Alumnus Serves at Largest Private School in East Texas

Jay Ferguson
Photo Courtesy of Grace Community School

"Teaching Jesus." That is why Grace Community School exists according to Dr. Jay Ferguson, who since 2003 has been serving as Head of School at what is now the largest private school in East Texas and one of only two private schools in the state to receive the National Blue Ribbon Award from the U.S. Department of Education at both the high school and elementary levels, in 2015-2016 and 2017-2018 respectively.

Prior to his leadership at Grace, Dr. Ferguson was a practicing attorney in Dallas and Tyler for ten years after receiving his Juris Doctor from the Texas Tech University School of Law. "I started out as a lawyer before God called me to Grace in 2002, first as its Development Director and then, one and a half years later, as the Head of School. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing! But, God was gracious and faithful and surrounded me with good people who helped me and taught me along the way. I realized early on that I would need additional education to prepare me for the awesome responsibility of leading others."

That need for training led him to Dallas Baptist University where he completed his Ph.D. in Leadership Studies. "The DBU Ph.D. program in Leadership Studies was invaluable in helping me think deeply about what it meant to lead my people well. I learned about incarnational leadership, leading from the depths of my relationship with Christ and letting Christ's love and His Spirit flow through me as the source of my wisdom and strength. I learned about the power of building strong and healthy cultures, and that one of the most important things school leaders do is build physically, emotionally, and spiritually safe cultures in which students and teachers know they are loved and empowered. I learned how to do that through my words, my actions, and my very life. The DBU program has transformed me as a leader, and, by extension, the face of my school, all for the better."

The school was established in 1973 by Grace Community Church with 60 students serving grades 2-12. Its mission is "to assist Christian families in educating, equipping, and encouraging their children to influence the world for Christ." Since its founding, the school has taught each and every discipline from a Christian worldview and encourages its students to view all of life, from relationships to sports activities and every academic inquiry, as the pursuit of a deeper knowledge of Christ, His creation, and their unique calling for service in His Kingdom.

"We believe we are to train students with an eternal focus—not just to get into a good college, not just to get a job, but to serve Him both now and for eternity," Dr. Ferguson explains.

Today, with nearly 1,000 students, the school is a pre-K-12th grade co-educational, college preparatory academy with approximately 90% of its graduates going on to attend four-year universities and the other 10% attending two-year colleges.

As for school's future, Dr. Ferguson and his leadership team, along with input from families and other supporters, have prayerfully developed a ten-year strategic plan to "reach out to a broader cross-section of the Body of Christ in East Texas, serving a more academically, culturally, and economically diverse group of students and families, in addition to those currently served."

Among these new initiatives is cultivating stronger relationships with culturally-diverse churches in the East Texas region, "to attract and welcome a group of students and families for whom Christian schooling has not been previously accessible," says Dr. Ferguson.

Now in its second year of operation with 50 students, Grace Community School has also begun a university-model, classical school "within-a-school." Students attend two days a week and are homeschooled by their parents with provided curriculum materials and other support the other three days. Additionally, Grace hopes to expand its international program from eight to as many as 50 students in the years ahead, as well as to continue expanding its educational impact for a broader spectrum of learning differences with the establishment of a Fearfully and Wonderfully Made Academy, "another school-within-a-school, this one serving students with true special needs, including severe autism and Down's Syndrome." This would be the first and only Christian school of its kind in East Texas.

Dr. Ferguson's leadership influence extends beyond the administration of the school. He is co-author of The Nexus, a twelve-week Christian leadership development course, contributed a chapter to Building a Better School published by Paideia, and has written several journal articles. He also writes a weekly blog called "The Head and the Heart," offering biblical guidance on spiritual, educational, and parenting issues. In addition, he has taught as an adjunct professor at Covenant College in Georgia and Gordon College in Massachusetts. He and his wife, Ashley, are the proud parents of three daughters, Emma, Annie, and Ellen.

This past year of leading at Grace has been an especially challenging one for Dr. Ferguson, serving simultaneously as board chairman of both the Council on Educational Standards and Accountability and the Texas Private School Association, all while heading up the presidential search team for the Association of Christian Schools International.

"The load seemed overwhelming at times," reflects Dr. Ferguson, "but I remember the words of Dr. Adam Wright [DBU President] during my studies at DBU. He would encourage our cohort in that hectic season, reminding us that when God calls us to something, He always gives us the energy and capacity to do what He asks. My time at DBU not only honed my spiritual leadership perspectives and skills but conditioned me to see stress and turmoil as an opportunity to press deeply into the Lord."

Written by Dr. Michael Whiting

Dr. Michael Whiting is Assistant Professor of Christian History and Leadership at Dallas Baptist University.

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