Classical Christian School for the Arts

(Published in 2009)

classical-christian-schoolPinellas Park – Dan and Sylvia Baker are the founders of Classical Christian School for the Arts (CCSA) in Pinellas Park – an innovative school that is providing opportunities for academic mastery, growth, citizenship, athleticism and artistic discovery to the children of West Central Florida. The school has successfully blended classical education with cultural influences in an effort to provide children with a well-rounded foundation.

The Bakers had a longtime dream of starting a school that could apply the very best of what they had learned during their more than 20 years of experience in private education. Unfortunately, Sylvia had to overcome some battles of her own before she and her husband could fulfill their dream. In 2001, Sylvia was diagnosed with cancer. After treatments, she wrote a book and workbook and did some touring and speaking engagements for the next couple of years while continuing to work as a vice principal at another private school in Maryland. However, the Bakers’ desire to start a school did not fade over the years and a sense of urgency toward accomplishing their dream of CCSA began to develop.

In 2005, equipped with a passion for education and the arts, and a small inheritance, the Bakers opened the doors to CCSA. The school started with an enrollment of only 30 students and has steadily increased over the years. Today, the school serves 80 students, 19 of whom are Step Up For Students scholarship recipients.

CCSA has created a way to provide a full educational experience in one setting for today’s busy families.

“Today both parents work, many children come from single family homes, and yet no parent wants their child to be shortchanged at the end of the day,” says Sylvia Baker. “At Classical Christian School for the Arts, parents have the opportunity for a ‘one stop shop’, so that their precious time together in the evenings is not spent going back out for enrichment activities.”

CCSA is unique for several reasons, the most apparent of which is the daily requirement of two periods of arts programming. Students select from 30 to 40 arts classes in dance, drama, visual art, and music – including classes like traditional and folk art, ballet, tap, lyrical dance, band, voice, instrumental and improvisation. Students at the school also receive a lot of hands-on attention since the class sizes at CCSA are on average about one teacher per 12 students.

Additionally, CCSA has established a unique math and reading program to prevent students from falling behind in their academics. If students begin to struggle with specific skills in their classes, they are automatically moved to an enrichment group to help them master the skill at hand. The school also annually administers the Stanford Achievement Test – Tenth Edition (SAT-10) to assess student progress and abilities.

The Bakers have also worked to accommodate the budgets of the families while still providing students with a quality educational experience. Sylvia does not take a salary and Dan only has a minimal salary. The base tuition at the school is $5,800, plus additional fees for registration and activity costs.

In addition to the range of art programs it offers students, CCSA sponsors the Community Visual and Performing Arts Series annually, which includes six to eight shows featuring student performances in dance and music, as well as art displays. All performances are at the Pinellas Park Performing Arts Center on the CCSA campus. The shows are well attended by the community, sometimes filling the house to capacity with 600 guests.

The Bakers have successfully fulfilled their dream with CCSA over the past five years, but they are eager to do more. Their future plans include building a children’s art museum within the school that will memorialize the children’s art work for years to come. They are also looking into incorporating a dual enrollment program for students to earn college credit while attending CCSA. Additionally, they would like to use their expertise to help other schools develop a similar model to redesign their programs or start a new school.

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The typical scholarship school

Is small in size: The average total enrollment is 161 students.

Serves mostly private-paying students: Step Up students make up an average of 30 percent of total enrollment.

Serves elementary students: About 66 percent in grades K-5.

Is faith-based: Seventy-five percent of the schools are faith-based. The 193 Catholic schools represent the largest single group.