Bedford Christian Academy to close

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By John Barnhart

When this school year ends, Bedford Christian Academy will close its doors permanently.

    The Christian school, which uses a classical education approach, first began as New Covenant Schools of Bedford in the mid-1990s. It was an education outreach of New Covenant Reformed Episcopal Church in Lynchburg, which had seen success with a similar school in Lynchburg.

    After a decade, the Lynchburg church was ready to throw in the towel. That’s when it became Bedford Christian Academy. A new board of directors, all pastors, took over to keep it open.

    According to Michael Cross, the board of directors’ secretary, expenditures continued to exceed income during its three years of operation as Bedford Christian Academy. They’ve kept afloat with donations, fundraisers and, at times, the board of directors have passed the hat among themselves.

    “That happened this year and it’s going to happen again,” said Cross.

    “We have decided, with the numbers the school has and projected numbers for next year, it is not economically viable,” Cross said.

    Cross said that an enrollment of 50 students is the break even point. This year the school has 32 students and the same number was projected for next year. Actually, the school has never hit the 50-student enrollment threshold. Cross said that the highest enrollment has been 43.

    “It’s a real shame that a town the size of Bedford can’t support an independent Christian school,” Cross commented.

    Cross said that he got involved because he was the product of the classical education approach that Bedford Christian Academy uses. Cross is a native of England and served as headmaster for boarding schools in several countries, including El Salvador in the 1980s. He met his wife, an American, while serving as a headmaster in Columbia and the couple later settled in the Bedford area.

    Dick Heiner, chairman of the board of directors, also said that the school’s classical education approach attracted him to service on the school’s board of directors.

    “I am very unhappy about the fact that we are not able to keep that going,” he said.

    Although it never became economically viable, the men say the school was an academic success. Cross said that the students test far ahead of their grade level on standardized tests. He attributes this to small class sizes — the largest class has 10 students — and dedicated teachers.

    The school provided something else. Cross said that what drew his interest in the school is the value of Christian education, because Christianity is not allowed to be expressed in a public school classroom. He said that it’s tragic that Christianity can’t be expressed in the public schools of a country that was founded on a Christian basis.

    “We’ve taken this decision in a timely manner to give both parents and staff time to make other arrangements for next year,” Cross said.

    The decision was made at a April 27 board meeting. The school’s staff, seven full time and three part time, were notified by a letter on April 28. Letters were sent home with the children the same day. Cross notes that the staff were not surprised. Parents shouldn’t have been surprised either, he noted, as the school has two parent representatives on its board.

    Cross said that once the decision to close was made, they moved as quickly as possible to avoid rumors.

    “Rumors, for some extraordinary reasons, are never right,” Cross commented.

    The men said that the closing is a considered move, not a panic decision. The school will complete the current academic year.

    “We did everything we know to do to make this work,” said Heiner.

    There was only so much they could do. Tuition was $3,500 per year for the lower grades and $4,000 for the upper grades. This, however, only paid half the cost of operating the school. If the trend in enrollment had been rising, they would have hung on, but that wasn’t happening and Cross said that they tried to get more support from local churches but, with the exception of a few, got little.

    “The sad thing is, it was a good little school,” Cross commented.