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The lure of private schools

Smaller classes, faith-based missions, few economic woes entice a wave of transfers

Bad news for budget-strapped public schools is making good news for private schools, where enrollments are showing growth.

People are unhappy with the money situation, the large classes, said Dana Mathewson, a teacher at New Dimension Christian School where enrollment has grown from 45 students in 2002-03 to 56 in 2003-04. At private schools, you have more one-on-one time with your students.

Private and independent school officials in the Rogue Valley reported last week that attendance is expected to swell between 5 and 15 percent, compared to enrollment figures from 2002-03 school year.

I've consistently heard the issue of class size being brought up, said St. Mary's Admission Director Rebecca Brown Gorski, who noted that attendance at the independent Medford parochial school jumped from 298 students to 322 in the last year. Individual attention is something (new applicants) are looking for.

— But not all parents are registering their children in private schools because of the funding crisis facing public schools.

To me, it's a question of teaching. That's what's most important, said Liberty Garachico, a Medford parent who applied to enroll her 5-year-old daughter, Bettyjean, at Grace Christian Elementary School last week.

Garachico said she was impressed by the school's strong faith-based philosophy.

I want them to be guided by God's word when they grow up, she added.

At Sacred Heart Catholic Elementary School, which includes preschool to eighth-grade students, 240 children were enrolled in 2002-03. To date, 270 students have registered for the 2003-04 school year. On Monday a spokeswoman for the school said budget cuts to public schools have played a factor in Sacred Heart's growth.

An overall population increase may be playing a factor in the enrollment boom at other private schools.

A lot of ours have just moved up from California, said Carol Wingo, a secretary at Harvest Baptist Christian School in Medford.

Harvest Baptist, a K-8 school, has seen enrollment climb from 118 students in 2002-03 to 126 children so far this year.

Enrollment at Cascade Christian High School is expected to grow from 216 students to 224 by September. At Grace Christian Elementary School, attendance has swelled from 677 to 700.

Administrators at all schools note that growth has taken place at all grade levels, and added that parents are still attempting to enroll their children before the school year kicks off Tuesday.

Superintendent Ray Johnson, who oversees Cascade and Grace Christian, said the budget crisis facing public education has resulted in an increase of parental interest but doesn't necessarily account for the enrollment spike. He attributed the school's attendance jump to the school's public relations, curriculum and academics.

We've talked to a lot of parents who just didn't realize the cost or the (religious faith) commitment we require, said Johnson.

The cost of private schools in the Rogue Valley ranges from &

36;300 to &

36;800 per month, depending on the school and the grade level.

Who goes where

u Private learning institutions across the state: 457

u Private schools in Jackson County: 32

uStatewide private preschool enrollment: 8,506 students

u Statewide private kindergarten to eighth grade enrollment: 26,613 students

uStatewide private high school enrollment: 10,883 students

Judy Bourne, director of student admissions for Cascade Christian schools, meets with 5-year-old Bettyjean Garachico, who will began attending Grace Christian Elementary this fall. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell