The weak economy is leaving San Fernando Valley students with fewer private school options this fall, after several campuses cut grade levels and programs because of declining enrollment.

Faced with the prospect of having only 35 students in grades 9-12, West Valley Christian School in West Hills shuttered its high school in June, sending the teens scrambling to find other campuses.

Some students and staff were taken in by Concordia Canoga Park and Concordia Junior Senior High School in Sylmar, each of which is the result of other campuses that combined to consolidate costs.

"With this economy, it has been tougher to backfill the students that graduate," said Edward Amey, executive director of Concordia Schools, the name given to a group of five independent Lutheran schools in the Valley that banded together in July.

"There's a lot of challenges with finances. This economy has obviously taken its toll on private schools, whether they be faith-based or not."

Trinity Lutheran High School and Canoga Park Lutheran School became Concordia Canoga Park, which serves kindergarten through 12th grades.

Concordia Junior Senior High was formerly First Lutheran San Fernando and Los Angeles Lutheran High School, and is now the group's largest campus with 260 students.

At West Valley Christian, high school enrollment dropped from about 120 students in the 2007-2008 school year to 35 this past year, prompting the "traumatic" decision to shut down that program, said Chief Administrator Robert Lozano.


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"We got down to just having too few students in our high school needed to provide all the APs and sports," Lozano said. "The numbers just were not allowing us to provide what we needed to do here."

West Valley Christian continues to operate its K-8 program.

Montclair Prep High School in Panorama City axed its seventh and eighth grades and its much-vaunted sports program in July. Participation in its football program had dropped so low in the past decade that the team switched to eight-man football at one point.

A handful of Montclair students were able to enroll at Daniel Pearl Magnet High School in Van Nuys.

"Some of them came in here and it was sad," said Janet Kiddoo, principal of Daniel Pearl. "All of a sudden you find out that your school's not going to be there. And you're used to being in a small school, just kind of a certain environment."

The economy and an exodus of families from California are driving the decline, but parents also have more choices for small campuses with the development of public charter and magnet schools.

Public schools become the only option for parents who have been out of work for years and need tuition assistance to continue at a private school, Lozano said.

At the Concordia campuses, for example, tuition for kindergarten through high school ranges from about $3,900 to $7,000 per year.

"When you have an option not to pay tuition ... and to have another viable option, sometimes that overcomes the ability to remain at a Christian school," Lozano said.

"For any private Christian school that's going to survive, we're going to have to really change the way we do things financially ... You have to provide more service for what you're offering."

However, administrators have found a silver lining in the closures.

The schools have been able to offer more classes for the remaining grades, with West Valley dedicating rooms previously used for high school classes to art, drama and chapel services for its K-8 school.

Concordia plans to build larger facilities, and West Valley hopes to re-open the high school when the economy and demand for enrollment recover.

"If we can hold out through this time - and hopefully it's not going to be beyond another year or two - when we see the rise in the economy, we'll have parents thinking about alternative education," Lozano said.

"It's hanging in there for the next year or two, and that's the hard part."