Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Establishing Messianic Day School: Cajun's Responsum

[The following was written by Cajun as a Responsum]

Shayla: How would you establish a messianic day school?


It must begin with a congregation
As the principle teaching elder in our congregation I have often spoken the difference between “cultural Christianity” and what we refer to as Adonaism (what many of our brothers and sisters refer to as “Messianism” or “Hebrew Roots”). Our church had three principle advantages in evolving from cultural Christianity to where it is now.
1.    It was a young church.
2.    It was a non-denominational church from the start.
3.    There was a strong, core group that was completely dedicated to doing things biblically.
We began looking to the Scriptures not only as a source of dogma but as a source of culture. We did it quietly and without fanfare. Over a period of years the church began to take on more and more of a “messianic” culture until at this point that culture is clearly and openly predominant in the minds of our congregation. Let me explain how this is relevant to the question at hand.
First, most American Christians hold a strong bias against the fundamental underpinnings of messianism. They do so out of ignorance but it remains an issue nevertheless. Most messianic congregations and teachers out there on the net have not helped much. They’re theology fluctuates wildly and is largely characterized by equal portions of abysmally poor theology and petty squabbling over the role of Gentiles and Hebrew people. What a waste!
Second, though our school operates independently of the church, we believe that every aspect of our lives should be subject to our spiritual leadership and this would certainly include a religious school! Besides we have found that to a great degree, the church feeds the school and the school feeds the church. It would be very difficult to move toward messianism in the school if the congregation were not already there more or less.

It can begin with homeschooling
My wife and I were homeschooling our own kids when another family asked us to help with theirs. Then another family asked and the next thing you know we were teaching thirty kids. We never pushed Adonaism on any family. We deliberately worked to ensure that It did not become a source of contention.
For instance, we deliberately followed the public school calendar so as to minimize the shock for parents who were transferring their kids to our school. To further simplify things we even told them, “If the public school cancels for snow, we cancel for snow too.”
We began with Pesach’. Most mainline denominations observe Easter and as part of that observance have at least taught something about the Last Supper and Passover. So it was the most familiar and the least threatening. We then observed Purim. With the costume party, Bible story and candy it was an easy sell. Sukkot came next. Again, the kids built a giant booth, we had an outdoor picnic with bonfires, a Bible story and football so it was not so strange. Every morning I had devotions with the kids and gave them a healthy dose of Old Covenant stories balanced by New Covenant interpretations. I taught them what differentiated the tzaddikim from the rashaim. There’s a strong social service theme (Isaiah 58 comes up often) that a lot of the parents appreciated.
At this point the children enjoy Purim, Pesach, Shavuot, Yom Teruah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Hanukkah. They look forward to the Feasts and actually brag about them to their friends who still go to the public schools.
This describes how we quietly and peacefully transitioned to an Adonaic community, including our congregation, our school and individual families in the greater community. Let me move to the pragmatic aspects of establishing a private, religious school. My wife and I had the double advantage of having not only attended private Christian schools in our youth, but of also having been teachers in private schools. The following advice assumes that you don’t necessarily have those same qualifications.

Develop a vision
Are you sure this is God’s will? What kind of school is it you want? What grades? Do you want to form an entirely private, college prep school or will it be a parochial school? Ask teachers and parents what they feel is the area’s need. What will be the school’s mission? What qualifications will you require for admission? How about graduation? What will the academic standards be?

Ask questions
Buy books. Search the net. Visit private schools. See what works and what doesn’t. Steal ideas shamelessly.

Form a team
Who else has this vision? Who has the skills you need? Surround yourself with like-minded people who can see around the corners you can’t see.

Do the legal tap dance
Talk to a lawyer about the legal hoops that must be given due diligence. Do you need to incorporate? Will you be non-profit? What are the state’s regulations on starting a private school?

Sketch out the way ahead
Develop a plan. Lay out the path ahead. Determine how much time it will take to get a place, choose curriculum, develop a student base and open up. How will you finance the school? Who will be the teachers?

Build a budget.
How much money will you need? At first you just need a ballpark figure. As you get closer to getting financing, you’ll need more and more accurate figures. What will the facilities cost? What will curriculum cost? What about licensing? Insurance? What will be the teacher’s salaries? Where will you get your seed capital? Will you get any donations from area businesses or churches? Be conservative on income and extravagant on the outgo. Determine what you’ll have to charge for tuition to cover salaries and overhead.

Get tax exempt
Apply for the tax exempt status. Give yourself 2 years to make this happen. Do this first so that any expenses incurred along the way can be financed by tax deductible contributions.

Secure funding
Whether you are funded by your own private multi-millionaire or by subscriptions, start building the funds you’ll need to make it all happen.

Choose a facility
Can you use an existing facility? Will you have to build? Do you want to be in town or in the country? Keep future growth in mind. Make sure it can pass all the local fire, safety, handicap access and hazardous materials codes.

Fill the building
Where will you get chairs and desks? What will your technology needs be? What about a library? What will you do for gym?

Develop your policies
As you visit other schools, get a copy of their handbooks and policies. Start putting together your own.

Start head hunting
Who will be the principal? Start looking for the teachers, the helpers, the janitors, the kitchen staff, the coaches and the secretaries. While you’re at it, start looking for volunteers. Determine what skills will be needed. Find quality people and sell them on the vision. Of course offering good pay and benefits helps too.

Design your paperwork
Design application forms, entrance exams, hall passes, class outing waivers etc.

Give interviews on the radio. Submit letters to the editor. Develop promotional flyers and brochures and arrange to have them distributed. Get realtors to mention the new school to people moving to the community. Post bulletin inserts in local churches. Seek out area pastors and sell them on the concept. Consider a community drive to promote the school in local stores and churches. Slowly build the pace over the course of about two years. Build a slick website and cross link it everywhere! For heaven’s sake at the very least talk about it around the water cooler!

Sign-em up
The spring before you open start signing up students and answering phone calls at the new offices. Offer diagnostic testing to determine what holes they might have to fill in order to better succeed. See if some of the teachers you’ve hired are willing to do summer tutoring to prepare the students for a successful first year in their new school. Start ordering school materials.

Orient the parents
Have a dedication service and combine it with a parent orientation. Explain the philosophy, principles and policies of your school. Make sure you invite the local news people and area bigwigs. Sell your school’s distinctives.

Train train train!
Review the staff handbook. Teach your people what to do if a tornado comes through. Show them where the fire extinguishers are. Develop plans to deal with recalcitrant children. Make sure they know where the bathrooms are. How will you greet kids? Where will the bus park? Where will parents drop off their kids? Start teaching the teachers at least a month before you have your first classes.

Start Teaching
Welcome everyone and start making a difference.

Be sure that something will go wrong – you’ll probably have forgotten something. But that’s okay. Adapt and overcome.

1 comment: