Interview by City Gospel Movements
What got you into this city movement work in the beginning?
Eleven years ago I was working with Pure Heart Church and Young Life College in partnership with Arizona State University. Part of my role was to take college students on missions trips to countries around the world. We often served in public schools which gave us an incredible entry into any neighborhood where we served.
While in Peru I suddenly realized that we were flying over a huge amount of need in our own city of Phoenix, Arizona. Why didn’t we bring churches and university students together to serve public schools in our own city? The church was a perfect partner to schools because they share the same children and have access to multi-generations and multiple sectors within their congregations. This would be an incredible way to help churches reach their neighborhoods for Christ!
We began to serve local schools in Phoenix and momentum really began to grow when we met other pastors in the city who were also serving schools during the Season of Service hosted by Luis Palau. It was obvious that the Holy Spirit was orchestrating a beautiful movement and building relationships and unity among pastors. I also met pastors from Doxa Deo in South Africa who inspired me with the unity of faith and prayer their cities shared. It blew my mind to realize what was possible!
Our model of school engagement took a huge step forward when we were introduced to Dr. Susie Cook, Superintendent of the Washington Elementary District, which is the largest elementary district in Arizona. Dr. Cook believed in what we were doing and provided top personnel in her district to help us refine our model and increase our impact.
We made sure the school was always the driver as we invited churches, businesses, non-profits and neighborhood associations to work together to serve.
At Palo Verde Middle School we worked with the principal and her team to develop a clear strategic plan and then invited these partners to the table to choose how they wanted to be engaged. As we worked together we saw this high poverty, failing school turn around academically, decrease negative discipline behavior by 62%, engage parents, decrease the number of teachers fleeing the school and transform the reputation of the school in the neighborhood.
Dr. Cook was thrilled and invited us to multiply the model throughout all 32 schools of her district. As a Pastor of Community Development at Pure Heart Church I was also encouraged to see teachers, parents and families from the schools we served begin to attend Pure Heart and come to know Jesus. The language of our community became, “These are all of our kids. Let’s be family together.”
What are you currently doing?
Today we have a developed a model called the CAFÉ (Community and Family Engagement Event) where the school principal invites churches, businesses, parents and community groups to join them at a table where they build relationship, share their school’s strategic plan and create a collaborative action plan for their school’s success. By leveraging the strengths of the community around the school we create sustainable, mutually beneficial partnerships that bring real change to a school and to the entire neighborhood.
As churches take leadership to work with all of the other partners at a school we see the Body of Christ take a proactive role in solving real problems in the community. The CAFÉ has been held for entire districts or for smaller regions, such as a high school and its feeder schools.
Of the 58 school districts in Maricopa County serving 1 million children, School Connect has the privilege of working with 42 districts. (429 out of 1171 schools)
The US Department of Education honored the CAFE model as a best practice of faith communities serving local schools and we have also been recognized by the Arizona Department of Education and the 21st Century After School Learning Center Grant.
Love Our Schools Day
Three years ago we began Love Our Schools Day as an effort to provide an on-ramp to relationship building between churches and their local schools. We started with 14 churches who served 40 schools in 11 districts, grew the next year to have 10,000 volunteers serve 265 schools in 30 districts and this fall we were thrilled to see 18,000 volunteers served 387 schools in 37 districts. This year we saw schools take greater ownership of Love Our Schools Day and churches were joined by businesses and other community organizations.
Sometimes the church shines especially bright in the midst of tragedy. This year during Love Our Schools Day Christ Church of the Valley (CCV) served Arrowhead Elementary School. Only days before the event, one of their teachers went missing and we later discovered that she had been murdered.
CCV volunteers pressed in to love the principal and teachers of the school. They wrote cards for all of the teachers, cleaned out the classroom and provided breakfast for the staff. As I thanked the principal for allowing the church to serve them in the midst of this crisis she said, “We could not do this without you!”
Stories like this make us realize the significance of this work and the incredible value of these relationships!
School Connect hosts a yearly Summit that brings churches, businesses and community groups together with educators to grow in their vision of partnerships and understanding of best practices of collaboration. At our January 2017 Summit, 32 superintendents got to experience the CAFÉ model by hosting a table of top faith, business & community leaders. This was an incredible momentum builder and we are excited about our School Connect Summit 2018 where we will be hosting 800 leaders.
What Are your Hopes and Dreams for the Future
School Connect’s job is to cast vision and train educators and faith and community partners to work together for the sake of our kids.
Because schools are the portal to all of the needs of a neighborhood we see working with schools as a powerful tool for any church that wants to meaningfully engage with their community.
Imagine what it would be like if all of the schools of Phoenix had significant partnerships with Christ followers? As we empower the Body of Christ to be the servant leaders we are meant to be, we are excited about the potential to bring transformation to Phoenix. We would love to share our CAFÉ model with others around the country!