University City

Brisbane celebrates 20 years of teaching

When the students who Geraldine Crooks tutored weren't performing well in school, she came up with a way to help them: open her own school.

Now, Crooks says, the phone at Brisbane Academy often "rings off the hook" with calls from parents of prospective students.

The school, about to open for its 20th school year, focuses on individualized learning plans in small classroom settings.

"There's just like a recipe of getting these students to perform," said Crooks. "Some children really perform better in a smaller setting."

Classes at Brisbane have no more than 10 children. The total enrollment of the K-12 school ranges from the mid-60s to just more than 100 students. When school starts next week, there will be 65 students enrolled.

Chris Crooks, Geraldine's husband and the school's executive director, says the school's success shows individualized attention works. The school boasts a 100 percent high school graduation rate, and 96 percent of its graduates go on to four-year colleges, Chris Crooks said.

But there's more to Brisbane than just academic success. Because of the school's small size, Chris Crooks said, the students and parents form one large family.

"When a student comes through the door he's almost inheriting a whole bunch of brothers of sisters," said Chris Crooks.

Some of their most successful students, Geraldine Crooks said, are ones traditional schools had given up on.

Crooks said the smaller class sizes at Brisbane allow teachers to help students realize how they learn best and what skills they have. When that happens, Crooks says, "it changes everything."

Crooks first started tutoring when she was a student at UNC Charlotte. Her background was in engineering and math, but she found that she loved the satisfaction she got from helping classmates learn.

"The money was good (in engineering), but there was not a sense of being able to make a difference like there is in education," said Crooks.

Inspired by her tutoring experience during college, Crooks opened the Brisbane Tutoring Center in 1984. Eight years later, she opened the school.

The first 13 students at Brisbane came there looking for a bully-free environment where they could learn at their highest level, Crooks said. Word spread, and the school continued to grow.

"Time has flown by because now we have our children's children enrolling," said Crooks.

Felicia Broadnax's children, now 18 and 12 years old, both started at Brisbane when they were 4. Broadnax said she's stuck with the school because of the dedication, loyalty and support her children get from the faculty and staff.

"Everybody has the best interest in my child successfully completing school," said Broadnax. "It's just an exceptional environment."

The school, located on Statesville Road in north Charlotte, is three buildings with about 6,000 square feet. As the school prepares for its next 20 years, plans are in the works to allow as many children to get the Brisbane experience as want it.

"The intent is to expand," said Chris Crooks. "We're kind of outgrowing our space here."

Brisbane's high school campus may move to one of the local universities, Crooks said, in order to accommodate more students.

Tuition at Brisbane varies depending on grade. Costs range from $5,700 to $9,500. Some financial aid is available, Geraldine Crooks said, but many "at-risk" children aren't able to get the help they need. She said she's looking for community members to mentor and possibly sponsor students who can't afford the school's tuition.

"Education's always a good investment, as far as I'm concerned," she said. "These kids are our legacy."