A School Without a Building

(originally posted at LoudounLiberty.com)

…yet.

For those of you who have been following the drama surrounding Dominion Academy and Leesburg Christian Church, who decided on April 10th to close down the school, there is some good news for Dominion Academy parents.
providence
The owners of the property surrounding Destiny Church has offered their new 26,000 sq ft building, set to begin construction next year to the school.  Greg Wigfield, the pastor at Destiny Church hosted an audience of teachers, parents, and other interested folks on Friday night.  Over 200 people crammed into a barn and listened to Marie Miller (the fearless leader of the new enterprise) and several other committee heads give an update on the school.  Mr. Wigfield said he had no desire to control the school, so whatever the relationship with Destiny Church is going to be, it sounds like it would be a hands-off one.

The catch is, of course, that the building which Mr. Wigfield is providing for the cause wouldn’t be available (theoretically) till Fall 2015…which means the school is looking for a two-year home.  Now I don’t know much about commercial Real Estate, but it seems to me that a 2 year lease might be something of a challenge.  The head of the Real Estate Committee cited three prospective properties which looked promising, including the Loudoun Parks and Rec building near Downtown Leesburg, along with the Sheriff’s office on Harrison St. which will be left vacant in time.

None of these locations are a sure thing yet, but one thing was clear from the meeting, and that’s the feeling that a school has way less to do with buildings and facilities than it does dedicated teachers, committed parents with kids who are eager to learn.

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting the author of a book (not excessively new, but new to me) called “The Beautiful Tree” in which the author, James Tooley, makes a discovery while studying private schools in India which launches him on an unexpected journey through for-profit, private education in the third world.  He discovers that hundreds of thousands of children amongst the poorest of the poorest of the poor in the third world were getting their education, not from their governments but their neighbors seeking to provide a service and make a living…and the quality of education exceeded that which the government – through financial support from the developed world – was able to provide.

Story after story after story is told of: negligent teachers, greedy government bureaucracies, and frustrated parents who would rather spend from their meager means for a real education than send their kids to a school which doesn’t really teach their kids much of anything…when they show up. In other words, all the horror stories and implications of public education in the U.S.–which are really only true some of the time, and in good school systems like Loudoun is the exception to the rule (at least the negligent teachers part) and to a very small degree–are the rule in the third world.

“The Beautiful Tree” is a fascinating read, but the biggest thing that it leaves the reader with is the unmistakable reality that education has nothing to do with technology or fancy buildings or nice playground equipment and “programs” but the relationship of one child with one teacher one lesson at a time in which the child furthers their knowledge of the world.  This is true in Loudoun just as much as it is in Kibera. And it’s important that we…all of us…begin to think outside of the boxes of classroom sizes and 90 acres school plots.

Which brings us back to Loudoun…the barn as the setting of the meeting made a few people joke, “why not just have the school right here in the barn?” At a previous meeting a parent had made the statement that people used to be taught under trees and turned out just fine.

On another note, there are a couple things that the press (even the latest article from Leesburg Today which very fairly covers the above mentioned meeting) keeps getting wrong is the idea that “declining enrollment” was the main reason for the school being closed down in the first place.  According to one spokesman from the new school, the capacity of Dominion Academy was between 268 and 284, they’re currently at 238, and as of the end of March they were already at 218 with another month left before the application deadline for the 2013-2014 school year. They’ve had previous years with less than their current…so enrollment doesn’t seem to be the main driver behind the decision. Besides, the press release that the school board sent to parents and staff didn’t indicate declining enrollment as the issue, but instead only that the church was no longer able (willing?) to subsidize the school, and that the school would not be able to survive without that subsidy. Period.  That was the reason.  There was no reason given (by the church leadership or the school board — kind of the same thing) why the church was no longer able or willing to support the school…just that it wasn’t.

One of the most concerning parts of the whole affair has been the church’s position that none of the equipment –including desks, a full library, and interactive whiteboards (donated by an ardent supporter of the  school not the church, necessarily) — since it was the property of Dominion Academy, Inc., would revert back to the church once Dominion was terminated. The “New School” committee decided that it was more important to focus on finding a new location and getting all the other pieces in place than getting involved in a protracted legal battle.  So they’re operating under the assumption that they’re working from scratch from an equipment standpoint.

The most disturbing thing, though, is the name battle.  It seems that once it became evident that Virginia Academy was not going to come in and take Dominion Academy’s old space (presumably without aforementioned subsidy from the church) — because most of the parents, teachers, and the Chief Academic Officer (Ms. Miller) were lining up behind a new school — that the church took it upon itself to call down to the State Corporation Commission in Richmond and reserve every name possible for a school that included the word “dominion” in it.  Since the original idea was to name the new school “New Dominion Academy,” this put a damper on things, but the committee for the new school decided on a different name…within a day or two: Providence Academy. This little SCC stunt, though, together with the new school’s insistence on focusing on the positive and “turning the other cheek” on the classroom equipment issue, has the school looking like the adults (Christian adults) in the room, and the church leadership looking a little petty.  Maybe none of this happened the way they intended, but they’ve handled things quite poorly.

And the new school, Providence Academy, in less than three weeks: has some options for a temporary home, has an offer for a permanent home at a sprawling new campus within the town limits of Leesburg in a couple years, has 175 enrollees already confirmed for the 2013-2014 school year, almost all of the current teaching staff at Dominion having expressed interest in continuing with the new Providence Academy, and to top it off, a relationship with a church (which, as Mr. Wigfield pointed out in his presentation, can provide a tremendous amount of help when it comes to zoning and special exceptions for schools) that doesn’t seek to control the school as their previous church did.

For more info and updates on Providence Academy, go to: providenceacademyva.org 

UPDATE: Some of the details involving enrollment numbers a few paragraphs up have been adjusted and clarified.

UPDATE 2: There is more news on the horizon, so stay tuned.

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