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Dwindling enrollment, weak economy force closure of Bowman Academy
Monday was a somber day at Bowman Academy as students learned the school will close for good at the end of this academic year. Talking about the decision to close the school are, from left, freshman Courtney Tindall, 15; Principal Aida Smith and seventh-grader Katie Wimberly, 12. (T&D CORRESPONDENT/MARTHA ROSE BROWN)

BOWMAN, S.C. – Wrapping up 40 years of educating area students, Bowman Academy will close its doors permanently on May 20 following the private school’s 2010 commencement ceremonies.

Aida Smith, Bowman Academy principal, announced Monday that the school’s board of trustees voted unanimously during a special called meeting Sunday to close the school, which serves students in grades K5 through 12.

“Every board member was emotional,” Smith said, noting that some of the board members are Bowman Academy alumni.

Smith said the board meeting – which was followed by two separate meetings with teachers and then parents on Sunday afternoon – was “terribly agonizing.”

She said the board “had been looking at other avenues of income” for the school, but the funds simply weren’t available.

Student enrollment at Bowman Academy had decreased steadily over the past few years, and the current enrollment of 68 is an all-time low, Smith said.

She said the nationwide economic downturn is the main factor for the dip in enrollment levels, which in turn, is the ultimate reason school officials decided to permanently close the school.

Since school officials elsewhere are beginning to issue teacher contracts and start the student enrollment process for next year, officials at Bowman Academy wanted to give their students and parents ample time to make decisions about enrollment for the 2010-2011 school year, Smith said. She said several parents indicated they plan to enroll their children at nearby S.C. Independent School Association campuses.

Courtney Tindall, 15, a freshman at Bowman Academy, said she started attending BA in first grade.

“I’m going to miss it,” she said. Tindall said news of the school’s closing made her “upset and depressed.”

She said she is making plans to enroll in a nearby SCISA school.

Katie Wimberly, 12, a seventh grader, said the school’s closure makes her “upset” because she will be leaving many of her friends.

“I grew up going to Bowman (Academy),” she said.

Trudy Patrick Stevenson, a 39-year educator, has taught at Bowman Academy for the past nine years.

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“Bowman Academy means that children and parents have a choice of how they want to be educated,” Stevenson said, “and they have a real voice in decisions.”

She said “losing Bowman Academy means losing choices.”

“As a parent and teacher and (former) pubic school trustee, I realize how very important having a choice in education can be,” Stevenson said.

Smith said Bowman Academy will pay its staff through their contracted employment terms. She said she will stay on board through the summer to ensure that student transfers and transcript preparations can be completed.

In the next few months, the academy will begin liquidating the contents of the school building, Smith said.

Among Bowman Academy’s greatest attributes have been its small class sizes and its family atmosphere, Smith said.

Bowman Academy was chartered in June 1966 as a preparatory school founded and based on Christian beliefs. It began operation in August 1970.

T&D Correspondent Martha Rose Brown can be reached by e-mail at marfawose@aol.com.

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