Modesto Christian starts school year with celebration, confidence

Big day at Modesto Christian

School begins academic year with new leadership and new and remodeled facilities. Deke Farrow/
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School begins academic year with new leadership and new and remodeled facilities. Deke Farrow/

Modesto Christian School began its first full academic year under new leadership Thursday and celebrated its new preschool-through-sixth-grade campus and renovated seventh-through-12th campus.

At a gathering in the high school gym, the Modesto Christian board, faculty, students and families received messages of congratulations and of confidence in a bright future for the 53-year-old school.

Cecil Swetland, California and Hawaii regional director of the Association of Christian Schools International, told those gathered that he’s been where they are now. About 19 years ago, he headed a school that had been founded by a church a couple of decades earlier. Exactly as Modesto Christian did last year, his school incorporated independently as Desert Christian Ministries, Swetland said.

The division allowed the board of the founding church to focus on ministry, and it now has more than 10 times the number of people attending than when it ran the school. The new school board was able to “focus like a laser, for going on 18 years, on school ministry and what it means to be an effective, God-centered, Christ-centered school.”

It has grown from one campus serving preschool through high school to four campuses, serving more than 1,250 students in Antelope Valley, Swetland said.

“Change sometimes can be a little difficult” he said, “but I want you to know this really can be a new launching point to take Modesto Christian where it’s always been, a very highly effective school level, but allow you to do things you never would have dreamed possible in terms of elevating the quality of education, elevating the spiritual impact on the lives of students.”

Modesto Christian is starting the academic year with about 300 students, matching where it was last year, said new Superintendent and high school Principal Jonathan Burton. He anticipates an additional 25 to 30 students enrolling during the school year. “Something that’s exciting is enrollment in the early grades has increased significantly,” he said, boding well for long-term enrollment. Another key marker is that freshman transfers to the school are up.

Among other speakers at the celebration was Stanislaus County Chief Executive Officer Stan Risen, whose family has been associated with Modesto Christian dating back to the 1970s. Three of his four children graduated from the school, said Risen, who spoke of three things that impress him about Modesto Christian.

The first, he said, is its teachers. “It was encouraging to know as a parent when my kids came to this school, to know solid, well-grounded people were here because they cared about my kids.”

Second, Risen added, is the Christ-centered education the school provides. “We have a society that’s pretty confused about what the truth is. I was thankful I could send my kids to a place that can speak truth into them and not have to teach lies because they’re mandated by the state,” he said to great applause from the audience.

The third thing that impresses him, he said, is that Modesto Christian looks at the big picture. In our area, “only 15 percent of the population has a bachelor’s degree and only 7 percent a graduate degree. We’re woefully lacking when it comes to educational attainment in our community, and one thing I appreciate out here is the strong emphasis on getting a college degree.”

Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327