While some people may define a school largely by the town or city in which it is located, Peter Boonstra knows that the educational foundation and values upon which Illiana Christian High School has been built for almost 75 years go deeper than the institution’s physical presence.
Boonstra is entering his 18th year as principal and continues to oversee construction of a $25 million campus (set to open for the 2018-19 academic year) that will move the school from its longtime home in Lansing to a site at 109th Street and Calumet Avenue in Hanover Township. He not only looks forward to an exciting future for his 500-plus students but also reflects on the commitment to Christian education that will remain the hallmark of the Illiana experience.
Q: What first drew you to Illiana Christian?
A: Having graduated from Chicago Christian High School (in Palos Heights, Ill.), I was familiar with Illiana. But what drew me to Illiana as a school leader was the very strong commitment of the community to Christian schooling.
Q: What have been some of your main areas of focus at the school?
A: It has been great to see the diversity of the student body increase significantly during my time here. That has required deliberate intention. While I believe we remain strong academically, we are a more spiritually alive and rich school in recent years. It takes a whole community working in concert, but I believe Illiana is a much more welcoming and supportive place today.
Q: What are some of the challenges facing Illiana Christian?
A: Illiana needs to keep growing, adapting and improving in order to stay relevant in a rapidly changing society. One challenge is just to keep moving and not rest. Certainly, our facility challenges have taken on a central role for the next couple years. This is a big challenge but also a great opportunity. As any school administrator does, I have had to keep a vigilant eye on enrollment and finances. Illiana must always be affordable. (According to the school's website, tuition for the 2017-18 school year is $9,200 per student.)
Q: Why is Illiana Christian moving from Lansing to Hanover Township?
A: Illiana is moving for several reasons, but the simplest way to put it is so that we can better serve the Illiana region. Our existing campus is pretty old and on a small piece of land. With this move, we’ll go from nine acres to 37 acres. We are also moving in order to keep the school community together. It became clear that if we did not move, we might split into north and south groups, which would be detrimental to school programs and the unity of our community. About half of our students are already from Indiana, so relocation to the Dyer/St. John area will give some of them access to Indiana vouchers. (The state's school voucher program is considered one of the broadest in the country.)
Q: What will this move mean for the school and the community?
A: Many, many Illiana families are very excited about the move and are very eager for the changes and improvements it will bring. To that end, we are not just moving the school; the move is part of a larger strategic plan to improve and innovate. It will, of course, be tough for those who have grown used to Illiana in Lansing. Because we intend to continue serving the same large region that we have always served, we hope that the move will have a positive impact on the larger community of south Chicago and northwest Indiana, since we will be able to better serve this region from a state-of-the-art facility. In order to ensure that the new campus is accessible to all, we will be providing some bus service to and from our northerly feeder schools in South Holland, Lansing and Highland.
Q: What are some of your other plans for the school?
A: Not everybody knows that the new campus is just phase one, so one big plan is to finish some of the parts of the campus that we have designed but have not been able to afford. We need to raise funds for athletic fields, which are not part of phase one. We also will need to tackle phase two, which includes a beautiful large auditorium and several important special-use spaces for art, music and vocational education, as well as an expansion of our services to students in need of extra support and in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). We also want to serve more families by figuring out ways to make Christian education more affordable and attractive so that all Christian families can take advantage of this great resource.
Q: What about leading this school makes you most proud?
A: Illiana Christian High School is a community united in God’s service, and I am privileged to have the opportunity to serve here. I am most proud of the way we come from various walks of life and varied churches to work together for the edification of our children. And I am proud of our graduates serving all over the world with a whole and wholesome understanding acquired here. That’s pretty sweet fruit for a life’s labor!