Upper Room director: Decision to drop high school, basketball not driven by Purvis graduation

tstevens@newsobserver.comOctober 11, 2012 

Rodney Purvis__N.C. State

ETHAN HYMAN — ehyman@newsobserver.com

— Upper Room Christian Academy may have a high school and a high school basketball team in the future, but if the church-supported private school near Southeast Raleigh High ever does expand to include a high school, it probably will have a different financial model, according to the school’s executive director.

Upper Room Christian Academy may have a high school and a high school basketball team in the future, but if the church-supported private school near Southeast Raleigh High ever does expand to include a high school, it probably will have a different financial model, according to the school’s executive director.

The school announced Tuesday that it was dropping its middle school and high school this year.

Upper Room had about 38 students in its sixth through 12th grade in 2010-11, but gained national attention because of two of its student athletes, current N.C. State freshman Rodney Purvis and 6-foot-7 Tyrek Coger, who were considered among the best high school basketball players in the country.

Purvis graduated and Coger transferred to Quality Education in Winston-Salem.

John Amanchukwu, the school’s executive director, said the school’s decision to not have a middle school and high school in 2012-13, was not made because of Purvis’ graduation and Coger’s transfer. He said the school did not create a high school in order to have a basketball program.

“It was a matter of profitability,” Amanchukwu said. “We could not afford to continue having a high school. This isn’t something that just came up. We’ve been dealing with this for years.”

Upper Room, which is affiliated with the Church of God in Christ denomination, was founded in 1986 and held services on Lake Wheeler Road in Raleigh. The church moved to Sanderfod Road in 1992 and moved to its current 28-acre site on Idlewood Village Drive in 1998.

The church opened a preschool in the church building in 1998 and in 2001 built its current school building for about $5.5 million.

“We never intended to be a basketball power,” said Dr. Patrick L. Wooden, who came to Upper Room Christian Church as pastor in 1987. “We were not going to be a diploma mill. That was not our vision. I think I saw Rodney Purvis play four or five times and when we spoke, we talked about things other than basketball.”

When the school decided to expand from preschool through middle school to include a high school in 2009, Wooden believed the tuition had to remain affordable for low-income students in the community.

Upper Room’s tuition was $5,500 a year. For comparison, the standard tuition is $19,550 at Ravenscroft, $9,900 at Cardinal Gibbons, $7,920 at North Raleigh Christian, and $5,500 at Raleigh Christian and Wake Christian, according to the schools’ websites.

Wooden said many Upper Room students received tuition assistance.

“It just cost more to educate the children than we were taking in,” Amanchukwu said.

Wooden helped keep the high school going by giving more than $100,000 to the school and fundraising provided $500,000 in scholarships, Amanchukwu said. The church, which has about 2,500 members, also provided funds.

But it wasn’t enough, they said.

“I don’t say that I wouldn’t start the high school if I knew then what I know now, but I would have done things differently,” Wooden said.

Basketball standouts

Purvis and Coger were raised by Shanda McNair, a member of the Upper Room congregation. Purvis transferred from East Millbrook Middle to Upper Room and repeated the eighth grade in 2008. The school had no high school then.

Avie Lester, the school’s basketball coach and a former N.C. State basketball player, has said he had never heard of Purvis when McNair spoke to him about her son’s transferring to the school in 2008. Purvis already was being recruited by colleges at that point, but Lester has said McNair had more questions about academics than athletics. Attempts to reach Lester for comment Wednesday were unsuccessful.

The school added a ninth grade in 2009 and planned to add one class a year.

“I am elated that my children go to school here and (the school) is adding a ninth grade next year,” McNair said in the summer of 2009. “I was one of the parents who went to the church and asked that it be added this fall.”

Wooden said his biggest regret is knowing that the middle school and high school will not be there to help some children who need help. Amanchukwu said Upper Room is working with parents to help place former Upper Room students in other schools.

The school is accredited by the Association of Christian Schools International and AdvancED, Amanchukwu said. The preschool and the elementary school are in good shape with between 230 and 240 students, he said.

Purvis, a guard, starred at Upper Room for four years and made the McDonald’s All-American team last March. He will play for N.C. State this season.

Purvis was initially declared ineligible in August by the NCAA while the school was under extended review by the NCAA.

As a member of the first graduating class at Upper Room, Purvis was the first student to go through the NCAA eligibility process. He won his appeal on Sept. 17 after providing details for four years worth of course work.

Amanchukwu said he didn’t know if the extended review by the NCAA was a factor in Coger’s transfer.

“Those decisions are subjective,” Amanchukwu said. “Each parent makes their own decision.”

The NCAA review, he said, was routine. Purvis’ senior class included three other students. The NCAA conducts an initial review with each school’s first scholarship players, he said.

Wooden said he hopes to continue building the school, gradually adding new grades.

“That is still our vision,” he said. “We learned some things and are ready to start building back.”

Stevens: 919-829-8910

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