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Greater sense of public good key to schools’ future

Written on April 24th, 2012

When imagining the future of Christian schools, having them as an integrated part of the province’s educational landscape and being confident in their contributions to the public good are keys, says Gary VanArragon.

VanArragon is responding to an OACS News series asking people in the movement to imagine Ontario Christian schools being exceedingly well-known and loved for their contributions.

Part of the picture VanArragon sees is that schools are considered a normal part of the educational environment and not thought of by the public or community as “ethnic denominational enclaves.”

Rather than people thinking Christian schools are safe fortresses for children where only good things would happen, the doors are open to the public for “the fresh breezes of public scrutiny” to blow through, he says.

When leadership sees the school’s value, the school is integrated into the broader community and people from different faith backgrounds and walks of life are welcomed.

“We just have to imagine ourselves as fully capable, fully competent, valuable assets to our communities and therefore we just need to say we are really good and this is what we can offer to the community,” he says.

“People would be confident in the fact that their schools are very good schools and that they deserve the positive reputation that they have,” says the OACS consultant for secondary schools.

This is already happening to a significant degree in the schools, he tells the OACS News, especially where the school leadership — boards, principals and leading community members — are visionary.

But sometimes schools may feel defensive about their belonging and contributions, he notes. For example, a school may not think it has all the resources that the public school down the street has, yet in reality some Christian schools are better equipped.

He says he talks to principals about thinking of their schools in terms of its presence being a gift to their community, and being open to having people from diverse backgrounds interested in excellence education take a look.

VanArragon says Christian schools and colleagues in the public and Catholic school structures would mutually benefit from conversations about excellent education.

“Coming out of the confidence we would also be prepared to engage the public system in conversations about excellent education, and that engagement would be an engagement of equals,” says VanArragon.

He says OACS schools have a strong sense of community and care for children, which people can learn from.

Some OACS schools have been looking to learn from other kinds of schools, such as developing relationships with High Tech High in San Diego, as well as other independent schools, public schools and Catholic schools.

“What we’re seeing is some significant exploratory steps,” says VanArragon, noting there’s acknowledgement of the benefits to connect with other education communities.

“I think the future of Christian schools in the province of Ontario is very bright,” says VanArragon.

“If we just confidently presented ourselves we would discover, maybe sometimes to our surprise, that there are lots of people in this province that are interested in faith-based education because of the richness of its context,” he says.