Why do you believe in Adventist Christian education?
I began my role as the principal in June of 2021. Prior to that, I served as a 7th through 9th-grade teacher at MCA for two years. I graduated from MCA in 2001 when it was a full high school. This school has been a part of my life for almost 30 years now, and it’s deeply ingrained in my heart to witness its success and the impact it makes on other kids’ lives, just as it did on mine. I cherished my time here as a student, and that sentiment remains as strong now. I aspire for all our kids to experience that same sense of belonging and to view this place as their home. I believe in Adventist education because it creates a community around our kids and their families and our teachers that can last a lifetime and make an eternal difference.
MCA has continued to grow over the past five years, even during the pandemic. What do you think has contributed to your growth?
One of the things that I think has made MCA special and allowed it to come to this point is that we’ve had our campus church for the last 50 years. They have been amazing champions for Adventist education. There’s never been a doubt from our church members who love MCA that this is what we’re supposed to be doing as a ministry. It’s just been so important to helping us endure through the hard times we have experienced and it’s allowed us to come out the other side with a refined sense of purpose for why we exist. That’s allowed us to make some important hires in the past few years of people who have helped to promote MCA. We’re going to use this as a foundation to share about what we already have, and help us grow into the future. We now have a team of 12 staff members and many of them have been at the school for at least five years. You just can’t put a price on how important it is to have continuity and a community of people who have been supporting the school for the long haul and are committed to seeing MCA be successful for many years to come.
Can you share an example of how the church helped MCA during a hard time?
We have a smaller building on our campus, a retrofitted bus barn that underwent a complete remodel in 2014, transforming into what we now call the Little School. MCA was based there for eight school years, and we have since moved back to our larger building—the legacy building on campus that has been here since 1969.
During our time in the small building, we experienced growth and rented out the larger building to a few different specialty schools. However, as we expanded, a significant roadblock emerged. We couldn’t move back into the big school until we paid off the Little School’s building loan, which amounted to just over half a million dollars by May 2022.
To overcome this challenge, we issued a challenge to our church community. We conveyed the importance of turning the small building into a revenue generator for our school campus operations, emphasizing its role in balancing our budget and serving as a valuable asset. Remarkably, our church rallied together, and within about four months, they paid off the half-million-dollar building loan. This was almost like putting out a fleece, as it seemed improbable that we could achieve it so quickly. This act served as a powerful indication that our church and school community had strong support, confirming that we were on the right track, led by God.
Reflecting on two years ago, we faced a situation where raising funds seemed bleak, and we believed we had exhausted all possibilities. However, after entrusting the situation to God, we witnessed a turnaround. It felt like God understood our aspirations, who we wanted to be, and whom we aimed to serve. The subsequent display of divine intervention was nothing short of incredible. It’s a privilege to have a front-row seat, witnessing God work in seemingly impossible ways. It’s a testament to the fact that God is a God of possibilities, and while things may seem improbable or even uncertain, the possibilities with God are indeed special.
How do you integrate the mission of MCA into everything you do?
We’re always seeking to grow in it. We have a yearly theme that matches with our mission statement of ‘Know Christ, Share Love, Serve Others.’ We choose a verse for each year that encapsulates one portion of that theme, and then we have a theme song that goes with it. We memorize the memory verse together as a school, do that every week at assembly on Wednesdays, and then on Chapel day on Fridays, every week we sing our theme song. We refer back to the theme often, plan projects throughout the year and field trips that match with the specific focus for the year. Our theme for this year is serving others, and our verse is 1 Peter 4:10, talking about how he’s given each of us gifts that we can share with other people, so our spiritual gifts, and that we don’t just keep them to ourselves.
What is being done to build those connections between school and church?
We’re really grateful for the support from several entities, most notably our fantastic school board. They’ve been extremely supportive, always willing to try new things and step out in faith. As a leader, it’s freeing to know the board believes in what we, as a staff, are doing.
Additionally, our church pastor, Ray Valenzuela, plays a pivotal role. He’s always present in the building, consistently sharing about Adventist education. He highlights us in sermons and conversations, showcasing unwavering support. His personal connection, with his wife teaching here and his oldest child attending, adds a unique dimension to his dedication.
We utilize various communication channels to keep our church informed. There’s a weekly update for school families, another in the church newsletter, a monthly digital newsletter, and a quarterly print newsletter crafted by our communication director, Andy Carlson. Social media is also a valuable tool, showcasing collaborative events between the church and school.
