Staying The Course

For the most part, Chautauqua County’s private schools are content to stick with the status quo.

While school districts in the public education realm are struggling mightily with less-than-adequate state funding and the ever-controversial Common Core Learning Standards, private schools say they would do relatively well to have things stay the way they are.

The impact felt by public schools in their implementation of Common Core is no secret, but one lesser-known byproduct has been the transition of a select few students from a public school setting to a private one. This is an experience that has not passed Dunkirk’s Central Christian Academy by, according to administration.

“Right now, we’ve got 59 students,” said Clint Lewis, administrative team leader. “And we picked up two more from Silver Creek during January because of the Common Core.”

Lewis said the Central Christian Academy has consistently served approximately 60 students for the past several years, and its ability to maintain this average has allowed the school to foster a comfortably sized body of faculty members, as well.

“As far as enrollment goes, we’ve been pretty steady,” he said. “(For teachers), we don’t pay like the public schools do, but we’ve got a great staff of dedicated teachers that have been doing this for a long time.”

Maintaining a steady enrollment is a characteristic that has also been experienced by Bethel Baptist Christian Academy, where smaller class sizes are viewed as a benefit to the education of individual students.

“We do have small class sizes but, being a private school, we always have,” said Karen Moore, administrative assistant. “Obviously, we’re always hoping for more students because, the more students we have, the better off we’ll be financially. But the small class size allows us to help our kids, and the kids that need a little extra help can go to a teacher during a study hall or a break to get the help they need.”

In addition to the Common Core, private schools have also avoided being subject to several other state mandates, including the Annual Professional Performance Review plans required for the evaluation of all public school teachers and principals. Lewis, who previously worked as a teacher at the Dunkirk City Schools district, said this aspect of the private school environment is preferable.

“The stress level for teachers is probably down a little bit (in comparison to those in public school),” Lewis said. “What I know from my time in public school is that things are different here. We’re a family.”

There are a few regulations that private schools must abide by, such as the development of health and anti-discrimination policies, however Lewis said Central Christian Academy generally has the option of choosing in which state programs it wishes to participate.

“The Dunkirk school district takes care of us, and the state provides a little money for technology, but we haven’t taken any money for the (state) lunch program because there’s a bunch of new state regulations we’d have to abide by,” he said.

Moore said funding for Bethel Baptist Christian Academy comes largely through tuition – which she said is currently $3,863 per student per year – and fundraising activities.

“It’s kind of status quo, but we do a lot of fundraising to fill in the gaps,” Moore said. “In public schools, all the sports teams and extracurricular clubs do their own fundraising, whereas our sports teams don’t have to do that. We do concessions during sports games, and all that money is specifically for the teams. The general fundraising we do goes directly back to the school to help pay for curriculum and other expenses we have.”

Moore also said Bethel Baptist graduates come away from their schooling with as much preparation as they would have received from the public school system.

“Our English (program) is usually higher than what’s offered in the public schools, or maybe what is equivalent to advanced English,” she said. “Colleges will take our diploma just like they would a Jamestown High School diploma. Our kids have no problem getting into college.”

Moore said Bethel Baptist also offers an international program, through which it has hosted students from China and Russia. She said there have been instances where international students have come to the school, attended for a year, and were subsequently accepted into U.S. colleges.