Horizon Christian School began in 1994 at its temporary site in the Balaklava Church of Christ facilities with 27 students.
In the first school term of 1994 the students moved into the first building at the Gwy Terrace site.
A requirement for new non-government schools in 1994 was that 50 students was an absolute minimum number required to secure any State or Commonwealth Government funding.
The last student enrolment was welcomed to Horizon on the last day possible to achieve this 50 student milestone by midyear census in 1994.
The school steadily grew from strength to strength and its secondary enrolment began in 2001.
Horizon Christian School is now registered as a Reception to Year 12 School with approximately 400 students.
AN ACCOUNT OF THE HISTORY OF HORIZON CHRISTIAN SCHOOL
Somebody was moving around our small house. The sounds of bumping and clinking and cupboard doors closing drifted up the passage to the bedroom where the fog was slowly lifting from my tired mind. The gentle glow of the winter moon greeted me as I watched the silhouette on an old gum tree through the window. Instinctively I reached across to Libby – she wasn’t there. Suddenly the peaceful stillness of the June morning was shattered as I realized that our first baby was making its way into the world.
The car was low on petrol and wouldn’t make the 25km trip to the hospital. We took a detour to my parent’s house to fill the tank before heading for the small rural township of Balaklava. I had heard stories of babies being born on the front seat as frantic parents weren’t able to reach the doctor in time. What if the cord was around the child’s neck? What if the baby was in breech position? A thousand thoughts raced through my mind as we sped down the dimly lit gravel road. The amber glow of the sun peeked out over the distant horizon.
The uniqueness of our situation seemed to be lost to the nurses at the hospital. This was our first baby, we’ve never done this before. My nervous excitement was matched by Libby’s gentle calm as the nurse led us down the corridor to our plain but comfortable room.
Contractions are incredible things. Libby’s uncomplaining and accepting nature was well known to me, but these things ripped through the most stoic reaches of her temperament. Our anti-natal lessons on breath control were helpful but the emotion of the moment would often momentarily defeat the logic of systematic counting.
The labour ward was soon our home and complications of doplers, nitrous oxide and personnel were all part of our small but intense world.
Labour was now the enemy. Its claw grabbed at my wife with relentless vigor and persistence. It was as though Libby’s ability to suffer quietly now belonged to a different lifetime. Hour after hour went by with little sign of progress. The ambulance had been put on standby ready to take her away to distant Adelaide. We found ourselves thrust into what had literally become a life and death situation. The nurse encouraged me to go and get a coffee from the tea room. While I was sitting in the quiet of that room I felt as if I couldn’t go on any longer – and I was only the father! Amid the stillness I felt the Holy Spirit reassure me, and show me what the problem was – the birth canal was too narrow for the baby, but eventually he would come.
By now the labour ward was very familiar and I gained a sense of being able to help and contribute. Surely, the baby’s head began to move forward and with same manual assistance from the doctor, Michael John was born into the world.
In case you’re wondering what all this has to do with the beginning of Horizon Christian School - it is the birth of a child that is the only thing that comes close to describing the emotion, the uncertainty, the struggle, the prayer, the victory that we experienced during the establishment of the school. As I once explained to our Principal, something died in us but now lives on in the form of Horizon Christian School.
This paper is not a technical manual on the procedures required to build a school, but rather the description of a walk of vision and faith that was required to build something from nothing, a description of the building of a school. Those who have been involved from the first days would have their own story to tell, this is Libby’s and my story. It is our prayer and hope that we might encourage and inspire other ordinary people to achieve extra ordinary things for God.
As our son Michael was nearing school age we began to think about his education and the alternatives available to us. Some of our friends had considered home schooling, as this along with the local state school, were about the only alternatives available to us. One day while Libby and I were discussing the issues, she asked in quite a matter-of-fact way “Why don’t we start a Christian school? That way our children will be educated in the type of environment that we are wanting, and it will also open up opportunities for other parents grappling with the same issues.”
While not convinced at first, I was excited by the challenge and the possibilities and soon decided that we should commit it to the Lord and at least start down the road until we hit a brick wall. If there were no brick walls then we just may be able to pull it off.
