Ocala Education Center


Educating students where they live and work is a core part of Saint Leo. Since 1973, the university has taught students at education centers and other teaching locations, in addition to University Campus. 

Center students for the most part are older and nontraditional students, meaning they may not enter college at age 18, immediately after graduating from high school. They often are working full time and juggling family commitments with studying. Saint Leo’s centers focus on offering classes when students need them. 

Making education center students feel a part of the university is crucial to their success. The centers sponsor many activities and clubs to bring students together, including participating in Saint Leo Serves projects in their communities. Saint Leo changes our students’ lives and makes a difference in the communities where centers are located.

University administration continuously monitors center locations to make sure they are meeting the needs of current and prospective students. In the past few years, Saint Leo has opened new locations and expanded others to better provide educational opportunities for the surrounding communities. Soon, the university will better serve the Charleston, SC, region with the opening of a new center in Summerville, SC, and a second one on the Naval Weapons Station Charleston at Joint Base Charleston. Here’s a look at some of Saint Leo’s new and expanded education centers.



– MacDill Air Force Base

East Pasco Education Center 
at University Campus

Brooksville Pasco-Hernando

State College Office

New Port Richey PHSC Office

Spring Hill PHSC Office



Lake City 

Key West
at Naval Air Station Key West


Naval Station Mayport Office

The Jacksonville center moved in December 2017 to a new location in the Oakleaf Town Center, an open-air regional shopping center. The 8,400-square-foot center gives students access to five classrooms, administrative staff, and a computer lab, as well as Saint Leo’s online library collection, online tutoring, and personalized career services.



Saint Leo’s Ocala location opened in the fall of 2016. Its 9,172 square feet features 10 classrooms that include the latest technology, a computer lab, and student lounges.




Classes began in January 2019 at the new Atlanta Education Center at Lindbergh City Center. The centers in Morrow and Marietta, GA, ceased operations in December. Saint Leo occupies the entire second floor of the new Atlanta center with more than 23,000 square feet. It features eight classrooms with plans to develop more, a Learning Resource Center, cybersecurity lab, and student lounge.



A grand opening ceremony was held in October 2018 at a new location, but Saint Leo has served the Savannah community since 1975, when it began offering classes at Hunter Army Airfield (HAAF) and Fort Stewart. The new location is 14,900 square feet. It features 13 classrooms, a “cyber bar,” Learning Resource Center, computer lab, student study room, and student lounge. In addition, the center boasts the university’s third Military Resource Center for student-veterans and military-related students.


Fort Lee

South Hampton Roads

JEB-Little Creek Office

Naval Air Station Oceana 

Naval Station Norfolk Office

Saint Leo University celebrated the grand opening of its new location in 2016 at Naval Station Norfolk.


Newport News

Fort Eustis Office

Langley Air Force Base Office 

Saint Leo University celebrated the grand opening of its expanded Newport News location in April 2018. The center added 4,386 square feet to its site, enabling it to open with a fully equipped cybersecurity lab, as well as additional classroom space, a study lounge, and a Military Resource Center.

South Carolina


Summerville area
The new location for the Charleston Education Center is in the booming Nexton area of Summerville. It opens this fall and will offer updated technology, larger classrooms, a dedicated computer lab, learning resource center, student lounge, and more support services. Moving into a stand-alone location also will provide an opportunity to build stronger business partnerships that will benefit students and alumni.

Naval Weapons 
Station Charleston

Opening this fall.

Shaw Air Force Base
Sumter Office


Corpus Christi
at Naval Air Station

Corpus Christi


at Columbus Air Force Base


San Diego
at Naval Base
San Diego

A Saint Leo education program is helping to address the teacher shortage in Florida by partnering with school districts.

Saint Leo University is helping Florida school districts “grow their own” teachers via an innovative program. Through agreements with 19 school systems, paraprofessionals and noncertified school district employees, who have an associate degree, recieve the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree in education from the university. 

The agreements vary in scope, with all providing tuition discounts. In some agreements, Saint Leo will offer classes at a school within the district, while in others, the paraprofessionals will study at one of the university’s Florida education centers and online. 

The new program allows those who work in schools to become teachers in the district where they already are employed. “This is a home-grown approach that is addressing the teacher shortage in Florida,” said Dr. Holly Atkins, chair of Saint Leo’s undergraduate education program. It takes people who are based in the community and allows them to grow, gain a degree, and become teachers. 

