Faced with unhappy parents and tough competition from other schools, the private CountryDay School plans to build a bigger, more modern campus near Ciudad Colón, southwest of San José.
CountryDay School President Woodson Brown, who announced the news in a letter to parents and staff Monday, said the new campus will be at least 11.3 acres and fit up to 1,200 students – a 50 percent increase over current capacity. The school will sell the existing nine-acre campus in Escazú, between Ciudad Colón and San José.
“It was a welcome surprise,” said Meg Bowman-Hicks, who has two children at Country Day. “We need more fields.We need more space … We’ve kind of reached our limit. The school is tapped out.”
Country Day has had a tumultuous year. Seven teachers in total have left the school’s two campuses to start two separate schools, and parents, unhappy with their money’s worth, have transferred their children to other private schools.
In December, the school’s college counselor, Elizabeth Head, left to start LighthouseInternationalSchool in Escazú.
A college preparatory school that teaches Christian values, Lighthouse aims to compete academically with the best schools in the country – a list that includes Country Day.
A similar thing happened at Country Day’s second campus in the northwestern province of Guanacaste. Unhappy with the school’s educational philosophy, six teachers left in May 2007 to start La PazCommunitySchool just a few kilometers away (see separate story below).
Meanwhile,Country Day’s Escazú campus faces increasing competition from the LincolnSchool in Heredia, north of San José.
An English-language college preparatory school open since 1945, Lincoln recently began recruiting foreigners to diversify its largely Tico student body.
In 2003, the school switched to a North American calendar, with classes running from August to June instead of February to December, when Costa Rican public schools are in session.
The following year, the school began giving native English speakers priority in admissions for up to one-fifth of every classroom.
Some 16 percent of students are now foreigners – mostly North American – up from 4 percent in 1999, said Lincoln School Director Jack Bimrose.
As Lincoln recruits more foreigners, it undermines Country Day’s competitive edge as an international melting pot, with its students about evenly divided among North American, Latin American and European.
Lincoln wooed some of its new recruits from Country Day. At least five families moved a total of 11 children from Country Day to Lincoln for the 2007-2008 school year, according to the families.
Sheila Morrison, who works at Chiquita, transferred her two kids last year because Country Day’s investment in infrastructure was not keeping pace with tuition hikes, she said.
“We weren’t getting what we were paying for,” she said, echoing a common refrain among parents at the school. “The school just didn’t keep up with the growth in the student body.”
Tuition at Country Day is $10,040 a year for first through 12th grades, while the nonprofit LincolnSchool charges up to $8,350, with lower grades paying less.
Lincoln’s move to a new 17.3-acre campus in March 2007 convinced several frustrated parents to make the jump, Morrison said. Compared with Lincoln’s old digs in the northeastern suburb of Moravia, the campus has twice as much land, bigger classrooms, a bigger soccer field and a second gym, said Luisana Pacheco, admissions and development coordinator.
“Last year, there were more (Country Day students) than normal going to Lincoln, mainly because of Lincoln’s new facilities,” said Robert Trent, who directs Country Day’s Guanacaste campus and ran the main Escazú campus for nearly six years until December 2007.
The new Country Day campus will “incorporate the latest concepts in educational architecture” and “include first-class facilities,” Brown wrote in his letter to parents.
The campus will be ready in about three years, Trent estimated. Construction will begin in a year at the earliest, after the firm Autopistas del Sol finishes widening and extending thePróspero Fernández Highway
between San José and Ciudad Colón – the first installment of a highway that will run to the port town of Caldera on the central Pacific coast.
Discontent has been simmering among some Country Day parents, and Brown’s letter made a clear attempt at reconciliation. The school will assemble “project teams” with staff, parents and students to plan the campus’s design.
Brown also planned to meet with parents yesterday and today to present his plans, answer questions and take suggestions.
Contacted by The Tico Times, Brown declined to comment on this article.
“Hopefully we can redouble our efforts to listen to people and be receptive,” Trent said. “If you do have folks who are unhappy about something, maybe you haven’t listened to them as closely as you needed to.”
The new campus is a savvy business move for Country Day. Trent expects development around Ciudad Colón to increase once the Caldera highway is completed in about three years (TT, Jan. 18, May 30).
While the Escazú campus has waiting lists, the new school will be able to accommodate families who move here on the next wave of foreign investment.
“The school has some interesting challenges for the future,” Trent said.“More and more North Americans and people from other parts of the world are coming into the Central Valley … Country Day needs to continue to stay very competitive in terms of that market.”