It’s a different world than it was five to six decades ago when many Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools (OACS) member schools were formed, and the new reality calls for a new response to the challenges of independent Christian education.
This was the core message of OACS executive director Hugo Marcus’ keynote presentation at the organization’s governance conference and annual general meeting Nov. 6.
Marcus says his greatest hope is that the presentation’s focus on seven top challenges he sees for Christian schools will inspire a fresh perspective around responding to those issues.
“These challenges aren’t new. But the environment we find ourselves in is new, and so then the discussions we have and the answers we find have to be new,” Marcus tells OACS News, emphasizing, as he did in his presentation, that in framing a different approach it’s also crucial to draw on the strengths of the past.
Marcus crafted much of his presentation around socialist Jean Jaures’ quote that people need to “take from the altar of the past, the flame, not the ashes.” He noted that the OACS has a “legacy as an organization that does and should influence our future focus.”
For each of the identified challenges, Marcus highlighted what he sees as the “flame” of past endeavours and then unpacked the issue, as well as what he believes is needed for the future.
In speaking about the curriculum challenge of today’s OACS schools, Marcus said it’s becoming clear curriculum needs to be created and delivered in a “learning/teaching culture that is increasingly technologically driven and that abhors or minimizes the need for standards.”
He also referred to the loyalty challenge, suggesting that schools return to “viewing ourselves as a movement rather than institutions with an organization of support for the Christian school.”
Reflecting on the governance challenge, Marcus said there is a need for leaders that are “excite-able, heart-touchers, who pass on passion and commitment … who say, ‘Take this job and love it.’”
Frank Weyer, who attended as a delegate for Quinte Christian High School, says he agrees with Marcus’ call for a new approach.
“We need to go beyond ourselves and let God show Himself through what He is leading us to do. Sometimes we don’t wish to extend ourselves into discomfort or unfamiliar territory, but God led many of His Bible characters through difficult times so that His will was done. We need to do that in our schools, to take chances and risks,” says Weyer, admitting that as treasurer for the school board perhaps risk-taking is the last thing he should be thinking about.
“However, I feel that if we are to succeed in bringing Christian education to the greater community we need to step up and do things differently,” he says. He notes the school is already stepping out in one way as the board considers how and if to join the Ontario Power Generation microFIT program, which offers a stipend for sites that provide solar power to the provincial hydro grid.
Lori Apoll, secretary to the board at Strathroy Community Christian School, says she has been inspired to think differently as well, particularly in terms of the role of technology in the future.
“I don’t know that we can do anything differently in the immediate future,” she adds, noting the big challenge is around implementing specific suggestions for changes, especially if there’s a cost involved.
She points out, for instance, that while schools are encouraged to consider how they can make the most of technology to align with the changing realities of the student population where essentially everyone has the Internet in their back pockets, many schools are at the same time grappling with increasing financial constraints.
Apoll agrees creativity is required to deal with these issues.
She adds the presentation and discussions which took place afterwards have certainly given her much to reflect on, which is valuable in itself.
“I think it’s good, just to look at things with a different set of eyes,” she says.
— More to Come