclusive-type atmosphere."

Deacon Scott Conway, principal at Notre Dame Catholic School in Spring Hill, says his school also has received a boost from the need-based scholarship.

"This has really opened doors for (students) that never would have been available before," Conway said.

The school has seen growth in enrollment in recent years, hitting 230 students — which is close to capacity — this school year.

More than 50 students at Notre Dame are on scholarship, Conway said.

"It's a wonderful opportunity," he said.

The school had hovered around 160 students during the height of the recession, with many families unable to afford a private school education.

Marti Covert, the administrator at West Hernando Christian School in Spring Hill, said the school's enrollment has remained steady at about 260 students.

"We're very surprised that we did not see a decline," Covert said.

Wider Horizons School co-director Julie Maglio said enrollment at the Spring Hill school has been steady in recent years, after a decline when the housing bubble burst.

Contact Danny Valentine at or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.

Improving economy, scholarships help Hernando private schools increase enrollment 10/08/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 8, 2013 7:10pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. No. 21 USF Bulls roll over Temple to stay undefeated


    TAMPA — They emerged from Raymond James Stadium's southwest tunnel on the 11-month anniversary of their public humiliation at Temple.

    Bulls tailback Darius Tice, who rushes for 117 yards, is elated by his 47-yard run for a touchdown in the second quarter for a 10-0 lead.
  2. Fennelly: USF thrashes Temple to stay unbeaten; too bad not many saw it in person



    No. 21 USF ran its record to 4-0 Thursday night with some payback against Temple, a 43-7 trouncing, no contest, as if anyone cares, at least judging by the paltry crowd at Raymond James Stadium. Where was everybody?

    Bulls cornerback Deatrick Nichols (3) celebrates with teammates after making a defensive play during the first half.
  3. Former Ray Tim Beckham's over being traded, or is he?

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — As the Rays reunited Thursday with Tim Beckham for the first time since he was dealt July 31 to Baltimore, it became very clear that not everything in assessing the trade is as it appears.

    Tim Beckham, here in action Monday against the Red Sox, has hit .310, with 10 homers and 26 RBIs since going to the Orioles.
  4. Bucs probe how to fix deep-ball chances missed vs. Bears


    TAMPA — It was only minutes after the Bucs had demolished the Bears 29-7 Sunday when quarterback Jameis Winston tried one final time to connect with receiver DeSean Jackson.

    QB Jameis Winston says he’s focused on the deep-ball chances to DeSean Jackson he missed in the opener: “We left a lot out there.”
  5. Rays journal: Ugly first inning dooms Andriese, Rays against Orioles (w/video)

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — Rays manager Kevin Cash said before Thursday's game that RHP Matt Andriese was among the pitchers who would most benefit from a strong finish to the season.

    Matt Andriese has a tough first: hits to four of first five batters, leading to three runs, the only ones he gives up in six innings