Several months from now, Prestonwood Christian Academy will take the first step in transplanting its faith-based Kingdom Education curriculum to a new Christian school in the heart of South Dallas.
In August, The King's Academy will welcome students from PreK-4 through first grade to temporary quarters in a South Dallas church. Eventually, the school will move to a new building in Bonton-a neighborhood in need of help and hope-thanks to Interstate Batteries, PCA and Prestonwood Baptist Church.
"In this year's State of the School (address), I mentioned that as part of the expansion of PCA's School System, a strategic group was meeting with the goal of starting a private Christian school in the Bonton-South Dallas community," said Dr. Larry Taylor, Superintendent of the Prestonwood Christian Academy School System, which includes the PCA Plano Campus, PCA North, St. Timothy Christian Academy, PCAPlus and The King's Academy.
The opening of The King's Academy is a homecoming of sorts for two special women, Dr. Shailendra Thomas and Grace Fechner. But to truly understand how God directed and had His hand on this incredible ministry, we must look to the beginning.
The vision for a school such as The King's Academy was born from the heart of the late Mike Fechner, who fell in love with the people he met in Bonton. Mike was on staff at Prestonwood as Minister of Spiritual Development when he co-founded H.I.S. BridgeBuilders in Bonton, and many of his earliest recruits and supporters were members of the church.
The relationship between Prestonwood and the people of Bonton and South Dallas was recently reestablished when Jonathan Fechner last year assumed roles similar to his father, as Executive Director of BridgeBuilders and Associate Minister of Missions at Prestonwood.
"How did Prestonwood get involved in this region of our city?" Pastor Jack Graham asked at a recent gathering celebrating the launch of the school. "In a car with Mike Fechner!"
The late Mike Fechner in Bonton.
"We were doing personal evangelism, and Mike and Laura Fechner, they were on my team," Pastor Graham recalled. "And Mike's heart for people began to grow like few people I've ever known.
"We were meeting people from South Dallas, West Dallas, sending buses over here, serving Thanksgiving Dinner," Pastor Graham said. "That's when God touched the heart of Mike Fechner."
His enthusiasm was so contagious that others from Prestonwood found themselves making the 25-mile drive from Plano through Dallas to help the people of Bonton.
"Before Mike lost his battle to cancer in 2014, he shared his vision to open a Christian school in Bonton," Dr. Taylor said. "And in early 2017, Norm Miller (Interstate Batteries Chairman of the Board), and Daron Babcock (Executive Director of Bonton Farms), contacted PCA about the school launch."
"We spent about six months in prayer and planning," Dr. Taylor said, "and we felt like God was saying to move forward."
Dr. Larry Taylor, Pastor Jack Graham, Dr. Shailendra Thomas, Daron Babcock and Norm
and Anne Miller attend the gathering for the launch of The King's Academy in December.
Proponents of the new school began meeting every week, laying the groundwork. In early 2018, Norm and Anne Miller committed to providing the start-up funding for The King's Academy
"It just seemed that things weren't right, that the people living in Bonton are so close to so much and yet they've gone through years of difficulty," Norm Miller said at the launch gathering for the school. "So I thought about all the people here that can come alongside (the people of Bonton) and together we can change things."
The King's Academy will partner with families in Bonton and South Dallas to provide a Kingdom Education that invests in the whole child, Dr. Taylor said. It will be a part of the PCA School System with support from other ministries, including Bonton Farms and BridgeBuilders and other individual donors. The vision is to provide scholarships for every student.
Dr. Taylor oversees planning for the new school. And Dr. Shailendra Thomas, recently appointed the inaugural Head of School at The King's Academy, is already at work near the South Dallas neighborhood where she lived as a little girl.
"I've spent over 30 years in education, in North Dallas, in West Dallas, and now I get to return to where I was raised by a single mom," Dr. Thomas said. "My grandparents lived in Bonton (right off of Bexar Street), so I am one of the children of this community."
The immediate challenge facing The King's Academy is finding a permanent location for the school, which will begin with PreK-4 through grade 1. The school plans to add the next grade every year.
"The area is a little land-locked, so it's difficult to find a site large enough because we want a school that operates through 12th grade," Dr. Thomas said. "But we have some people who are actively looking for the right location."
The initial reaction to the school has been very positive. "We've had a wonderful response from families," she said.
Dr. Larry Taylor, Pastor Jack Graham, Dr. Shailendra Thomas, and Norm Miller join the Board of Directors for The King's Academy: (front row) Johnson Ellis, Pastor Chris Simmons (Cornerstone Baptist Church); (back row) Brett Young, Robert Daniels, Tom Sherman (Chairman), Eddie Caldwell, Alan Miller, Mike Beeson.
Various families have already registered, she added, and many others have called to find out more information.
But beyond the numbers is the education, Dr. Thomas said.
"The important thing is we have to provide the educational environment for these students that we'd have at a Prestonwood Christian or any other top-level Christian schools," she said.
Grace Fechner is also returning home-as the first teacher to be hired at The King's Academy.
Growing up, Grace, the daughter of Mike and Laura Fechner, spent about as much time in Bonton as she did in Plano. She recalls that at age 13, she and the kids in Bonton would meet in the garage of BridgeBuilders co-founder Velma Mitchell while the kids' parents attended Bible study with her parents.
"One morning we were focused on learning the books of the Bible and I got to teach the lesson!" said Grace, who is a graduate of PCA and Oklahoma State University. "We learned songs, made a quilt to put the books of the Bible in order, and we talked about why the Bible is so important. Moments like those are what made me fall in love with both the community of Bonton and teaching.
"The opportunity to teach in Bonton is so surreal to me," she said, "and I'm so thankful to begin working with the children when they're so young, and train them up with Scripture and a Kingdom Education."
For more information about The King's Academy, visit www.tkadallas.org.
This story was written by Michael Young. It first appeared in Prestonwood Baptist Church's website as "The King's Academy."