Future of Christian education in limbo

Starting a new school, home-schooling among the options

Posted: Friday, March 10, 2006

In ways it was like a church service, but instead of listening to a sermon or singing hymns, the people who gathered at Auke Bay Bible Church on Thursday night were praying for the future of Christian education in Juneau.

More than 70 parents, teachers and children gathered Thursday to discuss their options after Juneau Christian School announced earlier this week that it would be closing at the end of the school year. School administrators sent a letter to parents over the weekend informing them that the Juneau Christian Center would be refocusing its ministry in a new direction. There are 93 students, ranging from kindergarten to eighth grade, attending the school this year.

"We find ourselves at a time and place for which most of us are unprepared," said Pat Shire, who began the meeting with an opening prayer.

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Several teachers from the school organized the meeting to discuss what options the parents, students and teachers have this fall.

"I'm really interested in starting another Christian school in Juneau," said Heidi Boucher, a fifth and sixth-grade teacher. "I think it's a viable option and I think it's an important thing for this town to have. A town our size should be able to support Christian education. But we're here tonight mainly to listen to what the parents have to say, to see what their feedback is and where they want to go."

Boucher, who has a daughter at the school, said she was taken by surprise when the school announced it would be closing its door.

"I was crying. I was devastated," she said. "I never thought it would happen. I never thought the school would close, so I was just devastated."

People at the meeting discussed three main options: Open a new school, have one church or denomination start or take over the school, or home-school children.

"I don't see any reason why we can't actually continue as we are," said Thom Buzard, who has two children attending the school. "We have the parental involvement. We have the students. We have the teachers. We have the furniture and the education tools that are required. All we need is a place to do it."

A number of denominations were discussed as candidates to take over the school. Parishioners of Auke Bay Bible Church, Chapel by the Lake, and Valley Chapel discussed their facilities and whether they would have space for classrooms. Splitting the grades among different churches also was discussed.

The brainstorming session introduced possible roadblocks in setting up a new Christian school, including insurance, accreditation, salaries and facilities. Salaries are also an issue, although they appeared to be less of a concern for the teachers than actually being able to teach. The starting salary for a teacher at Juneau Christian School is $21,000 and does not include health insurance or retirement.

"The worst-case scenario for me is if we didn't have any options, if we didn't have any alternatives for parents who are interested in Christian education," Boucher said. "I'll do whatever it takes to help the parents have an option for Christian education in this town."

The group created three committees at Thursday's meeting - one to work on locations, one to focus on finances and the other to look at curriculum.

They also discussed home school co-ops, what some said was the most realistic option other than public schools for the displaced students in the fall. A home-school private tutor discussed the program she runs out of her house for multiple children, with the help of an accredited home school.

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Nickie Linder, the principal and sole teacher at Juneau 7th Day Adventist Christian School, said she is teaching six children this year but that the school can hold approximately 32 students in the fall if needed.

"If we have enough committed registration for next year we can hire a second teacher. Our facility will hold two classrooms," Linder said.

She said she is concerned about the future of Christian education in Juneau.

"Regardless of what denomination we are, we know that this is a mission and it's a part of our community," Linder said. "It's a way we serve. It's a way we touch boys and girls for God's glory."

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