Carol Cox has spent 17 years at North Georgia Christian School, moving from substitute teacher to full-time teacher to administrator and, now, head of school. Her tenure at the school has allowed her to mix her strong Christian beliefs with her dedication to children. Today, The Times asks Cox five questions about the work of small Christian schools and the challenges they face.
1. How did you get into private school education?
After teaching in public school for several years, I had the opportunity to stay at home with my own children until they all started to school. I always anticipated getting back into the classroom, so while my children were preschool age, I completed my master’s degree and kept current with innovations in the field of education.
As I began to look for a teaching position, I read about Westminster Christian School, now known as North Georgia Christian School. The foundational philosophy of Christian education rang true for me: the belief that there is no separation between secular and sacred because all truth originates with God, the Creator.
I began substituting at Westminster Christian School and found a strong academic environment that was biblically-based.
In 1995, I accepted a position to teach third grade and knew immediately that it was a good fit for me because Christian education allowed me to use my gifts as a teacher fully and freely. I have been a teacher or administrator at North Georgia Christian School for the last 17 years.
2. What challenges do private faith-based schools face that might be different from the public school?
Faith-based schools do face the ongoing challenge of raising the funds for programs and facilities rather than depending on public funding. A portion of the budget comes from tuition and gifts from the families of enrolled students. We also have private benefactors who are supporters of Christian education. Even with our outstanding set of current families and extremely loyal donors in the community, funding is an ongoing challenge.
This year North Georgia Christian School is blessed to share facilities with Chestnut Mountain Church. It is a great opportunity to have the facilities we need to provide for our academic and athletic programs. We are thankful to have this transitional setting available to us over the next few years as we plan for our permanent campus location. With the faithfulness and generosity of our supporters, we are able to accomplish the vision we have for the student body and the families we serve.
3. What are the advantages and disadvantages to a small, private school like yours?
One of the primary advantages for our school is that we get to know the students and families well. I spend at least an hour in conversation with every family that comes into the school. Establishing and maintaining a good relationship with parents is a focus we consciously strive to maintain.
Teachers know students individually and understand areas of strength and areas to be developed. A sense of trust and security is developed between students and teachers because the students know the teachers care and want them to achieve.
Another advantage we have as a small private school is the ability to expedite change when something is not producing the desired results. As we maintain our continuous school improvement plan, we observe academic and behavioral progress and evaluate needs.
After researching solutions, we implement the changes and observe results. Being able to make independent decisions helps us to meet the specific needs of our student body in a timely and effective way.
One of the disadvantages of a smaller school is that we are sometimes limited in the number of elective classes that we can offer. Any new course offered must be supported by a sufficient number of interested students.
Despite some course limitations, we offer a broad, deep educational foundation that allows our graduates to thrive in the college of their choice and complete the degree they pursue.
Sometimes the number of students can prevent us from having an athletic team at every level: middle school, junior varsity, varsity. We do participate in eight varsity level sports and have had graduates receive college athletic scholarships in basketball, football, volleyball, soccer, twirling, and cheerleading.
4. How do you attract and keep good teachers?
Teachers are attracted to North Georgia Christian School mainly because they identify with our mission statement, “Partnering with parents to prepare their children spiritually, mentally, physically, and socially to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.” The faculty shares a common bond — they love the Lord, share the same core values and beliefs, and desire to see children develop in every aspect of their lives so they are prepared for God’s plan for their lives.
Dedication to the mission of the school creates a productive work environment. Strong collegial and personal relationships among teachers encourage discussions, evaluations, and actions that move the school along the path of continuous improvement.
The school requires that teachers have a bachelor’s degree and maintain Association of Christian Schools International certification. Continuous education units are completed through courses offered at the school and through independent post-graduate work. NGCS offers financial support for post-graduate classes taken off campus or online. Nearly 60 percent of full-time teachers have a master’s degree or higher.
Teachers are committed to the philosophy of Christian education, and they see the effectiveness of its consistent application in the lives of students. The tenure of our teachers ranges from one to 23 years of service at NGCS. Some of us have had the unique thrill of teaching students in the elementary grades and watching their progress through high school graduation and beyond.
5. When you were a student, who was your favorite teacher and why?
I knew from the time I was in second grade that I wanted to be a teacher. Therefore I spent all of my school years picking up pointers, both what to do and what not to do, from every teacher I had.
I would have to say that my parents were the teachers that molded my desire to teach. My mother modeled patience, conflict resolution, and how to build caring relationships. She encouraged creativity by not allowing me to ever say I was bored, developed curiosity by letting me ask lots of questions, and nurtured the love of learning by encouraging me to read and discover.
My parents provided many opportunities for me to try new things without fear of disapproval if I failed. They clearly let me know they were proud of me without letting it go to my head. My siblings laugh when I tell them school stories which involve me imparting the wise counsel that could be quoted from our dad.
Most of all, my parents taught me the greatest joy in life is my relationship with Christ. Parents really are the most important key to a child’s education.