Garth Bierma says he would describe himself as being shy by nature but he’s held leadership positions throughout the Christian education community in Ontario for the last 33 years.
This is one way that this sector has made a difference in his life, Bierma says, noting he was able to grow into these leadership positions and truly enjoy them.
Bierma’s story is not unique. A number of leaders within the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools (OACS) membership say they never set out intending to take on positions of leadership. But then opportunities would arise, along with a clear sense that this was the calling on their lives.
Currently the principal of Listowel Christian School, Bierma began his career in Christian education in 1976 teaching primary grades at a small school in Nova Scotia. Four years later he took on the administrator role at Timothy Christian School in Owen Sound. Fifteen years ago he moved to Listowel.
“For me, that sense of humour was always there, but how it applied in an educational context (is something) I discovered day by day,” says Bierma, noting he made a habit of keeping his eyes open for humorous anecdotes to share with students and staff, as well as other ways to nudge their funny bones.
Looking to the future of Christian education, Bierma, who plans to retire this year, says it is especially heartening to see former students enroll their own children at the school.
That’s always a question, will they make the choice their parents did? But he is seeing this happen at Listowel, noting that as they do, the decisions of these young parents have a ripple effect on their peer groups and within their churches.
Hearing young parents share their excitement about the school is always encouraging as well, he says.
“They are so happy to see in their children the effects of the Christian education they are receiving. That’s something I find personally gratifying but I think it’s also a real testament to the Christian education movement as we move forward.”
The competent educators and school leaders, including parents, who are coming up through the ranks is also cause for great hope for the sector’s future, Bierma says.
As for what’s next for himself, Bierma is anticipating some travel with his wife, as well as continuing with a number of volunteer opportunities.
He also intends to return to his passion and gift for art and hopes to complete some stained-glass work for his church.