“You have roots there,” Atkins said of the school district employees. “You have an understanding of who the students are in the community. That leads to more success for the [school district’s] students, too.”

When district employees consider becoming teachers, the main concerns that emerge are monetary investment, time commitment—both length of the program and demand on their personal schedule—and if they will be supported by their school district and academic institution, said Jessica Starkey, director of Saint Leo’s Jacksonville (FL) Education Center. “Our para-to-pro program addresses each of those concerns.”  

Growing teachers who know the area, people, culture, and lifestyle is beneficial to Florida’s school districts—especially districts in rural areas. “It’s going to help the teachers stick and remain in the districts,” Atkins said. “We don’t want a revolving door of teachers.” 

Tackling Teaching Vacancies
Districts spend time and money recruiting teachers, and this new program will provide a guaranteed pipeline of educators. With the partnerships, districts will “know in spring of 2021, ‘We’re going to have X amount of new teachers,’” said Dr. Tammy Quick, assistant professor of education at the Ocala (FL) Education Center. “They don’t have to go out and recruit.” 

Michele Bily, instructional specialist in human resources for Clay County District Schools agrees. She says the initiative allows the district “to recruit future teachers from a talent pool that has already shown commitment to our students and the district.”  

This home-grown approach to hiring teachers appeals to school officials. The district employees already are involved with the children and the community. “That fits right in with who we are as a university and our core values,” Atkins said of Saint Leo. 

Since Saint Leo already maintains relationships with many of the school districts, the para-to-pro agreements were a natural fit. 

“We have worked with these districts for years, but now they are serious about growing their numbers since there appears to be a shortage of certified teachers in our state,” said Dr. Susan Kinsella, dean of the College of Education and Social Services.

At the Jacksonville Education Center, these partnerships are strengthened by the personal attention education students receive. “My center has been amazing,” said Dr. Alexandra Kanellis, associate chair of undergraduate education. “The students [in the para-to-pro program] know there is a person to help them. We identified roles. I handle the academics, Jessica [Starkey] handles the financials, and the assistant director of admissions helps with all the paperwork. [Education] students know who to go to for help.”

The Hernando County School District is just one district that is pleased to work with Saint Leo. 

The partnerships take down the barriers that have prevented many people from returning to college and pursuing a bachelor’s degree and qualifies them to teach in their own classroom.

“This is a home-grown approach that is addressing the teacher shortage in Florida.”
— Dr. Holly Atkins, chair, Undergraduate Education

“We are excited about this partnership and what it could potentially do for our district’s recruitment and retention efforts,” said Michael Maine, the district’s senior recruiter. Maine is the district’s first senior recruiter, a position created in 2019 to fill frequent teaching vacancies and retain teachers for longer periods.

“By partnering with Saint Leo, we hope to bridge the gap and strengthen our pool of teacher applicants who are ready and prepared to be teachers,” Maine said. “The great thing about the program is that these individuals are already our employees and are already in our classrooms. They have a love for students and in many ways are already heavily assisting the teachers who they serve by helping to boost student achievement. Why not help them with their personal development and future goals of becoming teachers? It is a win-win situation!”

The para-to-pro programs allow the new Saint Leo students to complete their field placements in the school in which they work; however, they must teach in a different classroom to meet the state’s internship requirements. They also must complete their final field placement outside of the school district in which they are employed.

The districts all make a commitment to the students, helping with tuition, allowing the time for classes, and providing health insurance. “The HR staff and the district can say this is a benefit of employment,” Atkins said. “We [the university] provide a flat-rate on tuition, additional professional development opportunities, and additional support for the three state tests.”

Hernando’s Maine considers the para-to-pro partnership with Saint Leo to be a benefit to the district’s employees.  “It is an opportunity for us to create clear pathways for our current employees to move up within the organization,” he said. “If an employee knows that they have an opportunity to increase their influence within an organization and feel valued while doing it, they will stay. It’s all about retention of these great employees.”

School districts identify and recommend employees eligible for admission and provide placement for internships, and other support. “The additional support has been unique to each district,” Starkey said. “Some school districts will provide textbooks, laptops, and financial reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses. Many districts also are working to keep participating para-to-pro students paid during their final internship and keep their health benefits.” 

