Originally created 01/15/04

Northpoint closes its doors



A private Christian academy has shut down, leaving teachers without paychecks and dozens of students in the lurch as the school's founder considers bankruptcy protection.

Northpoint Academy, which opened in the fall of 2002, closed Dec. 22, owing teachers and administrators a combined $30,000 in pay, founder Pete Meadows said Wednesday. Mr. Meadows said bankruptcy is "a strong possibility."

For Mr. Meadows, it boiled down to a simple math equation: Northpoint Academy had an $18,000-per-month budget, but was only bringing in about $9,000 in tuition.

That, Mr. Meadows said, is the reason Northpoint Academy shut down after 1 1/2 years in business. The school had 49 students when it closed.

"You can't make it last too long," said Mr. Meadows, who added that he didn't know when his former employees would be paid. "We had less and less participation from some of our supplemental income (sources) to make up the difference. We were trying to play catch-up from the beginning."

That won't help the teachers and administrators who haven't been paid in two months and the parents who enrolled their children at the school.

"I am sure there are a lot of disappointed people over there," said Dr. Malcolm Cummings, the executive director of the Georgia Association of Christian Schools. "The students are now having to find other schools to go through. I am sure there is a lot of confusion and unrest and disappointment."

At least eight teachers were left without jobs, and most of the students scrambled during the Christmas break to transfer to other schools.

Two former teachers and about a dozen former Northpoint students created a home-school operation at First Family Church of Augusta on Warren Road, where the academy had been located.

Chris Wilkins, a former Northpoint teacher, is being paid by the remaining parents to tutor their children. He said most of the former students returned to public schools in five counties, with a few enrolling in private schools.

Several former teachers reacted angrily when they were not paid, and Mr. Meadows received phone calls and threats of lawsuits, Mr. Wilkins said. Some of the teachers threatened to withhold student records until they were paid, but the documents were eventually surrendered, allowing the former students to provide them to new schools, Mr. Wilkins said.

"Everybody knew we were in financial distress," said Mr. Wilkins, who was also not paid for two months.

Although Dr. Cummings said Northpoint Academy has been dropped from the state group's membership list, it's been functioning this month as Northpoint Christian Schools.

The situation is not ideal for Rob Bass and his 16-year-old son, Cameron, who transferred from Aiken High to the home-school operation at the beginning of this semester.

"But we're going to wait it out and see how things go," said Mr. Bass, whose son is among 16 enrolled at the home-school operation. "It's still early."

Mr. Meadows blames a variety of sources for the shutdown of his brainchild, which won the Christian association's state title in baseball during its only season.

Mr. Meadows said the association erroneously posted on its Web page that the school had not been provisionally accredited. Then, Mr. Meadows said, people began calling potential students and convincing them that they shouldn't attend Northpoint.

Mr. Meadows said his critics' actions cost him $100,000 in lost tuition.

"There were some people that wanted to create some problems," Mr. Meadows said. "But if we could have done our job better, we wouldn't be in this situation. I made the decision to hire the wrong people; the rest falls on them. I feel very bad. These people were my friends."

Mr. Wilkins put a positive spin on the conflict. He said the new home-school operation will continue Northpoint's vision of helping students.

"It's a very specific type of student we're trying to reach. We're talking about those with learning disabilities and behavior disorders," he said. "We're trusting in God for all of the answers. I know that God is going to provide."

Reach Josh Katzowitz at (706) 823-3216 or at josh.katzowitz@augustachronicle.com. Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or greg.rickabaugh@augustachronicle.com.