Home-Schooling, Private Schools on Growth Spurt in Clay

Article excerpt

Located on College Drive in Orange Park, next door to the

National Truck Driving School, is a high school with an

enrollment of 600 students. But the school doesn't have to worry

about crowded classrooms, parking or having enough computers for

students.

Citizens' High School is one of a growing number of non-public

schools designed to assist parents who are seeking alternatives

to public education for their children. The school, like a

number of other non-public schools in Clay County, specializes

in designing home-school programs for the 600 students enrolled

in that school. Not all of the students are from Clay County,

however.

Clay County has 18 non-public schools, compared to 28 public

schools. Additionally, the number of students who are being home

schooled continues to rise. In 1990-91 school year, 85

youngsters were home schooled. This year public school educators

predict that number will rise from 209 last year to 250 this

school year.

No figures are kept on how many students are enrolled in

private schools. The county's largest private school, St. Johns

Country Day, has an annual enrollment of about 700, however.

Larry Lark, who serves as president of both the National Truck

Driving School and Citizens' High School, said he has witnessed

the growth in home schooling first hand. The high school opened

in 1981 in Atlanta serving a small population of students who

were physically unable to attend conventional high schools.

In 1990, the school moved to Clay County. Although some Clay

County students attend the school, Lark said the school draws

from students around the United States.

"We have entertainers' children enrolled and people sailing

across the Atlantic Ocean enrolled," Lark said.

The trend he has seen at his school is that some years ago

parents were abandoning public schools for religious reasons.

But in recent years there has been an increase in enrollment

because "parents are afraid to send their children to public

schools" because of a growing number of social and safety

issues.

Clay County Superintendent David Owens said that one of the

major factors he sees in the growth of alternative education is

that schools are becoming so large they are losing the personal

touch.

"A small school usually stays stable," Owens said. "But as a

school grows and becomes larger, you lose kids because you lose

personal touch."

Elaine Lott, a mother who has had her children in home school

for several years, said that is a major reason she chose that

route for some of her four children.

"Some children just need more one on one than is offered in

public schools," Lott said.

Clay County Coordinator of Student Services Polly Partridge,

who handles requests from parents interested in home schooling,

said her office now handles 500 requests a year for home

schooling information packets. …