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High Desert Christian Academy has moved from their leased building, but plan to move forward in a future location, while the Crook County Christian School will begin enrollment in the old location in the fall.

This article is the first in a two-part series on transition of HDCA and CCCS

RAMONA MCCALLISTER - The Prineville Asssembly of God Church is shown to the left, and the buildings behind the school sign were located behind and to the right of the church building.A wall plaque that reads, "This is the school that God built" was recently taken off the wall of the office at High Desert Christian Academy and put in a box with other belongings and furnishings of the school.

The school staff, parents, community members and students packed up the school in three days and put the furnishings in storage. Simultaneously, an ad appeared on Facebook for a Christian school called Crook County Christian School (CCCS). Members of the community began to wonder what to make of these recent events.

Both parties spoke openly with the Central Oregonian of the plans going forward for both High Desert Christian Academy (HDCA) and Crook County Christian School (CCCS).

History of Crook County Christian School and High Desert Christian Academy

Aaron Mapes is the Pastor for the Prineville Assembly of God Church, and a board member of the church. A re-establishment of the Crook County Christian School is under way and will begin classes in the fall of 2022. It falls under the umbrella of the Assembly of God Church, but it will remain "inter-denominational," and Mapes added that "we have a desire to re-establish strong relationships with the churches and pastors of the community."

In a recent statement by the Assembly of God Church board, it said, "Many individuals and parents have asked us for a public statement regarding the future of Crook County Christian School. Some may not be aware, but CCCS was established in 1994 as an inter-denominational ministry of First Assembly of God church to the community. For over 20 years (1994-2015), CCCS provided a high-quality, Christian education alternative to hundreds of students and families. We very strongly believe that the need for such education is greater than ever, and we are excited and committed to see that legacy continue in 2022."

HDCA was initially formed under the Assembly of God Church under their LLC and 501c3 in 1994. In 2015, it was recognized that the structure was not conducive for the school to move forward as an entity within the church. It was a mutual understanding that Crook County needed an alternative to the public school system beyond the homeschool groups.

"It was a difficult decision, but it was a mutual decision for the school to separate itself as an entity from the church," indicated High Desert Christian Academy Board member and pastor for Grace Baptist Church, Skip Hinton. "It was at that period of time that a great relationship was established, even though it was a difficult time and that was when we separated and began to lease (from First Assembly of God)."

In the separation, HDCA maintained their own properties and accounts. Prior to the split, HDCA did not lease the properties, but after 2015, they leased the land/buildings from the church.

"The school buildings were built by community members, not the church. Our school buildings were built by parents and community members," said Loekie Gilday, senior preschool instructor for HDCA.RAMONA MCCALLISTER - The old Sign of the High Desert Christian Academy in the foreground, and the previous school building is located behind, with a large dumpster after the school recently moved all their belongings out of the school.

Questions and Concerns

The Assembly of God Church board continued to say in their recent statement that for months they attempted to dialogue with HDCA, its administration and board to determine if there was compatibility and alignment with future vision as well as expressing deep concerns for necessary changes regarding financial management, low staff wages and high staff turnover, attracting and keeping qualified teachers, academic performance, student behavior and safety, corporate governance and various other systemic concerns.

Hinton commented that when the discussions began with Pastor Mapes, they (the board) began praying about the narrative, and it was their heart's desire to focus on the positives.

"Our heart's desire has always been, these are the facts, and going forward, this is what we are looking forward to, because that really is what faith is and what hope is," said Hinton.

Gilday said that the board and staff have been gracious and cautious in their meetings with Pastor Mapes. She added that during the negotiations, a local pastor provided mediation between Hinton and Mapes. During mediation, they were already seeing advertisements for the new Crook County Christian School. Hinton said the hopes were for conversations between the boards to slow things down and get more people involved. They hoped for 12 months instead of seven weeks.

"Sometimes when you pray, God answers you yes, and sometimes when you pray, God answers you straight up no. Sometimes when you pray, God answers not yet. This was clearly an answer to prayer and the answer was no, so off we go. We took a step of faith when we recognized that the answer was no," said Hinton.

Hinton indicated that March 14 was the first meeting with Mapes on questions, concerns and vision, and he indicated that the picture provided was broad in the intentions going forward.

"He didn't nail down any specifics, he just broad-stroked the whole thing."

Hinton emphasized that the school had worked through a difficult season with COVID, but the school acquired 55 more students after COVID.

