With the announcement from the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools (OACS) Board of Trustees on February 10, 2017 that Ray Hendriks has been appointed as Executive Director of the OACS, as of June 1, 2017, I took the chance to engage Ray in a conversation about the new position, his educational journey up to this point, and what he feels is important for the organization over the next couple of years.
Thanks so much for taking the time for this interview, Ray. A week has passed since you first accepted the position of Executive Director at the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools (OACS). How are you feeling about the decision? Have you been hearing from the community since the announcement?
I thought my email Inbox might break on Friday, when my acceptance of the position was announced! I’ll bet I had at least sixty emails in the first day, from various people in the community who wished to offer their support, blessings, and prayers.
I have a peace about accepting this position, mostly because I strongly feel the call of God into it. I know that my life’s experiences over the years will bring a level of ability to fulfilling the tasks that are required. But I also know that over the years, when I felt most inadequate for the tasks that came forward, God equipped and provided the expertise that was necessary.
To be honest, I am confident in the role primarily because all the necessary expertise is already present at the OACS moving forward. It’s there in the OACS staff, the OACS Board of Trustees, and in our supporting organizations and community. The reason that I feel equipped is that I know that God has equipped the institution, and I am simply the lead player in that.
I’d like to give the community the opportunity to get to know a bit about you, and then to hear about your vision for the OACS in your new role. Perhaps you can start by sharing a bit of your journey in Christian education up to this point.
I started my teaching career in Drayton, Ontario, where I spent four years teaching grades 5/6. In those days, although we were trained to be teachers, there was such a great learning curve once you got into the classroom. That learning curve was extensive for me. I’m not sure who learned more in those first four years—the students, or me!
During my fourth year in Drayton, I got a call from the community in Peterborough to consider applying for the role of principal. I felt completely ill-equipped for the task, just as I had coming out of Calvin College and starting to teach. And yet, I strongly felt the calling of God on us, as a family, to move to Peterborough. The equipping of the Lord came through the people in the community—the Board, the staff, and many others.
I was a principal for 23 years, and during that time we faced a number of significant issues which, in retrospect, served as a training ground for the work that I have been doing at the OACS. We journeyed through celebrations, tragedies, human rights issues, times of incredible growth and also a season of significant decline in enrollment—things that were life forming for me.
Was there something, or someone, that inspired you to teach?
When Doreen and I made the decision to get married and go to Calvin College, my intent was to go into the ministry, and hers was to explore her giftings in the areas of art and music. I thought that my passion for learning and the scriptures would lead me into seminary, but along the way I discovered another love—teaching. Several professors encouraged me to explore that passion, and I’m extremely thankful for their guidance.
I can hear that you’ve been on quite a journey to get to this point. As you take this next step in your journey, I would imagine that the first question on many people’s minds is to know what your vision will be for the OACS. Can you share your vision with us?
When I began to really give consideration to the question, “What do I believe that we as an organization need to be engaged in over the next period of time?”, I realized that there were a number of things that we, as the OACS, need to represent back to our schools and our communities. I have an intense belief that Christian education is a larger movement than any individual school. As an organization centered in Eastern Canada, we have always had a desire for flourishing Christian schools throughout the area that God has entrusted to us—from Thunder Bay to Charlottetown. Wherever there are Christian schools, we are going to do our best to see those schools thrive and flourish
One of our challenges, as an organization, is to stay true to that promise. In order to do that, we have to ensure that the larger vision, the larger worldview that encompasses our Christian schools, is brought forward in a new and refreshing way.
There are three things that encompass my vision as the new Executive Director:
The first part of my vision is to reassert to our community the longstanding values and beliefs that have held true at the OACS over the years, and to perhaps re-frame those in a way that is more relevant for the culture in which we live.
The second part of my vision is, that in a time where there has been lots of discussion around changes to our organizational structures, and as we are looking at the emergence of a new organization, the OACS must continue to develop and provide our services. Being responsible to our member schools, as long as the organization exists, means continuing to serve professionally and innovatively. All of our member schools can rest assured that we will continue to provide a high degree of professional service.
Thirdly, I believe that the above-named discussions have caused some instability in our schools, and also for the OACS staff. I feel called at this time to bring a sense of stability to this place. That, for me, is where I enter this position with the greatest feeling of trepidation. I recognize that it is only in the strength of Christ that it will be possible.
Could you expand briefly on what you mean when you talk about the goal of reasserting our community’s values and beliefs?
When we start to re-frame things according to the culture in which we live, it’s to understand what sets us apart from all other schools in terms of how we see the beautiful narrative that God has given us. We have to ask the question, “How does that continue in the century in which we live?” In order to answer that, we have to understand what our strengths have been up until now. Then, we can re-frame our understanding in a way that’s relevant to the culture in which we live.
For example, one of the contributions that OACS has made in the Christian School movement, together with Edifide and OCSAA, has been a high regard for professionalism. This has set us apart from other Christian, independent school institutions. We develop structures, processes, grids, pension plans, and more to ensure that we have that respect from our people. As we look forward, we need to ask how we are going to continue to do that as an expression of our world and life view.
I also think we’ve heard through thinkers like Jamie Smith and Andy Crouch, as well as others, that there is a need to re-frame our life view into a world and life view that makes sense in the 21st century culture. It’s a big challenge, but I think that it’s imperative as we begin to move forward to understand how that lives—in our curriculum, our school programs, our governance models, our financial structures, and in our relationships. I see those as important challenges as we move forward.
With discussions happening about some pretty big organizational changes underway, why do you think the OACS hired a new ED at this time?
It makes sense in the context that if a new organization arises, or if there needs to be a new leader at the OACS—whichever way the current discussions work out—there will need to be someone in leadership who is willing to step out of the way. I’m at the time in my career that allows for this to happen. Whether that’s two or three years down the road, I’m prepared to step away to allow for a new leader to emerge in a re-imagined organization, or in a new organization, as if forms.
Thanks again for taking the time, Ray, to share your thoughts about your changing role at the OACS, and the changes afoot in Christian education. Are there any final thoughts you’d like to share?
I’m deeply honored by the trust that has been given to me by the OACS board, staff, and community. I think that the discussions going on throughout the province will find a firm footing in the will of God, and I’m excited to be able to be present in the midst of such an important time in the Christian school movement.