OCOEE — Officials at Central Florida Christian Academy originally hired Robert Gilliland, an educator with more than 20 years of experience, to get five-year reaccreditation with bodies such as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the Association of Christian Schools International.
In that process, the school grew on Gilliland, he said, and leaders at First Baptist Church of Central Florida, which guides CFCA as part of its mission, approached Gilliland with an offer to become CFCA’s headmaster.
“I prayed about it,” said Gilliland, a pastor and minister of childhood education during about 12 years with Olive Baptist Church. “We set a date right around the turn of the year. We made the transition May 1 from vice president to headmaster.”
Now Gilliland hopes he can grow the school.
A BIGGER FAMILY
With a campus capacity of more than 800 students, there is plenty of room to increase the student population well past 250, one of Gilliland’s primary goals. For next year, he hopes to increase enrollment by about 25 students, part of a long-term 10% healthy growth trajectory he would like. With more students, the school would have the opportunity to present more academic and extra-curricular activities, as well as jobs to support that growth, Gilliland said.
To achieve this goal, it will take time and strong cooperation between the school and its families, he said.
“Our best assets are our parents and our students,” he said. “Having buy-in from our families and incentives for other families to come be part of our school — that is our No. 1 strategy, to have families bring families into our school, and I don’t know how well in the last few years that’s been executed.”
CFCA must convey its messaging to outliers and passersby that the school is right off State Road 408 and an alternative to public and other private schools, and a marketing director is making strategies this year, Gilliland said. The connection with First Baptist Church of Central Florida helps CFCA stand out, because the staffs work together and often grow together, he said. Moreover, the staff is highly qualified to make the best use of good facilities and a good location, leading to excellent programs and a safe, familial atmosphere that sets CFCA apart as a value for less than $10,000 in tuition, he said.
Years from now, given growth to appropriate levels, Gilliland wants to have campuses throughout the region — not just in Orange County but in Lake, Osceola and Polk counties, too.
“With overcrowding of schools and a lack of schools where there needs to be schools placed, we have an opportunity to place schools quicker than maybe public schools can,” he said. “My passion is to educate children, not have enrollment. If capacities face the challenge of a solid education, I will be looking at that for the years to come, without losing the hub here at the Good Homes Road foundation as the anchor.”
In one of his first addresses to the CFCA community, Gilliland said, “One of my deepest desires is that the office of headmaster be one of servant leadership and longevity.”
This is one of a number of changes Gilliland would like to see in his time as headmaster at CFCA, which he intends to significantly lengthen to ensure his plans for the school progress.
“The goal at this school is that we have a veteran staff, and that’s not currently a mode of operation in headmasters, which shows me it’s very difficult to have a long-term vision of success,” he said. “There may be a vision, but if it changes every few years, then it’s surely not long-term. I’m convicted that if this school’s going to succeed, it has to have longevity in its leadership.”
That leadership staff is in a rebuild that is necessary, pragmatic and realistic, with a desire to retain staff seeing first-graders through to their graduation, Gilliland said.
As for servant leadership, Gilliland said that would mean him accomplishing any tasks on the path to success, from teaching classes to cleaning rooms and placing cones around the parking lot.
“It means to serve the staff by knowing that I’m here for them and will do whatever it takes to get the job done,” he said. “Am I going to manage? Absolutely. But in Christ, I want to help people understand we can serve others.”
In the academic realm, Gilliland wants to see more electives for upper grades, such as psychology, career education and leadership management courses, but more teachers would be needed for that.
Among extra-curricular activities, Gilliland would like a band to start within five years, even if it starts small, and a soccer program should start at CFCA within two years, he said.
Relationships with home-schoolers merit positive change, as well, he said.
“I would like to be able to partner more seamlessly with home-school educators, allowing more opportunities for home-school parents to utilize our opportunities for success, such as P.E. class or things they might not be as comfortable with,” Gilliland said. “There are students who utilize our academics, but I’d like to see that expand.”
Gilliland’s plans to enhance CFCA’s international host school status within the next two years could increase revenue, with a current focus on Asian students that will widen with time, he said.
“We’ve had our school toured and got all the thumbs up, so we’re just waiting on their approval,” he said. “It’s exciting. I know this: We are more than happy about expanding our family. I know that sometimes there can be some stigma with certain schools out and about, but I want to change the (thinking) that there needs to be some sort of line. Understand CFCA can be the school for anyone, no matter who you are.”
Contact Zak Kerr at [email protected].