One of the great privileges of being a CACE Fellow is the opportunity to work shoulder to shoulder with other Christian schools to improve Christian schooling. When I graduated from Covenant College in 1989, I was ready to dive in head first teaching middle school math, coaching soccer and basketball and directing the athletic program at a small, struggling Christian school in the northwest Chicago suburbs. I quickly realized I needed help and college hadn’t prepared me for everything I needed to know. Feeling desperate, I decided to try and find experienced educators and coaches near me to help backfill the areas where I was already falling in the ditch.
As a brand new coach and athletic director there were days I didn’t even know where to start so I decided I needed to call someone who had figured out how to build a program and navigate all the minefields. It just so happened that 30 minutes southwest of our school was a Christian school that had done just that. Aurora Christian School (ACS) was thriving and its athletic programs, particularly boys basketball, were in the midst of widespread success. I mustered up the courage and called Don Davidson, athletic director and head boys basketball coach at ACS. I figured he wouldn’t have time for me and when I got his voicemail on that first call, I hung up muttering something about self fulfilling prophesy. To my surprise and profound gratitude, he called me back right away. Over the next few years he answered my questions, scheduled all our teams and displayed incredibly gracious sportsmanship considering we were significantly overmatched in almost every contest. Most of what I learned about leading an athletic program, I learned from Don.
Fast forward 27 years and Parkview Christian Academy (PCA) is a CACE school and I am in board meeting there to help them make their school improvement plan a living roadmap for school growth. Sitting across the table in his role as a board member, teacher, athletic director and coach was none other than Don Davidson. He had long retired from ACS but was evidently passionate about the work God was doing at PCA. In a time when many of his colleagues had hung up their lesson plans and whistles and quit driving busses to games and practices, he was back serving unselfishly again for God’s glory in a Christian school with great potential and growing opportunity. I couldn’t help but think what a testimony of God’s steadfast love was sitting across the table from me. He didn’t need to do this but he did it because he still believed God had clearly called him to Christian schooling. Here was, evidence of what God can do through the people who have answered His call.
PCA had struggled for a few years and had a relatively short history overall. The board was small in number but incredibly committed to doing the right things, the right way. They knew how to govern and counted on their head of school to lead and manage school operations. They remain one of the most enjoyable, supportive, and gifted boards I have ever worked with. They believed (and still do) in distinctively Christian education and were extraordinarily grateful to have CACE come alongside them. They had a new administrator, Deborah Benson who had just led them through CSI accreditation and a deeply invested faculty and staff, who gave sacrificially in every way possible.
Deborah describes the situation at PCA:
“PCA had been borrowing from future years, the culture was one of mistrust and confusion, and trouble with the IRS was looming large. After one year of re-structuring and rebuilding trust in the community, Parkview Christian Academy had the privilege of becoming a CACE school. That was the school year 2015-2016.”
PCA had already accomplished much in the prior year. Deborah had taken the head of school position and hit the ground with her feet running. The board plowed through some hard decisions and they accomplished accreditation in less than a year from start of the self study to completion of the site visit. Enrollment was up, but several years of financial stress kept them in a tenuous situation. Faculty needed support and development and was hungry to learn and grow.
Through collaborative discussions at the first two CACE Score Group events, it was determined that PCA needed help in two areas: Strategic Planning and Curriculum Mapping. Deborah recalls these two processes:
“CACE was primarily involved with Strategic Planning and Curriculum Development. Chad Dirkse worked with the board and a strategic planning committee that included board members, faculty and parents, and Dan Beerens worked with teachers to map curriculum – both over a two-year period. Chad and Dan worked both on and off-site to strengthen two very important areas that were lacking. Chad in bringing the board to think strategically, and Dan in teaching teachers to think and record teaching activities in a standards-driven and Biblically integrated format. Both of these involvements were very effective.”
Both the strategic planning efforts and the curriculum mapping work were comprehensive projects the required the board, faculty and staff to dig in with both feet. They responded with energy and enthusiasm and committed wholeheartedly to the work in front of them.
Deborah’s thoughts on the process:
“The PCA board and staff were forced toward authentic consideration of their problems and needs. All angles were considered in attempts to push good decision making.The CACE Fellows have experience in a variety of applications and settings and are not shy to share their experiences and to ask the hard questions that need to be asked. As a result, their presence as objective outsiders allows for a breakdown of subjective walls and pushes a fresh-start approach that is beneficial at all times, but especially in hard times! Based on this experience, I believe that a CACE school can expect to be dealt with honestly, openly, objectively, and with a balanced amount of grace and truth in pushing toward meaningful solutions.”
Much has changed from the first engagement with CACE. Enrollment at PCA has grown, teachers have a clearer direction and united vision for curriculum and instructional practice and the school has acquired an additional facility and land which will serve as the home for its expanding programs for many years to come.
In addition to the value of the onsite consulting, Deborah says this about the CACE Score Group Events:
“In addition to the on-site activities with CACE (mentioned above), the SCORE events were very valuable to me as a school head, and to other school leaders that attended. The topics always provided a lot of information and food for thought – I am personally more effective as a result of the experiences at the SCORE events. In addition – each event gave me access to a wealth of information in specified areas and the environment fostered discussion that invariably taught me things or led me to new ideas. This is true both of the CACE Fellows, and of the other school leaders attending the SCORE events. The events were veritable think tanks. The board and staff at Parkview Christian Academy are very thankful for the involvement of CACE and highly recommend their involvement to others!”
As I think back on our time with PCA and draw upon my early days of calling in Christian schooling when Don Davidson had such a formative influence on my growth and development as a Christian educator, I stand amazed at the grace of God in the big things but also in the small details. It isn’t a cliche’ to say He shows up when we need it most and least expect it. Don’s openness to share his experience and expertise to help mold a young naive teacher and coach was being paid forward as we were helping each other again almost three decades later. We didn’t necessarily anticipate all the value of these encounters but they definitely weren’t accidental either. It really does take a village and we don’t need to look far to find evidence of God’s faithfulness through the people of God.
PCA is a wonderful place, one probably very much like many other schools around the world and their intersection with CACE has changed all for the better. I am so very grateful that Sid and Carol Verdoorn have joined the village of people seeking to grow the influence of Christian schooling through their investment in CACE. This present age and culture needs strengthened Christian schools and their mission, purpose and values.
Let’s continue to work and pray for more stories like these!
Chad Dirkse has served in Christian education for 25 years in roles that include, math and science teacher, coach, athletic director, principal, head of school and board member. He is currently the President of Chattanooga Christian School where he serves more 1,100 students and 130 faculty and staff. Prior to his current position he served as the Superintendent at Westminster Christian School in Elgin, Illinois. Chad has an undergraduate degree in education from Covenant College and and MBA with a specialization in school leadership from LeTourneau University. Chad speaks regularly to groups about the school sustainability and the importance of consistency in the process and content of Christian schooling.