When John Hale was hired to head up the administration of Somerset Christian School (SCS), he was asked by the pastors’ council to give the then relatively new school a 3-5 year commitment.
When Hale announced his retirement in mid-December, it heralded the end of a 15-year legacy. “The place kind of grows on you,” he joked.
Hale told the Commonwealth Journal this week that he’d been planning his retirement for more than a year. In addition to his age, Hale cites that the school now needs “visionary” leadership.
“I felt like my strengths were in organization,” Hale explained. “We’ve organized the school here and put together a good faculty, but I’m 70 years old now and I felt like it was time to have a new leader who is more visionary than I am.”
That leader is new principal Dr. Ron Gleaves, who praised Hale’s leadership. “Somerset has a very strong foundation,” he said, adding his predecessor was just being modest. “…Mr. Hale has done an outstanding job for 15 years. You don’t get to this point without having a vision.”
“Our vision is to try to train a generation to change their world,” Hale added. “…Trying to prepare children to defend their faith is an important part of this.”
SCS first opened its doors 17 years ago. At that time, Hale was principal at Rockcastle County High School in his hometown of Mount Vernon. He had been in the public school system for 34 years — as a math and science teacher for 13 years, then principal for 21 years — when a colleague asked him if he’d consider Christian education.
“I really hadn’t intended to retire [from public schools] at that point,” Hale recalled, “but I felt like God led me to retire and come here.”
The transition from public to private education, therefore was a natural one. Hale noted that he was first attracted to pursuing a career in education based on his own great experience attending school.
“I really enjoyed my junior high and high school years,” he recalled, “and I’ve always enjoyed working with kids. There’s something rewarding about helping a child to master something new, and there’s that reward seeing how they progress later in life when they come back and visit…It’s rewarding to know you’ve had a positive impact.…
“I’ve had a lot of good experiences and I just wanted to help other people experience the good things that I had experienced.”
In addition to the staff, Hale credits “tremendous parent involvement” for the school’s success. “It just makes the job so pleasant,” he said of the school community.
Hale continued that he’s had the pleasure of watching the school grow from 238 students to some 310 students currently ranging from preschool to 12th grade. He takes particular pride in the school’s academic progress — noting that three students have been accepted in Western Kentucky University’s Gatton Academy (specializing in math and science), two students admitted to the United States Naval Academy, and another to just graduate from the Air Force Academy.
“All those are difficult to get into,” Hale said. “We have students at Baylor and Bellarmine [universities], again very prestigious schools. We felt like that really validated what we’ve done to provide quality education.”
On the sports front, SCS recently made the transition from the Kentucky Christian Athletic Association (KCAA) to the Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA) — allowing them to compete with area public schools. Having already completed their soccer and volleyball seasons, the Cougars just this week launched into basketball.
Beyond the higher profile, Hale explained the decision was also a matter of logistics as well as the state association’s recognition of private, religious schools in a new conference.
“KCAA was a great fit for us playing other Christian schools,” he said, “but the trips were such a long distance — Paducah, Oak Ridge and places like that.…We were trying to condense that a little bit, and within the Kentucky High School Athletic Association, there is now the Kentucky Christian Athletic Conference which is a group of small Christian schools.”
With a total of 85 high school students, Hale joked that SCS definitely falls into KHSAA’s Class A division.
Hale delayed his retirement to mid-year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the administration takes pride in how SCS has handled the changes it has required.
“Every class is basically a pod unto itself,” Dr. Gleaves said. “They’ve even changed the bell schedule so that only grade level will be in the hallway at the same time. There have been some very strict measures put in place but it’s helped Somerset keep the doors open.”
Hale pointed out that SCS has hired additional teachers and staff to help with precautions. “We don’t want to have an unsafe environment in any way,” he said with Dr. Gleaves adding that what they’re doing can serve as an example for other schools.
Keeping the doors open when the governor ordered all schools — public and private — to close in-person classes in late November amid rising COVID-19 numbers was an important last battle for Hale to undertake. SCS was among several Christian schools around the state to join in Danville Christian Academy’s lawsuit which argued the executive order violated their Constitutional rights.
Hale noted that the United States Supreme Court declined to rule on the lawsuit not because justices sided with Governor Andy Beshear but because his order was expiring.
“Then the 6th Circuit Court [of Appeals] just a few days ago ruled in Illinois that based upon what the Supreme Court said, the governor of Illinois cannot close private Christian schools unless he closes all other businesses along with it,” he added. “…It’s important that we learn to defend our faith but also defend our rights. Our Constitution is important and it’s withstood these 200+ years because it was written with wisdom and, I believe, with the guidance of God.”
Hale is staying on with SCS in an advisory role for a few weeks while Dr. Gleaves acclimates to the school’s policies and protocols. He looks forward to becoming more involved with his church, while his wife Nancy continues to work in her role as president and CEO of Operation UNITE.
“I’m a deacon at First Baptist Church in Mount Vernon,” Hale said. “…That’s been something I have missed being here because by the time I get home in the evenings, my days were pretty well consumed. This will give me the opportunity to do more.”