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Fresno Christian's founding churches desire educational excellence

Some believe in dancing around the room when they worship; others sit quietly in reverent respect. Some believe in speaking in celestial tongues that come from above, while another denomination believes one is not saved without baptism.

Although they may have different religious views, they all have two things in common: a love for Jesus Christ and a desire for quality education in the Central Valley.

Despite their doctrinal differences, nine Fresno churches banded together to create what is now known as Fresno Christian Schools [FCS].

The vision to begin a quality Christian school came from several people. Reverend Roger Whitlow of Valley Christian Center was spurred to action when he attended a pastor’s conference, and a speaker there encouraged them “to be open to the birth of something new for God.”

Originally called the Fresno Christian Education System, the school first opened its doors to students in 1977. Fresno Christian began with 135 students and only offered grades one through six. The seventh grade was added in 1978.

During the 1977-8 school year, the system was housed at four different campuses, including Bullard High School. The campus spread to the Northeast Assembly of God, where grades kindergarten through second grade have been permanently stationed since 1980.

Although FCS was founded by pastors that came from different churches and denominations, the school they created holds students from a variety of congregations.

The nine original sponsoring churches included Bethany Mennonite Brethren, Butler Avenue Mennonite Brethren, Fresno Christian Reformed, Memorial Baptist, Northeast Assembly of God and Valley Bible.

All the founders hold evangelical viewpoints, which means they base their faith on a personal relationship with Jesus.

“We’re all evangelicals who love the Lord and want to get something done,” Richard Yohn, pastor of the Evangelical Free church, said. “It’s a good testimony to the religious and secular community that you can get churches of different theological persuasions to work for top-notch education” (The Fresno Bee, Religion, A8-9, February 12, 1983).

Not all the founders were pastors; some were teachers who felt propelled to make a Christ oriented school. Silas Bartsch, a veteran public school teacher affectionally known by his students and colleagues as “Mr. Math”, was interested in a Christian school alternative for parents.

“It sharpens all of our wits a bit to have an alternative,” Bartsch said in the same Fresno Bee article. “Anytime you have an organization that has a monopoly, I don’t think that’s good.”

Christian beliefs are integrated in every lesson through the use of devotionals, prayer times and mandatory Bible classes for all high school students.

Spiritual and academic guidelines are followed and enforced by a governing board composed of two members from each founding church.

In 1977, tuition cost around 2,000 dollars for high school. Today, tuition ranges from $4,380 for grades 1-6, $5,460 for junior high, and $6,350 for grades 9-12. Despite the increased tuition, enrollment is up. 730 students are currently enrolled.

“The most rewarding thing is seeing our alumni return as teachers,” Superintendent Tim Wilkins said. “They are the doctors, the lawyers and the social workers. Our future lies with them. God will keep the spirit of this school alive when those who recognize how unique and special this place is carry on the torch.”

For more information, contact Superintendent Tim Wilkins at [email protected], or visit www.fresnochristian.com or The Fresno Bee archives at www.fresnobee.com.

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