Canberra Christian School is one of the three Adventist schools in the South New South Wales Conference, and the only Adventist school in the greater Canberra region. For such a small territory, Canberra has a smattering of religious schools and colleges, making competition fierce. So how is Canberra Christian School, which looked set for closure only a few years ago, still continuing to raise its enrolments?
Many Australians would have seen the recent news article featured in the Canberra Times about this story—in a “fairytale” twist, a tuck shop mum became principal, and effectively transformed nothing into a thriving school community.
While that is accurate, there’s a few other things Canberra Christian School principal Bree Hills wants to make clear. And one of them is how none of this would have possible without prayer.
“It’s true that the school was in a tough spot, but lots of people prayed and worked hard for a long time,” says Mrs Hills. “That first year when I came in as principal was fundamental in deciding what we were going to change and how we were going to move forward.”
Mrs Hills became principal of the school in 2014, but her placement was more reminiscent of a biblical tale than a fairytale. After working for a few years as a teacher at Prescott Primary Northern (Adelaide, SA), Mrs Hills and her husband moved to Canberra. That same year, she was offered the role of teacher/principal at Canberra Christian School, but turned it down—something she refers to as her “Jonah moment”.
“Although I felt God telling me it was the right thing to do, I wanted to do my own thing,” says Mrs Hills. “I was working in a private sector job, and I wanted to stay there.”
That was 10 years ago. But God didn’t give up. After taking maternity leave, Mrs Hills started volunteering in the Canberra Christian School tuck shop with a few other mums whose children also attended the school. The school, at that stage, was starting to dip in enrolments, and things weren’t looking good. So, for the second time, the school made an offer—would Mrs Hills be willing to take on the role of teacher/principal at Canberra Christian School?
“This time, there was no doubt in my mind that this was where God wanted me,” says Mrs Hills. “I’d already had my Jonah moment—I’d couldn’t say no twice!”
She took the position, gathered a team of staff who understood the new vision of the school, and things haven’t been the same since. When Mrs Hills became principal there were only about 20 students on the roll and three teachers. Now, just three years later, the school has more than 100 students enrolled and 30 staff.
“What we tried to do was put ourselves out there, and engage with the students in a positive manner,” Mrs Hills says. “But one of the biggest things we did is reinforce that Jesus is a part of everything we do, from the classroom to how we interact with others.”
The school’s theme for this year is “Team Jesus”, and staff members implement this concept daily. Every Monday, teachers dress up in a “Team Jesus” baseball outfit to reinforce the theme. The Week of Spiritual Emphasis is always a highlight, and throughout the year, students can earn “Team Jesus” tokens for positive behaviour.
And it’s working.
“We don’t have a lot of behavioural management problems,” Mrs Hills says. “Our students are learning how they can be a strength and a positive influence on each other.”
"One of the biggest things we did is reinforce that Jesus is a part of everything we do . . ."
Through the positives, the school has faced and is still facing challenges. Space is an ongoing issue as enrolments grow, but the school is hoping to build four new classrooms next year to add to the two currently under construction. Mrs Hills says despite the challenges, the school has been tremendously blessed.
“The support of the church and the support of the parents has been fantastic,” she says. “We’ve had some really big challenges over the years, but we’ve also had moments where it can’t be anything other than answered prayer.
“Through it all, we remain convinced that God is leading this.”