The private school that took over the former Collinsville High School is closing after 34 years.
Families and alumni of Collinsville Christian Academy were informed this week that the school’s governing board has decided to close after this school year. CCA will finish out this year and graduate its last class, and the staff will be paid, according to chief administrator Deedra Mager, who said they are doing well fiscally this year.
But enrollment has dropped to less than half its previous numbers, while the century-old building needs expensive repairs and the school’s parent church struggled to keep up.
“We looked at what it would take to stay open another school year… but there were too many obstacles,” Mager said. “It’s with a heavy heart that we’re making this choice. Thirty-three graduating classes have come out of here. It certainly is with sadness that we made this decision.”
Madison County Regional Superintendent Robert Daiber said he found out this week that the school will close at the end of this school year.
“I regret to hear that its closing,” Daiber said Friday. “I think it met the needs of a particular population of students for those 34 years.”
The Madison County Regional Office of Education will be working with Collinsville Christian Academy to ensure their records are properly maintained.
Collinsville Mayor John Miller said the school has been providing “a quality christian education to a lot of children” for the last 34 years. “Seeing it not there is going to create a void,” he said.
Established in 1982, the Son-Life Christian School conducted its first year in a storefront in the Orchard Shopping Center. There were four teachers for grades K-8. A year later, the church — then known as Son-Life Church — purchased the former Collinsville High School and added high school to the curriculum. In the mid-1990s, the name was changed to Collinsville Christian Academy.
At its height, CCA had about 100 students. It has traditionally been a very diverse school — approximately 45 percent white, 45 percent black and the rest Latino or Asian. That is still the case, Mager said: students from a variety of backgrounds continue to attend CCA. The students have had an average ACT score of 23.1 over the last five years — above the state and national averages — and graduates have been accepted to top universities and the Ivy League.
But enrollment has dropped to 45 students over the last few years. In part, Mager said, it can be attributed to the fact that they no longer have a preschool or kindergarten to feed in young students. “We’ve had the most growth in middle school,” she said.
The downturn in the economy didn’t help; CCA lost at least a quarter of its students when the recession hit, as many private schools found their families could no longer afford tuition. There is also more competition now for private Christian education than there was 34 yeas ago, Mager said.
In addition, two years ago CCA’s principal, Robert Allen Lane, was charged with attempted aggravated sexual abuse of a former student. He had served as principal since 2010, until he was fired by the school in December 2013.
The male student was between 13 and 18 years old at the time of the offense, and the charges alleged that Lane tried to fondle him twice that year. The case is still pending in Madison County Court and is due for its next appearance in March.
“I don’t think (the Lane case) impacted the families that were already here,” Mager said. “They had a lot of trust in our faculty. But it very possibly could have affected new enrollment; the number of calls that came in certainly were less. But in terms of the families that were here, they were very loyal to our school.”
Mager said while everyone is sad to see the school close, they are trying to move forward by celebrating the CCA’s history and memories, while helping their students find new schools.
“We didn’t want to spring on families in July that we wouldn’t be operating in August,” Mager said. “We want to celebrate the history we’ve had and help people take their next steps.”
The alumni celebration scheduled for April 30 has now become the farewell event for the school. Former teachers, administrators, alumni, graduates and anyone else with a connection to CCA are invited to share stories and photos in advance of the celebration.
An email went out to alumni this week, telling them that the decision was “birthed out of long hours of prayer and many months of data gathering.”
“The decision was difficult to make and tough to share with our treasured families,” it read. “As we look back over our 34 years of having the honor to open and operate a Christian academy and 33 years of graduating high school seniors, we are so very thankful that we have touched the lives of hundreds of students, graduated 220 seniors, and been privileged to partner with our families in training their children.”
As for the building, Mager said she is not sure what will happen to it. Navigation Church still uses some of it for programs and offices, she said, but the church leaders have not decided what their plans will be. Church leaders could not be reached for comment. The building is on the Collinsville Historic Register.
“We will miss having the school there for sure,” Miller said.
Anyone interested in participating in the farewell to CCA is asked to email testimony and memories to email@example.com. In addition, the school is accepting funds for a farewell financial gift to staff, which will be distributed to the outgoing employees proportionate to the years they have served. Donations are accepted online at http://firstname.lastname@example.org.