HCS History

A History of Calvary Cross Church of the Highlands and Highlands Christian Schools

We look back with a thankful heart on what the Lord has done for the Church and its many ministries, including our schools. Most importantly we are grateful for the many lives that have been changed and fulfilled because of His grace. In reviewing our past, we look with confidence on our present and our future as we ask the Lord for His continued guidance and direction.

1959 - 1966

October 1959 - Pastor and Mrs. Donald B. Sheley founded the church. The Community Center in Colma, California, was rented and named Colma Community Chapel. October 3, 1959, was our first service.

July 1960 - The church was incorporated by the State of California as Calvary Cross Church. Pastor and Mrs. C. Ely Persing, parents of Mrs. Vernita Sheley, loaned the Church the down payment of $10,000 for the purchase of land in Daly City at 205 San Fernando Way. In appreciation for this early assistance of that original loan, Persing Hall was named after Pastor & Mrs. Ely Persing. The purchase of the 1¼ acres of land was $20,000. The following year, a building was constructed by the members of the church and one hired carpenter. Two barracks from Travis base were purchased, torn down, moved to Daly City and the wood and appliances were reused in constructing the first building.

April 1961 - The Church moved into its own new facilities at 205 San Fernando Way, Daly City. This location is now an employee parking lot west of Seton Hospital.

Spring 1966 – A two-storied educational building was added south of the church. Much of the building was prefabricated. Our members constructed portions of the structure.

September 1966 - Magic Hill Nursery School was founded by Mrs. Vernita Sheley. It was originally licensed for 30 students and then modified up to 84 students. Our kindergarten students went to the local public school.



1969 - 1971

September 1969 - The public school was reducing its kindergarten from four to three classes; therefore, only students that lived in that district would be allowed to attend. Our parents desired to keep their children in our school, so a kindergarten class was added. All 17 students enrolled.

September 1970 - In response to the parents’ requests, we added a first grade and increased kindergarten to two classes. This was the beginning of Calvary Cross Academy.

September 1971 – The school needed room to add a second grade; therefore, the Church rented the South San Francisco Boys’ Club located on Orange Avenue in South San Francisco. Tables and desks were brought from storage each day to set up the classrooms and were returned by 3 p.m. for use by the Boys’ Club. Third and fourth grades were also added this year.

October-December 1971 – The Church was also growing and needing more space. Negotiations for purchasing the Portola Shopping Center, 1900 Monterey Drive, San Bruno, were in process, culminating in a miracle from God. The church assumed the existing mortgage of $460,000, and the equity of $1,000,000 was written off. We thank God and Mr. Gordon Hansen of Challenge Corporation for the gift. After the gift, the bank needed additional co-signers beside  Pastor and Mrs. Sheley. It was revealed later that Mr. Hansen had co-signed the note. For the church, the monthly payment of  $4,800 seemed overwhelming at that time, yet a payment was never missed.



January 1972 - Calvary Cross Academy, with 60 students in Kindergarten through fourth grades, moved into four former offices on the second floor. The school office moved into its present location, which was the former “Liquor Store,” and the “spirits” changed for good. School began on January 2, 1972, in the new facility. 

February 1972 - Calvary Cross Church had a “pillow” service in the corner of the former grocery store, which was by the back stairs in our present sanctuary. Each person brought a pillow or a chair to sit on.

March 1972 - Palm Sunday was the first official service of the new church, now known as Church of the Highlands. The name was changed for two reasons. First, there were five churches or funeral homes that started with the name Calvary. Second, the big sign on the corner said “Portola Highlands,” easy to change.

 September 1972 - Fifth and sixth grades were added to Highlands Christian Schools.

November 1972 - Highlands Christian Preschool was opened and licensed for 136 students.


1973 - 1977

May 1973 - The Daly City property was sold to Seton Hospital for $360,000. Magic Hill Nursery students were transported by bus to the new Highlands Christian Preschool in San Bruno. The bus terminal was at the Calvary Cross Bookstore in Daly City that was established in 1964 by Pastor and Mrs. Sheley. The bookstore was sold to Western Book & Track of Oakland in 1974 due to increasing demands of our time at the church and school.

September 1974 - Seventh and eighth grades were added to Highlands Christian Schools.

August 1976 - Two wings of the Portola Elementary School were leased for our growing school. The younger elementary students attended “Highlands 2” at the Portola facility. The older students, including our first ninth grade class, attended “Highlands 1” at the church facility. The license for Highlands Preschool was amended from 136 to 300 students.

