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Private school demand on rise


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Greenwood Christian Academy math teacher Michelle Jones goes over problems Friday in a pre-calculus class. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal
Greenwood Christian Academy math teacher Michelle Jones goes over problems Friday in a pre-calculus class. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal

Students at Greenwood Christian Academy switch classes Friday. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal
Students at Greenwood Christian Academy switch classes Friday. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal

Fourteen-year-old Savannah Lewchani works on a world history assignment Friday at Greenwood Christian Academy. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal
Fourteen-year-old Savannah Lewchani works on a world history assignment Friday at Greenwood Christian Academy. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal


The Center Grove area school started six years ago with eight children in a 100-year-old church.

Now, Center Grove Montessori has 70 elementary school students and, in January, will open a second campus in Whiteland. The school had been turning away students because of limited space, and parents of the elementary school students wanted their children to have a middle school option, which will be available when the Whiteland school opens and accepts students through eighth grade, director and founder Indu Agnihotri said.

Center Grove Montessori is among the southside’s private schools that have seen significant growth. Demand for private schooling in Johnson County and on the southside means school officials are planning for continued growth or stable enrollment.

Greenwood Christian Academy on Worthsville Road more than doubled the number of students enrolled from 2003 to 2013. And SS. Francis & Clare Roman Catholic School grew from a 2005 starting class of 35 to its current 486 students in preschool through eighth grade.

Most of the private schools are faith-based; and many have gained students, especially in younger grades, because of residents who want their children to grow up attending Christian school, officials said. Drops in enrollment at the schools often have come with changes at the affiliated churches.

For example, SS. Francis & Clare Roman Catholic Church opened a school in 2005, and the Catholic churches encourage their members to send their children to their church’s school. So, Our Lady of the Greenwood School lost students who went to attend school in their parish.

School vouchers, which allow families to use state money to help pay for private-school tuition, have boosted enrollment slightly at the schools that accept them. Officials expect enrollment to continue to grow based on recent student population increases and expanding programs that draw more children, such as interscholastic sports.

In the past four years, Greenwood Christian Academy has steadily built new classrooms and hired teachers to keep up with its increasing student count, Headmaster Bruce Peters said.

The 38 full-time teachers the school currently employs are about double the number the school had five years ago. Since 2010, the school has added a gym, a middle and high school wing and intermediate classrooms to its school complex. Demand for a Christian school, particularly one that has elementary through high school classes and strong academics, is high, Peters said. The school also offers sports and fine arts programs, which have helped it grow, he said.

At SS. Francis & Clare Roman Catholic School, serving the rapid enrollment increases has meant building a gym, cafeteria, art room, music room, science lab and 13 classrooms, Principal Betty Popp said. This year, the school added seven teachers, bringing the total to 32.

The Catholic education and small class sizes are among the reasons the school is popular, she said. Those are the same reasons St. Rose of Lima Catholic School’s enrollment has stayed steady, Principal Rebecca Floyd said. The Franklin school also accepts preschool through eighth grade students and has maintained enrollment of around 190 students for the past eight years.

The other school that has had notable growth, Center Grove Montessori, uses an education model that is adapted to the individual children and his or her current development, Agnihotri said. The model is in demand because the school allows students to progress at their own pace, she said.

Other private schools in the area have had enrollment drops but are growing again.

Suburban Christian School in Indianapolis has been slowly rebuilding enrollment since the church that operates it, Suburban Baptist Church, had about half its members leave in 2003. At that time, many of the families who left the church pulled their children out of the school, dropping enrollment from 180 students to 100.

Now, with 126 students and the option to accept school vouchers in 2014, school leaders can think about filling teaching jobs that had been cut, Principal Jeremy Wilhelm said. The school currently has one teacher each in combined classrooms for first and second grades, third and fourth grades, and fourth and fifth grades. By 2015, the goal is to hire more full-time teachers and eliminate the combined classrooms, Wilhelm said.

Our Lady of the Greenwood School had a drop in enrollment around 2005 when SS. Francis & Clare Roman Catholic Church opened its school. Families at a specific Catholic church are encouraged to send their children to that church’s school, Our Lady of the Greenwood School Principal Kent Clady said. SS. Francis & Clare Roman Catholic School met a need for a Catholic school in the Center Grove area and took pressure off his, which was nearly full, he said.

But the loss of students when the Center Grove area school opened, followed by the recession, hurt the school financially, he said. The school currently has 14 percent fewer students than it had in 2005.

In 2010, the school cut two full-time teaching positions and eliminated a bus driver, a cafeteria worker and some classroom assistant positions. The next year, the school was able to hire back the teachers and classroom assistants but didn’t need the bus driver because a Center Grove area bus route was no longer necessary. Enrollment also went up from 411 students in 2010, the school’s leanest year, to the 437 it has now.

“We’re kind of on the upside of that,” Clady said.

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