The critical turning point Paul Marcus sees independent, faith-based schools facing today is an opportunity to be much more than just learning institutions, but faith communities.
The Orangeville Christian School (OCS) principal cites a shift in student demographics as partly responsible for this; families choosing OCS and other members of the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools (OACS) are coming from a much more diverse faith perspective and worldview than they ever did. Some have no church connection whatsoever.
There’s also a shift in education expectations within society at large, Marcus suggests.
People are expecting schools to do more in terms of building community and teaching values.
This may be linked in part to post-modern thinking where people are realizing truths aren’t as empirical as they once thought they were, that truths are constructed within communities and through communities, Marcus says.
“Some of what they’ve tried to push out of the public sector and public schools is starting to creep back in as something that’s missing,” he says. “So perhaps it’s just a longing, people wanting more, spiritually and otherwise.”
OCS’s response to these shifts in expectation and opportunity has been slow, according to the principal.
Part of the response entails teachers in the classroom realizing they have to change how they approach certain subjects — not assuming students have a certain biblical knowledge, for example.
There is also thinking and conversation underway around being more intentional in creating community, or at least giving people the opportunity to get together in different ways, — aside from joining committees or fundraisers.
Marcus admits this is something the school continues to struggle with.
His new commitment, he adds, is to try and get less involved, which, in large part, runs contrary to how he has tended to operate in years past.
Inspired recently by community advocate and author Peter Block, Marcus says he realizes he needs to step back and invite the community to take ownership of the school and the opportunities to create it as they imagine it.
He admits this is unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory for him, but he’s becoming more and more convinced of Peter Block’s rationale.
While it’s a challenge — “It means I have to become something different, and maybe everybody isn’t on board with that either” — Marcus adds there’s also a sense of anticipation and excitement coming with this willingness to invite people to see new possibilities, share their gifts and take ownership.