1977 - Church of the Highlands started St. James College in San Bruno, with degrees in Ministry and certificates in Early Childhood Education.

August 1977 - Tenth grade was added to Highlands Christian Schools.


1978 - 1979

September 1978 - Eleventh and twelfth grades were added to Highlands Christian Schools. Our school now included preschool through high school.

June 1979 - Highlands Christian Schools had its first graduating class. The senior class consisted of two students, Brenda Smith and Cabot Sheley.

Brenda Smith later became the wife of Rick Miller, pastor of Church of the Highlands’ Youth Department. Cabot Sheley went to college and had his own media business with his brother, Karlton Sheley. At the suggestion of our accountant, Cabot was asked to fill the position of bookkeeper of students’ accounts. He also worked in the Media Department of the church.

1979 (approx.) - Church of the Highlands was given the opportunity to take care of the Belmont Community Church. After some months of ministering there, Pastor Sheley placed a St. James College graduate in charge. The church became independent in January 1984.

1979 - Families from a church in Eureka were in need of a pastor. For one year, Pastor Donald Sheley drove six hours to the Eureka Church of the Highlands every Sunday afternoon. He preached at the 6 p.m. service, returning to San Bruno by about 3 a.m. In 1980, Bill Gallagher, a graduate from St. James College assumed the pastorate. Kim Castro, another St. James College graduate, was sent to assist. The church became independent on October 1, 1985.


1970 - 1982

1970-1980’s – During the 70’s, Pastor Donald Sheley and Pastor Charles Weston, our pastor of missions, went twice a year to Africa and focused in Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Zaire and the Congo. They used a new style of missions, bringing local young men to an area and teaching them how to preach. The young men were given messages and Bible studies to be able to use for a period of six months. They would then return for the next mini Bible School and bring another prospective pastor with them. Some of those young pastors started churches that grew to 3000, 5000 or even 10,000 members within three to five years. Others went from one community to another pastoring multiple churches.

September 1980 - The San Andreas School in Pacifica was leased for grades five through twelve, becoming “Highlands 3.” “Highlands 1” housed the preschool and second through fourth grades, and “Highlands 2” housed Kindergarten and first grades. Over 1,000 students were now being educated with a Biblical worldview.

June 1981 - Highlands Christian Schools was accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI).

1982 - The congregation of the Little Brown Church of Pacifica came seeking a pastor (a pastor was previously sent to them from Highlands in the mid-60’s but died in an accident). Our assistant pastor, Stan Way, was sent to lead the church, and the name was changed to Church of the Highlands of Pacifica. The church became independent on October 1, 1985, and along with St. James College, was moved to the Pacifica Crespi School site. At that facility, Church of the Highlands also developed a ministry called “Emmaus” to house Russian refugees transitioning into America. Barbara Andre was the resident administrator ministering to their spiritual and physical needs.

1983 - 1989

1983 - Families in Calistoga called for assistance to start a church. For one year, Pastor Donald Sheley held a Wednesday evening Bible study and then established the Church of the Highlands of Calistoga. Kelland Ingram, a graduate of St. James College, and his wife, Tina, were sent to pastor that church. The church became an independent on October 1, 1985. Tina founded a school. They recently celebrated 25 years.

April 1987 - Highlands Christian Schools were not able to renew the leases for the “Highlands 3” and half of the “Highlands 2” campuses. An extensive remodeling program, including the addition of a third floor room above the preschool was immediately set in motion at “Highlands 1.” The building was totally carpeted and painted, several classrooms and new bathrooms were added and new furniture was purchased for some of the rooms. Five kindergarten classes remained at “Highlands 2.”

June 1988 - Highlands Christian Schools’ accreditation was renewed with WASC and ACSI for another six years.

July 1988 - Highlands Christian Schools closed the high school to bring the five kindergarten classes formerly housed at “Highlands 2” into a united school at “Highlands 1.”

September 1989 – Church of the Highlands was invited by a pastor from Korosten to begin a ministry in Ukraine, which was then a Republic of the USSR. This ministry began near Chernobyl with focus on humanitarian aid, taking in medicine, food and clothing for those in need. The second and third visits focused on equipping pastors and training to begin ministries for Children and Women’s ministries. Ministry continued in various ways through 1997.

1990 - 1993

Summer 1990 - Two more rooms were added to the main church/school facility.

1990 - Highlands Christian Schools was awarded the San Mateo Times award for “Best Private School in San Mateo County.” HCS was again chosen “The Best” in 1991, but the category was discontinued in 1991.

July 1990 - A children’s ministry was started in Korosten and other cities in Ukraine through Church of the Highlands. This ministry grew quickly into Sunday Schools of 60 to 120 children within a year.

