Saturday, February 24, 2018
Education

Improving economy, scholarships help Hernando private schools increase enrollment

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 [email protected] or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.

Comments
Special Olympians shine at county summer games

Special Olympians shine at county summer games

NEW PORT RICHEY — It was one of those perfect days, when sunscreen and shade are in high demand, smiles are aplenty and the camaraderie on the field trumps the thrill of victory.About 600 Special Olympians and unified athletes from west Pasco schools...
Published: 02/23/18
Pasco foundation battling childhood hunger one school at a time

Pasco foundation battling childhood hunger one school at a time

ZEPHRYHILLS — On a Thursday morning in a small warehouse off Gall Boulevard, a well-oiled machine of goodwill is cranking. At the Thomas Promise Foundation, volunteers Carlos and Robin Clothier, pack boxes of macaroni and cheese, granola bars, apple ...
Published: 02/23/18
After Parkland, another plea for rumor control: ‘This is not a joke’ (w/video)

After Parkland, another plea for rumor control: ‘This is not a joke’ (w/video)

ST. PETERSBURG — The mayor and the police chief came to Northeast High on Thursday to warn students about the dangers of circulating rumors of school safety threats on social media.While they were there, one of those unfounded rumors popped up on Fac...
Published: 02/22/18
Collards, ribs and Kool-Aid: Black History Month menu at NYU stirs controversy

Collards, ribs and Kool-Aid: Black History Month menu at NYU stirs controversy

NEW YORK — On Tuesday, a dining hall at New York University advertised a special meal in honor of Black History Month. On the menu? Barbecue ribs, cornbread, collard greens, and two beverages with racist connotations: Kool-Aid and watermelon-flavored...
Published: 02/22/18
Arming teachers? Some officials like the idea, but many educators don’t (w/video)

Arming teachers? Some officials like the idea, but many educators don’t (w/video)

With high school students from Parkland in the Capitol this week advocating for gun control, the bill that would have allowed superintendents and principals to designate trained employees who can carry concealed weapons at school didn’t get heard as ...
Published: 02/22/18
How will Douglas High students go back to class? There’s now a plan in place.

How will Douglas High students go back to class? There’s now a plan in place.

When students return to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High for the first time next Tuesday, they will be greeted by additional counselors and law enforcement."There will be a plethora of counselors and services at the school," Broward Schools Superintende...
Published: 02/21/18
School shooter may get inheritance — and be ordered to spend it on legal bills

School shooter may get inheritance — and be ordered to spend it on legal bills

Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz appears to have been in line for a sizable inheritance. He’ll never get to spend it — except perhaps on defense attorneys.The amount could be enough to compel a judge to order him to hire a private lawyer, rather ...
Published: 02/21/18
Pasco County schools, dealing with threats, warn students of consequences

Pasco County schools, dealing with threats, warn students of consequences

DADE CITY — A Pasco High School student was taken into custody Tuesday amid accusations of threatening violence against the school. The campus was not at risk, school district officials said. But they made clear they take each threat seriously, and t...
Published: 02/21/18
‘Blind Side’ star delivers message to Newsome High kids

‘Blind Side’ star delivers message to Newsome High kids

LITHIA — Students, faculty and staff recently scurried inside the Newsome High School gym for a morning assembly to hear a message about bullying from a man who kids once taunted.Newsome’s principal Carla Bruning invited actor Quinton Aaron, star of ...
Published: 02/20/18
Updated: 02/23/18
Spoto High helps students un-bottle emotions with Challenge Day

Spoto High helps students un-bottle emotions with Challenge Day

RIVERVIEW — Spoto High School English Department Head Adam Sherman can’t help but wonder if a program he introduced to Spartan students could have changed the trajectory of Nickolas Cruz’s life before he gunned down and killed 17 people on Valentine’...
Published: 02/20/18
Updated: 02/23/18