Well that began the most demanding period of our lives. If we knew, at that stage, what we were uncovering we may well have left it alone. Neither Libby nor myself had any experience in educational matters apart from the fact that we had both been to school and Libby had two sisters who were teachers. What we did have, however, was an understanding of how God uses ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things, and we had the ability to dream.
As we sought the Lord, He gave us wisdom and insight to know how to implement vision in a way that would protect that vision from being destroyed. The first thing we decided was not to open the idea up to a large number of people but to keep the vision secure in our own hearts and minds until its foundation was laid. We prayerfully approached a small number of people who were like minded and of similar spirit to ourselves and out the idea of a Christian school to them individually. The response we received was unanimously in favour. While we were doing this, Libby was contacting various people who had children in Christian schools, teachers in these schools, or people who were involved in an administrative level. After an energetic information gathering process we put together a constitution for our proposed new school which we mostly adopted from Torrens Valley Christian School in Adelaide. So far we had held not one official meeting of any sort to discuss the school. We deliberately kept the vision secure to guard against well meaning people giving us their opinions or ‘words from the Lord’ that could throw us off track. A town not far from us has made the mistake of holding an open meeting early in the process and ended up with too many ‘cooks spoiling the broth’. Their school didn’t eventuate and hence we determined not to make the same error.
With information and proposed constitution in hand we called a meeting of the individuals we have previously spoken to. This was our first meeting and was held on the 23rd of January 1992 in Kym and Julie McPharlin’s home.
Those present were Mark and Libby Greenshields, Julie McPharlin, Cathy Kowalick, Louise McKnight, Belinda Seminutin, Mike and Roxanne Clisby, Allan Chivel and Cathy Chapman. Qualifications represented were 1 farmer, 2 farmer’s wives, 5 school teachers, 1 single mum and one nurse. The school was launched!!
In those early days we were filled with excitement and optimism as we wrote letters to the various community organizations that may be interested in, or affected by the school. We called our small group the ‘interim board’ with the average age of the board members being 27 years of age. Our meetings were filled with enthusiasm, prayer and decision making as we pressed into the vision with praise for God’s blessings. About this time we received an anonymous donation of $1000, which at the time seemed a hefty sum of money, and was well received. Expectant faith was the fuel that burned in our veins and enabled us to cope with the fact that we had little money, no resources, no teachers, no land, no buildings and only a handful of promised students.
Strategic planning now began to overtake simple ideas and much time was spent talking to and negotiating with government officials and the staff of other Christian Schools. Bob Stunnel and Hugh Walker of Torrens Valley Christian School began to apply themselves to our task with an enthusiasm that was of great encouragement, while Jack Mechielson and Andrew White from Christian Parent Controlled Schools head office in Sydney accepted our invitation to come over and speak to our group about commencing a new school.
We met in Kym and Julie McPharlin’s home over tea and spent time discussing issues and the general feasibility of a school for our town. We have since discovered that these men withheld from us the sort of detail that they knew could scare us off. In fact they privately believed it would be very difficult to get a school up and running in Balaklava. Fortunately they chose to let us continue rather than inform us of the potential problems they could see ahead. Our first public meeting was held on May 4th where we delivered the proposal in as much detail as we could to about 70 interested people.
A small country town is often a pleasant place to live with a friendly atmosphere and a not too rushed place. Just about everybody knows just about everybody else and change is sometimes slow in coming. We had no idea that the first wall we would have to scale would be from the church itself. The ministers fraternal didn’t like our statement of faith that proceeded the constitution nor the possibility of the school developing a ‘them and us’ scenario with the district. Comments such as “you have to live in the real world sometime” and “where is the million dollars to come from?” were also received from Christians and non Christians alike. While some of these points were valid, the intensity of the objections caught us all by surprise. We had to learn to be obedient to God’s word and deal with these relationships without allowing resentment to do its ugly work. Although we had these hiccups, the acceptance of the school was growing and we had tremendous support from many people, several of whom had no church affiliation. Often we were astounded at where the support would come from.
