Hampton Roads Classical relocation approved

Published 3:28 pm Friday, June 16, 2023

Isle of Wight County supervisors have approved Hampton Roads Classical’s plans to repurpose a shuttered school campus on Benns Church Boulevard as its new home.

The supervisors’ unanimous June 15 vote means elementary and middle school students will return to the former James River Christian Academy building for the first time since 2007.

Hampton Roads Classical began with 24 students in 2020. It currently operates out of Hope Presbyterian Church, but is nonsectarian.

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According to Headmaster P. Andy Gist, there were 48 students enrolled in kindergarten through seventh grade as of the June 15 vote. The school is planning to have 60 students in grades K-8 by the start of the 2023-24 school year, and aims to open at its new location in August.

The 25-acre campus, located adjacent to Historic St. Luke’s Church & Museum, consists of two roughly 9,200-square-foot classroom buildings, each dating to the 1970s, and a detached 6,300-square-foot gymnasium built in the 1980s. The campus also includes seven townhouses originally built as teacher housing.

Hampton Roads Classical’s conditional use permit application specifies the school would, for now, only use one of the two classroom buildings and the gymnasium. The requested permit would allow a maximum occupancy of 125, including students, faculty and staff members. The school’s faculty currently consists of five full-time teachers, three part-time teachers, an office administrator and Gist himself.

According to the school’s website, Hampton Roads Classical 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. Math is taught without students relying on calculators or other electronics. Topics in history and geography are supplemented using Hillsdale College’s K-12 “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.”

“We’re a school that celebrates our American heritage,” Gist said. “We fundamentally believe that the future of our country depends on educating young people, who as the future guardians of our republic, can perpetuate self-evident truths of our founding and act worthy of the blessings of liberty that have been entrusted to them.”

The school advocates what Gist described as a disciplined and structured learning environment “where students can thrive in pursuit of the ideal rather than their individual appetites.”

“I think it’s a wonderful program; they do a great job,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman William McCarty. “Mr. Gist and his team are solid folks. They are added value in our community.”

Vincent Carollo, who owns the former James River campus, began renovations 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 supervisors’ approval of the requested permit for Hampton Roads Classical extinguishes the two previous approvals.

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