Parents are always seeking out the best educational options for their children. Since COVID, more are opting out of public schools.

“There’s never been more of a demand and need for options,” said Serena Ashcroft, a McKinney mother of three and education advocate.

Public school systems across the country have seen enrollments decline in the wake of COVID-related policies that left students struggling academically and emotionally. COVID closures also showed parents the politicized ideology that schools are teaching their kids.

Ashcroft saw the declines in her local schools as well.

McKinney Independent School District’s enrollment is still down by almost 1,000 students compared to pre-pandemic levels, even with new families moving to the fast-growing North Texas suburb.

Where did the students go?

Some families have turned to homeschooling, already a popular option in Texas, with more homeschooled children than in any other state.

Other parents chose private schools.

Ashcroft created another option for her community’s needs: a hybrid-model academy that blends homeschooling and private school education.

She started the M.A.K.E. (McKinney Area Kids Education) Greatness Academy in November 2020, after public schools went “virtual” for weeks, then forced kids who returned to campus to wear masks.

The innovative business began in her home.

“Those first classes were at my kitchen table,” Ashcroft told Texas Scorecard.

“We were filling a need during a crisis,” she said. “How can we serve these families? How can we support these kids?”

She said parents were looking for options, and the hybrid model gave kids a chance to learn in a normal, face-to-face environment.

Ashcroft was an outspoken critic of McKinney ISD’s COVID closures—“It was clear as day we shouldn’t do virtual learning”—and mask mandates for students.

While she continues to advocate for improving public schools—she ran for school board in 2021, and her two younger kids still attend McKinney ISD schools—she says they aren’t the best choice for every family.

“So many parents are telling us, ‘This is exactly what I’ve been looking for!’” she said. “Parents like it because it allows them to have a dedicated teacher and also spend more time with their kids and be involved with their learning outside the classroom.”

Academy students attend classes two to three days a week, then study at home the other days. They also take frequent field trips. Students recently visited the Alamo and state Capitol, part of the academy’s “Texas History” theme for the year.

The curriculum focuses on core subjects while incorporating God and country.

“Our country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. We don’t talk about that enough in public schools,” she said.

The program also offers electives, with an emphasis on the arts.

“We’re big music people,” Ashcroft said. Like many residents in the area, she and her family moved to North Texas from California, where the education system was declining and arts were getting cut.

In addition to flexibility, the academy offers families affordability.

“It’s affordable because we don’t have to rent commercial space,” she said.

Classes are held in a local McKinney church, and Ashcroft is looking for a similar space to open a second location in Prosper, where there’s already a waiting list.

Meanwhile, the McKinney academy is tripling enrollment for the fall.

Ashcroft says she’s been contacted by parents from all over the area, as well as teachers looking for a more flexible schedule.

Yet Ashcroft says she isn’t trying to recruit students away from public schools, just offering an option that works better for some parents and students.

“Families more than ever want connections and community and to be involved with their kids,” she said.

M.A.K.E. Greatness Academy is providing that option for many McKinney families.

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.