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Low enrollment may force private school to close up

By Staff | May 27, 2009

A small, private school in Fort Myers runs the risk of closing its doors if it does not see an increase in student enrollment.
The Hibernian Private School, located on the second floor of First Presbyterian Church in downtown Fort Myers — although not affiliated with the church — offers one of the lowest student-to-teacher ratios in the county.
Public and private schools across Lee County have felt the economic pinch from decreased enrollment, but according to founder Yvonne McQuillan, Hibernian Private School is losing nearly 50 percent of its students.
The school currently houses 22 students, an amount considerably smaller than in the past, but it will lose many of them because of student mobility or graduation.
“It is the lowest we’ve had for a few years and 10 of those kids are graduating,” said McQuillan. “Like everyone else, we are struggling this year with the economy.”
The secondary school enrolls children from the communities of Bonita Springs, Cape Coral and Fort Myers Beach. Recently local parents have been pulling their children out of private schools because they cannot afford the tuition.
“One of the first things is to take kids out of a private school, but because we are so small to begin with, if we lose five kids that will make a difference for a school our size,” said McQuillan.
Hibernian Private School was formed in 2001 with two teachers and five students. Classes are no larger than eight students and the ratio of students to teachers is 5:1.
“The emphasis is to give individual attention to each child,” McQuillan said. “It runs the whole gamut at each end of the educational spectrum.”
Ann Conidaris’ daughter, Allie, is an 11th-grader at the school. Allie went through two high schools until Conidaris found Hibernian Private School.
“We tried public schools and this scenario works out better for us because she works better in a scenario with a lower teacher ratio,” said Conidaris. “It is a perfect fit for us.”
Student abilities at the school range from those who take honors classes to those struggling to pass algebra. Some choose to enter dual enrollment with Edison State College or Florida Gulf Coast University, and SAT prep is built into the curriculum.
Conidaris said the school also helps each student individually through the college applications process because “they want you to succeed in life after you graduate.”
While Hibernian Private School serves as an alternative to public schools that have 20 or 30 students per class, McQuillan explained that not many people know the school exists. In fact, most of its publicity has come by word of mouth.
“When they find us, they say they wish they had known about us years ago,” she said.
Students have been visiting Hibernian Private School and sitting in on classes to determine if they are interested, but the school is hoping that more will enroll over the summer.
Hibernian Private School is located at 2438 Second St. in Fort Myers. For more information on the school, call 274-9000 or e-mail hibernianschool@aol.com.