Jim Augspurger and Taylor Smith were eating lunch when a young man approached their table.
“He introduced himself to Taylor and then thanked him,” recalled Augspurger, who is the executive pastor at the Grace Brethren Church of Columbus, Ohio. “He thanked Taylor for standing by him and having confidence in him.”
Smith was the administrator of Worthington Christian Schools, a ministry of the Grace Brethren Church in Columbus, and the young man was a former student who had apparently spent a fair amount of time in Smith’s office.
Years later, Smith remembered a high schooler who “had issues.”
“Practically all of his teachers wanted him removed from the school,” reminisced Smith, who is now vice president of executive support at the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) in Colorado Springs, Co.
But the administrator saw another side. “He was a lovable, able, very intelligent under achiever,” Smith said. “I always saw a glimmer of hope in him.” He described the teen’s troubles as “more juvenile nonsense than serious challenges that threatened the welfare of the other students or the school.”
Despite the challenges, Smith persevered and allowed him to stay. Today, that young man, 32-year-old Darek Isaacs, has begun a ministry to expose the problems with the theory of evolution by writing the book, Extinction of Evolution, after enjoying a successful secular career.
“There were a lot of people who gave up on me in high school,” Isaacs recalled from his home in Alabama. “For some reason, he (Smith) didn’t,” describing Smith as “compassionate” and “extraordinary.”
That Isaacs is in full-time ministry doesn’t surprise the former administrator. “As I expected, God used him for His glory,” noted Smith.
That is just one example in a lifetime of ministry that has taken Smith from rural Virginia where he often experienced racial discrimination to a leadership role in the largest Christian school association in the world.
“I’ve always been an encourager,” said Smith, who served as an administrator at Worthington Christian Schools from 1983 until he took his current position in 2004.
An industrial arts teacher by training, Smith and his wife, Joyce, moved to central Ohio so he could began graduate work at The Ohio State University.
He secured a job teaching middle school industrial arts in the public school system in Worthington, Ohio.
“It changed my career,” he noted, recalling how he fell in love with teaching. “My goal was to be a college dean,” he remembered, but he found his true calling in the classroom.
And it showed. In 1978, he received district accolades by being named Worthington Teacher of the Year and was nominated for a state-wide award.
Although Smith taught in the public school system, early on he and his wife saw merit in enrolling their children in Worthington Christian Schools.
“I realized our values weren’t being supported (in the public school system),” he recalled about their decision to move their oldest son, Dwayne, then an elementary student, to Worthington Christian.
“We never criticized the public school,” he stressed, “but we realized there was a different world view there than in the Christian school.” Eventually, sons Derek and Daniel followed and all three graduated from Worthington Christian High School.
It’s advice he’s given frequently as he has counseled young couples regarding the choice of schools for their children.
“One of the things you need to consider is whether you are going to put them in a situation where you will have to re-teach them Christian values,” he said. “They are going to learn to read and write. They will study history, geography, and literature,” he added. “But if you want them to have your Christian values, you need to look at a school that will reinforce those values.”
A member of the Columbus church beginning in 1975, Smith was part of the School Commission, the deacons who oversee the school ministry, when he was approached about taking an administrative role.
He turned it down. He’d have to take a pay cut.
But he and his wife began to pray and he ultimately felt led to take the position as middle school principal in 1983. He was named administrator in 1988 and between 1991 and 1994, assumed the role of high school principal and administrator.
One of the first things he did was to begin to strengthen the reputation of an already strong school.
“We have to build our value as a Christian school on our own merit,” he noted. “We assist the family in what we believe is a divine responsibility to educate and teach their children. We try to partner with the church and Christian family in this endeavor.”
Focus on Quality Hiring
He focused on hiring qualified staff. “The quality of a school is determined by the staff that you hire, not the students you enroll,” he said. “I put a lot of time in hiring quality and qualified Christian teachers,” stressing that an individual had to be credentialed in a subject before he’d hire them to teach in that area.
“I wanted the school to be a quality school, one that would stack up against any quality school in the country.”
He encouraged professional development for the teachers, enabling them to seek advanced degrees. “I treated them as professionals, not just someone who had a calling to work in a Christian school,” he noted.
As a result 73 percent of the current full time teaching staff at Worthington Christian holds ACSI certification.
He also supported the incorporation of technology into the curriculum. “Our kids needed to be close to the cutting edge,” he said.
He helped establish Worthington Christian as a leader in Christian schools, although he would never take sole responsibility for it.
“It was a team approach,” he recalled. “I hired capable people and helped put them in leadership,” he said, listing the number of young administrators he hired who have continued to provide leadership to the system, which now numbers 1,250 students in a preschool, two elementary schools, and a middle and a high school.
Jim Custer, former senior pastor at the Grace Brethren Church of Columbus, says that Smith “served his way upward” during the years he taught at WCS. “He was willing to do anything to assist the students and faculty in their pursuit of a godly education,” adds Custer,
Smith’s drive for excellence is rooted in the segregated community where he grew up. An African-American who graduated from high school in Virginia in the mid-1960s, he experienced many of the prejudices that forced the civil rights movement.
But it didn’t make him bitter. It just made him determined.
He found that he not only had to be excellent to succeed, he had to go above and beyond. In one job during college, he sold carpet for a large department store. As the only person qualified to measure rooms to determine the amount needed, he frequently was refused at the front door of a home or was required to use the back door.
Rather than push to be accepted, he quietly worked harder. It’s a trait for which he was known at Worthington Christian and is still evident today.
“Working for ACSI gives me the same privileges and opportunities to be an encourager, to be an enabler,” he said, “to help people do their job by supporting them.”
It’s what drew him to the member organization three years ago. It is the largest association of Protestant schools in the world, serving 5,500 member Christian schools in more than 100 nations, enrolling more than one million students. It also serves 146 member Christian colleges and universities.
In his position, he oversees the 13 North American regional offices, including two in Canada.
It’s another enabling role for him, helping Christian school teachers and administrators throughout North America to be their best.
“It’s the kind of job that comes along once in a lifetime,” noted Augspurger. “He was right for it. It was a good fit for him. After much prayer, he believed that’s where God led him.”
The move across country meant leaving behind the couple’s sons and grandsons, but in the years since, their middle son and his family, and their youngest, a reservist with the U.S. Army, have found their way to Colorado Springs.
They’ve also become involved in the Grace Brethren Church in Colorado Springs, although admittedly going from a large, mega-church to a smaller congregation was “culture shock.” But in the Colorado Springs church they found the same expository preaching in Pastor Robert Schaffer they had enjoyed in Columbus, where Custer was their pastor.
“It feels like home,” he says.