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Thriving Christian school aims for accreditation

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 7, 2003

SPRING HILL -- Marti Covert, administrator at West Hernando Christian School, could not be more pleased with her school's progress in this, its seventh year of existence.

The school, on Osowaw Boulevard, opened its first and only permanent building less than 18 months ago, and it continues to improve the library, chemistry lab and multipurpose room inside. Every high school senior graduating in the past two years has gone to college, more than half with significant scholarships.

Now Covert wants to take the school, which has 207 students, a step further by seeking accreditation with the Association of Christian Schools International.

"It's a good standard to go by, because it helps me in the leadership of the school," Covert explained, noting that it could take three years or more to complete the process.

Accreditation improves a school's accountability and credibility to the families it serves, said Bob Hodges, ACSI teacher certification supervisor. Once gained, it helps a school to continually improve, he said.

The national organization, based in Colorado, evaluates the curriculum to determine whether it adheres to a Christian philosophy and tends to the students' spiritual needs, as well as their academic needs. It has requirements for teacher certification, long-range plans and financial responsibility.

"As a parent or student comes in, they know there are certain advantages because they know a certain quality is going to be there," Hodges said.

West Hernando Christian teachers, all of whom have degrees but some of whom are not certified, must work hard, Covert said. Completing the requisite course work in education philosophy and Bible study can take time.

The school decided to take its time to allow its current staff to grow into accreditation, she said, rather than dismiss those who do not meet the standards now.

"We have excellent teachers," Covert said, noting that the school has dismissed educators with better qualifications who simply did not fit the school's mission.

John Heckel is a retired Long Island police officer who now teaches math and science at West Hernando Christian. He completed his certification a year ago to help the school toward its goal.

"We need to be educating ourselves. Just to sit still is to stagnate," Heckel said.

He also saw some justification in the accreditation, to help increase the school's legitimacy. But he accepted the idea only to a point.

"My first question that arises is, whose approval am I seeking?" Heckel said. "I believe in only one world view, and I'm a zealot about it. I try to bring the Bible into everything I teach."

Covert acknowledged that, in many ways, the accreditation is for parents who are seeking a private education more than a Christian education. She called the process a "public-minded effort."

"When you are a Christian educator, there is no higher standard," Covert said. "To have a piece of paper in front of you means nothing in comparison to the quality of your school, and that quality is in your ability to praise and glorify God in every way.

"Accreditation is important to the public," she said.

It will take time to achieve it, she said, noting that the county's only accredited Christian school -- Hernando Christian Academy in Brooksville -- was in its 13th year before gaining that status. But Covert predicted that the school eventually would reach its target.

"The biggest thing holding us back for accreditation right now is our youth," she said. "You need to grow programs. You can't just put them in place."

-- Jeffrey S. Solochek covers education in Hernando County and can be reached at 754-6115. Send e-mail to .

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