Chicago area Christian schools see rapid growth

Chicago-area Christian schools are seeing the same record enrollment growth as their counterparts across the country, and experts predict the trend will continue. As public schools grapple with COVID shutdowns and conflicts over local control of curriculum, parents are increasingly seeking other educational options.

At Parkview Christian Academy in Yorkville, Superintendent Dr. Ray Epperson told local media that enrollment has jumped 31% since May, from 279 students to 368. “We were giving tours to new families nonstop,” said Epperson.

Epperson came to Parkview Christian after 38 years in public education. He says his decision to become Parkview superintendent was because he felt the government was “overreaching into our schools.” 

This fall, Epperson found himself front and center in the battle against government overreach when the Illinois State Board of Education briefly pulled Parkview Christian’s “recognized status” over the school’s refusal to enforce a masking requirement.

In reflecting on Parkview’s enrollment surge, he cited parental concerns over curriculum as one reason families sought out new opportunities at Parkview. “Private schools have more control over what we teach – and just as importantly, what we don’t teach.”

Aurora Christian Schools principal Dr. Stacy Beebe agrees that parents, given a firsthand look into curriculum during remote learning, were not happy with what their children were being taught. She attributes that dissatisfaction to the 27% increase in Aurora Christian’s fall enrollment at its Aurora and Sycamore campuses.

“I think there are things happening in education and society that are pushing parents to reevaluate the cost of private versus public,” she told a local media outlet.

For the first time in more than 25 years, Chicago-area Catholic schools are riding a similar wave of expanding enrollment. The Archdiocese of Chicago reported a 7 percent enrollment increase across its 157 schools. The Catholic schools offered in-person learning last year when many public schools stayed remote – and families who transferred have decided to stay.

Greg Richmond, superintendent of Catholic Schools at the Archdiocese of Chicago, took the position in August after a background in both public education and as a charter school advocate. 

He expressed hope that the Chicago-area Catholic schools could seize the momentum shared by other Chicago-area Christian schools.

“Parents are looking for programs that fit the interests and needs of their kids,” Richmond said. “I think we’ve got to be positioned to respond to those interests.”

In June, Kerry McDonald, author of Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children outside the Conventional Classroom predicted that parents would continue to seek out alternatives to public education.

“Many parents have uncovered a variety of education options over the past year that work better for their kids. Entrepreneurs are building new learning models, school choice policies are expanding, and homeschooling resources are increasing, allowing more families access to more education possibilities. With virus‐​related back‐​to‐​school policies still murky, and districts continuing to alienate families with racially divisive practices, it’s no surprise that many parents won’t be sending their kids to public schools this fall.”