April 1991 - Church of the Highlands opened the first interdenominational, two-year Bible College in the Soviet Union in Korosten, Ukraine. The college, named St. James Bible College, commenced with 20 students. Mr. David Ilyin was the resident administrator and translator. Fourteen churches, denominations and many para-churches joined in teaching and sharing in this ministry.

September 1992 - An extension of the Bible College was opened in Kiev, Ukraine, with 30 students. Later, the school in Korosten merged with the College in Kiev.

September 1992 - Three more rooms were added to the third floor of Church of the Highlands and were used for the growing school.

September 1993 - The third year of St. James Bible College, Ukraine, began with 140 students. The first class of 20 had graduated and each were ordained by Church of the Highlands. Ten of the students were brought to the United States to tour various churches, including Church of the Highlands. Two more classes were added in September. There were now 186 students in St James College, Ukraine.

Easter 1993 – The parking lot at the corner of Sneath Lane & Skyline Blvd. in San Bruno was completed for use of the church and school after seven years of negotiations.

1994 - 1996

June 1994 – Highlands Christian Schools’ accreditation was again renewed for six years by ACSI and WASC.

Summer 1994 – New playground equipment was purchased and installed for the Preschool.

Summer 1994 to 1996 - Church of the Highlands opened an extension of St. James College of Ukraine in Magadan, Russia (Siberia). After our two-year commitment it was transferred to Evangelical Covenant Church denomination.

1995 to 1997 – Vasily Dehterenko, one of the first graduates of St. James College, started a church in the city of Zhitomyr, Ukraine.  He requested for Church of the Highlands to open an extension of St. James College in this city. An extension of St. James College was opened in Zhitomyr, Ukraine, for two years.

Summer 1995 – Six classrooms were leased at the Engvall school site on Sneath Lane, San Bruno, and housed five first grade classes and an office.

Summer 1996 – Six more classrooms were acquired at the Engvall school site. First and second grades (ten classes) were now at that facility.

Summer 1996 – Wiring of the school classrooms for computer networking began in the church building.

1996 – In Korosten, Ukraine, a former army hospital was given to the local Baptist church. This church was pastored by Paul Grishchenko, one of St. James Bible College’s first year graduates from the class of 1993. It was a wonderful piece of property next to the arena in the center of town. A beautiful church and center for the blind was built by Church of the Highlands and was dedicated in 2000.


1997 - 1999

1996-1997 – A new front section was added to Church of the Highlands, which included a church office and restrooms.

1997 – Three more third grade classrooms and office space were added at the Engvall school site to assist in accommodating the projected 1000+ students. This facility was closed by the city of San Bruno in the summer of 1998. Due to other plans for development that the city authorized, we were not able to continue our lease of the San Bruno Engvall school site. This decision affected others including two churches and a preschool. Engvall was later demolished to construct a new golf course resort, which was never developed.

1997 – St. James Bible College of Kiev, Ukraine, was transferred to the Ukraine ministries. Approximately 600 graduates are presently spreading the gospel and training up leaders throughout the former USSR. They founded and were involved in ministering in locations such as churches, orphanages, centers for  the blind and rehabilitation centers.

1998 – An orphanage and a home for women was opened in Kiev. Church of the Highlands and several other churches were involved in the support of these ministries. St. James graduates continue to minister in these facilities to this day.

Summer 1998 – The Church of the Highlands pastors’ offices were moved into a house close to the main facility. Two classrooms replaced the vacated offices.

September 1998 – Kindergarten through eighth grades were once again located in the main church/school facility. The classrooms were remodeled and adjustable walls were installed for more flexibility in their use. The school restrooms were remodeled.

1999 - An orphanage was opened in Mexico. For more than thirty years Church of the Highlands has had a Mission to Mexico program, assisting churches and pastors. Teams have been sent to minister both spiritual and physical to the needs in this country.

Summer 1999 - Church of the Highlands building, which was constructed in 1965, was brought up to the latest city building codes.

December 1999 - Infant and Toddler Centers were added to Highlands Preschool.

2000 - 2004

June 2000 - Highlands Christian Schools’ accreditation was again renewed by WASC and ACSI.

Summer 2000 - Three fire escapes from the second and third floors were installed at the main building.

2001 - The church began assisting in the construction and establishment of an orphanage and school in Indonesia. The orphans were children of pastors and Christian families who were killed for their faith. Currently this school serves children from the community also.

