KEY WEST, Fla. — Due to surging enrollment, Basilica of St. Mary Star of the Sea in Key West has announced a historic reopening of the parish’s Catholic high school, slated for the 2023-2024 school year.
“The key to demand is that people like what we offer. They like the academic product and the philosophy of the school compared to other options. It’s a peaceful and safe environment that makes it conducive to learning,” said Robert Wright, principal of the Key West school since 2013.
The renovation of the old school auditorium will provide a 17,500 square foot academic facility. The current Pre-K to Grade 8 at Basilica School of St. Mary Star of the Sea plans to expand to Grades 9 and 10 in August 2023.
Laying the groundwork for this expansion, the school will increase its primary enrollment in the upper grades starting next fall.
“I came in 2013 with 170 students enrolled and we have over 350 students today with over 100 on a waiting list. The demand is there,” Wright said. “People are so excited.”
When Father John Baker, the basilica’s rector, made the announcement during masses in early March, “people were in tears at the thought that they would be able to avail themselves of our religious traditions,” Wright added.
In 1986, the former Mary Immaculate High School closed due to declining enrollment and financial insolvency, according to a written parish history. Although the warning signs have been there for five years, the closure still came as a shock to the community. After the last class in June 1986, St. Mary’s School moved into the old high school facilities and was renamed the Mary Immaculate Star of the Sea School.
In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI declared St. Mary Star of the Sea a minor basilica and the name of the school was changed to Basilica School of St. Mary Star of the Sea.
Wright said an expansion of student choice legislation in Florida, along with limited private school options in the lower Florida Keys, has created a strong demand for Catholic education in Key West. There are also options for children with special needs at school.
The new high school will offer students dual enrollment and advanced placement courses, the latest technology, extracurricular activities, clubs and athletic programs, according to Wright. With an expected enrollment of approximately 180 students by year three, the vision is to keep class sizes relatively small.
“Florida right now is such a supportive environment for school choice. We have a good product, great teachers, and a governor and legislature that are finding ways for more and more students to find a way to afford private education,” Wright said.
He noted that the cost per student for the Catholic school is about $10,000 per student, and the costs for public schools in Monroe County (where Key West is located) are more than double.
Currently, approximately 64 percent of students in Catholic schools in Key West already benefit from a variety of income- and need-based voucher programs.
Wright said the school won’t be accepting enrollment until at least construction has begun, and there’s still a lot of work to be done on the project, including fundraising, designs and building permits. construction and planning.
Construction of the new high school will take place in what was the old auditorium, which was hit hard in 2017 when Hurricane Irma ripped off the roof and an adjacent wall.
The Archdiocese of Miami, like many dioceses across the country, has seen an increase in enrollment over the past two years, possibly due to factors related to the local response to the coronavirus pandemic and the expansion government of Step Up school vouchers.
“Specifically, our archdiocesan enrollment has increased 5% this year, and the vast majority of our schools have seen an increase in enrollment,” said Jim Rigg, archdiocesan secretary of education and superintendent of Catholic schools. “The overall quality of our Catholic schools is always a draw.”
A Cristo Rey High School is scheduled to open in the fall of 2022 in the North Miami area. The Catholic high school offers a faith-based college preparatory program and corporate work experience for students from families with limited economic means. It will be the second of its kind in Florida, joining a similar high school in Tampa as one of nearly 40 Cristo Rey schools nationwide.