Archive | Faith-Based Schools

Public, private schools’ partnership lifts up Orlando neighborhood

Every week, students and parents at Calvary City Christian Academy, a K-12 school in one of Orlando’s most hardscrabble communities, convert groceries into care packages for scores of their neighbors.

That those neighbors happen to be homeless students at Sadler Elementary, another school three blocks away, is only the first clue that the relationship between these high-poverty schools – one public, one private – is special.

For four years, the schools have worked hand-in-hand to serve their students, parents and neighborhoods, regardless of which school the students attend.

The result: Both schools and their heavily Hispanic populations now benefit from a wide array of social services – everything from English-language classes to housing assistance – provided by the church affiliated with Calvary. Both see each other as assets that can best uplift a community by cooperating. And both are quietly offering a glimpse of what’s possible if artificial walls between public and private schools can be knocked down.

“We’re modeling what is right by working together,” said Calvary principal Denise Vega. “That sends a message to our parents. We’re not divided. We’re not two. We’re one. One with one purpose – to work together to make sure our children in our lower-income communities are getting everything possible. That only happens when you unite.” Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Irma edition

Shelter from the storm. Florida’s public schools opened themselves up to evacuees. The 74. Tampa Bay Times. (More here). Naples Daily News. Bradenton Herald. A Central Florida Muslim school did, too. Mic. School employees helped out during the storm. GradebookEducation Week. They found room for stranded people at the last minute. Tampa Bay Times. And they kept evacuees entertained. Tampa Bay Times.  Neighbors helped out, too. Gradebook. Evacuees left some shelters as forecasts shifted. Miami Herald. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: All schools in state closed for hurricane, and more

Storm closes all schools: Gov. Rick Scott orders all public K-12 schools, colleges and universities in the state closed today through Monday so that they may be used as shelters for people fleeing from Hurricane Irma. Associated PressFlorida Department of EducationOrlando Sentinel. Tallahassee Democrat. Panama City News Herald. Brevard County school officials decide to move payday up a week to help employees prepare for the hurricane. Florida Today. How a Florida school district prepares for a hurricane. School Transportation News.

New school site: Manatee County commissioners won’t support the site plan for the new high school being built in Parrish because the structure won’t meet hurricane shelter standards. A school attorney defended the board, saying meeting shelter standards would add 7 to 10 percent to the $80 million budgeted for North River High School. The school board does not need the commission’s approval to proceed, and the 3-3 vote frees the board from abiding by some of the details agreed to by the school district and county planners, such as traffic, sidewalk construction and stormwater retention, if it chooses to. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

One robe color: A Hillsborough County School Board member says she supports a school doing away with special graduation robes for its highest achieving students. Earlier this week, Leto High School announced it would stick with a single robe color for all graduates instead of dressing the highest achievers with a different color. Tamara Shamburger says “the two robe colors are nothing more than a type of caste system that really punishes those who are less academically successful rather than honor those who have achieved high academic success.” Gradebook.

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Catching up on nationwide private school enrollment trends

Editor’s note (Aug. 23): This post contains significant updates and corrections. The original version erroneously reported a drop in private school enrollment between 2013 and 2015. The error occurred because it compared 2013 data that included Pre-K students with 2015 data that did not. We regret this mistake. The revised post provides accurate year-to-year comparisons.

The U.S. Department of Education is out this week with a new report on private school data from across the country. The last such data came out two years ago. Here’s what the numbers from the 2015-16 school year show.

Here’s what the numbers from the 2015-16 school year show.

Enrollment in private schools reversed its decline. In addition, there were more private schools and more private school teachers.

Between 2013 and 2015, the number of students rose 7 percent, to 4,903,596.

The number of teachers rose faster, by about nine percent, to 481,558.

Meanwhile, the number of schools jumped by nearly 1,000, to 34,576.

This factoid might be related. In the fall of 2013, roughly 36 percent of private schools had fewer than 50 students. Two years later, 46 percent of private schools fell in that category.

Enrollment in faith-based schools is growing. But enrollment in Catholic schools was close to flat. It increased by a little more than half of one percent. Enrollment other religious chools grew faster — by nearly 13 percent during the same period. Non-sectarian schools, meanwhile, grew by nearly 10 percent.

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Siblings from Argentina adjust and thrive thanks to school choice scholarships

In a three-year span, Mariel Ubfal’s world fell apart. Her husband died. She moved her family to the United States. Then she watched as her children struggled in school.

The move from Argentina to America came in 2008, three years after Mariel’s husband died from cancer. At the time, all four of her children were under the age of 10. “Leaving was not easy,” Mariel said. “But I knew this was the right decision for my kids.”

Starting over wasn’t easy, either.

Being unemployed and underemployed for the first few years, Mariel struggled to pay bills and, at times, even to feed her kids. As if that wasn’t enough, her children began having behavioral and academic issues in their neighborhood schools – something that never happened in Argentina.

After moving to Miami from Argentina, the Mohadeb kids — Agustin, Barbara, Matias, and Sebastian — attended Hebrew Academy in Miami on Florida tax credit scholarships.

Troubles first hit her three eldest – Matias, Agustin, and Barbara Mohadeb.

Matias hated school because he struggled learning a new language. In eighth grade, he earned D’s and F’s and routinely got into fights. Agustin was held back in sixth grade for poor academics. Barbara failed fifth grade because she did not speak the language.

Mariel felt desperate. She called the school and tried setting up meetings with her sons’ teachers, but that proved difficult.

“Maybe it was the language barrier, I’m not sure, but I wasn’t able to help my kids succeed at their local school,” she said.

