SVCA parents come together to form new Christian school

Posted: January 24, 2014

The Winchester Star

Legacy Christian Academy secretary and School Board member Kristina Simpson (from left), community outreach coordinator Loretta Roberge and founder and School Board Chairman Shawn Hibbard talk about plans to convert the former Bon Air Home south of Stephens City into the Legacy Christian Academy. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)
A group bought the former Bon Air Home facility for $500,000, with the help of various fundraisers, with plans to convert it into a Christian school. Officials need $6,000 by Feb. 14 to close on the property.
A new Christian school is planned to be housed in the former Bon Air assisted living facility, across from the Family Drive-In south of Stephens City. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)

STEPHENS CITY — Recent staff cuts and questions of school instability have prompted a group of parents from Shenandoah Valley Christian Academy to open their own school this fall.

The school, which will be named Legacy Christian Academy, will open at 5933 Valley Pike — south of Stephens City — in September.

“We want people to know that this was not done out of malice or spite,” said Shawn Hibbard, founder of the school and chairman of its new nine-member School Board. “We still hope SVCA succeeds and carries on with its mission. This is another opportunity to bring Christian education to the community.”

Shenandoah Valley Christian Academy (SVCA) is a kindergarten through 12th-grade private school and a ministry of Shenandoah Valley Baptist Church. The two entities — both located just off Valley Pike, north of Stephens City — support each other.

In September, the church’s executive committee voted to reduce school administrative salaries and eliminate the marketing and admissions position held by Marianne Poole, and the superintendent position, held by Robert Quinn, who was one of four founders of the school when it opened in 1976.

Many parents were upset with pastor Gene Jones, who has been with the church since 1996 and was voted in as senior pastor in January 2013. Parents said Jones overstepped his bounds by cutting school staff (although church bylaws state that he can), making the cuts in an inappropriate manner and keeping family members on the payroll.

Jones said he made the cuts in an effort to overcome a $105,000 budget shortfall.

Many parents said the school was not structured in a way to give them a voice and lacked an empowered School Board (at one point there were only three members, but now there are five).

Since September, 33 of the school’s 225 students have left, as well as some of its 20 teachers, making parents question the institution’s financial future.

“It’s more about the concern for the future and stability,” said Loretta Roberge, who sits on the new School Board and currently serves as the school’s community outreach coordinator.

When Poole and Quinn were ousted, Roberge likened it to the head and face of the school being removed.

“Who’s next?” she asked. “They cut a lot of vital pieces.”

Jones said some students might leave to attend Legacy, but he said SVCA is moving forward and is stable.

“We have some great people and some very qualified teachers,” he said. “We have expertise that can only be found at our school.”

“There has been talk, which hasn’t been the truth, that we’re closing. That’s not at all the case.”

When asked if Jones played any role in making them want to start their own school, Hibbard said, “Absolutely none.”

So far, 65 children from pre-school to 12th grade are confirmed entrants to Legacy, with 25 more students considering joining. A majority of these are from SVCA.

Although Quinn will serve as the superintendent of the new school, Hibbard said officials with Legacy have neither approached nor recruited former staff or students.

School Board secretary Kristina Simpson said the school was a vision from God and that the group is “so far past what happened” at SVCA.

“It’s not what this is about anymore,” she said.

The school will be housed in the former Bon Air assisted living facility, across from the Family Drive-In. The 17,000-square-foot building closed more than two years ago and is owned by the Conrad family. It sits on 10.5 acres and includes an approximately 600-square-foot caretaker house. A gym will be built in the future.

The group bought the facility for $500,000, with the help of various fundraisers. Officials need $6,000 by Feb. 14 in order to close on the property.

The building also needs a new roof and a heating, ventilation and air conditioning unit. Walls will need to be knocked down to expand classrooms.

The non-denominational school will be a ministry of Legacy Christian Fellowship, also started by Hibbard and fellow parents.

The School Board is hopeful that the academy can eventually have a culinary arts program, a nursing assistant program, SMART boards, a special needs program, and a focus on arts and sports.

“It’s a much broader approach than other private schools,” Simpson said. “We’re thinking big.”

Officials want more parent input, open discussion and transparency in the new school — as well as the inclusion of many different churches in its programs.

A couple of schools have expressed interest in merging with the academy, but Hibbard said he did not want to reveal them just yet. Hibbard also said he does not know the number of teachers Legacy will hire or what the school will charge for tuition (it costs approximately $5,500 for a student to attend SVCA).

Officials are trying to make scholarships available and will provide discounts for students who get other students to enroll in the school.

Despite the excitement of opening the academy, Roberge, who graduated from SVCA, said leaving her former school has been difficult.

“If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have gone to college,” she said. “Life would not be the same if not for the school and the ministry.

“It has been like a death to me,” she added. “I’m in the mourning process.”

For more information or to inquire about a job, email Hibbard at chairman@legacychristian-academy.com or Roberge at impact@legacychristian-academy.com.

Those interested can also check out the school’s website at legacychristian-academy.com.

Founder bricks are available for engraving and range from $110 to $550.

— Contact Rebecca Layne at rlayne@winchesterstar.com