Holy Family Catholic School

(Published in October, 2013)

holy-family-school-spotlight-smallJacksonville – Any old red carpet simply wouldn’t do. So in the fall of 2012, Holy Family Catholic School rolled out a specially designed one that a family donated after the school received the prestigious National Blue Ribbon Award. It’s emblazoned with the National Blue Ribbon School seal, and it’s the first thing people see when they walk into the school lobby.

There’s no doubt this school community is proud of its achievement. The U.S. Department of Education recognizes the nation’s top-performing public and private schools annually, and in 2012, this K-8 private school in Jacksonville was one of 269 schools nationwide to receive the distinction. In fact, nine schools in Florida received the award, and only two of those were private schools. The other private school, Westlake Christian School in Palm Harbor, is also a Step Up For Students participating school.

“For selfish reasons as a principal, this is the type of thing you dream about. We all know we are one of the youngest schools in the U.S. to receive this award,” said Rosemary Nowotny, who retired as principal of the school in June after nearly eight years. “It doesn’t mean we’ve won anything, it’s just that we get to lead the way.”

The award came as the school was celebrating a decade in existence with a special mantra of “10 Years of Excellent Catholic Education.” Founded in 2002, the school opened its doors with 177 pre-K through fifth-grade students, but has grown to include students through the eighth grade. The school was born out of the Holy Family Catholic Church community, which raised nearly half of the $4.5 million construction costs in only three months.

At Holy Family, traditional classroom learning is enhanced by the school’s use of technology, while teachers and administrators and other staff promote creative thinking. Extracurricular activities, such as Chess Club, a Math Olympiads Team, Book Club, the Brain Brawl team, 4-H Club and school drum line (Nowotny’s creation), all add to the school’s excellent offerings. Of course, athletics like cheerleading, basketball and soccer – to name a few – complement the overall educational experience at Holy Family. Christian principles, naturally, are an integral part of student life.

Judy Steinmeyer, a professional violinist, has been teaching music for two years at Holy Family and loves sharing that passion, especially knowing it will help her students in other areas. “I want them to come out of music not only with a new understanding of music itself, but seeing how it helps them in math, science, studying, reading and many other subjects,” Steinmeyer said, adding that her students seem to appreciate her teachings. “You get a lot of hugs and smiles. It is humbling for me to know that everything I do and say will affect nearly 420 students every week at Holy Family.” Steinmeyer also noted that she really enjoys working with an administration that supports the arts.

Nowotny, a former public school teacher and administrator, said that supporting the arts has been very important at Holy Family. “It’s important to me that they have a well-rounded education,” said Nowotny. She added that being named a National Blue Ribbon School does not mean that students and staff of Holy Family can now sit back and just enjoy the distinction. It means quite the opposite, she said. “We have to work even harder.”

About Holy Family

The K-8 school has 20 classrooms and 50 staff members. For the 2012-13 school year, 445 students were enrolled, including 24 Step Up scholars. Tuition for the 2012-13 year was $4,360 for Holy Family Catholic Church parishioners, $5,800 for out-of-parish students and $7,200 for non-Catholics. The school is accredited by the Florida Catholic Conference and measures academic success in all students in second through eighth grades using the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, and the Cognitive Abilities Test in second and fifth grades.

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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.