Da Vinci Academy will close by academic year end

Updated 12/5/2016 5:53 PM
  • Da Vinci Academy in Elgin is closing at the end of this school year due to enrollment declines, officials said. The school has 81 students enrolled this year.

      Da Vinci Academy in Elgin is closing at the end of this school year due to enrollment declines, officials said. The school has 81 students enrolled this year. Rick West | Staff Photographer

A small Elgin private school for the gifted -- Da Vinci Academy -- is closing at the end of this school year because of enrollment declines, officials said.

The school on the western side of town at 37W080 Hopps Road has 81 students enrolled in prekindergarten through eighth grades.

"It's been a heartbreaking few weeks," said Jeff Martin of Geneva, school board president. "I've had three children graduate from the school. Youngest is a sophomore in high school, two others are a freshman and sophomore in college."

The school opened in 2000, primarily drawing students from Geneva, St. Charles, Batavia and Bartlett, as well as from Elgin, Hoffman Estates and Naperville. It reached peak enrollment at 132 students in the 2006-07 school year. It operates on a $1.75 million annual budget.

Academy founder and school board member Deb Butcher has bailed out the school over the years with donations as officials tried to increase enrollment. But despite changing leadership and renewing marketing and advertising efforts, enrollment has been declining in recent years by about 10 students annually, Martin said.

"It's not sustainable when you are relatively small," Martin said. "As we went through the recession, we saw a lot of families qualifying for more financial aid. The current school board decided that there was no way the school could remain open. There is no population to the west of the school to draw from."

Da Vinci Academy is part of the National Association of Independent Schools. Independent schools nationwide are seeing similar declines in enrollment, Martin said.

Increasing financial costs, not enough population growth in the region and rising property taxes have played a role in declining enrollment for the academy, officials said.

Academy officials are trying to help parents figure out a plan for their students beyond this school year and help the nearly 30 faculty and staff members find new jobs.

"The official end of school is in May," said Raquel Scharf-Anderson, head of school. "We will continue to take care of our teachers and our obligations all the way until July 2017. It's really disheartening that we are in this position at this point in time."

A group of parents is trying to salvage the school because there aren't many gifted schools in the area.

"Basically it would involve starting another school with another mission," Martin said. "We'll support them any way we can. It will be such a different school than what's been there up to now."

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