Gordon College News Service
January 26, 2010
If a handful of Massachusetts’s Christian schools have weathered the economic crisis, it’s not because the storm didn’t hit. “We’ve had to batten down the hatches,” said Tom Stoner, headmaster of Covenant Christian Academy in Peabody.
“This perfect storm has taken place that has really hurt the schools,” said Dr. John Storey, New England regional director for the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI). “And New England has been hit harder than other parts of the country because the schools here are smaller. The same percentage hit in a school of 75 [students] would cripple you.”
Storey said the recession only exacerbated what was already a downward trend in enrollment. Christian parents once feared public education, but as that fear subsided, so did enrollment in Christian schools. ACSI actually had to close their New England office earlier this year.
Though times have appeared gloomy for these Christian schools, at least three have survived on the North Shore and continue to thrive amidst the dozens of religious schools statewide. In addition to Covenant, North Shore Christian School in Lynn and Beacon Christian Academy in Beverly have found creative ways to cope with the obstacles.
“We’re not sure what to expect, and that’s the problem,” said Stoner. “So we budget conservatively.” When income exceeds expectations, as it did this year, Covenant is able to offer more financial aid, which naturally attracts parents.
The school may have cut retirement and advertising budgets, but one thing they say they won’t compromise is quality. “You can cut off the branch you’re sitting on if you minimize programs too much,” said Stoner.
Martin Trice, headmaster of both North Shore Christian School (NSCS) and Beacon Christian Academy, agreed. “People would say, ‘well, why am I spending all this money?’” said Trice. “Nobody would send their kids if we cut programs like music.”
Instead, Trice aims to collaborate with other Christian schools in the area. “We’re not competitive,” he said. “We want to work together. We want to share things and merge operations.”
This is exactly what NSCS and Beacon have done. Instead of paying two separate teachers to instruct two small classrooms, Beacon recently merged its middle school students into NSCS, a move unprecedented for small, independent schools.
The effort is obvious to parents of NSCS and Beacon students. “North Shore Christian School has managed the economic crisis really well,” said Jennifer Brink of Ipswich, a mother of two NSCS students.
Brink was encouraged at the first budget meeting after the economic crash. The administration shared plans for possible future scenarios and showed their commitment to priority spending.
Still, sending kids to private school isn’t easy. “It’s definitely a financial sacrifice,” said Brink. She and her husband, Paul Brink, chose Christian education at the expense of such comforts as traveling and home renovations. Even with these sacrifices, the Brinks’ oldest son is in public school for financial reasons.
“It would be super challenging to pay for three Christian school students,” said Brink. “There’s not enough financial aid out there. But our oldest son is thriving in public school; it’s been a blessing for him.”
Tuition at NSCS ranges from around $3000/year to more than $7000. Beacon ranges from $4-6000/year. Stoner said Covenant is not a “high-end” school, but an education there can cost as much as ten thousand dollars per year, depending on grade level.
As both families and schools continue to adapt to this economic environment, one thing seems clear: as long as administrators commit to quality, parents interested in Christian education will continue to send their children to these private schools.
“There’s a need for Christian education,” said Storey. “Regardless of how parents feel about public schools.”