Archive | Catholic education

A scholarship to a rural Catholic school made this student’s turnaround possible

Eventually, Jodi Haley said, she had enough. She felt she had no choice but to remove her son Jessie from his neighborhood school.

She was fed up with his failing grades, crushed every time she saw him cry about school, bewildered by the mysterious headaches he came home with every day.

All of that went away when Jessie got back on track at a little Catholic school, where Jodi credits a scholarship for opening the door.

In their town of Frostproof, Jodi said, the neighborhood school just wasn’t working for Jessie, even though it had been a good fit for his three older brothers.

“He was really struggling and it was heartbreaking,” said Jodi, a divorced mother of six who works as a technician for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “(My fear was) that he would eventually quit school and then go down a bad path.”

At the end of Jessie’s third grade year, school officials told his mom he would have to be retained because he was so far behind. Around the same time, he was diagnosed with dyslexia. Jodi knew her son needed help, immediately.

From left, Pat Carrol, Dr. Anna Adam and Patricia Gutierrez celebrate Jessie Haley’s Turnaround Student award.

Coincidentally, she came across a flier for St. Catherine Catholic School in nearby Sebring. The principal at the time, Dr. Anna Adam, tested and evaluated Jessie.

Now principal at a Catholic school in New York City, Dr. Adam can vividly recall the anguish on Jessie’s face when she met him. He was sweet and polite, but the uncertainty in his eyes and smile revealed how quiet and painfully shy he could be in the classroom.

“He came in as pretty much a non-reader,” Dr. Adam said. “But I didn’t want to retain him. I think if he would have been retained he would have been absolutely crushed, and we would have lost him. That would have been the end of him. He just would have curled up in a hole and gone away.”

Dr. Adam was confident she and her staff could work with Jessie, and Jodi’s heart soared. Not only had she found the right school, but they also told her about the Step Up For Students scholarship that enabled her to afford the tuition. (Step Up For Students administers Florida’s tax credit scholarship program and publishes this blog.) Continue Reading →


Drexel Fund awards Cristo Rey Tampa $300,000

A venture philanthropy fund that aims to expand private schools that serve low-income and working-class students, has begun making investments in Florida.

One early grant will provide $300,000 over three years to help Cristo Rey Tampa — a Catholic college-preparatory high school — to support its four-year school build-out.

The Tampa school opened its doors to ninth graders earlier this year, and will add one higher grade level per year as it grows to fill a remodeled boarding school that had previously stood vacant.

Initially targeting the states of Florida, Arizona, Ohio, Louisiana, Wisconsin and Indiana, the Drexel Fund has set a long-term goal of raising $85 million to support the creation of 50,000 new spaces for low- and middle-income students in high-quality private schools over eight years. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Bonuses, science instruction, choice and more

Teacher bonuses: The Florida House education committee approves a revamped teacher bonuses program that would broaden the qualifying requirements and also make principals eligible. Rep. Manny Diaz, Jr., R-Hialeah Republican who chairs the House’s education budget committee, says the House could approve spending up to $125 million for the Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program. That’s about half of the amount the Senate is proposing. Miami Herald. WFSU. Politico Florida. Orlando Sentinel.

Teaching science: State Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, says his bill that sets criteria for classroom instruction materials is meant to require “quality instructional material” meeting Florida standards, and to provide a way for the public to challenge classroom materials they deem inappropriate. And, he notes, any curriculum changes would have to be approved by the local school board. Critics say the bill opens a door for climate change and evolution critics to influence how those issues are taught, or if they are taught at all. Naples Daily News.

Call for school choice: Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York City is calling for a nationwide school choice bill. Dolan, writing in the Wall Street Journal, urged President Trump to“push Congress to make scholarship tax credits available to working-class families.” Seventeen states have tax credit scholarship programs, including Florida, and Dolan said children in the other states “deserve the same opportunities.” Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the Florida program. Crux. Continue Reading →

Parents, the president and private school choice

Renee Oliver greets her daughter, Zoe, after meeting with President Donald Trump at St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando.

ORLANDO – Renee Oliver started sending her children to St. Andrew Catholic School in 2004. At the time, it drew Catholic families from surrounding communities in the western part of Orlando. But it remained financially out of reach for many who lived nearby.

Over the years, that’s changed.

The nation’s largest private school choice program has enabled schools like St. Andrew to open their doors to hundreds of families who couldn’t previously afford tuition, including some from its predominantly black neighborhood of Pine Hills.

“The school community came to reflect the community that it was in,” Oliver said.

She had to support her family on a single income after an on-the-job injury forced her husband out of work. Tax credit scholarships helped her send three of her five children to St. Andrew.

When President Donald Trump came to visit the school on Friday, she told him similar options should be available to all families.

Started in 2002, the tax credit scholarship is administered by Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog and pays my salary. It helps nearly 98,000 students across Florida — and the vast majority of students at St. Andrew — attend private schools.

While he hasn’t backed a detailed plan, Trump made a pitch to expand similar programs across the country. Parents like Oliver joined him around a table with Sen. Marco Rubio. The president expressed interest in the lawmaker’s efforts to create a nationwide tax credit scholarship.

At one point, Trump turned to Denisha Merriweather, a Florida scholarship alumna he highlighted during his recent address to Congress.

“We want millions more to have the same chance to achieve the great success that you’re achieving, right now,” he said.


Latrina Peters-Gipson, St. Andrew’s principal, is a product of Catholic schools. She developed a love of education as a college student in New Orleans. Weeks into her first year as a full-time classroom professional, Hurricane Katrina struck. Her family lost almost everything. The storm destroyed the Hyatt hotel where her husband worked. The hotelier helped her family relocate to Orlando. Continue Reading →

School choice parents to Trump: ‘What about the nation?’

