As Christian school educators, students and parents in Ontario settle into a new school year, changes to the sector’s broader organizations as discussed over the past few years are taking effect.
In June 2017, stakeholders in Ontario’s three Christian school organizations – the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools, Edifide and the Ontario Christian School Administrators Association – voted to dissolve the existing organizations and see a new, collaborative organization form (Edifide still exists to serve human resources issues; see CC’s July 31, 2017 article for background). In March of this year, Deani Van Pelt was named as the president for this new organization, which officially opened August 1, 2018.
The new organization is named Edvance Christian Schools Association, a play on the verb “advance” that speaks to its mission – promoting excellence in Christian education and leadership. Externally, Edvance is looking to be a collective voice for independent Christian schools in Ontario.
Van Pelt is a senior fellow at both Cardus and the Fraser Institute, and the former director of teacher education at Redeemer University College. Five weeks into her new role with Edvance, Van Pelt discussed what’s happening now and what’s on the horizon for this organization. The following is an edited and condensed version of that interview.
Christian Courier: Why did you want to be involved with leading Edvance?
Van Pelt: Edvance’s search committee cast a compelling vision. They were talking about bringing a wide sector of independent Christian schools together into collaboration, gathering and aligning around shared issues and ideas.
CC: Under Edvance services the following are listed: school leadership, learning, advocacy, best practices and policy manuals, financial services, and affiliate benefits. How were those services selected?
Van Pelt: We’ve focused on three main areas. First, on supporting the leadership capacity of the schools. Secondly, on the schools themselves – the way they are managed, operate, and helping to build and buttress the systems internally. And thirdly, on the education that is offered.
There are a variety of definitions of what Christian education can look like, ought to look like, might look like in our times, and Edvance exists to serve the different local visions for Christian education.
CC: Curriculum resources are absent from the services. When educators inquire about Christian curriculum resources, where are they directed?
Van Pelt: Edvance understands there are many visions for Christian education [. . .] and that means there are many options for excellent curricula, so Edvance won’t necessarily be producing specific sets of curriculum but rather will be helping schools to identify where they are heading with their learning goals. We do have opportunities for teachers’ professional development; for example, our upcoming convention will feature the latest brain research on how learning occurs, so that kind of transcends any particular preferred curriculum.
CC: When provincial changes are made, like Doug Ford’s recent shift back to parts of the 1998 sex ed curriculum, will Edvance be involved?
Van Pelt: Edvance will be very involved in government advocacy, government relations and public relations. We already convened heads of independent school associations last week in Hamilton from across the province from different sectors – for example, representatives from independent Muslim schools, Jewish schools, Seventh Day Adventists, independent Catholic schools and a wide variety of other independent school associations. We convened to identify what some of the issues are that we all similarly face in the independent school sector in this province, and also to recognize that the government has initiated education reform consultations and [to look at] how will we engage those consultations. We will be engaging with our own sector of Christian schools on what issues we should be highlighting.
CC: Can you share more about that recent conversation and what issues did arise?
Van Pelt: We identified 11 issues that we have in common and we will be preparing white labeled issues briefings on each of those. The independent schools and their associations across the province will take those briefings, adapt them as they see fit, put them on their own letterhead, write them up in their own way and participate in their own way with the education reform consultations. We’re inviting other independent schools in our sector to use the results of our collaboration last week in the way that best fits their school and their vision.
CC: What do you find most exciting about having that conversation amongst the broader sector?
Van Pelt: I’ve been absolutely delighted at the interest that Edvance has stimulated. We have received so many phone calls since our doors opened, inquiries, interest in what we are up to. It is almost as though we are tapping into a pent-up desire for Christian education to be all it can be, to be more than it is, to contribute, to have a larger public presence. It really excites me to hear that desire reflected across the province by not only heads of schools but also a number of other stakeholders within the sector.
CC: What’s your vision for Edvance?
Van Pelt: I’m dedicated to excellence in independent and Christian schooling. To be positioned at this moment and in this place seems to be a beautiful fit of the passion, the energies, the opportunities, the expertise that we have in this province at this time. Working within this incredibly vibrant community is one of the most animated callings I can imagine.