Dan Olson, Fellow

Like so much of God’s work, Hope Academy began with His calling of unlikely servants.


In 1998, two men — Russ Gregg and Jeff Bird — did not know one another. But God had given each of them a holy discontent with the urban educational crisis in Minneapolis. The number of school aged children who were academically disenfranchised, culturally diverse, and economically disadvantaged was skyrocketing. Something radical was required.

That year, Jeff was in a Bible study when he heard the distinct call that he should help start a school to address the crisis. Jeff, a lawyer working in insurance, had no formal experience in education. But the call continued. Jeff spent a year praying to discern if the call was from the Lord.

That same year, Russ Gregg and his family had moved into one of the most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in Minneapolis, yet he worked in administration in a Christian school in the wealthiest suburb of Minneapolis. He started to dream about starting a Christian school for his urban neighbors — but he didn’t feel qualified. God must want to use someone else.

In 1999, Russ and Jeff met, and shared their mutual passion for starting a Christian school for at risk youth. They met for six weeks to discuss the vision for the school—but in early September friend warned Jeff: “an administrator would never take this risk.”


That same Sunday — September 13, 1999 — Russ Gregg was in church. At the conclusion of this sermon on Romans 4:13-15, the pastor challenged the congregation to “venture something for God that is a little bit crazy.” It was God’s word to him. He knew then that to not take a step of faith would be disobedient.

The next day, Russ called Jeff.

“Jeff, I quit my job.” Russ exclaimed. “Let’s start this school.”

“Let’s do it.” Jeff said, “Everything has to start somewhere.”

Twelve months later — after much planning and prayer — Hope Academy opened its doors in the wing of a church with 35 students in grades K-2 — 75% qualified for free or reduced lunch, and 70% were non-white.

Today, Hope Academy’s student body reflects the same diversity, but on a much larger scale. In 2017, the school serves nearly 500 students in grades K-12. The school has become a national model of a private, Christian approach to addressing the urban educational crisis. Russ Gregg remains Head of School, and Jeff Bird remains Chairman of the Board.

Plant a Gospel-Shaped School:

Spreading Hope exists to ignite a movement of gospel-shaped schools serving at-risk youth in our nation's cities. We spread the model of Hope Academy in Minneapolis — a leader in the movement of classical, Christ-centered, urban schools.

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