This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Active year sees Mennonite schools merge, close

The boards of two Pennsylvania Mennonite schools have approved a plan to integrate into one unified school system with a single superintendent and board.

In April, the boards of Christopher Dock Mennonite High School and Penn View Christian School approved a plan to integrate into one unified school system.
In April, the boards of Christopher Dock Mennonite High School and Penn View Christian School approved a plan to integrate into one unified school system.

Penn View Christian School, a K-8 school in Souderton, will merge with Christopher Dock Mennonite High School in Lansdale. Each school’s board voted to do so in mid-April.

Penn View has 565 students in nine grades, and Christopher Dock has 353 in four grades. The two schools are roughly six miles apart.

Christopher Dock chair Warren Tyson and Penn View chair Mark Bergey will co-chair the new board, with six members from each previous board.

“The decision to unify these schools is the result of more than six months of due diligence but decades of collaboration and cooperation between the two schools,” said Bergey in a news release. “We are energized to be part of God’s continuing work in the education and spiritual formation of children in our community.”

The schools have partnered for years. In 2006 they developed “GPS 2012,” a strategic planning document that has been used by both schools to guide decision-making and growth initiatives.

That partnership developed into the more recent integration.

In April, the boards of Christopher Dock Mennonite High School and Penn View Christian School approved a plan to integrate into one unified school system.“Together, we can create a fully integrated curriculum and a streamlined transition process for students, while enhancing educational and administrative specialties across the system,” Bergey said in an earlier release.

Christopher Dock principal Conrad Swartzentruber has been named superintendent of the new unified school system.

The merger will result in a new set of bylaws to govern both schools. Leaders from Mennonite Church USA’s Franconia and Eastern District conferences are working with delegates to approve those changes. (The conferences’ offices are located at Christopher Dock.)

Busy year

The merger comes during a period of more activity than usual for the Mennonite Schools Council of MC USA’s Mennonite Education Agency.

  • Philadelphia Mennonite School merged with the City School of Philadelphia last fall.
  • Lancaster Mennonite School acquired Hershey Christian School, which was not Mennonite-affiliated, in February.
  • Western Mennonite School in Salem, Ore., faces a $5.5 million lawsuit by a former student who was sexually abused by a former teacher.
  • The Peace and Justice Academy in Pasadena, Calif., announced April 14 it will close at the end of this school year.

While several mergers have taken place, MEA senior director Elaine Moyer doesn’t know of any others coming. She said each situation is unique, and consolidation isn’t always due to economic pressure.

“It can be any combination of things,” Moyer said. “Often it’s just a common vision and mission that can be communicated better together than separately. In the case of Penn View and Christopher Dock, I think it’s a way to have more continuity between early childhood through grade 12.”

The Peace and Justice Academy, the most recent member to join MSC, did not have the proximity to fellow members common to schools in Pennsylvania.

Successful ‘experiment’

The Pasadena school, with grades six through high school, will close this month after six years of operation.

“Since opening our doors in September 2009, the experiment has been, in our estimation, an enormous success,” the school’s board of directors announced in an April 14 statement. “A success in every way except one. We have not been successful in enrolling students to the school.”

Randy Christopher and Kimberly Medendorp, the school’s co-directors and only full-time staff, said that Anabaptist values with an emphasis on social justice and service could not overcome small class sizes and a lack of extracurricular activities such as music and sports.

Christopher and Medendorp are members of Pasadena Mennonite Church.

The school had 20 students enrolled this year, but only 10 committed for next year.

“The number one reason that parents don’t send their children to our school is when they tour the school they see 20 kids — think two students in a grade — so it’s mostly a social issue,” Christopher said. “They don’t feel their children will get the socialization that they would get in a normal school.”

Medendorp added they also had trouble recruiting Mennonite families from local churches, an issue that she said is common among other Mennonite schools.

“We ran out of runway, that’s the best way to say it,” she said. “Everything is fully operational, we are fully accredited, our students go to the best colleges in the state. We’ve done everything we set out to do, but we don’t have the students.”

There are more than 50 private schools in Pasadena. Since the Peace and Justice Academy opened, two other schools with social justice and service emphases have opened, and another is scheduled to do so next year.

“Our church, Pasadena Mennonite Church, has supported us in every way outside of sending students,” Christopher said.

Members have been involved on the school board, in fundraisers and many other forms of assistance.

“They faced some incredible challenges,” Moyer said. “I was so excited about the school and that it was moving to be a multi-faith school, the first in the world. Their school was very much needed.”

Moyer hopes the peace labs the academy developed “will somehow serve the church going forward, because they’re interactive and poignant engagement with important peace and justice experiences that everyone should be involved in.”

The school, which operates in St. James United Methodist Church, owns no real estate. Materials that can’t find a home elsewhere will be donated to a new thrift store Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference is developing in Pasadena.

Tim Huber

Tim Huber is associate editor at Anabaptist World. He worked at Mennonite World Review since 2011. A graduate of Tabor College, Read More

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