Schools That Inspire: An Urban Road Less Traveled

Jennifer ThompsonSchools That Inspire, The CACE Roundtable1 Comment

Hope Academy in Minneapolis

God is on the move in Christian education around the world. If that isn’t the most exciting statement that you’ve read lately, I’d like you to go back and read it again, aloud. Then pause and celebrate the good work of Christian educators around the globe.

In recent years, in my role as CEO of Christian Schools International, I have had the opportunity to visit a variety of school campuses. By touring fast-paced urban schools as well as rural schools where enrollment in vocational and skilled trades courses are resurging, I have seen schools deftly respond to the needs of their communities and student populations.

From a school in the desert of Turkana, Kenya that meets under a tree to a school in Michigan where students spend all but about one hour of their day outdoors (including winter months), Christian education is transforming lives. Bold and innovative administrators stepping out faithfully are deeply impacting the community beyond the walls of the school campus. It is that common thread of being faithful to honoring God and experiencing God’s faithfulness in community that is at the heart of thriving and growing schools.

Choosing just one school to highlight is challenging, but journey with me to a school that recently inspired me and challenged my thinking about “business as usual” in Christian schools. Hope Academy, an affordable, diverse, faith-based, classical school serving families in downtown Minneapolis, is doing things just a little differently.

“It is that common thread of being faithful to honoring God and experiencing God’s faithfulness in community that is at the heart of thriving and growing schools.”

How things started

According to Russ Gregg, Co-Founder and Head of School, Hope Academy began 24 years ago when a sermon moved him to do something for God that was a little bit crazy. He and his family had been living in the Phillips neighborhood, driving their children out of the city to school, praying that someone would start a school nearby. As the saying goes, be careful what you pray for.

With no building or teachers or a clear financial plan, Russ pursued a call to love and care for the children in the heart of his city. Russ was faithful to this call, and God was faithful to the school: from a student body of 35 in 2000, Hope has grown to about 550 students and isn’t stopping there—expansion plans are underway.

Inspirational takeaways

I want to highlight three ways we can be inspired by this school. The first is that family income is not an obstacle to enrollment. More than 70% of Hope students are considered low income, making private education typically out of reach.

However, Hope Academy uses a flipped tuition model. A customized tuition plan is created for each individual family. To bridge any gap between family capacity and costs, generous partners are found for most students. This is not an anonymous partnership: these partners meet personally with their sponsored students, including at celebrated partner days throughout the school year. Those relationships help make Hope a model of faithful community.

Hope Academy encourages family commitment and connection. Every student’s family is encouraged (and sometimes required) to engage with the school. Teachers visit the home of every student. Those home visits begin the building of deep relationships between Hope and its families, what they refer to as a “thick community.”

Linking arms with each other, a space emerges for encouraging habits of the heart, making authentic accountability possible. Having built trust with students and parents, Hope has become an anchor in the community.

Hope Academy helps students see opportunities instead of roadblocks. Each student I engaged told me a story of hope. Some were children of refugees, some were the first in their family headed to college, some expressed aspirations of community leadership . . . but all expressed gratitude for their teachers and partners.

It was evident to me that high expectations were set and met, STEM labs were full, students were rushing off to internships. But most importantly, students were meeting Christ.

Hope for us all

My visit to Hope Academy was brief, but I left that building moved and encouraged. I saw love for neighbor in action. I saw the difference that authentic relationships make in the education of children. I saw the importance of connections between partners and students and school and community.

We often get bogged down in roadblocks, thinking things are impossible. What if each of us did something a little bold or even crazy for God? Let’s challenge each other to follow Hope Academy in being a little unusual in how we do Christian education. Be inspired to imagine what’s possible as we faithfully and deeply serve.


  • Jennifer Thompson

    Jennifer Thompson has served in Christian education for almost 25 years from basketball coach to science teacher to head of school. A Vermont native, Jenn has a B.A. in Sociology from Wheaton College and an M.S. in Educational Leadership from Florida International University. She completed the Fellows program at the Van Lunen Center for Executive Management in Christian Schools at Calvin University. In August 2023, Jenn became the Chief Executive Officer of Christian Schools International. Between visiting schools, meeting school leaders, and spending time with her children and grandchildren who live all over the world, Jenn enjoys spending time outdoors.

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