Westminster Christian Academy's Marsh starts new chapter

2013-01-08T00:15:00Z 2013-03-22T13:32:24Z Westminster Christian Academy's Marsh starts new chapterMary Shapiro MSHAPIRO@YOURJOURNAL.COM stltoday.com

Jim Marsh will leave as head of school at Westminster Christian Academy after 28 years in the post. His leaving will be effective July 31.

But long after that, he'll keep a part of the school with him.

"There's nothing official, but I intend to remain in the St. Louis area, and Westminster will always be in my heart, a place that I love," said Marsh, 65, a Kirkwood resident.

"I plan to be supportive of the school and help in any way I can in the future. It's been a privilege to be part of this community, and I'm one of those people who just loves what he does."

He plans to spend more time with Jackie, his wife of 43 years, as well as his three children, Jeremy, Meri and Becky - all Westminster graduates - and four grandchildren. His oldest grandchild, 8-year-old Lucy, already plans on attending Westminster, which educates students in grades 7 through 12.

Marsh came to Westminster in 1985 to take over as head of school. His educational experience dates back to 1969.

In Grand Rapids, Mich., and in Miami, Fla., he was a middle school teacher in history and physical education and a high school football and basketball coach. He began his administrative leadership career at Fort Lauderdale Christian School in Florida before he came to Westminster.

Since he's come to Westminster, the school's enrollment has grown significantly.

"Its reputation and its place in the region's world of education have all advanced in the past 28 years, and I'm grateful for that," Marsh said.

The new $70 million campus opened in August 2011 in Town and Country.

The 325,000-square-foot school is on a 70-acre campus at 800 Maryville Centre Drive. The campus boasts more than $2 million of cutting-edge infrastructure, including "Smart" building technology, which controls lighting, heating and cooling systems, computers and classroom projectors controlled by Smartphones and iPads.

Westminster, an independent, coeducational college preparatory school, opened in 1976 with 73 students in rented classrooms at Missouri Baptist University. In 2009, the Ladue School District bought the old Westminster campus -- which Westminster had purchased in 1982 from the Special School District --  at 10900 Ladue Road in Creve Coeur.

Enrollment now is 964 in grades 7 through 12.

"Since we moved, we've gotten 91 more kids," Marsh said.

"That's been a blessing of more and better opportunities for kids to get a high-quality Christian education. That's what excites me the most."

Steve Linton, president of the Westminster Board of Directors, has said the history of the school always will be directly associated with Marsh.

"His belief in Christian education, incredible vision, and love for the Westminster community have made the school what it is today," Linton recently told the school community in a letter.

"His accomplishments over the past 28 years are too numerous to list." 

Marsh, only the fifth head of school in Westminster's history, is on the board of directors' search committee for his successor, who should be named in February, and he plans to help with the transition.

Marsh recently talked about his career in education and with Westminster.

Q. Who was your favorite teacher as a kid and why?

A. I grew up in New Jersey, right outside of New York City and went to Eastern Christian School, a school just like Westminster. My high school basketball coach and biology teacher was Gordon Schultze. He was tough, with very high standards, but he cared a lot about me. We spent a lot of time together. He invested himself in me, and he was very willing to be part of my life. By the time I left high school in 1965, I wanted to be him, a coach and teacher. That was a lifetime ago, and here I'm still now hanging around school and kids and basketball games. It demonstrates the profound impact a teacher and a coach can have on your life. 

Q. How did you get into education? Was your family in teaching?

A. My son, Jeremy, teaches law at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, and my daughter, Meri, is a geography professor at Lindenwood University. So I hope I had some influence. But my mother, Jeanette, was a nurse and my dad, James, was a quality control engineer.

Q. How did you come to Westminster?

A. A teacher, Rich Van Gilst - who's still at Westminster teaching math and coaching baseball for a team that won the state baseball championship the last two years - taught for me in Fort Lauderdale and came here the year before I did. When he came, the school was looking for a new head of school and he gave the search committee my name. That's how I made contact.

Q. What makes Westminster special?

A. First of all our mission. We're a Christian school and committed to honoring God and following the truth of His word in the Bible. That makes us distinctive. We're distinctive as a community. The parents, faculty and staff have a common bond of faith and are committed to providing a high quality of education that pulls this community together. What makes us distinctive is our mission and our community.

Q. What are your plans for retirement?

A. I'm not quite ready for the rocking chair yet. At least I hope not. But I do have a part-time faculty position for the past six years at the Van Lunen Center, headquartered at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. It's a program designed to teach management skills to faith-based heads of school early in their careers. And I'll take over as part-time director this summer, though I'll continue to do it remotely from St. Louis. That'll keep me busy. So I hope I can continue to serve the cause of Christian education, just in a different way, in kind of a new chapter.

Q. What's the hardest part about leaving Westminster?

A. Literally since I was 5 years old, I've been in a school environment with teachers and kids, with all the energy and activities, being part of kids' lives in the day-to-day culture of a school. I'll miss that, I know. I'll miss the people here, definitely. But our school's vision is to prepare more young people to engage in the world and change it for Jesus Christ. I plan to continue to do that even after I leave. 

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