Smaller classes, integration of religion into the curriculum and specialized course offerings are credited with an enrollment boom at Law-rence's private schools.
Even as Lawrence public school enrollment fell this year, most of the city's private schools are booming and eyeing expansion.
At Veritas Christian School, for example, 2000-2001 enrollment was up nearly 50 percent, to 95 students from 64 in fall 1999.
"That's quite a jump," said Peter Gitau, administrator of the school at 256 N. Michigan, in an interview last fall.
"We usually pick up five more students in the middle of the year, too."
The growth is continuation of a trend. In 1999, the nondenominational school added 17 students.
Because of the increases, the school's board recently purchased a neighboring lot. It plans to build a high school and add three new grades. Now, the school offers kindergarten through grade 9. Gitau said he wants to offer 10th grade as early as August and add 11th and 12th grades during the next two years.
"As I interview with parents, they're asking me about the school's future direction. That tells me there's a big need for a Christian high school," he said.
Other private schools
Veritas is not alone in the private school growth trend:
l Lawrence's Catholic schools, a partnership of St. John the Evangelist and Corpus Christi Catholic churches, plan space for more than 600 students. In 2000, Corpus Christi opened a second elementary school campus at 6001 W. 15th St., with a kindergarten class of 24 students. One grade will be added annually at the new campus.
l Bishop Seabury Academy, an Episcopal school for grades seven through 11, saw enrollment grow by 30 last year, to a total of 100 students. The academy plans to add a senior class in 2001.
l Century School, the city's only year-round, nonparochial private school, is adding names to its growing waiting list. It is licensed for 15 preschool and 60 elementary students. The school started offering Spanish classes last year and soon will offer distance learning classes on the Internet. The school's owners opened a second school in Overland Park, starting with a preschool class.
l Raintree Montessori School has 160 students, preschool through Sixth grade. At the time of a fire last August, the owners were building additions to both the preschool and school facilities at 4601 Clinton Parkway to accommodate expanded enrollment.
Meanwhile, public school enrollment dropped slightly this fall. On Sept. 20, the state's official date for calculating enrollment, the Lawrence school district had 10,329 students 142 fewer than the previous year.
A parent's perspective
One family's story may help explain the boom in private schools.
Each of Eileen Beard's four children have attended Veritas. Beard has taught kindergarten at the school for 12 years, and like other parents drawn to the school, enrolled her own children for the Christian education.
"I wanted them to learn the Bible and integrate their faith into their everyday life," she said.
Beard said her older children had difficulty making the transition to public schools. And though Veritas offers girls volleyball, boys and girls basketball, music and band, her children missed the larger variety of activities offered by public schools.
"There were some sacrifices made for my children to go here," she said. "But I thought the benefits would outweigh the negatives."
Smaller classes and a solid curriculum are what draw parents to Veritas, Gitau said. The school's classical Christian offerings include grammar, logic and rhetoric.
"The fact that it's Christian is drawing people who want their children to experience a rigorous and comprehensive education at the same time and get a worldly view," Gitau said.
Students also learn Latin.
"People call it a dead language, but it's not dead because it shows up in everyday life," Gitau said.
If the school continues to grow, Gitau said he could see the need to build a bigger campus on 20 to 40 acres with separate buildings for elementary, middle and high school classes. He said he also would like to have a full-size gymnasium and offer more after school activities.
"I really hope that can all happen," he said.