- Associated Press - Sunday, January 22, 2017

BETTENDORF, Iowa (AP) - For the first time in almost half a century, Bettendorf will be home to a boarding school, a place for teenage students to live as they come here from all over the world to continue their education.

Headmaster Max Roach, several months into his new job at Rivermont Collegiate, has the school poised to double its high school ranks.

The Quad-City Times (https://bit.ly/2jcgCTM ) reports the boarding school component will be added by Aug. 1. Russell Construction has been hired to renovate what was the carriage house at the former Bettendorf family mansion, 1821 Sunset Drive.

The boarders will be students who come to the Quad-Cities from countries such as Japan, China and Saudi Arabia.

Roach attended boarding school as a young man and has worked at boarding schools in other states. In addition, the school’s new admissions director has experience in attracting international students to schools in the U.S., according to Melissa Sears, president of Rivermont’s board of trustees.

Private schools that are successful right now are day schools with a boarding component, Sears said. She said it’s the right direction for Rivermont, both financially and for the school environment.

A boarding school might be unusual in the Quad-Cities but the option is becoming more commonplace in the Midwest and around the country.

“It appears there’s an increasing interest in international enrollment, in existing boarding schools and also in day schools in our membership,” Claudia Daggett said.

Daggett is president of the Independent Schools Association of the Central States, in Chicago.

Daggett said of the 235 members of the association, 29 of them have boarders. The boarders range from just a few students in a school to schools that board all students.

There’s also a financial incentive. According to Roach, students who are boarded at Rivermont will pay about $40,000 per year for room and board.

Roach said it costs Rivermont $19,000 a year to educate each of its 200 day students, and a majority of them get tuition assistance.

Sears said Rivermont has always had international students and expanding the international base will benefit everyone, including the wider community.

It’s also directly in line with the Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce’s Q2030 initiative. The regional plan announced last summer is designed to grow jobs, investments and economic opportunity for all by encouraging the region to think and act in cool, creative, connected and prosperous ways.

“Everything we do here matches Q2030, point for point,” Roach said.

Bettendorf Mayor Bob Gallagher salutes Rivermont and what it is working to achieve.

“They have done an excellent job of preparing young people for college,” he said.

Gallagher said Roach has brought renewed energy to Bettendorf.

“Rivermont is a great option for education in our area,” he said. “If we are lucky to attract students from other parts of the world, we can’t help but benefit.”

Sears said Roach was attracted to Rivermont by a national search firm, and after a school committee went through dozens of applications.

Max’s personality and experience really stood out,” she said. “He has lots of ideas, but is also respectful of the thoughts and opinions of the board.”

For his part, Roach enjoys the Rivermont students and calls the community “fantastic,” with warm, genuine people.

The headmaster, 40, started his career in Salt Lake City, Utah, teaching first grade in a public school. After six years he became a learning specialist at Wasatch Academy, a private school in Mount Pleasant, Utah.

From Wasatch, Roach moved to Darlington School in Rome, Georgia, where he was in charge of a 500-student division. That included 300 day students and 200 boarders representing 40 countries and 20 states.

Wasatch and Darlington are “solid college preparatory schools,” like Rivermont. He was upper division director at Darlington for three years.

As a person who grew up in the mountains, Roach finds the Quad-Cities to be beautiful. His office at Rivermont has a sweeping view of downtown Bettendorf and the Mississippi River.

He lives in Moline with his wife, four children, a Chinese student who attends Rivermont and seven St. Bernard dogs.

Rivermont Collegiate was organized in 1884 in Davenport as St. Katharine’s School, an Episcopal boarding and day school for girls. It was 49 years ago in 1968 when St. Katharine’s closed the boarding school, became co-educational and added St. Mark’s to its name. It purchased the Bettendorf location in 1973.

The former Bettendorf family mansion had a carriage house that served as a garage and servants’ quarters. It was renovated to be a preschool and kindergarten area for several years and more recently, classroom and storage space.

In December, students and their parents volunteered to clear out the structure.

Roach is excited to show the plans, which are for a total of 16 to 17 beds in rooms of varying sizes. There is space for two faculty apartments. The “dorm parent” apartments are large enough for a family, he said, sketching out a scenario with a child who attends Rivermont, a parent who is on the faculty and a parent who oversees the dorm.

In the beginning, the dorm will be for boys, but Roach envisions it being a girls’ dorm in a few years.

He has several other ideas for Rivermont. For example, the campus is rather hidden in Bettendorf and many people don’t see it quickly or easily. Roach vows to change the signage by the school, off 18th Street and on the river bluff.

Right now, Rivermont has 40 high school students but its projected 45 new students will eventually enroll. He hopes 10 to 15 international students will begin this August.

Current high school international students are from Sweden, Russia, China and Saudi Arabia.

“It’s not necessarily a reach for us to attract more of them,” Roach said.

___

Information from: Quad-City Times, https://www.qctimes.com

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