Victory Christian Academy opens in Santa Rosa to replace 50-year-old Rincon Valley Christian

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Wendy Cunningham was at her desk in the principal’s office, talking about some slight glitches with her school’s parent portal website, when the bell rang at 10:25 Friday morning.

“Hey, the bells work,” she said with a smile, marking a small victory in the first week of classes at the Victory Christian Academy in east Santa Rosa. This newly minted K-12 school, which opened Tuesday, replaces the Rincon Valley Christian School that closed in May as a result of declining enrollment after nearly 50 years of operation.

At the same meeting when that closing was announced in March, Cunningham recalled, a group of parents started talking about founding a new Christian school. “We couldn’t accept that this was not a need in the community,” she said.

They commissioned a survey of Rincon Valley Christian School families, asking who might be interested in sending their children to this new school. Encouraged by the response, they formed a board and moved forward.

The campus is on the grounds of the Santa Rosa Bible Church, which agreed to lease those facilities to its replacement. Critically, the church also gave the fledgling academy its textbooks, teachers manuals, musical instruments and much more.

After registering with the state, the new school applied for and received nonprofit status, exempting it from federal income tax. The Victory Christian Academy bought insurance and began hiring staff. But some bad news in July put the entire endeavor at risk.

Based on preregistrations, the new school would have 90 students in first year of existence. In mid- July, families were asked to pay a preenrollment fee. That’s when they learned, Cunningham said, that they had fewer students and more families in need of financial aid, than had realized.

A letter went out to families: We need $150,000, within a week.

“We didn’t want to mince words,” said Lisa Marseglia, office manager of the new school, where she also teaches pre-algebra to junior high students. “That was the state of the union. If it wasn’t meant to be, we would move in a different direction.”

They met that financial goal in five days. The school now has 83 students — three of them children of Cunningham’s, who taught music and was a vice principal at Rincon Valley Christian, and whose students haven’t quite adjusted to her new title as principal.

“Hello, Principal Toby’s Mom,” said a bespectacled adolescent who is a friend of her son, Toby Cunningham. Moments later, the principal’s daughter, Emma, who should’ve been in class, sprinted past. She’d brought the wrong book to freshman history. “And I have hiccups,” Emma informed her mother, while rooting through her locker. “I’m having issues over here.”

For a school not quite halfway through its fourth day of existence, the Victory Christian Academy was having remarkably few issues. In a break from the previous academy’s policy, students aren’t allowed to be on their cellphones during school hours. “We did it to build community,” Marseglia said.

“We told them, we want you to look at the person in front of you, and interact with that person,” Cunningham said.

After some initial resentment, “they like it now,” she said.

Behind her, at a shaded picnic table, a boisterous gaggle of high schoolers played Monopoly during a 15-minute break. “I got Boardwalk,” one shouted.

The founders had hoped to name this place the Sonoma County Christian School, but that name was taken, it turned out. So they settled on Victory Christian Academy.

“At first, some of us weren’t that excited about it,” Cunningham said. “But now it seems like the most appropriate name in the world.”

You can reach Staff Writer Austin Murphy at 707-521-5214 or austin.murphy@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @Ausmurph88

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