Visions, concerns, and moving forward for High Desert Christian School and Crook County Christian School
This article is the second part in a two-part series on transition at the Prineville Christian schools
With a great deal of emotion, and a lot of differences between two Christian schools, which will open in Crook County in the fall of 2022, both schools recently shared their visions and continuing concerns for the future.
There will apparently be two Christian schools in Prineville to start the 2022-23 school year, following a split between the High Desert Christian Academy and the church that housed them, the Prineville Assembly of God. The HDCA plans to find a new location and the Assembly of God plans to start its own school.
With plenty of emotion, representatives of both entities recently sat down to discuss their visions and continued concerns for the future.
The High Desert Christian Academy (HDCA) recently vacated their venue at the Prineville Assembly of God property after their lease was not renewed. The Church leased the property to the school since 2015. The Assembly of God Church board will be establishing a Christian school, Crook County Christian School (CCCS) at the property in the fall of 2022. HDCA is currently seeking a new location for their school.
Both private schools have a strong desire to provide a sound education for families and their students, and both seek an alternative to public education.
The situation primarily arose when the Assembly of God Church asked the High Desert Christian Academy to vacate by June 30, after talks and mediation did not resolve their differences.
High Desert Christian Academy
Mandi Puckett, a parent of students of HDCA, presented a letter to the Assembly of God Church board in May. She and her husband, Jeremy, wrote the letter as an opportunity for students, parents and staff and concerned citizens to be heard, regarding the future of HDCA. Their request included: not requiring HDCA to vacate the premises by June 30; engaging in mediation services to address any communication breakdown between the two parties; and to keep HDCA intact.
Puckett went on to say, "On May 8, 2022, HDCA Principal Maggie Hale sent an email encouraging parents to attend a May 11 emergency meeting to discuss the future of HDCA. At the May 11 meeting, the HDCA school board chair, Skip Hinton, discussed documents that Aaron Mapes (Prineville Assembly of God Church Pastor and board member), recently sent to the HDCA school board in April. Lexie Koetitz, Aaron's sister, and at the time a HDCA school board member, was in attendance and offered to email attendees his documents."
Jeremy and Mandi Puckett were among the many HDCA parents that felt blindsided by the news delivered at the May 11 emergency meeting. They requested Aaron Mapes' documents.
"We did not understand what was going on, so we read Aaron's documents and asked questions of people involved on both sides, including Aaron and Stephanie Mapes. We hoped to get clarity on what the problem was, so it could be resolved," said Puckett.
The Pucketts authored the letter dated May 16. More than 150 people added their names in support. The 150-plus people who added their names in support of the letter included current and former HDCA students, parents, grandparents, HDCA staff and school board members. Other pastors and concerned citizens in the community also added their names.
Hinton said that since they first learned they would not have the lease renewed, the enrollment was 172, and now the enrollment is 180.
"People are continuing to pre-enroll, and we don't have a facility at this point. They are signing up and registering their children by faith, and these individuals who helped move were moving by faith, and the board is operating by faith. We recognize that we did everything we could to operate within the status quo."
Hinton concluded that he felt the issue was not about money but more about ownership.
Hinton came to Prineville in 2015, and he has had six students enrolled in HDCA. He emphasized that HDCA was born out of the recognition of the need for an alternative to the public school system. He added that he isn't condemning any of the teachers in the public school system and acknowledged that homeschool is an option for many but not all.
Hinton emphasized the importance of a grass roots effort on a personal buy-in of HDCA.
"High Desert Christian Academy exists and was born out of the recognition of the need for an alternative to the public school system."
"School choice is very important, because children are not cookie-cutter, families are not cookie-cutter and culture is not cookie-cutter. So, in the midst of this, we can't really paint with broad strokes, and so having the option in Crook County of choosing another venue than the tradition public school option or homeschool option is significant," Hinton said emphatically.
In relation to a private Christian school, there are not the resources afforded to a public school. There is no government money or a tax base to draw from, and parents must pay the tuition.
"We do it because we recognize that this is an option for us to educate our children in a way that we recognize will safely represent our values to our kids, and we have entrusted the school to come alongside our home and represent us in education. We trust them for that, and parents need that, because some can do very well in a public school and some do great in home school, and some need a Christian school option or some other form of private school."
