Area private schools see student population growth

The John Cooper School is building the Rock Center, a new facility for math, science and technology classes set to open in August.

The John Cooper School is building the Rock Center, a new facility for math, science and technology classes set to open in August.

Private schools in The Woodlands are constructing new facilities and planning for the future as student populations continue to expand. Administrators attribute the enrollment growth to a number of factors, including the opening of an ExxonMobil campus south of The Woodlands, smaller class sizes and personalized attention.


“We’re drawing 1,200 students from a population of 120,000 in a town with good public schools,” said Mike Maher, head of The John Cooper School. “That’s significant. I think a family moving to The Woodlands has an array of [education] options you normally wouldn’t see in a town of 120,000 people.”



Meeting student demand 


About 6 percent, or 3,639 students, who live within Conroe ISD boundaries attend private schools, according to a 2015 report by demographic firm Population Survey Analysts. The number could grow by an additional 1,072 students in the next five years as area private schools expand, according to the report.


Area private schools see student population growthThe John Cooper School’s enrollment has grown by more than 500 students over the past 15 years. To accommodate the growth, the school has added a number of new facilities, including a dining hall, performing arts center, a lower school addition and a second gym.


The school’s most recent growth spurt began after ExxonMobil announced its new campus south of The Woodlands, which opened in 2015. Of the 215 students admitted prior to the 2015-16 school year, 83 students came from families affiliated with the oil and gas company.


“We’re trying to find the sweet spot between getting as many qualified kids in as possible, but not getting so big we lose what culturally, perhaps, is the most significant attraction of the school: individual attention, participation in activities and teachers who know their students,” Maher said.


The Woodlands Preparatory School is also growing in terms of student enrollment and facilities. The school enrolls 230 students, but hopes to grow to 1,000 students over time, administrator Sybil Arechiga said.


The school changed ownership two years ago when a new investor group brought a new mission to the campus, which involved furthering student growth and becoming a fully accredited International Baccalaureate school.


“That translates to a lot of growth, not only in terms of the student body but in terms of our facilities,” Arechiga said.


More than 80 percent of families at The Woodlands Preparatory School come from international backgrounds and are looking for a well-rounded education, which pairs well with the IB program.


“These families come from living in Dubai and Singapore with scholar experiences from all over the world,” Arechiga said. “They have traveled and lived in many countries, and their idea of an international school is different, so we wanted to bring that and market it to our community.”


The Woodlands Christian Academy also has plans to grow its student population and expand its facilities over the next decade.


“We serve nearly 600 students, and our plans are to grow to a school of 950,” head of school Julie Ambler said. “At this time, however, we are full in every single grade and class with wait pools. We’ve grown 33 percent over the last two years.”



Area private schools see student population growth


New facilities


The Woodlands Christian Academy has a master plan to build out its campus, which sits on 40 acres. Plans call for constructing a new high school building and a performing arts center in the next 10 years, as subject to fundraising efforts.


“We have generous parents who provide funds for every building we’ve done,” Ambler said. “We generally do buildings over a three-year time period, so they have three years to pay off a pledge.”


At the beginning of the school year, Woodlands Christian Academy completed construction on its most recent project—a 400-meter, eight-lane track—and added synthetic turf to the football field along with stadium seating for 1,000 fans.


“The track was important because every student from pre-K to 12th grade runs, and athletes need to run,” Ambler said. “It’s an amenity that benefits all athletes and students. In our high school, more than 90 percent of students play at least one varsity sport. It’s a huge part of our culture here.”


For its part, The John Cooper School will open the Rock Center—a three story, 50,000-square-foot building—in August for middle and upper school math, science and technology classes.


“It’s bigger, it’s brighter, and it’s better equipped,” Maher said. “It’s the complete opposite of where we teach math and science now because those classrooms were built in the 1980s.”


The educational facility will house a forum classroom as well as a lecture hall, computer lab, robotics classroom and an outdoor roof garden with a stargazing area.


“We’re calling it a transformative experience because it will allow teaching here like we’ve never had before,” Maher said.


The school’s existing science labs will undergo an interior demolition and be converted to normal classrooms to support the school’s last phase of enrollment growth. When the project is finished, there are two more facilities administrators would like to add in the next decade: a second field house and a new visual arts building next to the existing performing arts center.


Arechiga said The Woodlands Preparatory School has completed several expansion projects over the past year, including the addition of a welcome center, a front lobby, a porte cochere and a guarded check-in area at the entrance.


The campus is also in the early stages of constructing two new buildings that will connect to the existing main building. The north building will house a new library, cafeteria, auditorium, science center and a language center. The south building will feature an arts wing with a new gallery and a gym.


“It will also have a veranda that will overlook the soccer field so students and parents can mingle and relax and meet while we have sporting events,” Arechiga said.

By Marie Leonard
Marie came to Community Impact Newspaper in June 2011 after starting her career at a daily newspaper in East Texas. She worked as a reporter and editor for the Cy-Fair edition for nearly 5 years covering Harris County, Cy-Fair ISD, and local development and transportation news. She then moved to The Woodlands edition and covered local politics and development news in the master-planned community before being promoted to managing editor for the South Houston editions in July 2017.