The interim board was meeting weekly and its members were eating, breathing and living Horizon Christian School. Our world was totally consumed by the work load of planning, problem solving and negotiations. Belinda was editing out a newsletter that was sent out to interested people each month. Money was trickling in as we went along – Cathy’s Tupperware party, Louise’s Devonshire teas, Jo Price’s Gardens and Galleries stall and a donation from Croobyar School in New South Wales all helped to keep our work ticking over. On October 27th we had a grand total of $755.00 in the bank. Around this time we welcomed Vicki Higgs to the board as a representative of the Anglican Church.
Curriculum, land and buildings were now looking large on the priority list as we crept to our intended opening date of January 1994 – less than 15 months away.
We had been totally unsuccessful in securing an existing building within the township and were now being forced to look at building the school from scratch as well as purchasing land. The volumes of money involved made our bank account laughable. According to a previous census we were living in one of the lowest income regions in Australia and while this came as no real surprise to us we could see no way of raising the money required. The uncertainty and pressure of the situation now began to test relationships within the board. Some felt we should not buy land but rather lease some unused crown land within the township, while others felt we should build from scratch. We didn’t have the money to do any of these but some were less expensive than others. Emotions and different perception of God’s will began to pull at the unity we had enjoyed within the group. On one occasion Mike and I sat down to go through the mathematics of financing various options only to end up with the floor littered with screwed up pieces of paper and no progress. On top of this we had the Non Government Schools Registration Board calling for curriculum documentation – of which in our current financial state was absolutely ludicrous.
Libby brought the scripture Matthew 18:19 to our next meeting. “Whenever two of you on earth agree about anything you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in Heaven.” Needless to say by this stage our prayer lives had undergone a profound reviving. With unity of purpose reinforced we continued in our goal to establish a Christian school for Balaklava with various board members delegated to continue investigations into buildings and land. Ian Duncan was contacted and agreed to show us around two Adelaide schools that he had built. We decided to recruit Ian and David Wood to design and draw up a master plan of the school that would take us into the next twenty years or so.
As our busy schedule continued we received an application for Principal of the new school from David Woodroofe of Araluen Christian School in Alice Springs. This caught us by surprise as we hadn’t advertised for staff at this stage, so we acknowledged the application and placed it on our pile of things to address.
In the light of our financial position Roxanne suggested that we earnestly seek the Lord over the next 7 days asking Him for specific direction – to which everybody agreed. During this meeting Julie sensed the Lord saying that He would supply us with more than we asked for, which resulted in a great sense of unity and direction throughout the prayer time. We returned from our 7 days of prayer with nothing to report. Our faith levels were so high that we had almost expected somebody to walk up to one of us and present us with a cheque for $100,000. So again we set out to seek the Lord for another week. Again we returned with no clear direction and certainly no cheque. By now we were getting a little nervous, but decided to go before the Lord for another week and wait for His provision. The third week passed and still no sign of any money or clear direction. We were almost embarrassed to talk about what might happen as a result of our failure to receive either money or direction. That week I went to God’s word in search of some clue as to why we hadn’t received the provision that we were so sure would come. The Lord drew me to the account of Samuel anointing Saul as King of Israel. The thing that caught my attention was the fact that Saul was now anointed as King, yet had no Kingly duties, nor a palace, or even a throne to sit on. Samuel simply told him to go about whatever his hand found to do. This spoke to me as though God was saying “don’t just sit around waiting for me to do something, you go and do what you have to do, and I will do what you can’t.”
We had made the mistake of waiting for God, when God was waiting for us. I realized that God would meet our needs as we stepped out in faith but not as we sat around waiting. After all, there is little faith required when action is dependent on everything being in order and amply supplied. God wanted us to walk by faith, not by sight. We set about approaching banks for finance (as this seemed like an obvious thing to do when money is needed) only to find that they wouldn’t touch us. One bank manager actually laughed when I spread our proposal out on his desk.
While the search for funds was continuing we were also negotiating with a couple of builders concerning the construction of a double classroom block with two offices as well as the purchase of some farming land adjacent to the local state schools. These negotiations took place while our bank balance was extremely lean.
In light of the banks inability to see the marvellous potential of our venture, we decided to write letters to various companies, churches and individuals asking for donations or loans. This exercise proved to be as fruitful as the banks. One morning I decided to approach a Christian brother with my bold request for funds. This meeting resulted in an interest free loan of $30,000, praise the Lord! We now had the confidence to proceed with the signing of the contracts of land and building – even though we were still way short of the final sum required. The decision was made to build the school to lockup stage until the rest of the money could be found.
