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Westminster Christian Academy

© Jim Marsh

Jim Marsh is the head of school at Westminster Christian Academy, one of the largest Christian schools in the United States. Westminster’s strong academic and college preparatory program includes numerous AP and college credit courses, foreign languages and electives in the practical and fine arts.  The new campus is equipped with over three million dollars in state-of-the art technology and also includes three gymnasiums, an eight-lane swimming pool, 610-seat theatre, 200-seat black box theatre, library, 400-seat cafeteria, broadcast studio, more than 100 classrooms, six science laboratories, twelve tennis courts, competition track, 2,000-seat football stadium with a synthetic turf field, and generous grass fields for soccer, baseball, softball, field hockey and lacrosse. The 325,000-square-foot middle and upper school is home to more than 900 students.

Interviewed by Stephen M. Thompson, Ph.D.

Good morning. Could you briefly introduce yourself? 

This is my 27th year at Westminster Christian Academy.  I grew up in New Jersey, a product of Christian education; I am one of those people who were deeply impacted by a teacher and a coach. When I left high school in 1965, I knew that I wanted to teach and coach; I wanted to have a positive impact on kids.  That was my goal, and here I am today, part of a Christian school – a teacher, coach and school leader for 43 years. I have three children who are graduates of Westminster, and they are all doing very well. 

Walking through your new campus was breathtaking. Describe your campus and its state-of-the-art facilities.

In 2003 Westminster purchased 40 acres of land from Special School Districtin an ideal central location because we knew that we would one day outgrow our Ladue Road facility. Later, we received as a gift an additional 30 acres of land adjacent to the original 40 acres. With these 70 acres, we designed our current 7th -12th grade campus to accommodate up to 1,200 students. Our focus, as we grow larger, is on maintaining personal relationships and a small-school feel.  As a result, the design is very community-focused; each grade is called a “neighborhood,” and each neighborhood has the capacity for 200 students. Basically, we have six small schools within a large school. A significant facet of this campus is the large amount of space in the building that promotes collaboration, community and teamwork. We were able to update our technology and add a new system called “School View;” this new way to improve learning in our school has great potential and is already impacting our teaching and learning in a significant way. All of our new facilities have given our students so many more opportunities, and it’s very exciting to see how our kids are using them already!

I was told that WCA’s teachers can remotely access and even teach instruction programs. What’s the importance of having such up-to-date technology at the school?

We need to prepare our students for the future, and their future will certainly be global and technological. Technology is a tool that is used as part of our students’ learning, but after Westminster it will become part of their career, so preparing them to use technology during their high school years is crucial. As far as teaching is concerned, technology is used as an integrated tool and it does not replace the teacher. There are many great things we can do with technology, and we want to provide the best possible tools for our teachers.

What’s the reasoning behind the recently introduced uniforms for your students?

We call it “standardized dress,” and although that might be considered another name for uniforms, our program includes some wardrobe choices. We decided that if we were ever going to make this change, this was the year to do it; we were moving into a new building on a new campus, and it was the right time to have a new look. Basically, we didn’t want our students’ dress to be a distraction and, since we were moving into this great new facility, we wanted to make a statement that we are serious about learning and teaching. We wanted to create a culture of a more focused approach to what happens on this campus. The kids look great and they are happy with this change. I think it’s great!

What is your typical day like?

I don’t know if I have a typical day! So much of my work at this point involves working with the team of administrators who have oversight of different aspects of our school programs. I spend a part of each day in meetings with members of our leadership team, either corporately or individually. I try to spend a portion of my time with our kids and teachers. In fact, that’s why I intentionally chose my corner office location where I can see our students entering the school. I try to be visible to our kids, eating lunch in the cafeteria and connecting with teachers.  A good deal of my time is also spent in fundraising, financial planning, working withWestminster’s Board, and building personal relationships with members of the church and business community.

What is your long-term vision for the community service project “Faith in Action”?

In order to graduate fromWestminster, every senior is required to take part in our Faith in Action program. Every Thursday morning they serve in hospitals, schools, social agencies, or senior homes. They are grouped into small teams and serve at the same place all year long. Faith in Action is a significant part of each student’s senior year and a memorable experience that they will take with them when they leave here. Every year our students are involved in many community service projects and other helping initiatives. Service is one of our core values; we call it “Lead with your serve.” Our goal with the new campus is to be viewed as an irreplaceable asset to St. Louis; i.e., this school is not just for us, but it exists to serve our school community and also the broader St. Louis community. We want others to use this campus and to be served by our kids and our people; we want our students to be very much a part of that service as well. We want to contribute to St. Louis and to be an asset. The theme of our school this year is “blessed to be a blessing.”

How much are you personally involved with your school’s sports activities?

Sports made me come into the “school business” in the first place. My basketball coach in high school was my reason and inspiration to become a teacher and coach. Years ago, I coached basketball and football; the athletic program is still very important to me, and I love high school sports. Today is our first home football game and I’m very excited! I want to be part of the athletic life of our kids. I go to a lot of their games and I love it.

What are your weekend or leisure activities?

I love what I do; I love my work. I also love to play golf, and I do that some on weekends. Sunday is a church and family day. Other than that, my time revolves around Westminster. I don’t consider what I do a job, but a calling, and so my leisure and work time are somewhat combined and are one and the same for me.

Now a random question! Could you reveal any untold details about Jacob Turner (graduated from Westminster and now one of the Detroit Tiger’s starting pitchers)?

Great young man! I have his Detroit Tigers cap in my office. He is a super young man, with great character, strong faith and a strong work ethic – really talented. His mother works here in our business office as the human resources director. His younger brother Luke is a senior at Westminster and also a baseball player.

Is there anything you would like to add?

My favorite quote is: “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go” (T.S. Eliot). It takes special courage and faith to take a big risk in order to follow a dream. In a school community or church that is healthy and doing well, it is rare to take a risk to get better.Westminster Christian Academy has great vision and did something very extraordinary.

Thank you.

For details about Westminster Christian Academy visit their official website at www.wcastl.org

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