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Private schools grow

Number of students up by 863 in year

Posted: October 1, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: October 1, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Second-grade teacher Deborah Essex reviews quiz instructions with Matthew Lahham at Santa Clarita Christian School in Canyon Country on Thursday.

 

Private schools are ramping up the competition.

Sure, state-funded charters might be the cause celebre. But privatization can provide even more options, private school supporters say.

Whether one is looking for an education that’s agnostic, Baptist, Catholic, classically inspired, with parochial sweaters and plaid skirts or purchased a la carte — on the private market, the Santa Clarita Valley offers myriad options.

In the last 10 years, the private school population has risen from about 1,660 in 2011 to about 2,523 as of Aug. 1, according to state figures. That’s just students attending local private schools.

For parents, it’s a choice. For other schools, it’s a challenge.

Over the summer, Santa Clarita Christian School, which is the largest private school by population in the Santa Clarita Valley, hired a new administrator to beef up its services for students, according to Scott Basolo, senior pastor for Santa Clarita Baptist Church, which hosts Santa Clarita Christian.

“The challenges that are there really have to do with the intensely competitive nature of education in general, particularly in private education,” Basolo said.

The options

Los Angeles County has about 941 Los Angeles County private schools with at least six students, and 16 have addresses in the Santa Clarita Valley. The state’s Education Code requires schools to report data if they have at least six students.

Local schools’ annual tuitions range in price from Trinity Classical Academy — at about $11,300 with financial aid available — to Advantage Preparatory school, where tuition starts around $200 and goes up from there, not including textbooks.

“It’s kind of like a menu — you can choose what you consume, you pay for what you order,” Advantage Preparatory President Richard Grant said, describing tuition for the school he calls his and his wife’s ministry.

Advantage Preparatory has about 100 students who all study a curriculum based around University of California requirements on an independent-study basis — although there are teams and activities based on demand.

A varied range of choices exists between the two ends of the spectrum.

While Advantage Preparatory has an evangelical Christian influence, Pinecrest offers a secular kindergarten-to-eighth-grade education at its Valencia and Canyon Country campuses. One of Pinecrest’s draws — outside of the educational programming — is the 6 a.m.-to-6 p.m. child care included in the school’s $8,150 tuition.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help offers the only traditional Catholic school option in the Santa Clarita Valley at around $4,687 per year, while SCCS’ Gospel-driven model ranges in price from S6,500-$7,400.

Appeal

Even though all schools are competing for the same enrollments, they all serve different niches for Santa Clarita Valley parents.

“I have 250 families from the Santa Clarita Valley, and there’s a variety of reasons,” said Frank Ferry, who’s also the principal for Bishop Alemany, a Catholic high school in Mission Hills.

“We offer water polo and wrestling; some kids come here for that. We have an orchestra, and our public schools don’t have that, so we have some kids who come here for that.”

Ferry said local schools are a great option and added he has two sons who went to Valencia High. But the state’s budget crisis has put an undue burden on public school teachers and administrators, he said.

“The Hart district schools are outstanding schools, but due to the economy and the recession, the class sizes are getting larger,” he said.

Alemany offers an alternative Catholic education for ninth- to 12th-grade students, something no other school in the SCV offers, he said.

Crespi High School, a 600-student Catholic high school in Encino, currently has two students from the Santa Clarita Valley, according to school officials. Oaks Christian in Westlake Village has three local students in its middle school and eight in the high school. Crespi’s tuition is approximately $15,000, and Oaks Christian, which is nondenominational, is approximately $24,000.

Misconceptions

What a lot of people don’t get is that it’s not really about the school as much as it is the parent, according to Reece Talley, a Saugus resident who teaches history as a James Madison fellow at Providence High School, a Catholic school in Burbank.

A private school also is not a place for the wealthy to drop off a child with severe discipline problems at 8 a.m., expecting to pick up a perfectly well-behaved version eight hours later, Talley said.

Private schools generally have fewer options for students, often by design, Ferry said.

All parochial high schools follow a college preparatory curriculum, Ferry said, which eliminates options for parents of non-college-bound students.

Talley put his two children through Saugus High and said there is a give-and-take with the private and public school options — as with any choice — but parents need to know that high tuition won’t solve any problems.

“First and foremost, your private schools are safer. We don’t have to have discordant children,” Talley said. “Nerdy kids are safe here, and no one’s going to bully you or beat you up.”

Ultimately, parents can help make public schools as accommodating as private ones, Talley said.

“You can probably accomplish 100 percent of the things you do in the private school in a public school — provided the parents are as cooperative and supportive,” he said. “Families make or break children.”

psmith@the-signal.com

661-287-5526

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