ORLANDO – Parents who took advantage of the nation’s largest private school choice program had a simple message for President Donald Trump: We were able to send our children to private schools we couldn’t otherwise afford. We want all parents to have that option.

“I’m here to speak on behalf of my family,” Deanna Joyner, a parent who used a Florida tax credit scholarship to pay her son’s private school tuition, told the president during a roundtable discussion in Orlando. “But what about the nation?”

Joyner’s son, Deondre Pride, struggled in public schools but turned his academic career around after using a scholarship to attend Victory Christian Academy in Lakeland, Fla.

He now attends Coffeyville Community College in Kansas on a football scholarship. His mom says his future may not be in sports. It may be in business. He’s working on a degree in agriculture.

Joyner said she worried other children like her might struggle in school, but lack access to options that would keep them from slipping through the cracks.

The president, joined by Gov. Rick Scott, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, seemed receptive. Continue Reading →

St. Andrew principal: ‘We see ourselves as partners with public schools.’

Public and private schools don’t need to be at odds. They can work together to help children.

That’s the message Latrina Peters-Gipson, the principal of St. Andrew Catholic School, is sending ahead of today’s presidential visit.

From her column in this morning’s Orlando Sentinel:

Education politics are sometimes divisive these days, but the reason I’m excited to welcome President Trump to our Orlando school on Friday is that what we do ought to bring us all together.

At St. Andrew Catholic School, a fixture in the Pine Hills neighborhood for more than a half-century, we believe that every child has the God-given ability to succeed in life. We also participate in a state scholarship program that opens our doors to students whose families couldn’t otherwise afford it. To that end, we see ourselves as partners with public schools in a shared commitment to lift every child to a life that offers better opportunities.

Gipson herself has a compelling story. She’s a product of Catholic Schools herself, raised in New Orleans. She fell in love with early childhood education while volunteering in classrooms as a student at Southern University at New Orleans.

She lost everything when Hurricane Katrina struck the city, weeks into her first full-fledged teaching job. She and her family came to Orlando, where she volunteered, taught and eventually rose to administrative positions at Orlando-area Catholic schools, and has been principal St. Andrew since February 2015.

If only more partisans in the school choice debate shared her ecumenical outlook.

Florida schools roundup: Trump’s visit, Legislature, charter district and more

Trump’s visit: President Donald Trump visits St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando today to promote his support for broader school choice. St. Andrew is part of the Notre Dame Alliance for Catholic Education academies, a national network working to revitalize urban Catholic education. About 85 percent of the 340 students in the pre-K through eighth-grade school use tax credit scholarships. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the program. redefinED. WFTV. Politico Florida. Myrna Saint-Juste, who sent two children to St. Andrew Catholic School, and her son Marcus Millien, now a student at Bishop Moore High School, were asked to meet with President Trump today when he visits the school. She declined, but Marcus accepted. Orlando Sentinel.

Legislature and education: Legislators want to reduce testing, change the teacher bonuses program and improve the higher education system, among other things, during the legislative session that begins Tuesday. Here are previews of some of the issues being debated. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel. Sun-Sentinel. The major players in the legislative session are profiled. Tallahassee Democrat.

Bills about teachers: Two bills filed by legislators would change the criteria by which teachers are eligible for bonuses from the state. A bill filed by Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, would lower the SAT and ACT test scores level a teacher would need to be eligible for the state’s teacher bonus, and add several other tests that could be used. A bill filed by Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, would expand eligibility requirements to college GPA and to those graduates who commit to teaching in critical teacher shortage areas. Both would also allow school administrators to be eligible for bonuses. Gradebook. A bill introduced by Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando, would expand the path to teacher certification, including allowing charter schools to set up their own training programs that would have to be approved by the Florida Department of Education. Legislators want to make it easier to hire people who have expertise in a subject and can prove competency in the classroom but don’t have an education degree. redefinED. Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, files a bill that would prohibit teacher retirements during the school year. Exceptions would be made for illnesses and disabilities. News Service of Florida.

Charter district: Three charter schools companies are competing to take over operations of the Jefferson County School District. They are: Somerset Academy Inc., which operates 16 charter schools in Miami-Dade and Broward counties; Lake Wales Charter Schools Inc., which runs six schools in Polk County; and EdFutures, which runs two schools in Volusia County. Superintendent Marianne Arbulu said the school board could make its selection by next week. Politico Florida. Continue Reading →

About the Central Florida Catholic school in line for a presidential visit

Tomorrow, a presidential spotlight will shine on Florida’s Catholic school renaissance.

President Donald Trump is set to visit St. Andrew Catholic School, a budding success story in Orlando’s Pine Hills neighborhood.

Students at St. Andrew Catholic School learn as early as kindergarten to prepare for college – and heaven.

It’s one of four Greater Orlando Catholic schools that have joined the Notre Dame ACE academies, a national network that aims to revitalize urban Catholic education and lift academic outcomes.

Bucking trends elsewhere in the country, Florida’s Catholic schools are growing, slowly but steadily. National organizations have noticed. There are now seven ACE Academies in Florida, with more on the way. Other Catholic school networks, like Cristo Rey high schools, are expanding in the state.

Thanks to the nation’s largest private school choice program, they’re able to serve growing numbers of low-income and working class students.

Statewide, more than 98,000 students use Florida tax credit scholarships. The typical parent who uses a scholarship is a single mother earning less than $25,000 a year. Annual program evaluations show students who use the program tend to be among the most disadvantaged children in the state, and tend to struggle academically in public schools. After receiving scholarships, they make academic gains that match their national peers from all income levels. Continue Reading →