Central Virginia private school enrollment increases despite national trends

Many schools plan facility expansions, faculty hiring to meet demand

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The Miller School of Albemarle has increased from 138 students in 2010 to over 150 today.

Private schools in central Virginia continue to grow despite national statistics showing a decline in private school enrollment since 2009.

According to the 2013 census, 16 percent of students in Albemarle County between kindergarten and eighth grade are enrolled in private schools, while 11 percent of this age group of students in Charlottesville are enrolled in private schools. The average private school enrollment for this age group in Virginia is 10 percent.

Many school leaders believe residents’ appreciation for education leads families to enroll their children in private schools. Sam Hale, the director of admission for the Miller School of Albemarle, said many students believe a private education will better prepare them for college.

“I think that folks are looking at what can give them a competitive edge when applying to universities and colleges, and also just prepare them,” Hale said. “We have great schools in Albemarle, but students are seeking out smaller schools.”

The Miller School of Albemarle has increased from 138 students in 2010 to 185 today. The Miller School has hired additional staff, added an engineering department and diversified their athletic programs, now offering club sports as an alternative to a varsity team, Hale said.

David Lourie, the head of school for St. Anne’s Belfield School, cited the school’s motto, “Every Child is Known Well” as an incentive to send children to private schools with smaller class sizes.

“I think that’s very important to families — to be in a smaller community where every child is known well,” Lourie said.

St. Anne’s Belfield School had 911 students enrolled at the beginning of the year, compared to 831 a decade ago. The school is in the process of reviewing their facilities to ensure they are “more than adequate,” Lourie said, as well as hiring additional faculty and adding a computer science program.

Many religious families choose to enroll their children at a school that shares the family’s beliefs. Ashley Nelson, marketing and events coordinator for Charlottesville Catholic School, said their school’s religious foundation attracted many students.

“It’s nice that parents can see the same morals and values they’re teaching at home are being taught at school as well,” Nelson said.

Charlottesville Catholic has increased its enrollment to 354 students as compared to last year’s 338. To accommodate the growing school, Charlottesville Catholic is building a new STEM wing along with a performance space to give their students more opportunities for hands-on experience in both science and the arts.

However, members of the School Boards of Charlottesville City and Albemarle County said the growth of private school enrollment does not correlate with a decline in public school enrollment. The enrollment of local public schools has increased as well.

Stephen Koleszar, representative for the Scottsville Magisterial District on the Albemarle School Board, credited the end of the 2008 recession with the increase in private school enrollment.

“When the recession hit, a lot of people who were in private school came back to the public school,” Koleszar said. “When they became more financially secure, they moved back.”

Amy Laufer, board chair of the Charlottesville City School Board, described many similarities between the programs in private and public schools.

“We have a Spanish program that starts in 1st grade. We renovated the middle and high school for a STEM lab,” Laufer said. “Some private schools are adding those resources because they see their students came back to public schools for high school.”

In addition to similar programs, Koleszar argued the diversity of public schools better prepares students for life after their secondary education.

“I find it hard to understand why people would spend money on what I would consider an inferior education,” Koleszar said. “I don’t think academics are any better, and there’s the disadvantage of not having the diversity of experiences in public schools.”

Fellow Charlottesville City School Board member Juandiego Wade also emphasized the value of public education. All Charlottesville City schools are accredited and their fine arts program has earned international awards and acclaim. In addition, “it is a service that everyone pays for,” Wade said.

Correction: This article previously incorrectly quoted David Lourie as saying the St. Anne’s Belfield School was in the process of reviewing faculties to ensure they are “more than accurate.”

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