He went on to say, "School choice is so important, and in order to continue to provide this option for our community, we do recognize that it's going to be God building it, but God often builds things using the labors of people. What we saw in the move was grass roots. What we saw in the providing of storage facilities, that was grass roots, that was on a local, grass roots level with local businesses reaching out and saying, 'We can help.' We need local churches reaching out and saying, 'We want to get on board with this.' Many hands make light work, and we recognize that the more people involved in grass roots, the broader the base of support comes in and the more substantial the buy in."'
Board member Ruben Sanchez indicated that HDCA never wanted a separation of the church from the school building, but they were not comfortable with having Mapes and his board take over the school. He emphasized that they did not deny that there were issues that could be addressed, but desired to work together with their board on those issues.
Sanchez has been on the HDCA board for approximately three years. He also added that they would have liked to talk to the Assembly of God Church board to have conversations.
"I don't want this to leave a bad stain on our community," Sanchez went on to say. "Maybe God wants two Christian schools in this community, and maybe this is how God wants it and God wants it to play out. I hope everybody succeeds in this, I hope Aaron succeeds and I hope this (HDCA) rebounds, and I hope the community doesn't backlash at him (Mapes). I hope the kids don't suffer. That is the one thing that I want to happen — is that we have a place for our kids. That they have somewhere that they can go to and learn about Christ."
Crook County Christian School
The Christian school that is taking enrollment for K-6, and soon taking enrollment for 7-12, is called Crook County Christian School (CCCS). It is a re-establishment of the original school, prior to the founding of HDCA in 2015. Online, it shows purple for school colors, and a shield with a cross for the logo. When they re-established the Crook County Christian School, the First Assembly of God Board chose to keep the colors, which is purple. They did not keep the warrior logo, however.
Prineville Assembly of God Church Pastor Aaron Mapes, and board member, noted that he had a long conversation with Sue Uptain (Gillham), the co-founder of the church's school, which was established in 1994. The color of purple had great significance in a spiritual sense, and the church board felt strongly that the Crook County Christian School should retain the colors, since they were originally designated by the school in 1994.
Mapes said that at CCCS, they can never pay their teachers what they believe they are truly worth, but they need to be able to pay them a living wage to live in Crook County, which is rapidly changing.
"We want them to be able to afford to live in our community," noted Mapes. "That is just a minimum requirement if we are going to be able to keep staff long-term here and provide an environment that works for them. Even if they love the school, if they can't pay their bills, they won't be able to stay."
Mapes added that he and his wife recognize that there is a growing need for a high-quality Christian education — especially in the Central Oregon region.
"We have had a lot of experience the last few years in Christian education, and our kids have done a little bit of everything — homeschool, Christian education, public school. We have done all of it," Mapes said of his own experience as parents of school-age children.
He said that there is a waiting list for many private schools in Central Oregon, and a number of students are traveling to schools outside of Prineville.
"We want to be able to meet that growing need here as well. We have also looked at the need for more early education — daycare and pre-school."
The Prineville Assembly of God Church Board is looking at the need for early childhood education, a high-quality elementary school and secondary program. Mapes indicated that it is their goal is to become the best as an alternative education option in Central Oregon.
In a recent statement by the Prineville Assembly of God Board, they stated, "Over the course of several months, we invested hundreds of hours in research, documentation, and visiting thriving schools in our region and beyond. We also crafted significant vision and strategies to help lay a foundation for a sustainable plan for Christian education in our community that would thrive spiritually and academically to meet the changing cultural needs of students and families for the foreseeable future. Throughout that time, we also attempted to share and discuss that vision with HDCA's board. While we were expressly told it was not desired or necessary, there were few if any questions asked or tangible discussion from HDCA's board regarding the points of that vision nor the concerns shared in those meetings. Despite our continuous attempts, we were consistently met with disinterest, dismissal or statements that what we wanted to accomplish was both difficult, costly and ambitious. We agree! It is a calling that takes an immense amount of time, resources, passion and dedication to vision in order to achieve, and we believe it is worth it for the future of our kids and community."
