by Ed Noot, SCSBC Executive Director ◊
A Changing Landscape
A decade ago, many British Columbia schools were plagued with declining enrollment, challenging budgets and low morale. Economic factors and an extended pattern of declining student numbers in the province were contributing factors.
How the landscape has changed. While a few schools still struggle with declining enrollment, for the clear majority of SCSBC member schools the dominant narrative is one of full classrooms, waiting lists and teacher shortages.
Capacity and Crow’s Nest
The latest provincial data indicates that we are entering an extended period of an expanding student population in the province of British Columbia, with birth rate and overall population increases (see figures 1 and 2 on page 2). An expanding student base, a stable economy and the strong desire of many BC parents to prioritize Christian education for their children paints a promising picture for SCSBC schools.
In the context of a changing landscape, school boards are reminded that one of their key responsibilities is to seek a long-term perspective, gaining “the big picture” like the lookout in the crow’s nest of a sailing ship. As you position yourself to see the big picture, you can begin to look ahead to scan the horizon for potential opportunities and threats. Of course, we can never accurately predict the future, with factors such as the economy being particularly volatile, but key indicators point to decade of ongoing high demand for seats in Christian schools.
Each school board will have to analyze various scenarios regarding capacity at their school considering potential demand. How will your school respond?
While a ship is designed to sail the open seas, there are times when the vessel needs to pull into the safety of the harbour. The crew needs to replenish supplies or make repairs. Without attention to these details, the ship cannot fulfill its duties. However, no ship is designed and built to stay perpetually in the harbour. Ships are designed to sail the seas.
Most Christian schools have mission statements that indicate they seek to offer Christian education for parents who desire it for their children. When our founders started our schools, they were often struggling for enrollment, seeking to reach the critical mass that would allow for sustainability. They probably could never have imagined a time when demand for Christian education would outstrip supply, and yet that is where many of our schools find themselves today. We have been blessed beyond what any of us could have envisioned.
As such, what is our obligation during times of expanding student numbers? Perhaps we need to seek the shelter of harbour for a time to regroup in some respect. We may need to equip our board, re-engage our staff, consolidate or reduce debt, or even re-kindle our vision. Sheltered times in a safe harbour can be critical to allow us to complete our mission and vision. That being said, our mission and vision is not to be in the harbour, but rather to move out from the harbour and sail the seas. We have been blessed by Christian education, and our call is to seek to offer the blessing of Christian education to those who desire it today and for generations to come.
On the sailing ship, the lookout in the crow’s nest would yell, “Land Ho!” when the ship came within sight of land. If our school boards are seeking long term strategic sustainability for our schools, we too need to be scanning the horizons looking for future opportunities – and often those opportunities will include land.
Our school boards need to constantly keep in mind the importance of land with regards to student capacity and long-term sustainability. In some areas, land is readily available and any threat related to land or land acquisition seems remote. In many areas, however, land is an extremely scarce commodity. It is expensive, locked into the ALR or other zoning restrictions, or simply unavailable.
Many schools are finding creative solutions when student demand is high and land availability is low. Schools have formed strategic partnerships with other schools, churches or not-for-profit organizations. Partnerships can range from informal agreements to complete amalgamations. Some schools have bulldozed old facilities and constructed new and expanded space on their existing property. Others have looked to buy or trade with a local school district.
From the vantage of the crow’s nest you will be able to scan the horizon for opportunities that will provide strategic sustainability for your school. Is there land available in your community that you should seek to purchase? Could donors be persuaded to support this purchase with a view to long term sustainability for the school? Is there another Christian school in your community with whom you could collaborate? Is it time to begin to explore this relationship? Is your current site meeting your needs now, and does it have the potential to meet your needs into the future? From a long-term perspective, would a complete rebuild make more sense than another minor renovation? Is there a church or a not-for-profit organization in your community that may appreciate your vision for ministry and be willing to partner with you? Could you build inter-organizational relationships that one day might result in a shared ministry platform?
Boards are encouraged to take the long view, looking five to twenty-five years ahead, seeking to assess opportunities and threats and being on the lookout for creative solutions that will give your school the infrastructure it needs to meet your mission and vision well into the future.