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Expanding Her Domain

Heralded public schools chief April Domine embraces a small Christian academy.

April Domine says her productive career as an educator began by randomly flipping open her beginning year college catalog and selecting the first class listed on the page.

The course turned out to be special education. And while Domine’s course of action isn’t necessarily the recommended method for choosing a major, it worked out for her.

Through special education, she discovered her passion for making a difference for kids. It also represented an abrupt sea change from years of preparation as a musical theater performer.

That happened nearly three decades ago. Domine went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in elementary and special education from Kent State University, a master’s degree in education administration from Ashland University, and in 2013, added a doctorate from Vanderbilt University. Along the way, she worked as a special education teacher, elementary and district school administrator, a national school improvement consultant and, most recently, as superintendent for Ohio’s nationally recognized New Albany-Plain Local Schools.

In five and a half years at the helm of NAPLS, Domine polished a reputation as an innovator, encouraging her teachers to think creatively outside the public education toolbox to engage the district’s 5,000 students.

Partnering with universities, community groups, and donors, Domine and NAPLS teachers earned praise for excellence over a wide range of academic disciplines, including technology, environmental studies, and the performing arts, as well as gifted scholar and special education programs.

In academic circles, the 53-year-old mother of two seemingly had it all. Then, she says, God made her an offer she couldn’t refuse.

At a fraction of her former salary, Domine agreed to accept the job of taking a struggling, private Christian school with a few hundred students. Most of them had been in failing inner-city schools.

It began in November 2015, when the Assemblies of God congregation she attended, One Church in Gahanna, Ohio, merged with Pathway Church. Along with a new, 16-acre campus in the Columbus suburb, the blending of the two local bodies brought with it a challenging dowry of sorts: Gahanna Christian Academy.

At first, One Church Pastor Greg A. Ford sought out Domine’s advice. Next, encouraged by her interest, he asked her to consider taking the school’s helm.

“We have a school with amazing potential,” says Ford, who has a reputation as an innovator himself. “This really fits hand in glove with the vision we have as a church of igniting a movement to reach a disconnected culture.”

One Church, Ford says, is not just about Sunday services at a building, but a fellowship that positively affects the community. Education is a massive segment to rebuild Christian cultural influence in an increasingly secular world, the pastor says.

Long term, the task of taking the 36-year-old Gahanna Christian Academy to the forefront of innovative, effective and faith-based, quality education will be Domine’s charge.

Success at Gahanna, she and Ford believe, could create a multiethnic, economically and socially diverse model that could eventually serve to revitalize values- and faith-based education nationwide.

Domine says she is all in, seeing the challenge as a God-given opportunity to fulfill a deep yearning to fully engage her faith and experience in a life-changing, educational revolution.

“I’m passionate about education and changing the nature of it to become more of what kids need,” says Domine, who officially began her duties on Aug. 1. “It will be a process of learning for all of us.”

IMAGE: April Domine (left) chats with Pastor Greg Ford.

Robert E. Mims

Robert Mims has been a journalist for more than 40 years, including stints as a news wire service and newspaper writer and editor. He also had done numerous book and magazine assignments as a freelance writer and editor.