Hamilton Heights Christian Academy to remain open despite reports the school would close at end of year

Hamilton Heights basketball player Silas Adheke practices shooting free throws Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015, at Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Just a few weeks after local media reported that Hamilton Heights Christian Academy would be closing at the end of semester, school officials announced that the school will not be closing.

"It is with tremendous pleasure to announce that Hamilton Heights Christian Academy will not be closing as reported earlier this month," said Principal Krystal Bankston in a Tuesday news release. "The school has had a remarkable 22-year history of excellence in faith, academics and athletics and will continue with this mission and its ministry to young adults both locally and internationally."

Known for its nationally recognized championship basketball programs, the school was set to shut its doors earlier this month after years of financial struggles.

"The school board voted about three and a half weeks ago to close the school due to mounting financial pressures and because of the space we are in," Bankston told the Times Free Press. "We didn't feel like it was viable to stay open long-term and didn't want to risk closing mid-year and affecting local and international students."

As the news broke though, messages of support and a willingness to help was immediate, Bankston said. Now school officials say not only will it remain open, but it is also "committed to expanding the school's facilities, increasing enrollment and moving towards a new vision of sustainability and growth."

"We ended up with a partnership with a group of investors who are committed to investing in education," Bankston said.

Those investors will come alongside the school as it seeks to expand its facilities to increase enrollment, create a more rigorous curriculum, build a computer lab and expand athletic opportunities.

Rick Levin of Las Vegas is one of those investors. Levin and his wife have worked with international students, bringing them overseas and placing them in christian schools, for more than a decade he said.

He has previously placed students at Hamilton Heights - which has a student population that is about 50 percent local students and 50 percent international - and wanted to help.

"What happened there in my point of view is you have really great people and teachers who really care about working with the kids and they kind of let the financial side wane," Levin said. "Our goal is to come in and get that under control and enable the teachers to do what they do best and give them more resources to focus on what they re doing and stay out of the academics and ministry side."

Levin will visit Chattanooga in the coming weeks as the school, church and its partners begin to work through their plans for the future.

"Part of this is still preliminary; we've made a bonding agreement to acquire the land that the church is on so the school can expand," Levin said.

Bankston said the school would like to more than double it's enrollment from 60 students to 150 students and offer more rigorous courses such as honors and Advanced Placement (AP) courses.

Hamilton Heights has some of the lowest private school tuition in the area, Bankston said, and the school is committed to keeping it affordable for local families, even though in the past the school's revenue has come solely from student tuition and athletic fundraising.

She mentioned that the school was excited about the possibilities that Gov. Bill Lee's controversial school voucher bill might offer. The bill, which passed the Tennessee House Tuesday, could given eligible students up to $7,300toward private school tuition a year.

"We are very tied to being a low cost institution for many reasons but the main reason is the ministry to students and families who might not fit in in a traditional school setting," Bankston said.

"We are following the bill and are considering every option to offer opportunities to all local students. The leadership team will continue to monitor the bill as it goes through the legislature," she added. "I don't have the authority to make that decision, but the leadership team and the board are always considering options to make HHCA as accessible to local students as possible."

The school is governed by a six-member school board and is accredited by the Association of Christian Schools International and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS CASI).

It is most well-known for its basketball programs - the boy's program has won three National Association of Christian Athletes (NACA) national championships and produced numerous Division I basketball talent.

Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at mmangrum@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.