Our Advisory Board
Dr. Vernard Gant (DMin, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is the director of the A.C.E. Student Success Center with the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) (acsi.org), where he is responsible for overseeing over 200 Christian schools throughout the nation that target non-white, under-resourced children. Dr. Gant has been with ACSI for 13 years. Dr. Gant also started and ran a scholarship program to enable moderate and low income children to attend private school and helped start two Christian schools serving low-income children in Birmingham, AL. He currently serves on the executive board of the Black Alliance for Educational Options and the Alliance for Choice in Education.Dr. Vernard Gant
Karen Brown (MBA, Harvard Business School) is the president of Edge Brown Consulting Group. She consults with both Fortune 500 companies and non-profit organizations. She is passionate about Christian education and access for under-resourced communities. She and her husband, Bill, live in St. Paul, Minnesota and are the proud parents of three grown boys.Karen Brown
Kent Vanderwood (MA, Ed. Leadership, Western Michigan University; B.S., Grand Valley State University) is a Vice President and Senior Consultant with The Timothy Group. Since 1981, The Timothy Group has assisted more than 1,600 Christian organizations with their annual, capital, and endowment needs worldwide. Kent has over 35 years of non-profit experience including teaching, administrative, consulting, and directorships. Through his work as Development Director for The Potter’s House, Gospel Communications International, and Mel Trotter Ministries, Kent brings a wealth of experience in fundraising and development. His passion for seeing Christian stewardship principles applied in a systematic way helps the non-profit organization or ministry be successful in fulfilling its mission.Kent Vanderwood
Eric Cook (M.A., Northern Kentucky University; B.A, Transylvania University) is the Headmaster at Covenant Classical School in Fort Worth, TX and serves as Executive Director of the Society for Classical Learning. He has served as an assistant principal, taught history, civics, philosophy, and psychology for five years in public schools, and served as Upper School Head at Faith Christian School in Roanoke, VA before becoming Headmaster at Covenant in 2009. He has served on the SCL board since 2012. Eric is married to Liz and they have six children: Haydon, Olivia, Grant, Cole, William, and Lincoln.Eric Cook
George Sanker (M.A., Reformed Theological Seminary) has served as Headmaster of The Covenant School since 2011. Working in education since 1996, George has served as principal of two charter schools in Washington, D.C. and Longmont, Colorado. He began his career in education in private Christian schools where he taught history and theology to middle and high school students. After college, he served his country as an officer in the Central Intelligence Agency where he specialized in data pertaining to Southeast Asia. George is currently ABD in sociology at the University of Virginia. He and his wife, Jeannette, have six children.George Sanker
Jeff Blamer (MS, Purdue University; B.A., Calvin College) serves as the vice president of member services with Christian Schools International (CSI) where he provides encouragement, support, advice, and guidance to member schools and leaders. Prior to joining the leadership team of CSI in 2010, he served as a principal in the Kalamazoo (MI) Christian Schools for 26 years. Jeff and wife Karen celebrate the joy of three children, two of whom are Christian school teachers, and six grandchildren. Next to faith and family, their passion is biblical study in the land of Israel.Jeff Blamer
Our Board of Directors
Russ Gregg (B.A., University of Wisconsin-Madison) has served as Head of School since Hope Academy’s founding in 2000. He has been a resident of the Phillips neighborhood since 1994. In 1999, he was an administrator at Calvin Christian School in Edina, and quit his job to help lay the groundwork for a Christian school for his neighbors. Russ and his wife Phyllis, who teaches 3rd grade at Hope Academy, live four blocks away from the school. They have three grown children. Russ has also served on the Board of Directors of the Society for Classical Learning.Russ Gregg
Dan Olson (M.A., Regent College (Canada); B.A. Wheaton College (IL) is Executive Director of the Spreading Hope Network, and previously served as director of donor ministries for the The Gospel Coalition. For nine years, he oversaw development and operations at Hope Academy, and has advised dozens of schools and non-profits. Dan began his career in Christian Education as a teacher at Minnehaha Academy, where he taught English Literature, Speech and Debate. In his spare time he enjoys reading, writing, and illustration. Today, he serves on the board of directors of Hope Academy, and lives with his wife and four children in Minneapolis, Minnesota.Dan Olson
Jeff Bird (J.D., CLU) was the co-founder of Hope Academy, where he remains Board President. Mr. Bird grew up on a farm near Marcus, Iowa and has also helped start the Hope Farm School. Since 1991, he has worked with NBW Insurance (previously The Brehm Group), with expertise in individual life insurance, qualified and non-qualified retirement plans, and estate planning as well as serving as General Counsel for the company. Mr. Bird has previously served on the boards of the Pilgrim Center for Reconciliation, The Gospel Association of India, and Total Victory Christian Center. He enjoys mentoring youth and leading a men’s weekly Bible study group. Mr. Bird is married with six children and lives in Minneapolis.Jeff Bird
Brad Pieper (MBA, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University) is the President of Eurofins Technologies North America. He previously served as the VP of sales and marketing for Microbiologics. For five years, he was a managing consultant with McKinsey & Company, where he assisted in K-12 education reform initiatives with Minnesota’s Department of Education. He also led soldiers during combat in Iraq as a Field Artillery officer in the United States Army, and is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. Brad is an active outdoorsman enjoying big-mountain skiing, waterskiing, ice hockey, and single-track mountain biking. He has a passion for urban classical education and serves on the board of both Spreading Hope Network and Hope Academy.Brad Pieper
We believe the persistent achievement gap among at risk youth in our nation’s cities reflects a crisis of access: a famine of educational opportunity centered on God and His Word. Public and charter educational approaches aren’t able to address the heart of the issue.
Spreading Hope seeks to serve at risk youth in urban communities by serving Christian leaders called to start and lead schools inspired by Hope Academy’s model.
Join other leaders who are pursuing the remarkable!
Our vision is to aid in the planting and strengthening of locally run urban classical Christian schools who embrace our six school culture values, our five core distinctives, and our Grow Slow approach (see Russ Gregg’s “Dream Big, Start Small, Grow Slow” talk here).
Today, Hope Academy serves nearly 500 students k-12 in urban Minneapolis, with 75% of our student population meeting low income guidelines. Roughly 90% of funding ($4.5 million in 2016-2017) coming from private philanthropy, and ~10% coming through a “family share” tuition amount – with most families paying between $75-90/month total, regardless of the number students enrolled.
Spreading Hope was founded thanks to generous support of donors to the Growing Hope Campaign and in response to the outpouring of requests from groups to visit Hope Academy to learn how they can start a school in their city.
Hope Academy is a flagship for our Christian schools. The development and growth of Christian schools like Hope Academy is so encouraging. CSI is excited by the school planting efforts of the Spreading Hope team.Jeff Blamer
I am so thankful for Hope Academy and the Spreading Hope team. We started our school for low income urban youth in 2014 and are now serving nearly 80 students in grades K-5. I simply can’t imagine where we would be without their support and direction.Doug Fern