Catholic-sponsored Cristo Rey school opens its doors to all


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Students at Cristo Rey high school in Tampa.

Students at Cristo Rey high school in Tampa.

If you see me especially excited this week, here’s why:

For me, it began percolating seven years ago, and for others even further back.

In the spring of 2015, my friend Mike Fernandez, one of our community’s most generous souls, asked me to look into something called Cristo Rey. I had never heard of it before. That June, I went to New York to see for myself. My companion was Rudy Cecchi, an insurance executive. Both Mike and Rudy were products of Xavier High School in New York, run by the Jesuits overseeing the highest quality academics and character-building, and known for graduates such as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Al Roker, the TV weatherman.

Cristo Rey is similar. Started by the Jesuits in Chicago in 1996, there are now 39 of them across the country (all with Catholic sponsorship, not necessarily Jesuits, and you don’t have to be Catholic to go). It’s high school only. Most students come from at-risk, often disadvantaged families. Upon entering, many are significantly behind academically. Classes — rigorously academic — are four days a week. But fast forward four years, and most everyone will be ahead of peers elsewhere. Most go to college — in higher percentages than even high-income families. All are mentored through college.

On the fifth day, the students go to work at some of the best known business offices in the community — building relationships and self-confidence, learning how to do a job and how to present themselves, discovering what a college education can mean.

Even before starting the freshman year, incoming students spend four weeks during the summer learning what they need to do to succeed at jobs and school. That includes tailored classes in language arts and math to prepare for a college-prep curriculum.

The success nationally is extraordinary. Now we have Cristo Rey here, in North Miami, with an entering class of 80 already at work these past six weeks. A class will be added every year; eventually there will be a few more than a hundred in each class — a total of 450 students.

This is the second Cristo Rey in Florida, with one located in Tampa. (The money students earn from the jobs they get through the schools helps pay for their education; Florida vouchers pay for most of the rest, with parents paying $75 a semester so everyone has “some skin in the game.”)

In North Miami, School President Anamarie Moreiras, an outstanding public school administrator, and her team have recruited stellar teachers. Principal Cesar Munoz is a graduate of Cristo Rey Chicago. Board co-chairs Roddy Shay and Rudy Cecchi are both successful in business and beyond.

Thursday, the school will be dedicated, with Archbishop Thomas Wenski blessing it all.

I have worked these seven years to help make this happen. Others have done far more.

My background is completely public education. My eight brothers and sisters — all of us — went to public school and then were graduated from public universities. I believe deeply in public education — the path to the future for 90% of students in our republic. But I also believe that people ought to have a choice. Cristo Rey is a life-changing choice — a blessing for the future of many, a blessing for the future of our republic.

David Lawrence Jr. is the chair of The Children’s Movement of Florida and retired publisher of the Miami Herald.


This story was originally published September 12, 2022 5:16 PM.