“Mind your own business and teach math.”
This was the response I received from a public school administrator when I expressed my concerns about a teenage girl in my class who seemed to be sinking away. Our small-town school had somehow become a stoic place where standardized testing took precedence over student-teacher relationship building.
After 11 years, that was my last straw.
I began a sabbatical while pursuing a doctoral degree to find some answers to questions that troubled me daily. It was during this time that I realized the public school system isn’t for everybody. I never thought about it much before. As I was researching a system so ingrained in paper results, I noticed the whole child was left behind. The norm was marching along the acceptability path. This is how it is done, and to make any changes required a dense bureaucratic process that seemed to never get to the end.
I felt a passionate urgency to do something. But what could I do? I was going to retire at my hometown public school. My brother suggested opening a Christian high school. I was intrigued and agreed that our school didn’t reflect “One nation under God.” Could this be the answer? I decided to give it a try.
In the fall of 2005, I started a Christian high school with six kids in the basement of a church. Most of these kids had emotional troubles. One boy had been bullied, another struggled to fit in, two young ladies trying to find their way, another who was a stellar student but didn’t care for the public setting, and then there was my son. There was no cookie cutter for this group.
The first boy, in his 13th foster home, thrived in this atmosphere. He testifies to this school saving his life. Graduating in 2009, he is still in constant contact with our family and manages a store. His son and he consider themselves brothers.
There were 5 highly educated faculty members who cared to learn who they were, discover their dreams and desires, and introduce them to Jesus. Jesus who made them for a purpose, a purpose that was important enough for them to be created in His image. The emphasis was on doing your best in all academic areas because you are loved.
I ran this school for 16 years, working very hard to raise funds to pay for them to be educated. Most of us took very little or no salary at all. The church donated the space during the first year and many people donated supplies. We dumpster dove from public schools – even finding some brand new desks that were tossed away before they were cut in half so no one could have them. Another Christian school closed nearby, and we scavenged from there as well. We tailored every education according to each child’s individual needs. About 20% of them were special needs, and we had a reputation for amazing students.
It was the first time I felt that I was truly educating children!
After 16 years, we graduated a mere 62 students — small but mighty! From store manager to veterinarian, many college academic scholarships, awards, community service hours, and missions trips. One of our “average” students became a paid notetaker at her university. She couldn’t believe her classmates didn’t know how to take notes!
After very little pay and wearing many hats, I found myself stepping away in 2019 from the school I founded. I began another non-profit to help students with homework, academics, and test preparation. Really, it was about instilling self-confidence and building relationships. After the 2020 COVID year, a friend asked me to visit a newly founded school in Beech Bottom, West Virginia. That visit reminded me of the passion I had when I first started. I was recharged and now consult the school as their director (again making very little money) with two of my grandchildren in tow. It wasn’t long before a freckle-faced 7 year-old boy walked into my office with his mother who was desperate. He was not going to make it, nor was he wanted, in public-school. In the spring of 2021, he was overwhelmingly named the most-improved student at our small school.
Why were we successful? Many of us had the same credentials as our public-school counterparts. It was the system. The public school is fine and even better than fine for some students. But not every child succeeds in this venue. Families should have the opportunity to choose the educational environment that fits their kids the best. The tax money we pay is for the child to be educated not for the school to educate. There is a fundamental difference here. That’s why I support school choice and the Hope Scholarship. It focuses on educating the child not funding a particular school system.
I personally have benefited from a mix of secular and private education: public high school, 2 private religious universities, and two public universities. The money that I received for my secondary education was for me to succeed, and I chose each school based on my degree. It should not be any different for K-12. Not every student can succeed to their full potential in the public school. These students should have the choice to use their allocated funds to receive the education of that meets their needs. The public dollars are for the student. Before the Hope Scholarship, many students couldn’t afford a choice and therefore had no real choice. The numbers show West Virginia has many of these struggling kids. We need to realize, each number is a child – a unique creation whose needs may or may not be met. Let’s work together to build a West Virginia education system that benefits ALL students and not just a few.
Bio: Dr Kathleen Miller has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, a masters in secondary education and technology, a doctoral degree in curriculum and instruction and many doctoral credits in Christian education. She taught for 15 years in the public school system, 10 years at universities in education and mathematics, and 17 years administrating and teaching in Christian private schools. She is currently the Director at Cornerstone Christian Academy in Beech Bottom, WV.