Jacksonville Business Community and FL Tax Credit Scholarship Program Help Inner-City Private Schools Thrive

August 7, 2013 | Jacksonville, Fla. – Sister Dianne Rumschlag describes working at Holy Rosary Catholic School for 16 years as a labor of love.

“I love the mission of our school. We are working with students for whom a good education can really make a big difference in their lives,”said Rumschlag, who now serves as principal and is known to many in the inner-city community simply as Sister Dianne. “To me, it’s worth all of the hard work.”

Holy Rosary Catholic School is one of two sister schools in north Jacksonville that are known as The Guardian Catholic Schools. The Guardian Catholic Schools, which include Holy Rosary and St. Pius V, have educated more than 350 students in prekindergarten through eighth grade during the 2012-13 school year, and are known to many in Jacksonville for their top-notch pre-K programs.

But there was a time when the success of The Guardian Schools was threatened.

In fact, the schools were not linked together until 1995 when both were on the verge of closing, due to high operating costs and low private school enrollment. The state of the economy at the time made it difficult for families to afford private school, and both were in dire financial straits.

An organization called The Guardian of Dreams, now The Guardian Catholic Schools,was formed by Jacksonville community business leaders to keep the schools’doors from closing and to allow the schools to continue the mission of providing a quality education to any families who choose it, regardless of their economic status.

The organization raised $12,000 for tuition assistance in the first year, and through various fundraising efforts has since raised more than $10 million to provide scholarships and fund daily operations and expansion projects according to Jim Selzer, former executive director for The Guardian Schools.

“I love the mission of our school. We are working with students for whom a good education can really make a big difference in their lives,” said Holy Rosary Catholic School Principal, Sister Dianne Rumschlag.

In addition to the funding from The Guardian Schools organization, Holy Rosary and St. Pius V participate in the Step Up For Students Scholarship Program which provides scholarships for low-income students. Step Up For Students is a statewide nonprofit organization that administers the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program so underprivileged schoolchildren can attend a school of their parents’ choice that best meets the students’ needs. The program is funded by corporate tax redirections. During the 2012-13 school year, more than 175 students – about half of The Guardian Schools’ population – attended with scholarships from Step Up For Students.

“Tuition assistance from Step Up For Students and its donors is essential, important, and appreciated support,” Selzer said. “It is a very critical element that allows us to be able to carry out our mission of providing a high-quality education to these students, regardless of their economic status or religious affiliation.”

The student body of The Guardian Schools is comprised of more than 85 percent non-Catholic students, and the organization’s donor base reflects a broad spectrum of faith communities as well.

“Our donors are very loyal,” Selzer said. “And what many of them have in common is a passion for an effective education. I think what is motivating for the donors to continue giving is that they see the outcome and the positive effect on the community.”

One of The Guardian Schools’ supporters is also involved with Step Up For Students through his company’s corporate tax redirection. Jacksonville-based distributor, Champion Brands, recently announced a commitment of more than $5.1 million to the Step Up For Students Scholarship Program.

“Joining Step Up For Students was an easy decision for us,” said Earl Benton, President of Champion Brands. “Knowing that the company’s tax redirection will fund scholarships for students in need makes this a win-win situation for everyone involved. And it really hits home when some of the schools and students who are benefiting from the program are the same ones right here in our community, like The Guardian Schools.”

“Knowing that the company’s tax redirection will fund scholarships for students in need makes this a win-win situation for everyone involved. And it really hits home when some of the schools and students who are benefitting from the program are the same ones right here in our community, like The Guardian Schools.”Earl Benton, president of Champion Brands

Earl and Lisa Benton are long time supporters of The Guardian Schools, Selzer said, and Lisa Benton, Earl’s wife, serves on The Guardian Schools’ board of trustees.

Since The Guardian Schools organization began, the bar has been set high for the schools’ graduates. Roughly 90 percent of the schools’ students go on to graduate from local public and private high schools, including Bishop Kenny and Bishop Snyder, Selzer said.

And some of the students who attended the schools are now giving back to the community, according to Selzer. “These schools are building a reservoir of well-educated kids. We have a roster of alumni who now serve as professional and governmental leaders in the city.”

Sister Dianne sees the cycle continue as the children of some of her former students now attend Holy Rosary, she said.

For the 2013-14 school year, both schools will be joining Step Up For Students’ Success Partners program, which is a professional development program for schools, designed to help schools and teachers increase parent involvement and improve relationships between students, parents and teachers.

“We are excited to strengthen the parent-school partnership through the Success Partners Program,” said Sister Dianne.

With the continued support of The Guardian Schools and Step Up For Students, St.Pius V and Holy Rosary seem to have a long road of success ahead of them because of a group of guardian angels close by to make sure the threat of closing never again becomes a reality.

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