Gary VanArragon has noticed a few common elements among successful community-focused Christian schools.
Responding to an OACS News series on the future of schools, the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools (OACS) consultant for secondary schools says schools need their finances and governance structures to be nimble, dynamic and competent.
A well-loved response doesn’t happen if a school is on a financial edge, he says, noting schools need to be extremely well-managed.
He says he often reminds schools that people will pay for a good product and sacrifice the price of tuition for their children. There are also other funding sources schools can tap into, he adds.
Visionary leadership among the school’s board, principal and community members is also key, he says, with the leaders being assured of the school’s contributions to the public good.
Being known for excellent education is part of the vision for strong schools, and VanArragon says a focus on continuous learning is important.
He says successful schools have teachers spend a lot of time on professional development through professional learning communities and conversations. Teachers in different disciplines talk with one another on common learning goals, essential questions and unifying themes.
Teachers and school leaders are conversant with up-to-date research on topics such as learning and how learning happens, brain development and pedagogy, VanArragon says.
This is an ongoing process.
“Never will it be ‘we have arrived,’ ” he says. “If we expect our kids to learn our teachers have to learn as well.”
VanArragon points to King’s Christian Collegiate as an example of where teachers are engaged in continuous learning.
Every Friday morning, teachers at the Oakville school meet for an hour and a half of professional development conversations. The school schedule is designed around that block of time to ensure it happens.
Schools with innovative academics include Toronto District Christian High School, which has an emphasis on technology and developing project-based learning, and Woodland Christian High School’s focus on 21st century learning skills.
VanArragon says these are just a few examples, and there are obvious movements toward more innovative learning in many places.
— More to come