Amanda Schwausch and Lucas Shipman both grew up in Granbury and are now both leading the North Texas Central Academy located at the Happy Hill Farm that sits on 500 acres in Granbury.
The academy serves K-12 students and is an independent, accredited, interdenominational, college preparatory, boarding, and international school. The school does not take any state or federal funding and 90% of the budget comes directly from donors and members of the community to keep the school running.
Amanda and Lucas’s grandfather Ed Shipman was the founder of the school in 1975 and was the sole fundraiser for the school before passing away in 2016.
Shipman was a Southern Baptist preacher, and two girls were dropped off on his doorstep in 1974.
“That kicked off a whole adventure for them to try and find a place for these girls and that really was the beginning of Happy Hill Farm. My grandfather’s father-in-law owned this property and was creating a housing development at the time,” he said.
Shipman quit his job, bought a single wide trailer, and went to his father-in-law and told him he wanted to pay for the property. He then bought it and set up a board and a non-profit, which has now been in operation since 1975.
The name for the school officially changed in 2011 to North Central Texas Academy after the school started accepting international students with the broad charity under Happy Hill Farm.
The siblings’ father and uncle both serve in executive positions for the academy.
“Our family says all the good things that we have our through God’s blessings through this place,” Lucas said.
Amanda serves as the Dean of the Students and Faculty and studied at Texas Christian University and earned her master’s degree. She served in public school for five years and then came back to Granbury in 2012.
Lucas became the Chief Development Officer at the academy after the passing of his grandfather. In this role he seeks out funds, donors, and builds relationships with new donors, and shares the story of their academy while continuing to serve the mission and vision of the academy. Before starting at the academy, he studied at Liberty University. He then moved back to Granbury in 2012 and first served for seven years in youth ministry at the academy.
“One of the things we have been really proud of, with God’s help and lots of great friends that he sent us, to be able to continue to care for these kids with no expectation of them being able to pay. Some of them pay tuition, some of them come for just a great educational option. For our boarding students, this is an opportunity of a lifetime,” Lucas said. “They are all coming out of low opportunity situations and so that’s one of the things that unites them. They’re really driven and bright, up to grade level, emotionally healthy but they’re stuck in a low opportunity situation. When they come here, they are able to get incredible opportunities and grow. The goal is for them to be the leaders that God created them to be.”
With students from all over the world integrated with students from the area, the school is incredibly unique and diverse.
The school has an I17 certification through Homeland Security, which allows them to have international students on an F1 Visa. The academy finds students through a networking system and seeks out students from countries the United States have good relations with as well as the countries that have easier access to getting visas. The school seeks out students that are academically on target, have conversational English skills and can read in English. If those requirements are met, the potential student will participate in multiple Skype Calls with Amanda, and the student’s family to see if it is a good match. The entire application process lasts about six months and the student’s room in the boarding school.
Students that aren’t from the general area or other states can also board at the academy.
“One of the things that’s really important to us is we don’t have dormitories, we have homes,” Lucas noted. “These homes are staffed by what we call resident parents. It’s a mom and dad and their job is to take care of eight boys or girls in that house,”
The houses are laid out by the parents, having an apartment at one end and four to five bedrooms for the students live in.
“They do everything together. It’s a family environment. For our kids, the majority of them are coming out of these low opportunity situations. That’s a huge gap that’s being filled to have a healthy Christian family with a mom and a dad whose only job is to do all the things that a parent does,” Lucas said.
The school day is from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. with the primary curriculum coming from the BJU Press, a Christan based curriculum written from a Christian World View. The day includes eight periods with two classes of electives. The school also offers dual credit, and advanced classes through Liberty University as an option when father into their education.
The school also has many unique extracurricular activities including an equestrian program, FFA, journalism, yearbook and much more.
In terms of sports, NCTA has a boys and girls basketball team that has had much success with six girls State Championships and five state championships for the boys’ team as well as several players going to play for the collegiate level. The academy also has a volleyball team that was recently named to the 2022-23 United States Military Academy American Valley Coaches Association All-Academic Team.
“Watching them grow, learn and change and mature over the time that they’re here, that’s the best part of it,” Amanda said.
Lucas added the most rewarding part of the job as, “seeing the kids change the trajectory of their family tree with God’s help. The difficulties that some of them faced before they got here and them to see them not just go through K through 12th grade, but mature and grow. We are committed to them like they are family.”
North Highway 144 in front of Happy Hill farm will be renamed in honor of Lucas and Amanda’s grandfather Ed Shipman. On Sept. 1 an event will be held to celebrate the renaming of the highway.
Since the school runs solely on fundraising, donations are always welcome as the school continues to grow and give more opportunities to the students. For donations visit happyhillfarm.org/donate
The school is open for tours, and applications to apply for the school are available online. For more information on the academy visit northcentraltexasacademy.org and for all inquiries fill out the form under contact us on the website.