In Clay County, the district collaborated with the Clay Education Foundation to provide computers for each cohort member to ensure they had the necessary technology to complete their degrees, Bily said. 

Helping Florida’s Future Teachers
Saint Leo is working with districts to meet their needs, too. “We listen to what they want,” Kanellis said. “We go to them and say ‘What do you need from us?’ We stay connected to what is going on in education and what districts need. We have to stay current and flexible.”

“We’re flexible enough to make adjustments to the current program and still have the high expectations and standards,” Atkins added.

Some of the new Saint Leo education students have been paraprofessionals for years, Atkins said. “They have a wide array of teaching skills,” she said. “The program builds on that.”

Most are nontraditional-age students, who are juggling families and employed in demanding full-time jobs. “That’s what we specialize in at our centers,” Atkins said of the adult learners. “It’s not a learning curve for Saint Leo to have a mom come in as a student, who is holding down a full-time job and now going back to school full time. That’s who we work with.”

Many paraprofessionals think, “‘I can’t go to college because of time and money,’” Quick added. But the para-to-pro program with Saint Leo is changing that with the tuition discount, and by offering classes at district offices and schools, at nearby Saint Leo centers, and online. 

The partnerships take down the barriers that have prevented many people from returning to college and pursuing a bachelor’s degree and qualifies them to teach in their own classroom. Paraprofessionals complete most of their field placements right in their place of work. Districts then commit to hiring the paraprofessionals upon successful completion of the program. 

The para-to-pro program covers a wide range of employees, Atkins said. “It could be a classroom teacher wanting to take an undergraduate class for recertification or enroll in one of the graduate education programs. It can be someone who is working in the school district on a temporary certificate, who graduated with a non-education degree, but wants to get an education degree. Some districts have included noninstructional staff, who have strong ties to their school—a front-office secretary, for example.” 

The program has provided support for employees “with the hope that they can complete their education and be a lead teacher in a classroom,” said Brenda Troutman, director of instructional personnel for Clay County District Schools. “Many of those enrolled in the program would not have had the opportunity to accomplish this otherwise.” 

The Duval County Public Schools’ partnership with Saint Leo is called the Supporting Talent and Recruiting Teachers (START) program, and it launched in December.

“There was quite a ceremony at the Jacksonville district office welcoming the new cohort,” said Kinsella. “Families were invited and students were met by their superintendent and myself while they learned about Saint Leo University and the expectations of their school district. There is plenty of support for this program from Saint Leo and the school district, so we are certain these students will be successful. There is also the added component of including the families as it is so important to have their support.”

Several of the agreements with Saint Leo require the districts to hire the students once they graduate, pass the Florida General Knowledge Test, and the state certification exam. This will allow those who previously were making minimum wage to begin making a certified teacher’s salary, Kinsella noted. 

The partnership with Saint Leo University allows current Clay County support staff, who hold an associate degree to complete a bachelor’s in education in two years, Bily said. “Upon successful completion of the program, each graduate will be guaranteed a teaching position within the district.”

Collaborating for Strong Teacher Cohorts
“The biggest support system is what they create through their cohort,” Kanellis said of the new education students. “The para-to-pro cohorts come in, and they realize that all the students are feeling the same; they have the same dreams. It’s pretty amazing to see how they keep each other going. They pray together; they have dinner together; they study together.”

Clay County’s collaboration with Saint Leo “has created a strong support system to assist those enrolled, to encourage them through the process, and to simply be their cheerleader when things become tough,” Troutman said. “Clay County is excited to have this new partnership and looks forward to building great teachers for Clay.”

Saint Leo’s commitment to its education students doesn’t end when they walk across the stage at commencement. “The Department of Education tracks and assesses our program based on the performance of our graduates,” Atkins said. “They are evaluated in a large part on the standardized test scores of their students. These are long-term partnerships with our graduates.” 

Throughout the fall and winter, Saint Leo faculty members shared their knowledge and insights with a variety of media outlets and audiences—from newspapers and television stations to group talks. Here are a few highlights of appearances and media reporting featuring our faculty.

In September, faculty member Dr. Tammy Zacchilli was quoted extensively in three articles on the digital feature news site FamilyMinded.com. As an associate professor of psychology, Zacchilli shared advice for parents on the art of disciplining children, typical fears of toddlers, and what to consider before expanding a family.

