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Christian school on track to grow despite hard times

Plans moving ahead for new South Hall site, though enrollment has dropped

POSTED: January 26, 2009 11:51 p.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

North Georgia Christian School students attend class Monday afternoon at the Thompson Bridge Road school. The school is holding a public meeting tonight about the school's upcoming move to Poplar Springs Road.

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North Georgia Christian School leaders are offering a sneak peak tonight at the school’s new 100-acre South Hall campus.

North Georgia Christian President Scott Smith said a meeting is set for 6:30 tonight at Westminster Presbyterian Church to inform current students’ parents and prospective families of the school’s future.

Westminster Christian School, which has operated out of Westminster Presbyterian Church on Thompson Bridge Road since 1984, was reborn as North Georgia Christian in July after Dale and Jackie Nabb donated 100 acres of land for a new campus. Smith said the Poplar Springs Road site will allow the school to leave the two buildings it shares with the Presbyterian church. The school adopted a new name this summer to highlight its changing face.

Construction hasn’t started, but Smith said phase one of the eight-building campus could be completed in time for fall classes.

Although the school is expanding its campus, the sour economy is causing student enrollment to dwindle, Smith said. North Georgia Christian has 215 students this year, about 30 students less than last year. With annual tuition at the Christian school ranging from $3,531 for kindergarten to $7,510 for high school, Smith said some families have pulled students out of school because they cannot afford tuition. Other pupils were uprooted from the school because their families’ breadwinners were forced to move to follow jobs, he said.

To temper delicate enrollment numbers with the turbulent economy, Smith said buildings will be added to the new campus as the school grows in numbers.

Smith said phase one will cost about $2.5 million and include three classroom buildings, one each for elementary, middle and high school. A student activities center also is rolled into phase one of the construction process, and will include a gym and a library. Successive phases will include a science and technology building, a fine arts building, additional high school classrooms, a field house and athletic fields over the next eight to 10 years, Smith said.

"We think with all the different activities and additions we’re making on this new campus, our numbers will go up and continue to grow from where they’ve been in the past," he said.

With students from Hall, Habersham, Gwinnett and Forsyth counties attending North Georgia Christian, Smith said he hopes the new campus’ fine arts program and joint enrollment program, which will allow high school students to earn college credit from Truett-McConnell College, will boost pupil numbers to keep the school a leading area Christian school.

North Georgia Christian isn’t the only local Christian school battling to keep enrollment numbers up.

McEver Road Baptist Church’s Maranatha Christian Academy lost more than 20 students since last school year. Even Gainesville’s Lakeview Academy, which doesn’t have a religious affiliation, has lost 19 students compared to last school year.

Maranatha Christian President Pastor Rod Bell Jr. said several students left in the middle of the school year due to parents losing jobs, bringing the school’s total enrollment down to about 85 students.

Bell said many parents are doing all they can to keep their children enrolled in the Christian school that provides "a safe, wholesome environment with a biblical world view," at an annual price of about $5,000.

"God has for the most part been taken out of public schools," Bell said. "If you want it, now you have to pay for it."

Bell said the school is doing several things to keep its doors open during the slow economy. School leaders are focused on being good stewards of student tuition, which will increase for elementary students next year, and are being innovative in fundraiser projects.

"The way we’re (operating)," Bell said, "well, one biggie is prayer."

According to Lakeview spokeswoman Sondra Berry, the school has adopted a 3.5 percent tuition increase for next school year, the school’s smallest tuition increase in 12 years. Smith said North Georgia Christian school’s tuition rates are staying put for next year.



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