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Private school plans expansion

"We're taking those kids that kind of fall through the cracks," said the school's co-owner.

Published August 25, 2006

KEYSTONE - Until this month, northern Hillsborough County had no private high schools.

Within two years, it could have two.

Keystone Preparatory School, which currently serves about 30 teens in rented office space at N Himes Avenue, plans to build a high school on Lutz-Lake Fern Road a mile west of the Suncoast Parkway. The school is buying 15 acres owned by the parents of a child at its sister facility, Tampa Day School.

Co-owners Lois Delaney and Dr. Walt Karniski intend to pay for the first classroom building before beginning a fundraising effort for the rest of the campus. Tuition runs $13,500 a year.

The owners are applying for its permits and hope to begin construction in about eight months. They have strong support from the Keystone Civic Association, which has objected to some other school projects in the community.

Keystone Prep would join Carrollwood Day School, which opened its ninth and 10th grades this month at a tuition of $10,900 per year, in the previously empty private high school market north of Hillsborough Avenue.

Keystone Prep, however, aims to serve a very different type of student.

Where Carrollwood Day focuses on college preparation, including an International Baccalaureate curriculum, Keystone Prep puts its attention on students who need some extra attention and who might have given up on academic success.

"We're taking those kids that kind of fall through the cracks," said Delaney, also head of school. "These are kids who need more structure in the day and need people who believe in them."

Delaney and Karniski, a developmental pediatrician, have run Tampa Day School for students with learning disabilities for close to a decade. They toyed with the high school idea for years, but waited until they decided the time was right.

The signal came in a growing number of reports showing that just half of teenagers who enter high school graduate, and a small subset of those complete college. Delaney attributed much of the failure to the anonymous nature of massive public high schools, where students who lack initiative or simply do not attract a teacher's attention can fall by the wayside.

"We need to figure out how to keep kids in school and then prepare them for whatever they do," she said.

Keystone Prep will follow national research indicating that high school students perform best when they have small classes, ongoing relationships with teachers who know them, and lessons that key into their individual skills.

Each student will have a staff advocate who will help him or her for all four years of high school. Classes will have no more than 15 students per teacher, and the curriculum will include more hands-on lessons than lectures and tests.

Handing out F's for missed or incorrect work will not be accepted, Delaney added. Rather, teachers will push the students to find a way to do the work correctly.

Eventually, all seniors would be required to live on campus, to get them ready for life on their own. That next phase can pose as many problems for some teens as staying in high school, Karniski said.

"They do well in high school because their parents have been working with them. But when they get to college, they don't know what to do with their freedom."

The residential senior year would help students identify their planning and organizational weaknesses.

Nobody would tell them when to study, when to sleep, when to get to class. After six weeks, the teachers would determine who needs what help, and then provide it.

"Our mission is that every student who comes to Keystone Prep will graduate with the skills and knowledge they need for the future," Delaney said. "That might sound trite. You might say, 'Isn't everybody already doing that?' I don't think so."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at or 813 269-5304.

[Last modified August 24, 2006, 08:40:31]

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