In the coming year at CCCS, K-6 will be a traditional five-day per week in-class program. A donor will provide salaries for teachers at CCCS to guarantee the operation of the K-6 classrooms. The 7-12 classes will be support programs, which includes tutoring and support, as well as a Bible class, art and leadership. It would be a Monday, Wednesday, Friday program, for parents who are involved with other programs, like Grizzly Mountain Homelink, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The 7-12th grade program will be called the L.E.A.D. program, which stands for Leadership, Excellence, Academics and Discipleship.
They also intend to open a daycare in the fall, depending on licensing, as well as an after-school care from 3-6 p.m. for working and commuting families.
"We are also excited to announce that donors inspired by that vision have stepped forward to come alongside CCCS to help make necessary changes and guarantee all of our programs will be available next year, regardless of enrollment numbers," it was said in a statement from the Assembly of God Board.
"Others have stepped forward to generously donate for scholarships and other needs. We are overwhelmed by God's support through those He continues to inspire and the generosity of those within the community!"
"We want to build a strong early childhood program, we want to build a strong elementary, and we want to build a strong secondary program as we move and are able to move into that sector as well. We also want to build more flexible options, and we have a lot of desire to integrate more and more with the homeschooling community," Mapes added.
It is the Prineville Assembly of God Board's desire to support families who are looking for more options, especially Christian options. It is their hope that in the next five to 10 years, every family in Crook County who wants a private Christian education will have an option available, even if it is not a traditional, in-class five day-per-week program.
Upon opening a full-time secondary program, Mapes indicated that they will pursue ACSI accreditation (Association of Christian Schools International). It requires 80% of teachers to be ACSI accredited, which will also require teachers to have a bachelor's degree. Their goal is to have the school be fully certified in the next three to five years.
"The goal is also to empower our teachers by giving them a working salary, with bonuses and incentives to become certified. They will use Abeka curriculum as the core for K-6th grade," added Mapes.
In moving forward, Mapes also noted that the people who are providing funds for the CCCS, have asked that he stay on as long as necessary to impart vision, but said, "I am a pastor, and I don't want to be a school administrator. We are actively hiring a school administrator. My role will then be to help that administrator really come in and understand the culture and understand the vision so they can operate and do that effectively."
Mapes concluded that there seems to be some misunderstanding that they (the Assembly of God Church Board or church) can judge who is saved or not, or that students must be saved or baptized to attend.
"We have no such requirements. We do ask students and families to agree with the rules and policies of the school, and we expect them to understand the faith statement and how that guides policy as well as what we teach. The emphasis is on discipleship, understanding that evangelism will happen naturally."
Neal Mapes, co-manager of the construction of the Crook County Christian School, commented emphatically that the school, which was built in 1994, was in fact built with minimal help from the community, mainly because the property was church-owned.
"Sue Uptain (Gillham) and I were co-managers of the construction of the school," said Mapes. "I was there from the first load of fill to raise the building until the last of the trim was completed. I was there to help pour the concrete, frame the walls, install the trusses, sheet the building, install metal roofing, wire the building, install the septic transfer tank, install the fire hydrant, etc. I sourced almost all of the material used in construction, saving thousands of dollars in material cost. I was on site almost every day for two years. If anybody knows who built the school, it is myself."
Mapes went on to say that most of the work was done by First Assembly of God members, with a group of the church builder's team of volunteers, who helped frame the walls and install the trusses.
"A parent or two showed up occasionally to help, but in no stretch of imagination did the 'community' build the school. The second phase of construction was built by Merle Kellog, contractor and church member," concluded Mapes.
In conclusion, the Prineville Assembly of God board said, "Our primary focus remains steadfastly committed to the road ahead and the vision to create the highest-quality Christian education in the region, to meet the rapidly growing needs for more childcare and afterschool care and to increase educational options and alternatives for as many families as possible. The demand for private Christian education will continue to grow for the foreseeable future as more and more parents seek opportunities that allow their children to thrive and grow academically and spiritually in a rapidly degrading culture. We have a mission to help meet that need in traditional as well as new, innovative ways. It is our vision and hope in the next three to five years to help every family in Crook County that desires a high-quality, inter-denominational Christian education will have access to it via traditional, homeschoo, or flexible hybrid delivery models."
"We are excited about the future of Christian education in Crook County, and we are excited for the reopening of Crook County Christian School," said Mapes.
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