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Parochials stay afloat in stormy economy

Small class sizes and niche offerings are helping Red Wing's parochial schools weather hard economic times, officials say.

Concordia Immanuel Lutheran School has watched enrollment grow each of the last five years. This year the school is ahead of last September's figures.

Principal Kimberly Burns said small class sizes at the 38-student school are the primary driver.

"A lot of parents kind of go toward smaller class sizes so their kids get better one-on-one," she said.

According to Red Wing School District data, local parochial school enrollment remained stable from 2008. The district saw a 14-student drop this year, with September enrollment at 2,800 students.

Red Wing Christian Academy has seen a slight overall enrollment decline this year, though its high school continues to show growth. The academy is the only local parochial that includes high-school students. Students in grades 5 through 8 also attend the high school.

The academy's high school -- housed at New River Assembly of God's education wing -- added six students this year. The Christian Academy expanded last year to the new facility in an effort to distinguish learning environments for older students, Principal Cindy Anderson said.

She echoed Burns' sentiments, saying parents target the school's smaller class sizes. The academy's school board requires class sizes can't exceed 15 students.

"We fill a need and a niche," Anderson said.

Spanish instruction beginning in first grade remains another strong draw at the interdenominational school.

Cannon Falls residents Yvonne and Jon Salmonson said early Spanish instruction was a big reason behind the decision to send their two adopted Guatemalan sons to the academy.

"Because of their Hispanic descent, we wanted to give them an opportunity to start Spanish at an early age," Yvonne Salmonson said, adding that the family chose the academy over a Northfield school.

Anderson said 11 different churches are represented at the academy, though church affiliation is not a prerequisite.

"Some kids have never gone to church in their life," she said.

Still, the high school maintains a significant religious component, which Anderson said is woven into instruction across the curriculum. Prayer is encouraged, she said, but not required.