Twice a year, Pastor Ray conducts special Bible studies, connecting with different segments of our school population. This includes after-school club studies with 3rd through 8th graders and separate sessions with upper graders, covering topics like Bible study or baptismal classes.
What do you think has created that sense of community or connectedness?
I believe one of the factors that has greatly contributed to our success is the stability provided by Andy Carlson, a former principal, who instilled a sense of positivity and peace. Following him, our next principal, Elaina Rivera, further enhanced this atmosphere by initiating exciting after-school clubs like swimming and ice skating. This injected a fun and lively spirit into the school.
Importantly, both Andy and Elaina, along with many other staff members, have remained connected to the school even after moving on from their roles as principals. For instance, Elaina is our first-grade teacher, and Andy now handles communications. This commitment from staff has been crucial, with most of us staying for at least three years, and many for five or more. The absence of frequent teacher turnover has allowed us to form a strong, cohesive staff community.
Our Vice Principal, who has been here for nine years, has witnessed students progress from pre-K to high school. I, too, have seen children grow up during my time here. We also have dedicated individuals like Suzanne, our art teacher, who has been with us for over 30 years. This continuity has resulted in a multi-generational community, where students are recognized and known by familiar faces.
I think having stability in staff has helped. We’ve had staff like Andy Carlson and Elaina Rivera who stayed connected even after their roles changed. This has allowed for traditions and events that people look forward to continue. It’s created a staff community where people feel invested.
Could you share a memorable experience you have had with a student?
Last school year I was sitting with two girls who were having a friendship issue. I sat and talked with them for about an hour and we prayed and they just opened up to me. At the end one of the girls said, “Wow, I think that’s the longest conversation I’ve ever had with a teacher.” It just meant so much to me that she was willing to take that kind of leap and sit and share her heart with me for as long as she did.
How can parents help their local school be successful?
Two of the ways that parents can really help, and that we’ve already seen great results from, is just sharing their experience with people in their community because that creates opportunities for other people to find out about our schools. And then our parent volunteers are awesome. We just value them so much. They pour into our school. They love our school and that just speaks for itself when we have parents who are happy and willing to come spend their time in our building during the week. That’s an encouragement to us teachers that we have something special.
What do you share with parents thinking about enrolling students in your school?
If a family chooses to enroll they’re not just sending their students to a school; they’re joining a community. They’re joining a family. They’re partnering with teachers who will cheer for and invest in their children for many years, who will call them their kids and who will always be excited to see them no matter how long it’s been since they were their student.
What brings you joy?
It’s immensely gratifying to have a staff and be in a place where you can sense the presence of God leading. However, it’s not without its challenges and occasional heartache along the way. I believe it’s evident to both our staff and board members that God holds the leadership role here. There’s a clear conviction that an Adventist school is meant to be on this campus, serving the Twin Cities. I have no doubt in my mind about it, and being part of this mission feels like the fulfillment of one of my life’s dreams. It’s profoundly meaningful.
Vanessa Pujic is the principal and 9th-11th grade teacher of the Minnetonka Christian Academy.
How Can You Support Christian Education?
Education Scholarships and Endowments in Mid-America
Central States Conference
Traven Bryant – V. Lindsay Christian Education Fund
The Traven Bryant Scholarship Fund aims to support families with financial difficulties who wish to provide their children with a quality Adventist education at the V. Lindsay Seventh-day Adventist School in Kansas City.
Donations may be made online at
or mailed to the Central States Conference at PO Box 4150, Kansas City, KS 66104. Please indicate that your donation is for the Traven Bryant – V. Lindsay Christian Education Fund.
The Dakota Conference offers a scholarship for any South Dakota member to help with attending Dakota Adventist Academy. We also have a scholarship for any Dakota student to assist with attending any Adventist college.
To learn more visit: https://www.dakotaadventist.org/
and donate go to
The conference offers two types of scholarships:
Boarding School Scholarships
The Woody Scholarship
To learn about eligibility and requirements visit https://www.ks-ne.org/scholarships
and donate go to https://adventistgiving.org/donate/ANGFFF
The Student Financial Assistance Fund helps four out of five students who attend Sunnydale Adventist Academy. Donors are needed who are willing to give $50 to $100 or more monthly in order to continue to meet student needs. For more information visit imsda.org and to donate go to:
The conference offers two types of scholarships:
Maplewood Academy Worthy Student Fund
Daniel Honore Education Endowment
To learn more visit mnsda.com and to donate go to
Rocky Mountain Conference
To learn about the education assistance fund contact the conference at www.rmcsda.org/
and donate go to