Thriving Columbia Academy to open a private elementary school this fall


Owners of the 3-year-old private Columbia Academy will open an elementary school this fall for kindergarten to sixth-grade students as demand for their small classes and individualized curriculum increases.

Already, more than 100 students have enrolled to attend the new school, near Routes 29, 32 and Old Columbia Road, according to co-founder Raymond L. Chapman.

"Parents kept saying, 'We hope you're going to continue,' " Mr. Chapman said. "We just had to start working toward it. We had such a backlog of parents."

Mr. Chapman and his wife, Gayle, are expanding despite a $30,000 confessed judgment against them for failing to repay a $25,000 loan to Baltimore-based Sterling Bank and Trust Co.

Mr. Chapman said the case resulted from a "misunderstanding between two businesses," the bank and the school, and added that the matter will be resolved soon. The judgment was automatically entered against them because of a clause in their loan agreement, according to court documents.

Lawyers for the bank declined to comment, saying the case was still under litigation.

The Chapmans' new 33,300-square-foot school, a now vacant building, will house a media center, cafeteria and gym, among other rooms, to provide a comprehensive education for elementary school-age children, said Gayle Chapman, co-founder and school administrator.

The state-licensed school now on Route 108, which takes children ages 2 through 9, will turn into a preschool next fall.

The school has seen a steady rise in enrollment since it opened in September 1991 with 62 students and four teachers. A year later the school had 185 students, and just this past school year, Columbia Academy enrolled 215 students and had a waiting list of 100 students.

"We're successful because we're providing parents what they're looking for," Mrs. Chapman said. "We provide them a sense of comfort. They can drop their children off, knowing they will be nurtured and educated."

Parents like the school "because of our emphasis on academics," Mr. Chapman said. "We do not keep the child at one level. If the child demonstrates the ability to go forward, we design a program for the child. Conversely, when a child is a little slow in an area, we don't wait for a marking period to tell the parent. We develop and design a curriculum to assist the child."

Teachers are licensed by the state and have at least a bachelor's degree in elementary education. Some teachers are just out of college, but others have as many as 15 years of experience.

The 1-to-15 teacher-student ratio is another plus, said Bob Allen, an Ellicott City resident whose 4-year-old son, Timothy, attends kindergarten. "The small class size is great," he said. "The school plans for an individual child and goes at their pace."

The Chapmans opened the school because they couldn't find an appropriate school for their child, Daniel, now a third-grader who does trigonometry. The couple went to the University of Maryland, the Johns Hopkins University and other institutions for guidance, but to no avail.

"Sort of tongue-in-cheek, they said if you want to do something for this child, you have to start your own school," Mr. Chapman said.

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