"We were growing, and I believe in speaking with community members, they truly liked the idea of a community, non-denominational Christian School, such as HDCA. That is a plus," added Gilday

Hinton went on to say that subsequent conversations with Pastor Mapes provided more information on the intention of establishing an oversight board — with Mapes as the superintendent of the board. The oversight board would be over the top of the present HDCA board and administration as they are set up according to the present bylaws and constitution.

"It was at that point, that we said, we don't need an oversight committee."

He said the board did not feel it was necessary, and they asked for more specifics. On March 18, the HDCA board voted to maintain their current school structure and voted "No" to the oversight committee. April 11, Pastor Mapes presented his questions and concerns in a formal statement and ended with his vision to have HDCA come under the First Assembly of God.

"In order to do that, according to the law, when one 501c3 dissolves, all of the assets have to be donated to another 501c3. There is no distributing amongst the members of the 501c3, so essentially what he was asking us to do was dissolve everything that is HDCA and donate all of that to First Assembly — all of bank accounts, all of our furnishings, our reputations, and our contact information," added Hinton. "We politely said "no thank you."

He said that the HDCA board, however, did request to have the church come alongside them and work with them. Maggie Hale, Principal of HDCA, indicated that she had asked Mapes to work alongside them, and offered a board position to him, which he declined.

Hale said that they implored Mapes and the Assembly of God Board to have one year to look for another building and make plans to move ahead. The lease was not renewed, and the school and staff were given notice on May 6 that they would need to vacate the buildings by June 30.

Hale and Hinton said that they requested to speak with the Assembly of God board multiple times, and they received a letter on May 6 that the board had voted unanimously to continue without renewing their lease and resume control of the buildings. The lease was not an eviction, and it was based on an annual renewal. It was scheduled to expire on June 30. It would need to be renewed at least 30 days before expiration of the previous year's lease.

Mapes indicated that the lease for the High Desert Christian Academy was intended to be temporary, as the original intent of the school becoming separate from the Assembly of God was to find another location for the school. An anonymous donor has provided for the tuition since 2015, when HDCA became an independent school. The lease has remained at $1,000 per month, and the property is under the ownership of Prineville Assembly of God Church.

On May 8, Hinton noted they had a staff meeting with the HDCA board. He said that they felt strongly that they needed to move forward as an independent, autonomous school.

"We exist autonomously and independently so that we cannot be coerced by a governing board that has other opinions that are contrary to the current administration and the board."

In regard to the decision for HDCA to be autonomous, Mapes noted, "We have been in discussion with HDCA for several months about what we feel are our growing needs and necessary changes, and at the end of the day, there was a very clear signal from HDCA that their autonomy was one of the most important considerations to them, but also that they were not in agreement with the vision, and we feel that is OK."

While Mapes said that they (the board) held out hope that HDCA would eventually come alongside the vision, on May 5, they received a final communication to their board letting them know very clearly that they were not in alignment with the vision or the resources and accountability they felt were necessary for the future.

"They indicated their desire to end the discussions, and their answer would remain 'NO' as a final response. In light of this, we feel compelled to continue moving forward with a comprehensive vision plan and the changes required for long-term stability and to meet the increasing community needs. We certainly wish HDCA well in their future endeavors. We are strong proponents for school choice, and we believe there is ample room for multiple schools to serve the diverse needs of a rapidly growing population just like similar communities in our region," he continued.

Hinton emphasized that they are looking at facilities. When they are looking at a building or series of buildings, they envision how to engineer and transform it to serve families and students. Greenbrier Construction and SMAF Construction Environmental donated construction facilities for all of the belongings and holdings of the HDCA.

Hinton emphasized that they have seen miracles in the move from the building.

"In two days, we managed to vacate entirely, 17,000 square feet. There were staff, there were spouses, there were children, there were alumni that were there. The 2022 graduates came back to empty the building. There were community members who were showing up saying, 'How can I help?' People who do not have children and do not have staff. They were just people in the community who said they wanted to support the Christian school."'

"The 31st of May, we had storage to hold 17,000 square feet of school. Within three weeks, storage was done, and in two days of work, the whole place was vacated and cleaned."

Hinton said that friendships were forged during the move out of what could have otherwise been seen as a negative situation.

"I walked away happy to have been a part. It was such a sweet spirit. The staff had the sweet spirit, there was no bickering and squabbling amongst the staff and no bitterness being spewed. If someone tried to say something on the negative, that was kind of squashed. There is a lot of negative emotions deep down, and to deny the negative emotions is to lie to yourself. But to build something upon negative emotions is wrong. We are not denying the hurts and the difficulties of understanding, we are not denying the questions of motive, but we are not building on the negative, we are building on the positives."

Part 2 will address vision of both parties, and plans going forward


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