The pace of events and sheer uncertainty of everything was demanding fast decision making and mountains of work, which left us gasping for breath at times, however the biggest test lay around the corner. I was walking across our front lawn after collecting the mail, when I opened the letter. As I read its contents my heart sank and I sat down on the lawn like a deflated balloon. I listlessly commented to Libby “Well, if God wanted to get us to a place where we have weeks to prove we could operate the school without government funding; provide details regarding the building we would be teaching in and supply them with detailed curriculum documentation outlining what would be taught and how it would be taught, we haven’t.” If we failed to satisfy their requirements the school would not be registered and could therefore not operate. The law had only just been changed concerning registration, leaving us one of the first schools to apply for registration under a new system, hence nobody could advise us on what to submit on our application. Obviously we had not met the requirements. After just keeping our heads above water through all the uncertainty and work, it felt like we were going to drown. There was no way we could satisfy these requests within two weeks.
Around this time we were getting the occasional person telling us how they had been praying and they felt the Lord was saying that it was not the right time to be starting the school and perhaps we should wait another year. This didn’t help our confidence, but since none of our board were getting such words we persisted on. We sat down and logically looked at where we were, and what we needed to complete the job.
Stubborn determination told us to get hold of another schools curriculum, photocopy it and present it as our own. Hills Christian School came to the rescue with their recently revised documentation. The abbreviation Hills Christian Community School was H.C.C.S and appeared throughout the documents. This would easily pass as Horizon Christian Community School. We had our curriculum!
Next was to prove that we could operate without government assistance. This was necessary, as we could not be funded unless we had an enrolment of at least 50 students. Our most optimistic estimate was for around 27. A day was spent in Hugh Walker’s office at Torrens Valley as Hugh, Bob and myself sweated it out over our projected budget for the first year of operation. Hugh decided to contact head office in Sydney and put in a request for $50,000. This put the head office into an equal spin. As the phone conversation proceeded Hugh’s facial expressions displayed every conceivable emotion from serious concern through to jubilation. The office finally gave its nervous approval but were apparently unsure of where the money would come from. This was not enough to get us through the first year, but we projected that before the midyear census of private schools was taken we would have 50 students and so funding would be allowed to continue. We hoped and prayed this would satisfy the Registration Board. The new building would not be completed due to the lack of money and time constraints, so we had to find an alternative building. So Mike suggested I appeal to the Church of Christ to accept an ‘in principle’ motion to allow us to use their facilities until our building was completed. Their monthly board meeting was scheduled for the next night. I nervously placed our request and the approval was given. We were now only 12 weeks away from our opening stage.
Libby, Brian Van Vageningen and myself attended the meeting with the Registration Board to present our documentation, while Cathy Chapman sat outside looking after our children. After being battle hardened over the past weeks we were ready to present our case with conviction and confidence. The documents were placed before each board member and we watched each one as they slowly looked through the piles of papers. Finally the Chairman lifted his eyes and looking across to us commented “Well, you have been busy haven’t you”. After several questions for clarification we were asked to leave the room. Sitting in the hallway we had a sense of joy and nervousness as the silent discussions continued behind closed doors. Finally the door opened and out came Rob Harrington’s smiling face with the words “Congratulations, you have a new school”. It felt like our new baby had just been born! Joy and beaming faces followed as we reported the good news to Cathy who was nervously waiting and praying outside.
During the course of events in the previous few weeks we had advertised for a Principal and following the receipt of applications we decided that David Woodroofe was the best choice, so Libby was commissioned to ring him to discuss the issue. She was somewhat taken aback when David informed her that after having some family discussion he had changed his mind. Our response was to write him a letter and gently point out that we felt he should change his mind back again and accept the position. To this he and his wife Joy decided to come down and investigate the situation. After we painted a rosy picture of little money, no building, no resource and no guarantees of a future, they decided to accept the positions. So David, or ‘Woody’, and his family leapt off the cliff of faith and made plans to come and join us. This was done just prior to receiving our registration so there were frequent phone calls from Alice Springs wanting to know of the latest news.
