‘Grace of God,’ lots of ‘effort,’ ‘sacrifice’ keep Cobb schools ahead of economic crunch
by Lindsay Field
lfield@mdjonline.com
February 03, 2013 12:33 AM | 3597 views | 1 1 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Middle school students enjoy lunch at Whitefield Academy in Mableton.<br>Staff/Laura Moon
Middle school students enjoy lunch at Whitefield Academy in Mableton.
Staff/Laura Moon
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Students in the Upper School Concert Band rehearse a piece at The Walker School in Marietta.<br>Staff/Laura Moon
Students in the Upper School Concert Band rehearse a piece at The Walker School in Marietta.
Staff/Laura Moon
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Kindergarteners at Mount Paran Christian School in Kennesaw enjoy their playtime during the school day.<br>Staff/Laura Moon
Kindergarteners at Mount Paran Christian School in Kennesaw enjoy their playtime during the school day.
Staff/Laura Moon
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From left, eighth-graders Callan McAnnally, 14, Katherine Epp, 13, Kali Danger, 13, and Maddie Hayes, 14, discuss a group project in teacher Angie Brock’s classroom at North Cobb Christian School in Kennesaw.<br>Staff/Samantha M. Shal
From left, eighth-graders Callan McAnnally, 14, Katherine Epp, 13, Kali Danger, 13, and Maddie Hayes, 14, discuss a group project in teacher Angie Brock’s classroom at North Cobb Christian School in Kennesaw.
Staff/Samantha M. Shal
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Despite an economy that hasn’t been very friendly to many families over the last half decade, Cobb County’s private schools seem to have emerged from the recession with their heads mostly above water.

Enrollment has held steady or dropped only slightly at most of the schools, while two schools have actually seen steady growth since the recession hit in 2008.

North Cobb Christian School in Kennesaw experienced a drop in enrollment in 2010, but has been steadily recovering since then with the addition of about 50 students per year.

The school had 917 students enrolled in 2007, 735 in 2010, 840 in 2012 and 887 this school year.

“We’re about 90 students from capacity right now,” said Head of School Todd Clingman, adding that in January alone they enrolled 28 new students.

“It’s not one thing driving this, but I think because of the grace of God and because lots of folks here have put a lot of effort into this school, we’ve made the most unbelievable scenario occur,” he said.

The January additions came from a few other area private schools, from new people moving into Cobb and a handful who jumped over from public schools.

Another school that has seen similar increases after experiencing a drop in enrollment in 2010 was Mount Paran Christian School, also in Kennesaw.

It had 1,120 students enrolled in 2007, 1,145 in 2010 and 1,215 this school year.

“We recognize and appreciate that every family at Mount Paran has made a real sacrifice to have their children here, even in tough times,” said Dr. David Tilley, head of school. “It’s a sacrifice to make this education option possible, and I think obviously (families) see the reward of that sacrifice.”

Tilley said the numbers also reflect student retention.

“About 95 percent we re-enroll in a climate that’s economically challenging,” he said.

The Walker School in Marietta has held steady over the last few years but is slightly down this school year by 37 students, from 1,053 last year to 1,016 this year.

Jack Hall, the head of school, said over the last six years Walker School has seen a 6 percent overall drop in enrollment but said most of that was in the preschool.

“My opinion is that younger families with less discretionary income are choosing to find non-tuition options for their (preschool-age) children,” he said. But numbers in the middle and high school areas have remained about the same.

In an effort to draw more students into the preschool, the school’s director of finance, Christie Cook, said officials met several times with multiple parents to find out what they could offer differently.

She said the school shifted from offering two preschool options to four, including full-day and half-day and both with extended before- and after-school care.

They are also offering a summer option, which Cook said has become quite popular, running for seven weeks when school isn’t in session.

Whitefield Academy in Smyrna has, like Walker, seen its enrollment numbers hold steady. Whitefield has three fewer students than it did last year.

The school enrolled 652 students in 2007, 655 last school year and 652 this year.

“Many families have difficulty finding a school that maintains a premier academic program while instilling the same Christ-centered ideals that they promote in the home,” said Acting Head of School Kevin Bracher. “This partnership between home and school is well worth the money spent according to our annual parent satisfaction survey, even in the midst of a struggling economy.”

In trying to increase enrollment or at least hold it steady, officials at two of the schools said they have turned to marketing campaigns.

Tilley said Mount Paran’s marketing efforts have been “very focused” and “very creative” in terms of marketing their school’s mission.

Shaunda Brooks, the school’s director of admission, said the trend of families in their area has been to wait until the middle and high school years to enroll students, but they are encouraging families to do it in the younger grades.

Hall at Walker said they are recording their highest number of kindergarten applications for this coming school year.

“We partnered with Crane MetaMarketing (in Roswell). … They came on board with us two years ago and have helped us work on a marketing plan that we think is really reaping the benefits this year,” he said.
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wallenbell
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March 15, 2013
Lindsay - Reading about the landscape of private school options across Cobb County helps many families think about the best fit for their children's education. Improvement is a universal reality for all educational programs. Weathering the economy and ever improving particular programs has happened at all of these schools.

I live in the city of Atlanta and I have been very impressed with Cobb County Public Schools' performance and improvement in the face of vast challenges. A wise friend once told me: "Healthy Public Schools are like the harbor tide: the largest part of our society's strengths and development rises and falls with the effective work of public schools."

Those of us who choose to have our kids benefit from private schools do well to always honor, expect and encourage the best from public school leadership.

I appreciate that your writing is inclusive, thoughtful and illustrative of the whole landscape of Cobb County Education. It's a complicated ecology but vital to all of our best aspirations for our families, neighborhoods and community.

Thank you for this article!
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