As public school districts work on local levies and the Statehouse boils with controversy over budget changes, Pataskala's Liberty Christian Academy private school has grown from 200 students three years ago to nearly 350 students currently.

As public school districts work on local levies and the Statehouse boils with controversy over budget changes, Pataskala's Liberty Christian Academy private school has grown from 200 students three years ago to nearly 350 students currently.

"I've seen it grow from very small to huge," said principal Karen Jones, who has been with the school for 26 of its 28 years, starting out in Whitehall.

About nine years ago, the school came to the Pataskala area, where it rented space in local churches. In its first year, it had 14 students, followed by 54 in the second year and 104 in the third. Growth was strong enough that the school was able to construct a new $3.5-million facility three years ago at 10447 Refugee Road, near state Route 310.

"It's kind of tucked away," said Lisa Levenson, a parent who was hired last week as development director to help the school expand. "There's not a huge sign out front. As a parent, I kind of like that it's secluded, back there on its own. But from a community standpoint, people ask, 'Where are you?'"

Administrator LaVonne McIlrath said school officials would like to reach capacity of 400 students. The school draws students from Columbus to Newark, including Reynoldsburg, Pickerington, Pataskala and Alexandria.

While most attention is given to public district schools and public community schools, sometimes referred to as "charter schools," private schools also operate in Ohio.

Jones said she follows the public school debates but often at a distance, as much of state educational policy does not apply to a private school.

"I keep abreast of what is going on, so I understand the direction public education is going in, but it does not always affect our policies here," Jones said. "We have always maintained a very high standard and want to exceed all the Ohio Department of Education guidelines. What I believe is, if it says 'Christian' over the door, it should be excellent. I believe we go above and beyond."

The school operates a preschool for students as young as 3 years old and then a K-12 program. Students participate in a postsecondary enrollment option, attending college classes, and every student is required to apply to a college and be admitted.

"We believe that's good experience," McIlrath said.

The school has a faculty of 30, and students take the Stanford achievement tests. McIlrath said elementary students commonly test about a year-and-a-half ahead of national averages, and students above sixth grade test about three years ahead of national averages.

"All of our sophomores have passed the OGTs on their very first try," McIlrath said.