St. Andrew Catholic School, Orlando

(Story from 2009)

st-andrew-catholic-in-orlandoOrlando – Dr. Kathleen Kiley doesn’t hide her enthusiasm when she shows off her latest school literature. “Your child deserves to attend a Nationally Recognized Blue Ribbon School of Excellence,” reads one postcard for prospective parents.

The St. Andrew Catholic School leader isn’t simply boasting. In 2009, the Orlando school was one of only 12 public and private schools in Florida that the U.S. Department of Education named Blue Ribbon Schools.

The Blue Ribbon Schools Program honors elementary, middle and high schools that are either academically superior or that show dramatic gains in achievement among disadvantaged students. For Kiley, the distinction is especially sweet. While she helped bring a more affluent school to Blue Ribbon excellence about two years ago, St. Andrew enrolls some of the most economically disadvantaged students in a diocese that covers nine counties.

Founded in 1961, the school has gradually evolved into an institution that reaches out to at-risk youth from the surrounding Pine Hills neighborhood, which itself has seen an increase in greater poverty. It is a mission that Kiley and her staff take seriously. Despite the financial challenges facing all Catholic schools these days, St. Andrew recognized a need to fulfill a vital role in the community.

The principal herself roams the corridors and peeks inside classrooms, saying hello to students and asking how they’re doing. The school counselor is a visible presence as well and knows just who needs the extra attention because of issues outside of school. To some students, the counselor is one of the reasons they look forward to school.

St. Andrew has one of the most diverse enrollments of any school that participates in Step Up For Students. White, black and Hispanic students each make up about one-quarter of the enrollment. Of the 345 students who attend the school, about 130 receive the Step Up For Students Scholarship. St. Andrew uses the Iowa Test of Basic Skills to gauge the progress of its students, and its average tuition and fees are about $5,800.

If it wasn’t for the scholarship, Kiley said, “there’s no way [the neighborhood kids] could afford to go here. Now, they can go to a nationally recognized school.”

One of those students is Darius Cook, a sixth-grader who recently told his mother that for the first time in his life, college is in his future. He plays soccer, basketball and track. He’s in the Spanish Club, the Accelerated Reader program, art, music and chorus. He loves reading and anime drawing. He has a tutor who helps him with math, a Monday-Wednesday-Friday lunch club with a school counselor who helps him keep on task with his studies and homework.

“He has a whole new attitude,” said his mother, Amy Cook. “What I see is that he is constantly setting new goals for himself.”

Asked about her formula for Blue Ribbon excellence, Kiley said it’s no mystery: the faculty is committed; the parents are committed; and the expectations are high.

“I inherited a good staff,” Kiley says. “Our teachers hold students to a high standard.”


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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.