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NDAA partners with schools

Nicole Michels | Thursday, February 2, 2012

Notre Dame added two Catholic elementary schools in Florida to the Notre Dame ACE Academies (NDAA) program. The two schools — Sacred Heart of Pinellas Park and St. Joseph of Tampa — will be the program’s newest partners.

Christian Dallavis, director of NDAA, said the program conducted a feasibility study to determine which schools in the Diocese of St Petersburg would have the greatest potential for growth.

“We want to do two things: increase the number of kids that enjoy the benefits of the education offered at these two schools, and ensure that the schools are providing education of the highest possible quality,” Dallavis said.

Dallavis said the program chose these two schools after focusing on areas with mechanisms like parental choice programs, vouchers and tax credits for low-income families to send their children to private schools.

The relationship between Bishop Robert Lynch of the Diocese of St. Petersburg and Notre Dame also played a factor.

“Lynch has always been a great friend to the University and a big supporter of ACE,” Dallavis said. “He’s a great champion of Catholic schools.”

Andy Shannon, principal of Sacred Heart, said despite recent efforts to combat low enrollment, the number of students at Sacred Heart remains far below its capacity.

“In K-8, we have 140 students,” Shannon said. “I could easily put another 100 students into my school… and be under standards for accreditation.”

Dallavis said the program would focus on bolstering enrollment, while increasing the quality of education.

“We want to prepare kids for the economic and social mobility [that will] get them to a place where they can break the cycle of poverty,” Dallavis said.

Dallavis said these schools will give students the skills they need to succeed by essentially being “college prep” elementary schools.

“We want to make sure that … they get the message that we expect them to be prepared to go to college,” Dallavis said. “High school graduation and college attendance are critical to jobs in the current economy, and [this trend] is only going to become more pronounced.”

Shannon said for his school, being offered the chance to partner win Notre Dame is like winning the lottery.

“We realize how blessed we are by God to get this opportunity,” Shannon said. “It’s a game changer. It’s going to position us for future growth and development.”

Both schools will be under the jurisdiction of a board dedicated to facilitating their advancement, Shannon said. The schools will also benefit from the advice of a learning specialist and an advancement director.

“The learning specialist will work with both principals and teachers in both buildings … to make our education the best it can be,” Shannon said. “The advancement director will help to raise significant funds, especially to get more students and more families into our schools.”

Though the will not be immediate, Shannon said the impact on the St. Joseph and Sacred Heart communities will undoubtedly be enormous.

“I think what it’s going to do for our families is give them a lot of hope,” he said. “I just think that hope is what a follower of Christ has to give out.”