Paul Curtis painting mural

Case Study: Leadership Summit

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The Willow Creek Association’s Global Leadership Summit features 20/20 Vision for Schools this week. Summit speaker Michell Rhee (former Schools Chancellor of Washington, DC, and founder of Children First) will explore how educational inequity robs inner city children of the skills necessary to complete college and compete in an information economy.

The Summit asked 20/20 director Jeremy Del Rio to provide a case study demonstrating how churches and ministries can provide leadership around these issues. Below is the article Jeremy wrote for the conference notebook that will be distributed to the estimated audience of 100,000 ministry leaders. The Summit also features the “20/20 Vision for Schools: Transforming Public Education within a Single Generation of Students” workshop curriculum and the “Why Public Schools Matter to God (and Should Matter to You Too)” article among its Digital Resources.


Leading Education Reform Where You Are: One Church’s Story

Explore how a Brooklyn church and community art center mobilized 400 volunteers to paint an 875-square foot mural project to create a welcoming environment for hundreds of immigrant students and their families. Includes narrative, photos, and video. // MULTIMEDIA

In September of 2008, Pastor Paul Curtis’ relationship with the public school system fit the profile of many New York City pastors. That is, he didn’t have one. Public schools seemed to him so resistant to help from churches that they were the last place he considered to begin making a difference.

Then he heard about 20/20 Vision for Schools and felt God stirring him toward a vision for people of faith to lead the effort to restore justice to public education – to level the playing field for all students regardless of neighborhood, race, or economic status. Staggering numbers made the problems feel intractable.

Despite 1,700 public schools, 1.1 million students, and a $21 billion annual budget, graduation rates in the city hovered near 50%, and reading and math proficiency lagged at or below 40%. But next to 7,100 self-described Evangelical, Pentecostal, and Charismatic churches in NYC, 1,700 schools didn’t feel so large.

“What might happen if five churches actually prayed for one neighborhood school?” Curtis reasoned. “Dare we expect God to answer?”

And what if God already positioned his church to be salt and light within those schools? Between students, parents, teachers, staff, and relatives, more than 85% of his attenders already had direct or indirect relationships with schools. Might they become answers to their own prayers, or the prayers of others?

He registered Crossroads Christian Church to partner with a school through 20/20 Vision for Schools. In spring 2010, Crossroads organized a prayer walk of four neighborhood schools. He leveraged his pulpit to launch a three-week sermon series the next Sunday, including a panel discussion with educators, administrators and students around the topic of educational justice in the public school system.

Several of Curtis’ church members took the challenge. The next month, the youth minister and five teens from the church volunteered at a local school event. Then the next fall, another of his members volunteered the church’s Storefront Art Center to lead a mural project in the refurbished schoolyard. The changing demographics of the neighborhood meant hundreds of immigrant children at the 1,200-student elementary school, and a parent from Crossroads proposed creating a welcoming environment by celebrating the diversity with a public art project.

Curtis and the school agreed. Eight months later, 450+ volunteers from eight community groups (including five churches) and five sponsors joined the principal, PTA, students, and staff to execute an 875-square foot mural for six weeks. They celebrated with a schoolyard block party on June 4, 2011, attended by 1,500 neighbors of every age, race, and religion.

Now, Curtis is hooked. Welcoming neighbors from the Middle East, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Asia, by empowering their academic success no longer feels overwhelming.

It feels, and looks, like Jesus.

– Jeremy Del Rio, Esq. co-founded and directs 20/20 Vision for Schools. Visit the PS 102 Mural website here to track the project from beginning to end.


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