Resignations were accepted from Belinda Seminutin and Vicki Higgs which resulted in the appointment of David Chapman and Jo Price as new board members.
By now the building work was underway and it was all hands on deck. We had decided that in order to cut costs we would provide as much labour as we could during the building process. Due to a communication oversight between myself and Graham Bullimore (the builder), my words “provide labour” were interpreted as “provide the labour” and so we soon discovered that we were to build the school ourselves with the occasional oversight of John Moore, Graham’s father in-law. So many lessons on building construction were learnt by a group of volunteers under the general oversight of David Chapman and myself. We first drove into Balaklava to commence work on the site during late December and continued on an almost daily basis for around seven weeks before the building neared completion. My family usually takes a 2 week holiday at this time of year but all we could manage was 2 days before we were all called back by urgent school business. As we were working on the site we were blessed by another private loan being offered for $40,000 which was closely followed by another $10,000. God is good. We now had $130,000 in loans and vendor finance on the Land from Dean Hill. We could now build the school to completion from an initial bank balance of zero without borrowing a single cent from the bank.
The busy activity of organizing furniture, choosing colours, Roxanne’s uniforms, Rick Rigda’s grounds work, Cathy and Jo’s fundraising, Mike’s council negotiations and acquiring a host of other resources was running alongside the task of organizing staff. Julie agreed to take on the role of junior primary teacher until a replacement was found, while David took the senior students. We were running behind in our recruitment of a junior teacher and were a bit concerned that we may miss the boat as we had only interviewed two prospective junior teachers to date. However Julie happened to mention this to a friend who knew a young teacher currently employed part-time at Strathalbyn Christian School. On further investigation we decided to invite Roslyn to an interview on January 21st. We discovered that Roslyn had a heart for setting up new schools; could teach Indonesian, which we had decided to have in the curriculum; was trained in junior primary, and was prepared to travel.
Well day one of the 1994 school year saw Horizon Christian School commence in the Church of Christ building with an assembly of 27 students led by David Woodroofe and Julie McPharlin, with many proud parents looking on. Week two saw Roslyn join the staff team on a part-time basis as Strathalbyn would not release her until they could find a replacement. Although the school was now in full swing, there was still a myriad of things to attend to which kept many parents involved and active.
Our prayer lives could not become complacent as we only had enough money to get the school through to the middle of the year. We were keenly aware that we would need funding, and that depends totally on our 27 students growing to 50 by the mid year census and so Libby called us all to prayer and fasting before the Lord. We received some great donations from other schools around the nation who could probably relate to our situation. The new building was finally completed, and we held our first board meeting in a brand new classroom which brought to us all a tremendous sense of achievement and satisfaction. The entire school moved in on Friday the 18th of March with a celebratory picnic lunch, which was, needless to say, well attended. Amid all the celebration was the underlying knowledge that the elusive number 50 was still to be reached.
Our second AGM was held on the 11th of May and an enrolment of 40 students was reported. We would need 50 by the 29th of July, which was the end of the first week of term 3. The count down had begun.
The second term ended with an enrolment of 48. Two more students, only two more students. We calmed each others’ nerves with talk of still having the first week to pick up a couple. We didn’t realise this was a mistake – we had to have 50 enrolled from Monday right through to the week of the Friday census. Week 1 of the holidays – 48 students. Week 2 – 48 students. The final week of the holidays – two enquiries! The enrolment forms almost flew out of the filing cabinet! We had them. Praise God we had them! Fifty student bottoms on seats on the very last day possible. Julie went across to the state school to collect a girl who had been thinking about enrolling just to make sure – she decided not to enrol. We had made the first time reception students stay the whole school week instead of having Wednesday off so as to satisfy the week long period of 50 students.
It was a profound day in the life of Horizon Christian School. Ecstatic jubilation and thanksgiving to God who had come through yet again! Woody now had a future, and the blessings of a Christ centered education would be available to all who desired it. Two years of weekly board meetings and thousands of hours of hard work and relentless prayer had paid off. The extraordinary achieved by the ordinary. Victory is sweet! To God be the Glory, Hallelujah!!!!