October 20, 2013
This school year, 2013-2014, marks the 25th anniversary of the founding of the National Christian School Association (NCSA). Founded by Dr. Don Gardner, the NCSA was originally a fraternal association of schools associated with the Churches of Christ. Today, 98 NCSA schools serve more than 40,000 children in 28 states.
History of the NCSA
In 1985, NCSA’s precursor—the Christian School Association of American (CSAA)—was founded. It was based in Houston and was headed by Dr. Gardner. In 1988, the name was changed to the National Christian School Association. At various times the NCSA was located on the York College and Cascade College campuses. The office of the NCSA has been at Oklahoma Christian University since 1996. Currently, the NCSA accredits 39 schools in 12 states.
For many years prior to the incorporation of the National Christian School Association, schools associated with the churches of Christ would meet in a conference that typically rotated among host schools in Memphis (Harding Academy), Atlanta (Christian School of Greater Atlanta), and Nashville (Goodpasture Christian School). The major purposes of the association at that time were fraternal and educational.
A third major purpose—accreditation—came about when the State of Texas decided in the early 1980s that it would no longer accredit private schools. In October of 1985, a group of Texas schools associated with the Churches of Christ met and initiated a two-year process of writing their own accreditation standards and submitting them to the Texas Private School Accreditation Commission (TEPSAC) for approval in 1987. Today, the NCSA represents its member schools on this Commission as well as other state, regional and national accrediting bodies.
Three years ago, NCSA entered into an accrediting partnership with AdvancEd, the parent company of the regional accrediting bodies, the North Central Association and the Southern Association. The partnership, offered to select private school groups only, allows the NCSA to form accreditation teams and oversee school site visits to assist schools in gaining both NCSA and AdvancEd accreditation in a single visit. Because of this arrangement NCSA schools no longer have to rely on the state office of a regional accrediting body to gain dual accreditation.
Rethinking our membership requirement
For the past three years, the Board of Trustees of the National Christian School Association has been examining its membership policies. The board realized that the changing nature of what exactly was a “Church of Christ” (or, church of Christ as some prefer) and the changing nature of our schools called for a careful look at our membership policies. Among the ideas considered, the board looked into the merits of a statement of faith for membership requirements and the pros and cons of returning restoration language (such as the “Stone-Campbell movement”) to the membership requirements. None of the proposals reached majority approval.
From a survey of private school associations done by the NCSA, it became apparent that the NCSA was the only primary or secondary school accrediting agency that did not require signing some statement of faith or creed (such as the Nicene Creed) for membership. The NSCA was fielding several calls a year from schools who wanted to be merely “Christian,” yet were forced to sign a creed in order to join an association and enjoy the benefits of accreditation that mark validity in the private school marketplace. But the NCSA’s by-laws made these schools unqualified to be members of the National Christian School Association, even those rooted in the Restoration movement.
For a period of time, the NCSA Board of Trustees settled on allowing schools to self-declare that they were “controlled by or affiliated with members of the churches of Christ.” In practice, that usually meant that the head and a majority of the board of the school attended a local congregation of the churches of Christ. But even this compromise had a potential downside. A school already in NCSA could find itself outside if the home congregation of a school head decided to change the name from “church of Christ” to virtually anything else—even a name from scripture. More work was obviously needed.
At the same time the board was prayerfully considering its membership policies, it had to be aware of NCSA’s partnership with several of the colleges and universities historically affiliated with the churches of Christ who offered tuition discounts to the dependents of employees of NCSA schools. Over a two-year period, these schools were consulted about the potential changes in NCSA’s membership policy and most expressed support for the direction to which the board felt called.
Never in the years of debate was there division or disharmony among the board. The process was purposefully deliberate. It was important that each board member be able to go back to his or her own board and make the case for the board’s decision. Changes were proposed and rejected without acrimony.
Finally, in the spring of 2013, a two-person team of the board took the existing by-laws of the National Christian School Association and changed the membership statement to read simply:
Membership in NCSA shall be open to preschool, elementary, and secondary schools affiliated with or controlled by members of the Churches of Christ and churches committed to New Testament Christianity.
The NCSA generally receives a dozen or more requests a year for membership or accreditation information, with the pace having increased in recent months. The NCSA president is now empowered to gather data from these inquiries and present the potential candidate schools to a board committee.
In practice, this change means that the NCSA will consider for admission those schools where the Bible is the basis of knowing God’s will on earth. There is no other litmus test for NCSA membership. The local school is left to determine most of the details about how it fulfills its Christian mission. The Christian school is not a church but a tool for Christian parents who seek its help in leading their children to be fully-equipped children of God as they go away from the school and out into the world.
The potential for good
This fall, all our 25 years of history have come together in a unique way to position the NCSA to have a spiritual impact on schools once ineligible to be in the association. The board desires that new schools entering the association enter with the capability and intent of being accredited in the quickest possible time.
The reason is this: when a school seeks accreditation by the National Christian School Association, additional information and requirements about how a school fulfills its spiritual mission will apply, including the provision that all curriculum (not just Bible) be written from a Christian perspective. The NCSA board and commissioners see the avenue of accreditation as the best opportunity to influence schools and expand the NCSA’s ministry.
Only God can (1) take a seemingly adverse decision made by the State of Texas more than 20 years ago, and (2) add to it a generous partnership offer made by the nation’s largest regional accrediting agency, then (3) combine it with a willingness by the NCSA Board to reach out to like-minded schools and (4) turn these circumstances into an opportunity for the NCSA to provide spiritual oversight for schools willing to use the Bible alone as the spiritual foundation for their curriculum—schools that at one time were not eligible for membership in the NCSA.
The NCSA board welcomes your comments on this open letter. Please address them to:
National Christian School Association
PO Box 11000
Oklahoma City OK 73136
or by email to: email@example.com.
The board also covets your prayers as they begin this awesome commitment to enlarge the borders of our ministry.
For the board,
Chairman of the Board
The NCSA is a member of the Council for American Private Education and is a founding member of the Coalition of Christian School Accreditors.