Reverend Carl Leyrer founded Divine Savior Academy in 2004.
Before development began changing the face of Doral surrounding the school, Leyrer described Northwest 58th Street as a “miserable looking street with a big valley in it that would flood.” That first year, the school only taught up to the third grade and housed about 25 students in a single one-story facility.
“There was no development north of 58th Street when we bought the property in 2001,” Leyrer said. “We started with a staff of six and now we employ 95 people.”
Last week, Divine Savior Academy held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate an 88,000-square-foot expansion of its high school and athletic facilities. The additions include a new soccer field, tennis court, weight room, a ballet room, a media center complete with a recording studio and video production lab, and a new wing of classrooms aimed at building their STEM and AP Capstone programs. The event marked a resolution to a 13-month project and cost about $20 million to complete.
Divine Savior Academy is the only private Christian school in the city. In the 11 years since the school was founded, the student population has grown from the original 25 to more than 700, and the school now teaches from pre-K 3 through 12th grade.
The cost of an education at Divine Savior ranges from about $8,000 a year for early childhood students to about $12,000 a year for high schoolers. This past year, the not-for-profit school awarded more than $600,000 in scholarships for students.
Ben Troge, the high school’s principal, believes that interest in Divine Savior will continue to rise. Troge joined the staff in 2007 and also teaches religion and history classes at the high school.
“Doral continues to grow at a very high rate,” said Troge. “Having interacted with school officials across the city for the past eight years, there’s a need for relief. All the public schools around here are overflowing. We help provide a private, Christian education.”
Though many of the teachers and staff are from the South Florida area, a significant number of them have come to Miami from throughout the country — especially the Midwest. Multiple teachers have wasted no time in decorating their freshly minted high school classrooms with Green Bay Packers memorabilia and quotes from legendary coach Vince Lombardi.
Many of these teachers graduated from Lutheran institutions such as Martin Luther College in Minnesota as part of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Known as WELS, the organization is one of the biggest Lutheran denominations in the United States. The school does chapel every Wednesday and high school students take a religion class every year.
The school’s director of communications, Dana Kirchoff, referred to the religious aspect of her work with Divine Savior as an important part of the culture there.
"The biggest thing that comes across it how it affects the atmosphere here. Along with college-prep academics, our faculty teaches students to live their lives of faith," Kirchoff said. "They take a great deal of care in what they do because they see their work as not just a job, but a calling."
Small class sizes and a smaller student population, according to Kirchoff, provide the students with more opportunity to get involved with extracurricular activities. Divine Savior has won its district’s championship in girls’ volleyball the past two years, including an undefeated season during the last year.
The school’s chess club, headed by grandmaster Gilberto Luna II, finished second in a state competition in 2014.
Their student publication, Network 58, will now work with a new media center and recording studio, puts out a magazine, broadcasts videos, and runs an online blog.
“A lot of times, faith-based education is pitted against high-level academic education,” said Pastor Carlos Leyrer, superintendent of Divine Savior and son of the school’s founder. “We have seen that the two go hand in hand.”
Divine Savior is considering investing an estimated $6 million more on a worship and fine arts wing — but school officials say that project might not be completed for another three years. Since the school is not for profit, these expansions have been financed by charitable donations and through loans.