Private school’s future in doubt

Administrators of the Atlanta New Century School broke the news to parents late last week. They also held a private meeting Monday evening to discuss the future of the school, which enrolls about 100 students and has about 20 staffers.

Only parents and staff were allowed inside the meeting, but in earlier interviews, the school’s principal and its founder both sounded a hopeful note and said the school remains open until further notice.

“If the parents are committed and ready to move forward, then there’s a way to move forward,” said New Century founder Cole Walker, who now lives in Huntsville, Ala.

On Monday night, parents arrived at the meeting looking for answers. Several said they had no clue what was going on, and that they were attending the meeting to find out more details. They refused to comment otherwise.

About 7:40 p.m., Angela Edmond, the school’s director, left the building with an off-duty police officer. She refused to comment when asked if she was let go from the school.

As parent Emily Casey exited the school around 8:45 p.m. Monday, she was reluctant to comment. But she stated that her child will still attend the school next year.

“Everything discussed in the meeting was confidential,” Casey said. “But, as parents, we are going to rally together and stand strong. I look forward to a good school year next year.”

When asked if anyone was fired from the school or forced to resign, she stated, “I can’t answer that.”

The first day of school is slated for Aug. 17.

In an e-mail dated July 1 to its families, Edmond said: “We are in a great position from an enrollment and cash standpoint ... . We are fully staffed and ready for 2009-2010.”

It is not clear what may have happened to change that outlook.

Earlier Monday, asked if the school would resume in the fall, school Principal George Hall said, “We don’t know anything about August or the new school year. Right now, our plan is to go forward. The details I’m not privy to.”

Hall, whose contract ended June 30, said that he is “volunteering my services as needed to get through this process per the board’s request.”

Administrators and members of the school’s board of directors declined repeated requests for interviews before Monday night’s meeting.

A woman who answered the school’s phone Monday afternoon and identified herself as the office manager said no one was immediately available to comment.

The school, which opened in 1995 with 22 students, had grown to 90 students in preschool through sixth grade by 2006. New Century School was one of the first schools in the Atlanta area to issue laptops to its students, back in 2000.

Last year, the school moved to a new facility on Ralph McGill Boulevard that “wound up being more expensive than anticipated,” Walker said.

“Typically, with schools with less than 100 kids, the financial costs are the thing they struggle with the most.”

The school has followed an unconventional path since it opened in the basement of the Healey Building in the Fairlie-Poplar district. It found an academic niche offering multiage classes that allow children to move at their own pace.

But its struggle to remain financially viable — tuition three years ago was $8,950, less than many established private schools but still more than some families could afford — underscores how much money and time it takes to build a private school from scratch.

Walker’s goal for the school was to enroll 250 students, but he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2006 that he had spent “six figures” on New Century every year since it opened.

On Monday, he said he has continued his financial support despite moving from Atlanta four years ago to work in his family’s real estate business.

Walker no longer has a hand in the school’s day-to-day operations, but its advisory board boasts a who’s who of Atlanta business people and educators.

Over the years, it also caught the attention of several nationally recognized private schools in the metro Atlanta area, including Woodward Academy in College Park.

On its Web site, the school describes itself as an independent, fully accredited, nonprofit, nonsectarian institution for children from pre-kindergarten through sixth grade.

The school once also had seventh and eighth grades but discontinued them.

Walker opened the school with the help of a loan from the Small Business Administration loan and with the goal of having a downtown school with the latest technology.

Staff writers Gracie Bonds Staples and Sharise M. Darby contributed to this article.

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