In November, faculty member Dr. Gianna Russo appeared on WEDU’s That’s All I’m Saying with Tampa Bay Times columnist Ernest Hooper. Russo talked about nurturing Tampa area authors during the 30-minute program on regional public television. The assistant professor of English and creative writing also will soon release her new book, One House Down, a collection of poems published by Madville Publishing.

Dr. Keith Jones, associate professor of marketing, shared insights on a Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey regarding holiday shopping on Thanksgiving Day and whether stores benefitted from being open (or closed) on the holiday. His commentary appeared in American City Business Journals’ publications across the nation. He also participated in a Facebook live interview for Saint Leo alumni on the same topic.

Dr. Jenenne Valentino-Bottaro, an adjunct faculty member at the Ocala Education Center, participated in a November television interview with WCJB-TV, ABC 20, in Ocala about animal-assisted therapy. Valentine-Bottaro teaches human services courses in the College of Education & Social Services and is the co-founder of the Human-Animal Interconnectedness Institute.

In January, social work faculty member Dr. Lisa Rapp-McCall was interviewed by Tampa Bay area television stations WTVT-TV, FOX 13, and WFLA-TV, NBC News Channel 8, about research conducted by the Saint Leo Polling Institute on human trafficking. That same month, Rapp-McCall and colleague Dr. Robert Lucio presented the polling institute’s survey data on human trafficking during a panel discussion hosted by the Tampa Downtown Partnership.

Atlanta Education Center

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A new education center opens in Atlanta Saint Leo University opened a new education center on January 2, in Atlanta at 2450 Piedmont Road N.E., in the heart of Buckhead at Lindbergh City Center. Saint Leo occupies the entire second floor with more than 23,000 square feet. The initial plan is to develop eight classrooms with the potential of developing six more. The new center features a Learning Resource Center, cybersecurity lab, and student lounge. It also offers unlimited Wi-Fi.

The 2017-2018 academic year concluded with 13 commencement ceremonies. Ceremonies took place in Florida, Virginia, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, California, and Texas for the university’s education center and online students.


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Alysa Nantarojanaporn of Homestead, FL, was awarded the Thomas B. Southard Leadership Award Sabre at the undergraduate commencement on April 28. The sabre was presented to her by Virginia M. “Ginger” Judge, a member of the Board of Trustees. The sabre is given to the Army ROTC graduate who demonstrates leadership achievement in ROTC advanced camp, classes, and labs. Nantarojanaporn is the middle child of nine and the first college graduate in her family. She graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in criminal justice.

Christian Schindler

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Christian Schindler has joined Saint Leo University as vice president of Marketing and Enrollment. Prior to this position, Schindler served in a variety of leadership roles in marketing and enrollment, including divisional vice president of Strategic Recruitment and Global Marketing at Laureate Education, vice president of Marketing and Enrollment at Straighterline, and senior director of International Global Marketing at LeapFrog Enterprises. He has an extensive background in lead generation, branding, and strategic recruitment for both campus-based and online institutions of learning. He is a graduate of the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario, where he also received his Bachelor of Arts in political science.

The Saint Leo University alumni ranks grew to more than 80,000 this year with commencement ceremonies taking place from coast to coast. At University Campus, close to 1,200 students graduated during three ceremonies held April 29 and 30. Those events kicked off the “commencement season” for Saint Leo with 15 more ceremonies being held near education centers throughout May and June. Click the photos to learn more.


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Abena Ankomah ’11, ’16 earning her MBA

achonwaFlashback to 2014:
Chukwudi Peter Achonwa ’14

Originally from Imo state in southern Nigeria, Chukwudi Peter Achonwa has lived and worked across the Niger River in neighboring Delta state for more than 20 years. His home is in the city of Warri, which is not far from the Gulf of Guinea.

His entire life, Achonwa had never been outside Nigeria.
That was until May 2014, when the Saint Leo University online student—and now alumnus—boarded a plane and traveled for nearly 24 hours to arrive in Florida and attend commencement at University Campus.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting that day, and now he is an accountant in his native country. He hopes to earn a master’s degree and a PhD in his field.

Mary Beth Erskine, web content writer, posted a longer story about Chukwudi Peter Achonwa on Saint Leo’s online blog.

grad_4Want to see more photos from the Class of 2016 ceremonies? Be sure to visit
this page.