New school emphasizes ‘student-centered’ learning

When the North Tampa Christian Academy opens this fall in Wesley Chapel, it will be offering an approach to education that sets it apart from others, said Sandra Doran, Head of School.

“When you look at a traditional classroom, time is the constant and mastery of content is the variable,” Doran said. “In our school, we want to make mastery of content the constant and time more of the variable.

Sandra Doran, head of school at North Tampa Christian Academy, wears a hard hat at the 43-acre construction site in Wesley Chapel. The new school is slated to open on Aug. 20.

“Why am I going to punish a student who says, ‘I need more time.’ Because what they are saying is, ‘I want to do this work.’

“What is your ultimate goal? Your ultimate goal is for the child to learn this material,” she said.

That means taking accountability, the head of school said.

“We shouldn’t be asking the question: ‘Am I mean, if I don’t accept late work?’

“We should be asking the question: ‘Why am I not creating a context that’s motivating students … who care about producing quality work in a timely manner?’ — and take some of that ownership upon ourselves.

“We’re creating a context. All behavior occurs in a context.

“If students are not engaged, that’s on us,” Doran said.

North Tampa Christian Academy will put the student at the center, she said.

“We will work to individualize programs for each individual student,” Doran said.

So, if a student needs more time to master rigorous reading skills, the student will receive it.

“On the flip side, if your child is advanced in reading or math, we will not be holding them back,” she said.

“Is this someone who is sitting around bored because they’re being put in a box, and they’re not able to reach their full potential?” she asked.

“Our entire goal is to say: ‘How can we best tailor a program for your child?’

“That’s really all parents want to know,” Doran said.

The school’s mission is to create an environment where students “think, choose, create and solve for God’s glory,” Doran said.

“The question is: ‘Are you creating beauty in the world or are you solving a problem?’” she said.

The school will have online curriculum, hands-on learning, peer tutoring, books, technology, small group instruction, large-group instruction and team teaching.

The school’s design also sets it apart from others.

Now rising at 5619 E. County Line Road, North Tampa Christian Academy was designed by Fielding Nair International, a globally acclaimed architectural firm, with the specific intention to support research-based teaching practices, Doran said.

Buildings have flexible spaces, which can be easily be reconfigured to meet instructional needs.

The school day also has been designed to provide an hour each day for common planning time for teachers, she added.

“That’s huge in the research. If teachers work together and bounce ideas off each other, research shows that they are far more effective,” she said.

The school’s planned opening date is Aug. 20. It will serve children as young as age 2, all the way through senior year of high school.

Tuition is $11,900 for kindergarten through grade four; $13,900 for grades five through eight; and $15,900 for grades nine through 12.

The school will have a music program, as well as afterschool athletics, which will likely include volleyball, basketball and soccer.

“We have 43 acres here, and we left woods on both sides of the campus. There will be trails in those woods. There will be science explorations going on in those woods,” she said.

The school’s educational philosophy emphasizes the importance of taking actions in a purposeful way.

The school will use project-based learning, she said.

“Every project has to have a real-world result. You either have to be adding beauty to the planet or solving a problem,” Doran said.

A project, for instance, could focus on chronicling the story of a group of marginalized people and the completed work could “help increase community and global awareness of community needs,” she added.

Along those lines, the school doesn’t expect to operate in isolation.

“In terms of the community, we want to give and take with the community,” Doran said. “We feel like we have something to offer the community, but the community has something to offer to us.

“We want to help, and be a resource and a source of light and joy for the community, whether their children come to our school or not. We want to avail ourselves of the rich resources that we’re finding in the community,” she said.

For more information about the school, call (813) 591-0309. To read answers to frequently asked questions or to take a virtual tour, visit

Published February 28, 2018

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