Still paying for private

Published 7:34 am Wednesday, September 9, 2009

An increasing number of non-public school students in Suffolk are finding a new home in Isle of Wight, officials said last week.

Isle of Wight Academy, a private school for children from preschool through 12th grade, has become the school of choice for more Suffolk students than ever, according to Headmaster Benjamin Vaughan, who estimated that 35 to 40 percent of its 636 registered students have Suffolk addresses.

“We have been getting more and more interest from students in the Suffolk area,” Vaughan said, noting that students have come to the IWA campus from all over Suffolk — “from North Suffolk to Holland.”

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We’ve got a good academic program,” he said Friday. “And our students have the chance to participate in a wide variety of extracurricular activities.”

With tuition levels about half that of Nansemond-Suffolk Academy — which sits next to Pruden Boulevard and somewhat closer to home for many of those students — IWA would be an obvious choice for any former NSA families unable to continue making $10,000 tuition payments in the face of a recession.

Vaughan could not say how many of his school’s students might have come from other private schools in the area, but he did note that Suffolk’s contingent at IWA includes some students who have transferred from private schools, some who came from public schools and “a lot of younger students, too,” who have entered IWA’s preschool.

The school charges from $4,700 to $5,600 annually for tuition, depending on grade level. By contrast, NSA’s tuition ranges from $9,465 to $10,575.

Another draw for IWA, Vaughan said, is transportation, which is included in the cost of tuition. The school’s buses run free of charge, meaning that even the cost of the trip from Holland to the school’s location on Route 258 between Smithfield and Franklin is already included.

“Not many private schools do that,” Vaughan said.

A relatively new option for many Suffolk families seeking private education is First Baptist Church Christian School, which hosts its first senior class this year.

Like Isle of Wight Academy, FBCS has seen its total enrollment hold pretty close to steady in 2009, despite the tough economy.

The parochial school also has big plans for the future, according to Andrew Rumbaugh, its brand-new headmaster.

“We’ve got a lot of other plans going on behind the scenes,” he said Friday.

Chief among those concerns are plans for a new building, which would be located alongside Route 460. School officials are waiting for city permits before they may begin work.

Still, Rumbaugh said, he and other school officials are not trying to grow the facility too large.

As a small, Christian school, he added, FCBS is “able to do things a little bit differently.”

“We’re more flexible.”

With tuition rates that top out at $5,200 for high school students, the 270-student parochial school also is cheapest among the private-school options in Suffolk and Isle of Wight.

“We are an affordable option, and we are here to stay,” Rumbaugh said.

Even at the post-secondary level, officials at one area private college have noted record enrollment in the face of the recession.

Chowan University in Murfreesboro, N.C., announced last week that its fall enrollment had reached 1,078 students

“This is the largest enrollment in Chowan’s senior college history, with more students than we’ve seen in nearly 30 years,” college President Chris White said in a press release. “And to do this in the midst of an economic recession is just absolutely tremendous.”

Nansemond-Suffolk Academy officials did not return phone calls or emails soliciting enrollment figures or comments regarding this story.