Hampton Roads Classical plans move to former James River Christian Academy

Published 12:30 pm Tuesday, May 16, 2023

A shuttered private school on Benns Church Boulevard may reopen this summer as the new home of Hampton Roads Classical Academy.

Headmaster P. Andy Gist has applied for a conditional use permit to return elementary and middle school students to the former James River Christian Academy campus for the first time in 16 years.

For the past three years, Hampton Roads Classical has operated out of Hope Presbyterian Church. The currently K-7 school has 41 students, or roughly double its original 2020 enrollment, and plans to add eighth-graders by August when the next school year starts. The school’s faculty includes five full-time teachers, three part-time teachers, an office administrator and Gist himself.

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“We just need to be able to continue to grow,” Gist said.

James River Christian Academy operated from 1975 through 2007, with its final graduating class numbering only 14 high school seniors.

The 25-acre campus consists of two roughly 9,200-square-foot classroom buildings, each dating to the 1970s, a detached 6,300-square-foot gymnasium built in the 1980s and 10 townhouses built as teacher housing.

Vincent Carollo, who owns the campus, began renovating the buildings in 2021 when Isle of Wight County supervisors approved a proposal to turn one of the two classroom buildings into a day care center. In 2022, supervisors approved a proposal to turn the gym and an adjacent athletic field into a private sports club. The campus was also once home to Southside Vineyard Community Church, which has relocated to a facility on Great Springs Road.

According to a public notice published in The Smithfield Times’ May 10 edition, Gist’s requested permit includes a request to “extinguish existing conditional use permits” for the day care and sports club.

According to Gist, the proposed sports club has relocated to Suffolk. Gist said he did not know the details of when or why the daycare plans fell through. Jamie Mintz, lead teacher at Smithfield’s Kids Come First and the originator of the day care plans, did not immediately respond to the Times’ requests for comments.

The county’s Planning Commission has scheduled a public hearing on Gist’s requested permit for May 23. The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the boardroom of the county government complex and will be livestreamed on the county’s website.

Gist said, assuming the project is approved, he’s looking forward to the better visibility a move to the former James River Christian Academy would afford Hampton Roads Classical, as well as the school having its own campus-style environment.

Hampton Roads Classical’s website states the school offers a 12-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio in its classes and a “trivium-based approach of grammar, logic, and rhetoric,” where Latin is introduced as early as the first grade.

In 2021, Hampton Roads Classical became licensed to use K-12 curriculum developed by Michigan-based Hillsdale College, including but not limited to components of Hillsdale’s “1776 Curriculum,” which Hillsdale President Larry Arnn has said predates his role on former president Donald Trump’s 1776 Commission that called for “restoring patriotic education.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated to correct the relationship between Hillsdale’s 1776 curriculum and the Trump administration’s 1776 Commission.