Principal retires after 40 years in the field
After devoting 40 years of his life to supporting and serving the Christian school community Jack Zondag, currently principal of Dundas Calvin Christian School, will be retiring from the field in June.
A guiding text for Zondag has been Philippians one verses five and six, which refers to working with others to spread the Good News. He received that text from his pastor for his profession of faith in the Christian Reformed Church in his teens.
“I have always felt that I was called to be a Christian school teacher and principal because of the partnership in the gospel,” says Zondag. “And that’s been my life.”
Colleague Julius de Jager, principal of Cambridge Christian School, attests to Zondag’s passion for supporting Christian education, in particular Christian school administrators.
“Jack has always had an intense love for Christian education. I think that’s been a very strong motivation in his life,” says de Jager, adding Zondag’s dedication to and support of administrators has been very evident.
“Jack has been a real organization man, trying to articulate and support the role of administrators within his big picture vision of Christian schools. He’s just dedicated a ton of time for all of that.”
Zondag says he knew he wanted to be a teacher from the sixth grade and was encouraged in that aspiration throughout his youth.
On the recommendation of a pastor he attended Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan several years after high school. He fast-tracked through the program and graduated in January of 1968. On Jan. 22 of that same year he began teaching in a public school in Michigan.
Six months later he switched to teaching at Sylvan Christian School in Grand Rapids where he remained for 13 years.
In 1981 he moved his family back to Ontario, where he had grown up, and took on the role of principal at Calvin Memorial Christian School in St. Catharines. Five years later he came to Dundas Calvin Christian School.
In addition to his teaching and leadership roles in various schools, Zondag was involved in the Ontario Christian School Administrators Association (OCSAA). He was chair of the association for two five-year periods, 1987-1992 and 2002-2007.
During his first term with the association Zondag and his colleague Peter Van Huizen developed the concept of the Ontario Christian School Principal’s Certificate program. When Zondag took on the role of chair of the principal’s association in 1987, the certificate program was implemented and is still in effect today in Ontario.
Over the years Zondag has observed a number of changes in the Christian school movement in Ontario.
He has seen parents become very much more involved in the education of their children. In his early teaching years parents tended to take more of an arms-length approach to the schooling of their children, he says.
He also notes that education itself has become much less focused on strict academics. Students today can receive marks for class participation and attitude, says Zondag, which would not have been the case in the days when he attended high school when only test and exam scores counted towards a final grade.
School has also become much more of a social experience, according to the principal. Students are now encouraged to participate in a range of activities beyond academics. They have the opportunity to take part in sports leagues, music programs, and drama activities.
Zondag has observed public education in Ontario become much more politicized. As various political parties have come to power, different aspects of the education system have been emphasized.
“I can’t think of anything more politicized than education,” says Zondag, noting this development is affecting the independent school movement.
He notes the government is restricting any public benefits, however small, Christian school parents might be able to access. As an example of this, he refers to the recent decision by the provincial government to no longer allow elementary independent schools to apply for a federal grant for French instruction.
“There’s been a hardening of the lines and the government is trying very hard to say, ‘You people don’t qualify. You will pay for public education and you will not qualify for a nickel in return.’”
At the same time, public education is receiving increased government funding, which parents must support through their taxes. Zondag has observed that while many low-income families could attend Christian schools at one time, today that is not common.
“They keep being squeezed out,” he says. “Today you have to be middle class in order to send your children to a Christian school. You can’t be a low-income earner anymore.”
Zondag adds this is a great sorrow of his but he sees the potential for Christian school foundations to provide additional support for school budgets and take the edge off tuition.
As for what the future holds for Christian education in Ontario, Zondag says he is encouraged to see Christian schools become more mainstream.
“That’s the hope I have for the schools, that we will not be seen as isolationist, but that we will be seen as part of the community fabric. I think that’s what we have needed to work towards, and it’s something we are successfully doing.”
Arie Vanderstoel worked with Zondag on the Ontario Christian School Administrators Association and is a personal friend.
“Jack Zondag has been a respected servant leader and fearless innovator for the cause of Christian education,” he says. “As well Jack has been a much appreciated mentor to many administrators new to the profession.”
He adds what many of Zondag’s friends and acquaintances would likely echo.
“May God bless you and your wife as you pursue a different venue in God’s kingdom.”