Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 

~1 Corinthians 9:24-25




Starting Right Matters.

Are you a track star? Maybe you run for fun. I remember when my daughter started running. She was new to the university (I’ll leave it unnamed) but had never run track before. One fall day, the coach saw her running on campus and knew she was remarkably fast. He confronted her and asked her to consider coming to the field the next day at a specific time. She arrived at the last minute. What she didn’t know was that she would be competing in her first track meet without any preparation. As you can imagine, she did everything wrong. From the block start to the shoes, to the pacing, nothing was right. As she was running far ahead of the pack (in first place, I might add), she collapsed just before the finish line and watched the rest of the competitors pass her by. Of course, the story doesn’t end there. She became a great university competitor, but what she had to learn was how to start the race right.

Rising concerns over cultural issues and new school choice initiatives have sparked a resurgence of interest in starting Christian schools. Today, many are answering the call. They are lined up on the block. Hardly a week passes when I’m NOT talking with someone about starting a Christian school. Like runners in a race, these brave souls are at the starting line and have no idea how to get started the RIGHT way. In my years of leading Christian schools, I have had the joy of helping others start Christian schools, and what I have learned is the lesson of a runner―starting right matters!

Arrive Early and Prepared.

If a runner shows up to a race at the last minute with the wrong attire and shoes, you would not expect them to perform well. Starting a Christian school takes time and preparation. Start-ups should expect to spend approximately 12–18 months of planning and preparation before opening. This includes recruiting and vetting a strong Christ-centered planning team to help guide the development of key documents and processes. I would encourage the planning team to spend much time in prayer and perhaps even fasting over this endeavor before launching into the important planning activities. Preparation starts at the heart level and provides the needed passion and endurance for the race ahead. Step One: Show up early and spend time preparing.

 Focus your Mind.

Take some time to focus on and reflect on the race you are about to enter. Consider why you are doing this and who you hope to impact. In your reflections, focus your thoughts and heart on running toward something exciting and Christ honoring, as opposed to establishing your school as a means of running away from something you dislike. Establish the school’s purpose statements by creating a coherent and powerful mission statement, determining the school’s core values, and developing a statement of faith outlining your biblical foundations and beliefs. Deep, thoughtful conversations need to take place that will lead to the formal development of bylaws, IRS applications, and state dockets, which set the school up as a legal entity. Think through the ways you will monitor your success in keeping vigilance over the mission and values of your school. To learn more about what really matters in the life and culture of Christian schools, you may want to refer to Flourishing Schools Culture Research. Step Two: Focus your mind on the things that will matter most in light of eternity.

Leverage The Starting Block.

The starting block provides a foundation for the sprinters’ feet at the start of a race, helping them to push off and accelerate. You will want to look around your church and community to leverage as many experts as possible to help you craft your legal compliance documents and develop important processes for handling admissions, finance, building operations, technology, fundraising, safety procedures, insurance, and yes, your educational programs. These foundational elements aligned with your mission will propel you to the next level and allow you to accelerate as you race toward the finish line. Step Three: Leverage the starting block to build a foundation for your school to launch forward.

Run at an Even Pace.

Pacing is everything to a runner—“run in such a way as to get the prize.” You will want to create a timeline that allows you to systematically work through your curriculum mapping, your relationship building, your recruitment and marketing efforts, your hiring process, your resource development and ordering, your facility improvements, and inspections, etc. etc. etc. During the heat of the run, stop by a water station and fill your cup by visiting a few Christian schools in your area. Observing others can help inform you, inspire you, and encourage you. Throughout the many months of pacing, pray and seek the Lord’s wisdom and guidance (James 1:5; Phil 4:6-7). Step Four: Pace yourself wisely, seeking guidance and inspiration along the way.

Accelerate at the End.

For a runner, there is nothing like seeing the finish line ahead! The excitement builds, the adrenaline kicks in, and because you were prepared, focused, leveraged the block, and paced yourself, you’re ready to accelerate. Those last few weeks will be filled with a flurry of activity, from last-minute building fixes to Open Houses and prayer walks through the building. You will do it with pure joy and excitement, all for a “crown that will last forever”––for the heart and soul of a child who needs to know the love of Christ. Step Five: Accelerate as you get close to opening day, and THEN, begin preparing for a marathon. 

If you have been praying about starting a Christian school. Let us help you. You can start your race here. 


About the Author

Before joining ACSI, Cindy Dodds served 20 years in Christian school leadership as a Head of School for two Christian schools in Pennsylvania. As a school leader, Cindy was elected by her peers to the ACSI Board, Accreditation Commission, and the Northeast Regional Council. She also engaged in and continues to assist in legislative advocacy for ACSIPA. In 2017, Cindy was employed by ACSI, serving respectively as the NE Regional Director, Professional Development Director, Vice President of Flourishing Initiatives, and currently serves as Chief of Flourishing Initiatives. Cindy is a contributing author to the ACSI Leadership for Flourishing Schools Report and the ACSI Leading Insights on Biblical Worldview and Spiritual Formation. She is most recognized professionally for her commitment to continuous school improvement and her passion for leadership development.

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