Mariel searched for a better option and found a school that felt like home, but couldn’t afford the tuition. Then a friend told her about the Florida tax credit scholarships. (Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps provide the scholarships to more than 100,000 low-income and working-lcass students.)

It was “the answer to my prayers,” she said.

In 2010, Matias, then 15, and Agustin, then 13, began ninth and seventh grade respectively at Hebrew Academy.

The school is smaller and more family-oriented than their previous schools, Mariel said, and its teachers are more accessible to parents. The curriculum is rigorous and the school has high expectation for student academics and parental involvement, she said.

Progress didn’t happen immediately. Matias’s behavior was terrible in the beginning. At one point, he refused to go to his new school, and Mariel couldn’t get him out of bed. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Teacher pay, funding formula, tax holiday and more

Teacher pay: Teachers at Memorial Middle School in Orlando will be paid $20,000 more this year as the Orange County School District tries to entice top teachers to turn around the persistently low-performing school. If a state grant can’t be obtained, the district will cover the extra costs. Officials say teachers at five other struggling schools also would get the extra pay if the district gets the grant. Only teachers rated effective or highly effective are eligible for the extra pay, and they’ll have to work an extra 30 minutes a day. Orlando Sentinel. Florida ranks 43rd among states and U.S. territories in average teacher pay at $47,256, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics from May 2016. The only states with lower pay than Florida are Arkansas, Idaho, West Virginia, North Carolina, Arizona, South Dakota, Mississippi and Oklahoma. Alaska is No. 1 at $74,122. Tallahassee Democrat.

Funding formula fight: Volusia County School Board chairwoman Melody Johnson makes a personal appeal to the Pasco County School Board to join the fight against the state’s district cost differential (DCD) portion of the school funding formula. She says 55 of the state’s 67 counties have lost money to the DCD, which gives urban districts more money to cover the higher costs of living. Johnson says Pasco has lost $53 million since 2003. Pasco board members asked Superintendent Kurt Browning to investigate and make a recommendation. Gradebook.

Back to school: The back-to-school sales tax holiday begins at 12:01 Friday and runs through 11:59 p.m. Sunday. The National Retail Federation says the average family with children in K-12 schools spends $687 on clothes and school supplies. News Service of Florida. Sunshine State NewsLakeland Ledger. Bradenton Herald. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Flagler Live. Keynoter. WFLA. WTSP. Florida schools open soon, and some new laws focused on school traffic are in effect. Palm Beach Post. Do school dress codes discriminate against girls? WFSU.

School branding: In an era of school choice, school branding is becoming increasingly important, say some school officials. Education Dive.

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Private schools enroll ‘the historically un-favored’

Private school leaders (Gant, second from left and Grammer, first from right) talk including at the American Federation for Children gathering.

From think tank reports to protests that greeted Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in Indianapolis, a common thread binds many of the most stringent objections to vouchers and other school choice programs.

The arguments go something like this. Private schools don’t serve all students. They exclude vulnerable students. They contribute to racial segregation, and, in the wake of Brown v. Board, hatched voucher-like programs to evade integration.

Leaders of private schools that have begun to enroll tens of thousands of students who use vouchers to pay tuition see things differently. Most private school choice programs are aimed either at low-income students or those with special needs. Turning to these programs to boost enrollment has prompted some private schools to re-examine their identities as exclusive institutions.

“We’re in a new phase,” Vernard Gant, director of the ACE Student Success Center with the Association of Christian Schools international, said during a panel discussion hosted by the American Federation for Children. “Most of the growth that we’re now seeing in the Christian school movement is now happening among this very diverse student population.” Continue Reading →

Muslim schools share concerns about security

CAIR, in a report titled “Empowerment of Fear,” highlights increasing number of cases of bullying against Muslim students. The report is the source for this photo.

Two parents were trying to relocate to Orlando, inquiring about educational opportunities for their children at Ibn Seena Academy, an Islamic school serving students in Pre-K through eighth grade.

Rehannah Hemmali, the principal, said they told her their children did not feel accepted in public schools in Port Charlotte, a Southwest Florida city 159 miles away.

Hemmali said the students felt isolated. Other students ridiculed their dress and their food.

“They are concerned with raising their children in an environment that they do not always feel welcome,” said Hemmali in a phone interview. “They want to make a change for their child.”

Educators say Islamic schools provide a safe place for students who face bullying and hate crimes. They also push back against criticism that students “live in a bubble” at the schools. On the contrary, they argue, the schools emphasize strong academics and prepare students to succeed in society with an understanding of all faiths and cultures.

Principals, parents and educational experts believe Muslim schools help children feel safer and freer from bullying. They expressed concerns about those schools becoming the targets of violence and hate crimes because of the rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric and hate crimes.

The FBI’s most recent hate crime report showed 22.2 percent were anti-Islamic, up from 12.8 percent in 2012. Further, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported the number of anti-Muslim groups is growing, from 34 in 2015 to 101 in 2016.

In a new report, The Council on American-Islamic Relations stated in 2016, there were “209 incidents of anti-Muslim bias, including harassment, intimidation, and violence targeting students.” According to a CAIR 2015 report, “55 percent of Muslim students aged (11 to 18) reported being subject to some form of bullying because of their faith.”

“Parents are always on edge,” said Jameer Abass, principal of the Muslim Academy of Greater Orlando, which serves 261 students from Pre-K to eighth grade. “We spend a lot of money on surveillance cameras. I hired an armed security guard to monitor all of our gates.” Continue Reading →