An Interview with Aaron Winkle, new Head of School for LSA

winkles-medThe Living Stones Academy Board of Directors is excited to announce that Rev. Aaron Winkle has accepted our offer to be our new Head of School.

We recently spent some one-on-one time with Aaron, hearing more of his story in taking this new role, finding out more about his background, and getting his perspective on the future of LSA.

So — why LSA, and why education?

Why LSA? Living Stones Academy has a compelling mission and a bright future. I am so grateful that I will have the privilege of partnering with so many committed and talented teachers, staff members, parents, volunteers, and friends as we respond to God’s call and the needs of our community.

Why education? For the past fifteen years I have felt a strong call to invest in the lives of young people through my roles in Christian higher education. As a chaplain, coach, and administrator, I have been able to walk alongside students who are making decisions that set the trajectory of their lives. This calling also comes out of my belief that God’s redemption plan for this world requires people whose hearts and minds have been transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. The needs of the world are great — and as a community of faith we need to fulfill our calling to train and shape those God has entrusted to our care. Moving into this position at Living Stones is an extension of the calling I first felt fifteen years ago.  

What’s your background with LSA?

We were involved in LSA from the very beginning, even before it was official. While our kids were young, we were seeking out a school that offered a distinctly Christian education that was welcoming to all people, regardless of their socio-economic status, race, ethnicity, or educational background. We wanted something different. We hosted one of the informational meetings at our house to allow interested families to interface with the board before it opened.

We ended up being the first family to enroll at LSA because we felt called to be a part of it. Those early days felt like we were the people of Israel waiting for the Red Sea to part; we knew were called to go, but at the same time it was obvious that we couldn’t move forward unless God himself provided…and He did!

What was the process of interviewing like from your perspective?

As of last year, I had been considering other vocational explorations. As some may know, last year my family and I moved to Klaipeda, Lithuania so that I could serve as the interim Vice President of Student Life at LCC International University. That was a pivotal year for us in many ways.

Through this and a number of other life events, and being prompted by the Spirit and a few members from the community to consider applying, we decided to apply to Living Stones in January. We wanted to be faithful through the process.

From what I know, the entire search for a HoS was a rigorous process with multiple candidates involved. The candidates were interviewed by many from the school including the search committee, board, and staff. We talked about my strengths and what I could provide for the school at this time.

How did your time in Lithuania impact your decision?

At LCC International University, my role was Vice President of student life. There were various countries, languages, religions represented under one roof. In our year there, we were reminded as a family what it’s like to be an outsider, developing an appreciation for all the different cultures represented.

We started to learn the difference between what it means to be multi-cultural vs. being inter-cultural. Being inter-cultural means having true respect for people from other cultural backgrounds, learning from one another in a mutually beneficial relationship. For instance, I had to consider interesting questions like, how do you shape a worship service for a community made up evenly of Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant believers?

In Lithuania, there are no other options for Christian education. Because of this, we came out of the experience at LCC wondering where God might be calling us next. Our year away exposed us to so many of the world’s great needs. At the same time, we came home fully aware that there are great needs right here in our community, including access to high-quality education. The experience at LCC, combined with things I’ve read, like The Road to Character by David Brooks, has gotten me to look for places that seek to be “missional.”

LSA is a missional school — fully committed to raising followers of Jesus Christ and equally committed to making that kind of education accessible to all parents, families and kids that want it. This means making decisions that are aligned with those priorities. I want to make that more of a reality.

What’s your style as a leader? And what type of leader do you think our school needs now?

I have strengths in team building, nurturing spiritual growth, communication, networking and fundraising. In all of my work, I try to fully lean into my strengths and surround myself with people who can fill the gaps in my abilities.

The school needs a different type of leader today than it did when the school first started. I feel like my skills and background are well suited for the phase of life that the school is in now.

I would like to really focus on deepening the mission of LSA. I see this in a few areas off the bat:

  • SpirituallyI believe our job is to create prime citizens in the kingdom of God (taken from Neil Plantinga’s work).
  • In hiringI want to find and hire teachers who are passionate about their relationship with Jesus Christ and sharing it with children.
  • In our commitment to diversity, inclusion, and accessibility, I desire to deepen our commitment to it.

Why is it important for Living Stones to deepen our commitment to diversity and inclusion?

There are a number of reasons we need to deepen our commitment to diversity and inclusion. First, it is biblical; for example, the book of Revelation describes a scene in the new heaven and new earth when people of all nations, tribes, and tongues will gather around the throne to worship. Following Jesus means our primary identity is now found in him, not in our socio-economic status, our race, or our political party affiliation.

Second, our world has a great need for people who can build bridges instead of walls. By intentionally cultivating a diverse community where all people are known, valued, and respected we can, through the power of the Holy Spirit, be a part of answering the prayer, “thy kingdom, thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.”

Our commitment to diversity and inclusion must be woven into all we do — hiring practices, enrollment policies, professional development, etc. These are lofty goals worthy of our best efforts.

How do you see your community relationships working in your new role?

Over the past fifteen years, I have developed an extensive network of contacts in West Michigan, including many people who serve in administrative positions in Christian, public, and charter schools. In my new role as head of Living Stones, I’ve already begun building on those relationships. For example, this weekend I will be attending a conference with more than a dozen administrators of urban Christian schools around the country. This will allow me to rub shoulders with leaders from schools like ours who are doing great things in their communities.

I have worked in Christian education for the last 15 years. Even though the age of the students is a lot different at the college level, there are a lot of fundamental principles in higher ed that are relevant to training up children in elementary education. It begins with seeing each student as an image-bearer of God — full of potential. As educators, our role is to shape the environment and curriculum that will fully engage the hearts, minds, and imaginations of curious students.   

What is your long term vision for the school?

There’s so much good happening at Living Stones. I want to build on the strengths and legacy of LSA. But I’m also excited for what lies ahead. Living Stones is growing up. We’re past the start-up stage and are starting to head into a new phase of life. This means new opportunities to have more impact in the lives of our students, families, and community.

I’m also excited to take the newly completed and approved strategic plan into the future. LSA has a mission and vision with a lot of people invested in it. It begins with listening to the staff and parents. Where do they sense God is at work and where does the Spirit want us to go?

I’m eager to nurture the evolving group of families to carry the mission forward. As I mentioned earlier, LSA has a compelling mission and a bright future. And I’m grateful I get to be a part of shaping it!

 

Interview by Paul Hart, April 11, 2016

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