By Ron Gordon – Renewanation Vice President
In late 2014 and early 2015, Renewanation was engaged to spearhead a Christian school revitalization effort at Smith Mountain Lake Christian Academy (SMLCA). We shared the background of this effort in the Fall 2015 issue of The Renewanation Review. While the path has been challenging and the journey still continues, the impact the changes had on the school have been significant.
While several key elements were identified for improvement, and numerous activities have helped reshape the character and culture of SMLCA, the intentional focus on Vision, Strategy, Execution, and Leadership provided the framework for the successful transition we have been blessed to experience. Recasting a vision for the school with primary emphasis on a Christian worldview and biblical excellence became the litmus test for the new board’s decision-making process. This philosophy permeated every element of the school from selection of faculty and staff to curriculum to extracurricular programs. The hand-picked board, specifically crafted with a diverse background of experiences and skill sets, and aligned around a strong biblical mindset, developed an overall strategy for the transition. A comprehensive and detailed action plan was then generated to ensure the aspirational vision and strategy became a reality. Lastly, the selection of a strong leader to serve as the principal and administrator was critically important to lead and guide the school and community through this transition on a daily basis. Over the course of eight weeks, that person, Lincoln Bryan, mobilized a solid team of like-minded educators, comprised of 75% new faculty and staff, to fulfill the mission of the school.
Ultimately, the shift in leadership and staffing, along with implementing key best practices, was well received by students and parents; however, the initial response was far less supportive. The school had been in existence for seven years prior to this revitalization effort and was viewed internally by families and staff supporting the school as a safe, small school to teach their children. A stagnant culture, a decreasing student body, a struggling financial picture, and a concerning community perspective of the school told a different story. Decisions to adjust key areas such as faculty, leadership, and curriculum were met with obstinate backlash from a school community that had grown quite comfortable with the dysfunction existing in the school. Despite an initial drop in enrollment of nearly 40% from 57 returning students to 35, the board and new school leadership persevered and held to the strategy to essentially relaunch SMLCA around a firm biblical worldview philosophy.
As we prayed fervently, marketed the new SMLCA to the local community, and prayed even more intensely, we began to see an amazing response that can only be explained by God’s blessing in staying true to His precepts. When school reopened in August 2015, only two months removed from the mid-June 2015 low point of 35 students, SMLCA had an additional 58 new students enrolled. As of this writing, the school now has a total of 104 students, an 82% increase from the prior school year and a record high. The financial picture has significantly improved as a result, and the community is beginning to hear about the positive turnaround and strong, viable educational option now available to them in their local community.
Most importantly, the culture of the school is now thriving with a godly, vibrant spirit of energy, enthusiasm, and encouragement. A brief walk down the school hallway provides an immediate sense of purpose. Passionate educators are dedicated to engaging their students at every age to mold minds with a biblical worldview.
Each of the nearly 70 new students that came to SMLCA over the past few months has an incredible and beautiful story of how God worked to lead them to this decision in such a short period of time. These passionate families are reshaping the future of the school as they are committed to SMLCA’s vision of molding minds with a biblical worldview and humbling hearts to the one, true God. The following parent’s story will give you a glimpse of how God has worked to revitalize this school.
“What would it take to get Samantha a Christian education?” Those words from Lincoln Bryan have led us on a wonderful adventure filled with God’s goodness and provision. I loved the thought, but assumed it was for others—not for us; so I let him know that as a single mom, I really couldn’t afford it. He let me know of grants that may make it possible, so I began to pray about it, as did Samantha.
We felt that it was something that God wanted for her, so we made an appointment to visit the school and learn more. On the day of the appointment, we were greeted by a flat tire on our main vehicle. We immediately grabbed the keys to the car that had been sitting for a while and found a dead battery! It was then that I knew it was what God wanted for her. Why else would Satan fight so hard against it? I called to let them know that I wasn’t able to make it, and we started the initial “discovery” on the phone. I then found out that I didn’t qualify for the grant I was hoping for, so Sam’s school was going to cost more. I thanked them for their time and for caring about Sam but felt defeated as I went to the task of letting her know. She was very saddened by it, so I comforted her the best way I knew how. We prayed, and I told her if it was God’s will He would make it happen. I reminded her that “God will make a way when there seems to be no way.” Mr. Bryan let me know that he hadn’t given up yet and was in no way prepared to give up the battle. I then went back to Sam and asked her how much it meant to her. She let me know she truly wanted it and felt it was God’s choice for her, so I promised that maybe not middle school, but by high school I would get her there. But that really wasn’t good enough for either of us. We began to talk about the things we could give up to make it so. The first thing that came to my mind was cable television. It cost a huge chunk of money each month, and I felt it could definitely go, but would a ten-year-old? Much to my surprise, her answer was to give it up! She then went to her room and did the most incredible thing—she brought her piggy bank out and willingly gave up all that she had—roughly $25 in change! At this point, the battle became very real for me.
We had more phone conversations, lots of texts, lots of prayers, and then came the week of our church camp. It was on a Tuesday night that David Gallimore talked about believing God for fruit out of season. The message ripped me apart, and I realized that sending Sam to SMLCA was our fruit out of season. He asked us to lay our biggest, most impossible need at the feet of Jesus. Through my tears, I gave it to Him. I knew at that point that it was no longer my battle; it now belonged to God. This was confirmed to me as the praise team quietly began to play in the background “God Will Make A Way.” But it doesn’t end there. As a single mom, I have always feared failing. The verse I’ve held onto for all these years is Philippians 4:19: “And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Incredibly, that specific verse was the one chosen by the evangelist to speak over the congregation that night. Sam and I continued to pray for “fruit out of season” and even though we still had more obstacles to overcome, we enrolled her in SMLCA.
It is only through God’s grace, the generosity of others, and a very tenacious school administrator that Sam is now at SMLCA and LOVING it! I am so appreciative to all of those that donate their time and money. Without it, this opportunity would NOT be possible for her.
We can see a pattern of how God works, through Sam and her mother, as well as the SMLCA transition team. Following God’s calling will meet with resistance and will require sacrifice. However, when we are obedient in these times, the results will be beautiful and have a significant impact.
At Renewanation, we are striving and praying daily to replicate Sam’s story a million times over across our country. We are currently supporting new school startups and similar revitalization efforts in Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, New York, Virginia, and West Virginia by offering assessment, best practices, strategic planning, coaching, and leadership support. In 2016, we will be expanding both our library of best practices as well as our coaching network. God has given us an enormous calling. Thankfully, we serve a mighty God. We see His hand at work as we obey this calling and partner with Christian schools and churches that understand the critical value and ultimate impact of a biblical worldview education.
Ron Gordon is Vice President of Renewanation, and he brings strong education and executive experience to the cause. Ron holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial and Systems Engineering and an MBA from Virginia Tech. Before joining Renewanation, he spent over 20 years serving in Fortune 500 companies as a change agent and business leader. Ron’s wife, Tonya, is a trained and passionate educator and currently homeschools their twin sons, Caleb and Jacob, and their daughter, Gracie.
This article originally appeared in The Renewanation Review® magazine. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted here by permission of Renewanation. For more information regarding Renewanation, visit renewanation.org.