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Classic inspiration for business model

Couple’s leap of faith leads to learning

Posted: November 6, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: November 6, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Trinity Classical Academy students, first through twelfth grade, join faculty members back row fourth from left, Managing Director Wally Caddow, fifth from left, Head of School Liz Caddow, grammar school Principal Jeff Kulp, third from right, and upper school Principal Wendy Massetto, second right, in a third grade classroom at Trinity Classica...

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There are few businesses that answer to so many people as an organization devoted to the education of young people.

There are students to nurture, staff to foster, parents to answer to and the myriad business and educational requirements to satisfy.

A seemingly thankless job unless one is dedicated to transforming young people into critical thinkers.

But in 1999, Liz and Wally Caddow, of Santa Clarita, not only pursued this goal, they sold their house to finance the vision of opening a private school for grades K-12 based on a “classical” method of instruction.

On the wings of a prayer and a leap of faith, the Caddows opened Trinity Classical Academy in 2001 and have never looked backed. Liz Caddow, who has a master’s degree in education, heads up the school.

Strong growth
“If you believe in something you sink everything you have into it,” Wally Caddow, managing director of Trinity, said.

Growing from a meager 28 students and 3 faculty and staff members more than a decade ago, today Trinity Classical Academy opens its doors each day to 405 students and 83 faculty members.

And while public education is being slaughtered by drained state resources and budget shortages, Trinity Classical Academy has not laid off any employees in its 11 years of operation.

After opening the first year with only grades kindergarten through second grade, Trinity steadily added one grade level per year until this school term, when it added a 12th and final grade level.

There are 15 seniors applying to colleges across the country this year, and they’re doing fantastic, Caddow said. Two students had almost perfect scores on their SAT and PSAT tests.

“Trinity is a great example of the school that adopted best financial management practices even in the face of an economic downturn,” said Chuck Evans, a Paideai Inc. educational adviser to the school from 2007 through 2010, who now works with Betterschools LLC.

The school started slowly and as the staff and board educated themselves, they accelerated their growth, Evans said.

“The growth is remarkable,” Evans said. “And Trinity is proving high quality education managed and planned is of greater appeal in the community for the families that want a high-quality education for their kids.”

Classical method

The school, which integrates academic instruction with Christian education, uses a teaching method called classical education  based on the belief that this method, born in ancient Greece and Rome, was used throughout the Western world educating most of America’s founding fathers, as well as the world’s leaders and scientists between the 10th and 19th centuries.

Learning is based on the Latin word “trivium,” meaning “the three ways.”  Instruction is based on teaching three subjects: grammar, logic and rhetoric.

The premise is that elementary students excel at memorization. Seventh- and eighth-grade students become more argument-oriented and ready to learn logic and critical thinking. Ninth- through 12th-grade students become independent thinkers, learning the art of speaking, communicating and writing.

All subjects are taught taking advantage of these learning stages, and all classes mirror each of the core subjects. There is also an emphasis on classic literature, Caddow said.

Engaging pupils in classical writing is part of the process of learning and translates to students doing well on essay requirements for college applications and acceptance tests.

 “If you teach students how to think for themselves, they become lifelong learners and critical thinkers,” Caddow said.
Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Trinity Classical Academy expected a three-year accreditation upon completion of their application.

“We were told to expect that no school as new as ours would get the maximum six-year term,” Caddow said. “But we got it on our first try.”

Latin instruction
Trinity Classical Academy also teaches students Latin.

“Latin is the root of 50 percent of our language,” Caddow said. “It’s a precise way of thinking, has a basis in romance history and languages.”

The students don’t necessarily learn to speak Latin, but the knowledge of it serves them in their studies, he said.

“Students taking college acceptance or scholarship merit tests have said they didn’t know one of the words on their test but were able to correctly decipher the word based on their study of Latin,” he said.

Operating budget
Without any grants, the self-funded start-up of Trinity Classical Academy managed to operate in the black for the first six or seven years.

Due to carefully managing growth and offering tuition assistance, the school has been able to retain 96 percent of its students, Caddow said.

“Mission Valley Bank gave us a bridge loan to open the high school that we’re close to paying off now,” he said.

“We only had 15 students, but we needed to hire multiple instructors to teach specific topics for the high school level.”

Liz and Wally didn’t even draw a salary for the first three to four years, said Trinity CFO John Brooks.

“Our first annual budget, $120,000 for payroll and operating expenses,” Brooks said. “Today, we probably go through that amount in about two and a half weeks.”

Operating the school has been made possible by the willingness of people devoted to the school who understand the vision of the school, he said.

Today, Trinity’s annual operating budget is just shy of $4 million, he said.

Generation of leaders
Caddow believes Trinity Classical Academy’s 83 employees put the school in good company with other Santa Clarita Valley businesses.

Roughly 75 percent of the faculty is dedicated to teaching staff, and classroom sizes average 20 to 24 students.

The school also competes outside the classroom, fielding up to 28 teams in nine sports winning CIF Omega league titles in football and volleyball. Basketball and softball teams have come in as runners-up, Caddow said.

Leasing space in the 40,000-square-foot NorthPark Community Church in Valencia, Caddow said Trinity’s biggest challenge is to manage its growth as it encroaches upon rooms in the church.

“NorthPark has been such a gracious host to us,” he said.

Proud that Trinity Classical Academy will be sending seniors off to some of the best schools in the country in 2012, Caddow believes strongly that the school’s method of classical instruction is paying off in the lives of young people.

“After college, I suspect many students will return to Santa Clarita to live and become the next generation of local leaders.”

Trinity Classical Academy is located at 28310 Kelly Johnson Parkway in Valencia. More information can be found at or by calling (661) 296-2601.


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