Private school enrollment up in Rowan

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 5, 2012

By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — Enrollment in private schools has fallen by more than 1,500 students statewide since the 2007-08 academic year, but schools in Rowan County are seeing the opposite trend, according to data released recently by the N.C. Department of Non-Public Instruction.
Nearly 1,015 students attended private schools throughout the county last year, up from about 970 five years ago.
Diane Fisher, Salisbury Academy’s head of school, said she’s seen an influx of about 20 students during that time period.
The school, which projects an enrollment of about 165 students this year, has created additional positions in response to the growth.
Fisher said the school’s director of admissions and marketing was one position until this year.
“It just seemed to make sense to have a separate person who works in admissions,” she said.
That person, Beverly Fowler, also serves as the school’s academic administrator.
“My focus is mostly working with the board, budgeting and business decisions,” Fisher said. “Her focus is curriculum and instruction, working with the teachers and students.”
The school also hired Tammy Lilly to help with administrative responsibilities and work with junior kindergarten and kindergarten students in small groups.
Melissa Brown, the school’s new reading specialist, works with students in small groups and helps train staff members in ways to differentiate instruction.
The increase in students has allowed the school to offer more exploratory classes such as literature, zumba, yoga and cooking in the middle school grades.
Fisher said the school has grown as more transplants have moved to the area.
“As we have people move in from other places, they are interested in an independent school,” she said. “Before Salisbury Academy there was just a Christian school and a Catholic school.”
Since Salisbury Academy was founded in 1993, Fisher said, the school has built a solid reputation.
“The longer we’ve been here, the more we’ve proven ourselves,” she said.
Fisher said the school has used core knowledge curriculum since its inception.
“That really sets us apart,” she said. “The curriculum integrates math, science, art, English and history all at the same time, so the children learn everything all together.”
As the school has grown, Fisher said there has been an increased interest in the tuition assistance program, which currently helps about 35 percent of students.
Fisher said although the building itself can hold more students because of its large classrooms and hallways, the ideal class size remains at about 20 students.
“We stay focused on that because we don’t want to get too big,” she said. “Our whole philosophy is hands-on, active learning and that way we know you’re child’s individual needs.”
Sacred Heart has room to grow
Enrollment at Sacred Heart Catholic School has grown by 30 percent during the past three years to about 250 students.
“While we have grown and enrollment has increased, we still remain very family and community based with a long history,” school spokeswoman Robin Fisher said. “Our teachers and faculty really have an opportunity to get to know the students and their families, which creates the perfect school environment for all children.”
Principal Frank Cardelle said the school’s new building, constructed in 2009, might be a reason for the influx in students.
The facility features 21st century classrooms, separate elementary and middle school wings, a cafeteria with a full-service kitchen, gymnasium with locker rooms, library, technology rooms, soccer fields and outdoor play areas.
Cardelle said he thinks more people are choosing private schools now because of concerns related to the public education sector. He said the influx began with middle school students and has trickled down to the lower grades.
Cardelle said as the parish at the church as increased, so has enrollment at the school with families looking for a faith-based education.
“It’s what we revolve our whole day around,” he said.
But Cardelle said its a misconception that you have to be Catholic to attend the school.
“We’re pretty much above 50 percent Catholic, but we have many non-Catholic families,” he said. “We use all these different denominations in our classroom as a great lesson in diversity.”
The school, established in 1882, has also produced successful graduates, many of whom go on to Salisbury High and Gray Stone Day School, Cardelle said.
“We’ve got a good reputation,” he said.
Fisher said the school has continued to attract families despite the economic downturn.
“Our enrollment has continued to increase because of our school’s and Sacred Heart Church’s efforts to work with families to be able to afford tuition, even in the most desperate of situations, even in the worst economy,” she said.
The school has done a number of things to deal with the increase in students, including adding more middle school classes and in turn hiring new teachers, creating a pre-kindergarten program for 4-year-old students and keeping teacher to student ratios low by adding break-out classrooms for small group instruction.
Cardelle said the school’s at about 85 percent capacity right now.
“We do have a limit because it’s only financially responsible to pay off our building before we begin to add to it,” he said. “There are rooms here that without any construction can be turned around into other classrooms.
“I think our main responsibility now is to make sure the 250 kids or 170 families here are happy and that we’re able to get them what they need.”
North Hills Christian reaching capacity
Head of School Matt Mitchell said enrollment at North Hills Christian School dropped by 28 students from last year to 320 this school year.
But Mitchell said there’s a good reason for that: The school is reaching capacity in nine of its 14 grade levels.
“Increased interest over the course of the last several years enabled us to bring the school near capacity, providing the needed critical mass to develop additional programs, including dozens of middle and high school honors classes, seven high school Advanced Placement courses, Latin for first through 12th grades, a one-to-one tablet PC program for high school students and an advanced curriculum in the elementary school,” he said.
Mitchell said the school has leveraged that interest to operate more efficiently and increase admissions selectivity.
The school has ditched its 3K preschool program and relabeled its 4K preschool program to junior kindergarten. It has also combined two small second grade classes into one, Mitchell said.
“The controls we have placed upon enrollment will also help us better utilize our space, which was cramped last year,” he said.
Enrollment down at Rockwell Christian
Stephanie Houghton, learning center coordinator, said enrollment at Rockwell Christian School dropped last year to about 100 students.
“Enrollment had been steady for about four years,” she said. “Prior to that we had a few years of decline, partly due to the economy.”
But Houghton said the school continues to offer a unique educational opportunity with students in sixth through 12th grade receiving individualized instruction.
“It’s a concept that’s been around 40 years,” she said. “It’s built around the idea of a one-room schoolhouse.”
Houghton said she’s “T-totally” sold on the concept, which allows students to work at their own pace using workbooks and computer programs.
“All children are different, no two people learn the same way,” she said. “It’s virtually impossible to teach to a whole group because you’ve got someone waiting on someone else or soon being left behind.”
Houghton said teachers are still around to assist students, but the School of Tomorrow curriculum is written to be self-taught and emphasize personal accountability.
“They are responsible for learning, not being taught,” she said. “Why do teachers teach when students can learn? We try to sidestep that process and instill a desire to learn.”
Houghton said the goal of the school is to remain small, but there is still growing room.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.