Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Virtuous Academy Rolls Back into Session with Heinz Funding

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Virtuous Academy Rolls Back into Session with Heinz Funding

Article excerpt

It has been a rocky road for the Virtuous Academy, a tiny non- denominational Christian school that opened with 11 students in fall 2008 in the basement of the City of Hope Church of the Nazarene in Duquesne, but was forced by finances to close in January 2011.

But a $100,000 grant from the Heinz Endowments, awarded Dec. 21, has breathed new life into the school.

"It is a sigh of relief and a sign that all of the stress and hard work I've been going through since 2008 is paying off," said founder Iyana Tennon, a Duquesne native who has said she is determined to provide an educational alternative for students in her hometown.

Previous Heinz grants to Virtuous Academy totaling $60,000 and other smaller donations from other sources allowed Ms. Tennon to reopen the school in the fall of 2012 with four students in grades 4- 6 in space at the Duquesne Business Innovation Center. A month ago, a fifth student enrolled. She has provided scholarship money to all of the students. Since the reopening, Ms. Tennon has been the school's sole teacher, administrator and lunch cook.

Ms. Tennon holds a bachelor's degree in elementary education from Clarion University of Pennsylvania, but is not certified to teach in public schools since she twice failed the state certification test. She does not need the certification to teach in a non-public, non- certified school, which is the classification Virtuous Academy holds with the state Department of Education.

The new grant money will allow her in mid-January to hire a second teacher, who holds a degree in education and state certification.

With another teacher sharing the load, Ms. Tennon will have time to explore funding opportunities and partnerships to help the school grow by recruiting students and providing scholarships.

Part of the funding from the Heinz Endowments was used to conduct a community survey to determine interest in the school. Ms. Tennon said the survey of Duquesne, McKeesport, Clairton and Homestead indicated that parents were interested in the school as an option for their children but were concerned about being able to afford it. Current annual tuition is $5,225.

The $100,000 grant from the Heinz Endowment was provided to Ms. Tennon for start-up costs and to put together a strong board of directors that could work on a sustainable plan for the school, said Doug Root, director of communications for the Heinz Endowments.

He said Ms. Tennon's mission is "in keeping with the goals of the education program with the endowments, which has been to identify at a neighborhood level what the educational needs are in individual communities."

The chairman of Virtuous Academy's new board is Vernon Tipton, a former principal in the McKeesport and Wilkinsburg school districts and the former executive director of the Duquesne City School District in the 2006-2007 school year when the decision was made to close Duquesne High School. …

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