Declining enrollment will force Calvary Temple Academy, a 200-student private school in Modesto, to close at the end of the school year.
Officials told teachers and parents late last week that the kindergarten through 12th grade school would close its doors in May.
The school is affiliated with the Pentecostal Assembly of God denomination, a rapidly expanding evangelical church.
The school campus is part of the Calvary Temple Worship Center at Briggsmore Avenue and Coffee Road.
Glen Berteau, Calvary's senior pastor, said the regional economic slowdown played a large role in the decision to close the school, where tuition ranges from $3,500 to $6,000 per year.
Berteau declined to give specifics on this year's school budget, but said the church had been subsidizing the school for several years. The 34 staff members will keep their jobs through the end of the year, he said.
Enrollment dropped from about 385 students in 2001 to 225 students at the beginning of this school year, with a 50-student dip in the past year, according to the California Department of Education. Enrollment has dropped to 202 students since then, according to school officials.
Calvary administrators brought in a marketing team two years ago as a last attempt to attract students and attention to the school.
In a news release, officials said part of the reason for closing the school was a desire to expand the church's adult Bible school into an accredited college to prepare ministers.
"I'm at total peace with what we're doing," Berteau said. "When you feel you can't keep up the excellence, when you'd have to cut back on some programs, I would say it wouldn't be fair to the young people."
Private school enrollment down
Calvary Temple Academy's enrollment woes seem to follow a countywide trend. Preliminary state data shows private school enrollment in Stanislaus County dropped 4.4 percent since last year, from 5,467 students in 2006-07 to 5,224 students this year.
The Rev. Ralph Sudfeld, board chairman of Modesto Christian School in Salida, said he's seen an increase this year in families seeking financial aid information.
"I think the economy has had an impact," Sudfeld said. "We really see parents buckling down."
Andrea Amaya spent Tuesday touring Modesto's Big Valley Christian School, off Tully Road, for her seventh-grade son. Amaya's son began attending Calvary Temple Academy in first grade.
"For my children and my family, this is our comfort zone, this is all we've known," Amaya said. "Families know each other, children know each other. The same class he's in right now has been with him since first grade."
Modesto resident Darryl Turner has a ninth-grade son and a daughter in her junior year at Calvary Temple Academy. Turner said Berteau promised to send Calvary certificates to his daughter and her classmates when they graduate next year from other schools. Turner also wants Calvary to name a junior year valedictorian.
"It's a sad thing for her, but she understands," Turner said. "She's been there nearly her entire life."
For Sherry Hughes, a longtime member of Calvary Temple Worship Center, the news of the school closure was sad but didn't come as a shock.
"They've been losing money for a while -- they've talked about (closing the school), but they've tried to save it," Hughes said. "It just became too hard to pull it out, I guess."
Calvary Temple Academy opened more than 30 years ago with students in kindergarten through third grade. High school classes weren't added until 1995.
Athletic teams since 1997
Calvary Temple began fielding competitive high school athletic teams in the 1997-98 school year. The next season, its boys basketball team advanced to the state Division V championship game. There, the Warriors lost 75-68 to Santa Clara of Oxnard.
The school began playing football in 2000. And in 2006, the Warriors, under head coach Jerry Grimshaw, beat Vacaville Christian in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII championship. Calvary Temple and Central Catholic are the only Modesto schools to win a football section championship.
Berteau said he hopes to expand the church's Global Bible Institute to include a program in which students can earn a college degree with an emphasis on preparing for the ministry.
He said the church's preschool will remain open.
Bee staff writer Will DeBoard contributed to this report.
Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2337.