Area Christian school not among those opening today

Most Christian schools in the Northern Shenandoah Valley will be opening their doors to students for the 2015-2016 school year today, but Riverfront Christian School in Front Royal will not be among them.

In the past, Riverton United Methodist Church pastor Marc Roberson said there had been a trend of parents waiting until late summer to enroll their children. But with one month until the scheduled start of classes on Sept. 8 and student numbers at around 20 percent of previous years, the decision was inevitable.

“At that level, the financial deficit was enormous,” Roberson said.

Riverfront Christian School’s executive committee made the decision at an Aug. 9 meeting and presented it to the Riverton United Methodist Church council on Aug. 10. Parents of enrolled students learned about the decision through phone calls and emails later that day.

Marla Boulter, chairperson of the school’s executive committee, posted a letter about the decision on the school’s Facebook page on Aug. 11 in hopes of reaching community members who hadn’t received word.

Although the decision wasn’t an easy one, Boulter said the church was at an impasse and deciding to open would have  been financially irresponsible.

“We cried and prayed for a week with everyone; we have teachers whose lives have changed,” Roberson said. “There’s still a very real grieving process that’s going on now.”

After the decision and announcement, school staff members immediately began working to transfer records and refund families who had already paid tuition. According to Roberson, all of the families of enrolled students are in the process of receiving a full refund.

Riverfront teachers and families had the opportunity to attend a “reunion” picnic at Rockland Park on Aug. 23. Boulter said the committee did not offer the faculty further guidance after notifying them that the school would not hold classes.

Riverfront began as Little Sheep Preschool in 1995 and grew to include kindergarten classes up to grade 12. Little Sheep Preschool will still be opening this year, and Roberson said the enrollment number is high. Enrollment at Riverfront declined last year from 111 students to 97.

Boulter said that despite Riverfront’s comparatively low tuition, this development is part of a larger trend of parents opting for public school over private Christian schools for economic reasons.

But that trend hasn’t applied to other area Christian private schools. Legacy Christian Academy in Stephens City is starting its second school year today with an increase in enrollment from 117 students to around 140, something Superintendent Robert Quinn attributes to the academy’s experienced teachers.

Legacy may have started classes last year out of temporary locations for two weeks, but the student body fits nicely in the current school building. With further growth, the board will have to take additional facilities into consideration, and Legacy is raising funds for a gymnasium.

Quinn said the enrollment in Christian schools is merely faltering and that he doesn’t necessarily believe the decline will continue. To him, another major factor in Legacy’s growth is that the school is nondenominational and not attached to any church in particular.

Eukarya Christian Academy in Stephens City is also admitting a larger student body this year. Director of Education Nancy Mason said the school needed to hire more teachers for a 30 percent increase within the student body.

She agreed that the economy has affected enrollment in some Christian schools, but Eukarya, which attributes its steady trend of higher enrollment numbers as the result of several attractive programs for students, is not being affected. Eukarya offers the Arrowsmith Program, which focuses on a classical approach to education and participates in a Christian high school sports program.

“It’s a real challenge at the high school level to offer the kinds of things that high schoolers need,” Mason said.

Riverfront’s executive committee started weighing multiple options for the school in future years starting at its Sept. 1 meeting.

“We are not closing. The executive committee is still active; we are keeping the school and the information alive,” Roberson said.

Due to especially low enrollment numbers at the high school level, Boulter said the school may consider offering online courses as an alternative.

Boulter said Riverfront signed up for a new program with the Association of Christian Schools International and that the committee had considered looking at accreditation standards so that the school might achieve that status.

“One of the things that we can offer is a Christian education, and we want it to continue to be a high quality education,” she said.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com