Tough Question #3: Collaboration – a Christian responsibility?

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Something that has troubled me in recent years is the degree to which Christian schools collaborate and work together for the greater good. I have become increasingly concerned as the recent North American recession has brought a few things to greater light. Declining enrollment and budget shortfalls (due in some part to the troubled economy) should be encouraging us to work together even more for a common vision of Christian education.  I am deeply saddened when I’ve learned that some schools would rather maintain identity and pride of place than do what is best for families and students, and ultimately, the kingdom. Sometimes this is a parent problem and sometimes a board/administration problem.

A friend was recently telling me about how, due to low numbers, he was unable to offer a particular athletic program. His solution was to check with two other local Christian schools so see if his students could join with their team. The other two schools were fine with students coming over and joining their teams. When my friend offered these options to the parents, some parents were angry and said that their children would never join the other Christian school teams. One can only speculate – did old athletic rivalry mean that much to the parents that they would rather deny their children an opportunity, as opposed to letting them play for that rival Christian school? Aren’t we supposed to be on the same team? The same parents would not have a problem with their children playing on city recreation teams or “traveling” teams, but wouldn’t join another Christian school team! I was incredulous, but my friend insisted he was not making this up.

Perhaps even more dramatic examples occur when schools lose enrollment over a number of years, yet refuse to have their students join with another larger Christian school nearby. They cut programs and opportunities for students, try to sell parents on the personal, small school aspect, but largely end up offering an inferior education and ask enormous sacrifices of their teachers and administrators – low pay, little or no professional development, and heavy workloads. This is not excellence – these schools are bleeding to death, yet refuse to collaborate or close doors.

We are dealing with issues of pride and a lack of stewardship in these situations. Don’t get me wrong; small schools can be vibrant and wonderful places. But if pride of place and identity gets in the way of what is best for kids and the nurturence of their faith,  I believe we are better stewards if we seek to share our resources for the common good rather than prop up something that is not excellent. If we can’t offer our best, it is time to look in the mirror, acknowledge it isn’t working, swallow our pride, and join forces with others to better advance the kingdom.

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4 Comments

Filed under board governance, change, leadership, stewardship

4 responses to “Tough Question #3: Collaboration – a Christian responsibility?

  1. Excellent thoughts, Dan. One thing to remember is, sometimes the very things that make our Christian schools strong (or helped them to survive) also make it difficult to collaborate with the greater community. Christian school supporters generally have deep institutional pride, some come from families who have supported the school for generations, almost all fully commit with their finances, many volunteer and a surprising number lead. Employees also tend to identify just a bit stronger with their own school than with the entire Christian school movement.

    Redirecting commitment from a Christian school to a sense of the greater good for Christian education is quite a process. It takes time, and a whole lot of effort.

    • Bob Van Wieren

      As I read Dan’s comments about collaboration, which I largely agree with, I kept saying,”Yes, but…” One of my “buts” was similar to Vince’s. Vince lived a merger of schools and understands the institutional pride and generational support.

      I lived through the closure of a school also, and an attempted merger. The “but” in this case was the lack of understanding that there was a deep commitment on the part of many parents to bring a Christian education to a community that they believed needed it, even though they could not afford it. There was also a lack of understanding that some parents wanted their children to be nurtured in an atmosphere of ethnic, racial, and economic diversity. So the school was closed, but the parents who wanted their children to continue to learn in a diverse Christian community reopened the school in the same building. Yes, the teachers took a big pay cut, but they too were committed to bringing Christ in education to this diverse community. And the teachers have done a great job of making smaller better–truly so, not just in words. These teachers have found ways to continue to make professional development vibrant so they can provide God’s kids with the best.

      So yes, I agree with Dan that we have to collaborate as Christian schools. But maybe, sometimes, that collaboration has to come in ways that help the “bleeding” school remain open so it can provide a Christ-centered education to communities that otherwise cannot afford one for their children.

  2. Adrian Guldemond

    I think the time has come to encourage a wider discussion on the critical issues raised by Dan. While Bob’s example is relevant, it is a rare ocurrence, at least in Canada. The attitudes described by Dan and Vince are more normal. Perhaps we ought to investigate why our core supporters have such a generous local focus, but have little interest in the big education picture. The mindset is probably not an accident.

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