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New Lutheran school attracting attention

Family of Christ will offer kindergarten and first-grade education in the fall. Only four spots remain, and interest continues to build.

By MELANIE AVE

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 4, 2000


TAMPA PALMS -- Many of the phone calls the Rev. David Haara receives these days are from people wanting to know more, more, more about New Tampa's first private Christian school opening this fall.

Where is it? When does it open? How much does it cost?

"I think a lot of parents want their children to have daily instruction in faith," said Haara, pastor of Family of Christ Lutheran Church on the west side of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. "They can't get that in a public school."

The Family of Christ School will open its doors on the church's 31-acre campus Aug. 9, the same date as Hillsborough County schools. This year, the school will offer instruction in kindergarten and first grade. But in the coming years, it will expand up to eighth grade.

The Lutheran school is just the latest of several schools going up in the fast-growing, school-hungry New Tampa area. Hillsborough County will open Pride Elementary on Kinnan Street this fall, and construction will begin soon on an elementary, a middle school and a high school.

The church has hired former Hunter's Green Elementary School teacher Kristin Tonelli as the headmaster and director of its Child Development Center for preschool-aged children. She has taken a one-year leave of absence from Hunter's Green.

Tonelli, who starts Monday, said her goal is to get the Family of Christ School up and running and well-established. But she wants to make sure it retains a small school feel.

"I will know every child and family that comes through the school," said Tonelli, whose husband, Tommy, coaches basketball at Wharton High School.

Work is under way on the initial $300,000 school project. Workers began preparing the foundation last week. And the 4,000-square-foot modular building should be delivered in three weeks.

Family of Christ, which has a Sunday attendance of about 115 people, moved into its Bruce B. Downs building in late 1999. Soon thereafter, it began offering day care, preschool and kindergarten classes in its Child Development Center.

This fall, the Family of Christ school will have 60 children enrolled in two kindergarten classes, one first grade class and one preschool class. With only four spots remaining, Haara expects to have a waiting list.

One of those students registered is Pam Berndt's son, Jamie. He will be attending first grade at Family of Christ, after having attended a half a year of kindergarten there this past spring.

"We're just so happy with it," said Berndt, who lives in Hunter's Green. "He really needed personalized attention, and it kind of saved him last year."

The church plans to add one grade level a year until it reaches eight grade levels. It will have two classes of each grade, with 20 children in each, for a total enrollment of 360.

"A kid will not get bored in our school," Haara said.

Each classroom will have a teacher and an aide. All children will be taught Spanish, attend a weekly chapel service and have a daily prayer and scriptural instruction. The children also will wear uniforms consisting of khaki and blue pants and white and red shirts.

Tuition is $3,100 a year per child.

Once the school is completed, the campus will have a gymnasium and separate buildings for kindergarten through second grades, third through fifth grades and sixth through eighth grades. The church is also constructing an elderly day care building and a new sanctuary.

"It's a lot of building," Haara said. "But this area is growing so much."

-- Melanie Ave can be reached at (813) 226-3473 or melanie@sptimes.com.

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