“When we left here at the end of the school year, we didn’t think that we would be coming back here. A miracle has taken place. We are back here. A miracle has taken place.”
Those were the words of Mr. Mark Smallwood, Music Teacher at Red Bird Mission School, as he spoke to the opening chapel for middle and high school students on August 5. Mr. Smallwood went on to share his list of “things I learned this summer.”
• It’s difficult to get up at 6 a.m. when you’ve been used to going to bed at 2 or 3 in the morning.
• It’s easier to gain weight than lose it.
• It takes longer to get places in Puerto Rico because I can’t read the street signs in Spanish.
• A right-handed person has more difficulty getting a splinter out from under a fingernail on his right hand by himself.
• A pedometer doesn’t work as it should after it goes into the swimming pool.
Mr. Smallwood said, “I also learned that God is faithful. When I prayed this summer that God’s will be done for Red Bird School, I knew that God would answer, but I didn’t know when or how. We kept praying all through the summer and didn’t know if we would be here until last week. I learned that there is a reason that God put us here [at Red Bird School]. This year, I want us to be open to Him and give Him everything we can to discover what God has in store for us in a world that is at war with Him.”
Then he read Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and he shall direct your paths.”
A New Covenant
Mr. Marcus Collett, Principal, welcomed the students saying, “I am proud to have you back.” He stressed to the students that Red Bird Mission School would become more Christian in its academic and spiritual growth so that the students’ Christian witness would be evident to any person walking into the school.
A new mission statement and covenant with students and parents will strengthen the Christian ethos of Red Bird Mission School in its commitment to provide exceptional college preparation, spiritual growth, and Christian leadership development in a safe environment.
The board agreed to reopen the school in part because of budget cuts made that scaled down the school through a reduction of approximately 50% of personnel at Red Bird School, reduction in transportation budget, and no support from the school budget for athletics. One hundred fifty-eight students reported for the first day of class - 73 elementary (K-6), 21 middle school (7-8), and 64 high school students. Capacity for 2010-11 is 175 due to fewer classrooms and classroom size limits.
Dr. O. Taylor Collins Returns to Red Bird with Fresh Vision
Taylor Collins was born at Red Bird Hospital, grew up on Jack’s Creek, graduated from Red Bird Mission School, and served as principal for 13 years at the school. Dr. Collins left Red Bird Valley in 1988 to make his contributions as an administrator and superintendent of public school systems in Kentucky and Texas, but has returned to lead Red Bird Mission as its new executive director.
Dr. Collins wasted no time taking on possibly the greatest challenge facing Red Bird Mission since its beginning 89 years ago, reopening Red Bird Mission School as soon as possible. His fresh vision for the school and patient assurance is serving well to enlist new support from alumni and local business in addition to constructing a budget that matches funding for these stressed economic times. That vision was clearly enunciated in his first few days back on campus – “Red Bird Mission School is a school for the formation of Christian leaders from the Cumberland Mountains.”
While many mountain youth feel more comfortable doing higher education in eastern Kentucky, Taylor Collins purposely decided to attend Western Kentucky where he obtained a BA in Political Science and Spanish and a MA in Political Science and Education. After leaving his principalship at Red Bird, he obtained a Doctor of Education in Educational Administration from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., where he was named the 1994 Doctoral Student of the Year and awarded the Arville V. Wheeler Prize by the Peabody Faculty of Excellence. In 1995, Dr. Collins completed certification in Spanish language and literature for higher education at the University of Madrid in Spain.
Alumni, Business, and Church Support Key to Reopening and Sustaining School
Great concern rose up over the decision in May to suspend classes for the 2010-11 academic year, but many are turning that concern into concrete financial support for the school.
Kentucky United Methodists were planning to focus their 2010 Annual Conference Mission Offering on the total work of the Red Bird Missionary Conference, but the prospects of Red Bird Mission School closing created an outpouring. At last count, approximately $27,000 will be allocated to the school out of the more than $215,000 total given to that mission offering. Indiana Conference gave $15,000, with a commitment to future assistance. Other individuals in other conferences are working through their conference structures to give regular support for the school.
Individuals and businesses are also making significant commitments. An alumnus is giving $100,000, and a former Mission staff person directed over $40,000 to the school when that individual cashed in an insurance policy. The Red Bird School Alumni Association has pledged to contribute almost $90,000 that it has raised in recent years in addition to funding a bus route expected to cost $40,000. Local businesses have already given and pledged more than $10,000 with more expected.
As Dr. Collins told the board in its July meeting, “We will have the school we can afford until the funding increases so that we can afford the school we envision.”