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Church State Issues

Mixing god and government in the Deer Valley School District

Dec 23, 2010

By: Carol Peck

School connects with church in council

Dec. 23, 2007 12:00 AM

There are many people in the community who care about children. Beyond just educating children, schools face the challenge of dealing with the physical and emotional needs of students today. Simultaneously, pastors, rabbis and clergy of all denominations try to meet the same needs for the children and families in their congregations. Despite a shared interest, attempts to bring these two groups together result in plenty of controversy.

In a 2005 analysis of their community, the Deer Valley Unified School District noticed that more than 120 houses of worship served their 36,000 students. Rather than building a wall between the religious community and schools, Superintendent Virginia McElyea decided to open a door to see how the two could help each other.

"The Ecumenical Advisory Council provides opportunities for clergy and educators to explore common ways to provide support for students and their families," McElyea said. "Schools and churches have a history of working together and sharing resources. Deer Valley has taken this relationship to another level."

Quarterly meetings of the council have resulted in congregations tackling campus beautification projects, providing reading tutors and assisting families in times of need. As the district has discussed disaster preparedness plans, the council has been eager to help. Two mega-churches have offered their facilities as reunification centers. Smaller congregations have offered counselors in the event of a crisis and joined the Bucket Brigade helping to stock "72-hour buckets" of emergency supplies for classrooms.

"We're not trying to affect the individual student but to meet the larger needs that, often for financial or manpower reasons, schools are not able to adequately meet," said Pastor James Fillingame of Stone Creek Church, a member of the council. "We want to be an organization that fills the gaps with people who care about the schools."

For all the faith community is doing to support their local schools, administrators found a simple way to give back. After learning that local clergy often aren't able to afford tickets to sporting events and school performances, VIP tickets were made available to make it easier for them to cheer on their community members.

For more information, contact Sandi Hicks, director of public relations, at 623-445-5011.

Carol Peck is president/CEO of the Rodel Foundation of Arizona and former National Superintendent of the Year. Her columns appear bimonthly. Post your questions and comments on her blog at Visit the Rodel Foundation-AZ Web site at