starting a God-centered school for at risk youth is crazy
We believe the nationwide education crisis in under resourced communities stems from a famine of imago Dei education. In 1999, God used a dear friend, and a timely sermon, to give Russ Gregg the courage to quit his job and do something crazy: start a school for his neighbors’ children. Over 20 years have learned from many people, and through trial and error.
If you are being called to start a new God-centered school in your home city, we are ready to partner with the Lord and you in this critical work. You only get one chance to start, and we want to help you start well.
Helping Leaders Start Urban Christ Centered Schools
Who We Are
Russ Gregg (B.A., Global Studies, 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 urban 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 serves on the Board of Directors of the Society for Classical Learning. Russ Gregg is available to serve as a speaker or panelist.
Areas of Expertise and Topics: Visionary Leadership, Governance, School Culture, Classical Education The Achievement Gap, Urban Christian Education, The Case for Christian Schooling
Dan Olson serves as Executive Director of Spreading Hope, where he oversees strategic vision, networking urban Christian educators, and serving aspiring school planting groups in discerning the call to start and lead new schools in their communities. He most recently worked at The Gospel Coalition, where he directed the donor ministries team. Previously, he oversaw development and operations at Hope Academy for nine years, and has advised dozens of non-profits, including school planting groups in cities around the country. Dan began his career in Christian Education at Minnehaha Academy, where he taught English Literature, Speech and Debate. He received his bachelor’s degree in communications from Wheaton College (IL), and a master’s degree in Christian Studies (church history concentration) from Regent College (Vancouver, Canada). He serves on the board of directors of Hope Academy, and lives with his wife and four children in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Areas of Expertise and Topics: Christian Stewardship and Development Model, Governance, School Operations and Policy, Leadership Assessment
Background: Debbie Harris graduated from Azusa Pacific University with a Bachelors Degree in Liberal Studies (with a California K-8 certification) and has spent fifteen-plus years as a classroom educator, primarily in the elementary grades. She has taught at Foundations Academy in Boise, Idaho and at Hope Academy in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she has also served as Dean of Teaching Staff and Curriculum. Debbie has focused on mentoring teachers in classroom management strategies and classical techniques since 2002. She has also been a speaker and consultant with the CiRCE Institute. She lives in Oakdale, Minnesota with her husband and two sons.
Areas of Expertise and Topics: Classroom Governance, Classical Pedagogy, Elementary Curriculum and Instruction, Coaching Teachers, Shepherding a Child’s Heart
Denny Vauters serves in a communications role for Spreading Hope Network in addition to contributing to planter and network school’s fundraising program development. Denny holds degrees in theology and cross-cultural studies from Northland International University along with the CFRE designation from the CFRE International and has served in both for-profit and not-for-profit roles. He brings an entrepreneurial spirit to the ministry of using high-quality education as a platform for gospel discipleship. Denny and his family live in Greenville, SC.
Areas of Expertise: Donor Relations, capital campaigns, annual fund development, marketing and communications, strategic planning, funding models for schools.
Dr. Walter R. Strickland II is an educator who hails from a line of teachers. Viewing education as discipleship, Dr. Strickland teaches regularly in a variety of environments as a professor, preacher, consultant, conference speaker, and as a published author.
- Ph.D. University of Aberdeen
- Th.M. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
- M.Div. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
- B. A. Cedarville University
Walter was born in Chicago and raised in Southern California. His teaching and writing interests include theological studies, the African American theological tradition, and theology of work. Walter and his wife Stephanie live in Wake Forest, NC and have a daughter named Hope who is waiting to meet them in glory, two daughters named Kendra and Kaiya, and a son Walter III
- UnifiEd: A Center for Hope and Unity — Executive Director. We specialize in equipping K-12 Christian educators to think cross-culturally about their school’s mission.
- Imago Dei Church — Teaching Pastor
- Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary — Assistant Professor of Systematic and Contextual Theology
Board of Directors
Brad Pieper — Lexington Manufacturing
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.
Russ Gregg — Head of School, Hope Academy
Dan Olson — Executive Director, Spreading Hope Network
Jeff Bird, JD, President, NBW Insurance
Jeff Bird (J.D., CLU) was the co-founder of Hope Academy, where he served as Board President from 2000-2019. 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.
Board of Advisors
Vernard Gant — Director, A.C.E. Student Success Center (ACSI)
Jeff Blamer — VP of Member Services, Christian Schools International
Karen Brown — Edge Brown Consulting Group
Eric Cook — Executive Director, Society for Classical Learning
Kent Vanderwood — Vice President, The Timothy Group
Erik Ellefsen - Director of Networks and Improvement, Center for School Leadership, Baylor University
Erik Ellefsen is Director of Networks and Improvement for the School of Education’s Center for School Leadership. He manages the BCSL’s Christian Leadership Transformation Project, a program designed to equip Christian educators across the country by gathering networks of school teams around problems of practice to catalyze school improvement and student flourishing.
Ellefsen has served in education for more than two decades as a teacher, coach, consultant, Dean of Academics at Boston Trinity Academy, Principal at Chicago Christian High School, and Grievance Chairman for the American Federation of Teachers. Most recently, he served at Valley Christian High School in San Jose, CA. He currently serves as Senior Fellow for both the Center for the Advancement of Christian Education and Cardus. He also hosts the Digical Education, a podcast providing engaging conversations with some of the most innovative education leaders, and a leading collaborator and author of the Mindshift project.
Ellefsen is a graduate of Wheaton College, with a BA in Social Science and Illinois teacher accreditation, an MEd in Administration and Leadership from Benedictine University with Illinois administrative credential, and attended Boston University to further his studies in Educational Policy and Organizational Leadership.
Spreading Hope. We started our school in 2014 and now serve 80 students in grades K-5. I can’t imagine where we would be
without their support and direction.”
Kickstart your own school
Subscribe to our monthly newsletter, and we'll send you a free white paper — "8 First Steps for School Planters". We’ll also send you a free ebook from Russ Gregg: “.”
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.