Summer 2001 - Mr. Dave Stutzman joined Mrs. Sheley as an administrator of Highlands Christian Schools. Mrs. Judy Pencek became an administrative assistant, having previously taught Preschool, Kindergarten and 3rd Grade. Mr. David Ilyin transferred from St. James College, Ukraine, to become an administrative assistant to Mrs. Sheley.

Summer 2002 - Mrs. Judy Pencek assumed the position of Preschool Director, which was previously held by Mrs. Gayla Hale for eight years. Mrs. Hale then moved to the Ukiah area. Mrs. Pencek also became the administrator for Kindergarten to third grade. This summer the third floor rooms were remodeled.

September 2002 - A new digital, high-end technical phone system was installed throughout the building, providing internet/intranet capability.

April 2003 - Through the generosity of parents, a new playground facility was installed for the Academy.

Summer 2003 - The summer school program was enhanced with new curriculum and activities. Mr. Stutzman moved to the Danville area.

Fall 2003 - Mrs. Frances Leonor moved from full-time teaching to administrative secretary for Mrs. Sheley.

Summer 2004 - Dr. James Rozman, a former Army chaplain, joined HCS as an administrator for 5th-9th grade. In the summer of 2005, Dr. Rozman moved to the San Jose area to continue his education.

Fall 2004 - Highlands College Preparatory (HCCP) division of HCS began. It was exciting to have a high school again. Laptop computers were provided for each College Prep student and given to him or her on graduation for being part of our first graduating class. Administrators began planning for the addition of 10th grade (2005), 11th grade (2006) and 12th grade (2007).

Fall 2004 - The Athletic Department was greatly expanded. Miss Natalie Talbot, a second grade teacher for some years at Highlands, was appointed as Athletic Director.

2005 - 2008

May 2005—Infant Care (3 months to 18 months) was closed, but the Toddler program remained. The nursery continued to provide infant care for Church of the Highlands.

Summer 2005 - Mrs. Frances Leonor joined the administrative team as administrative assistant to Mrs. Sheley and was in charge of 6th to 8th grades. Mrs. Judy Pencek assumed the additional administrative responsibilities to include K to 5th grades.

Fall 2005 - Tenth grade was added to HCS College Preparatory and we began praying for additional facilities. Honors courses were added in English, World History, Biology, Geometry and Algebra II. Highlands continued to expand its Athletic Department.

October 2005 - Mrs. Jeannie Chiara joined the administrative team at Highlands as administrative assistant to Mrs. Sheley. Her main responsibility was working on the accreditation for both ACSI and WASC through March of 2006.

2005 - 2006 - Funds were raised by the church and school for construction relief teams to be sent to Mississippi and Louisiana to assist in Hurricane Katrina’s recovery efforts and minister to local residents.

July 2006 - Pastor Donald Sheley transferred his position of Senior Pastor to his son, Pastor Leighton Sheley, on Father’s Day. Pastor Donald Sheley continues to hold the positions of Founding Pastor, Pastor of Missions and Preaching Pastor along with Pastor Leighton. Other Staff were added: Pastor & Mrs. Biehn, Marriage counseling; Mr. Eric Chester, Awana Director and Project Coordinator; Pastor & Mrs. Steve Simmons, Youth Pastors; and Mr. Matt Tinetti, Family Ministries.

2006-2007 - Eleventh grade was added to the school. Mrs. Jeannie Chiara became the College Preparatory Administrator. The sports program continued to grow and become quite competitive.

January 2007 - Highlands Christian College Prep moved into the Alta Vista facility after the Christmas holiday.

2007 - Mrs. Melanie Gorospe was promoted from Assistant Director to the Director of Highlands Christian Preschool when Mrs. Pencek left that position.  Mrs. Frances Leonor became the administrator for Kindergarten to 8th grade.

2007-2008 - Twelfth grade was added. WASC and ASCI extended accreditation to grades eleven and twelve.  Our sports program becomes a member of the CIF/CCS/PSAL. HCCP Sophomore, Marissa Mercado, is named Miss Teen Pacifica by the California Teen Scholarship Program. HCCP graduated the first senior class.

June 2007 - Mrs. Natalie Ayres was awarded the Norm MacKenzie “Rookie” Athletic Director of the Year from the California State Athletic Director Association.

2008 – Church of the Highlands committed to focusing its missions program to China for the next three years. Paper was purchased for the first printing of the Preacher’s Outline Commentary (New Testament) to be sent to pastors in China. Pastor and Mrs. Derek Chung, the leaders of our Chinese ministries, spent 10 years translating the books.

2009 - Present

2009 – Pastor and Mrs. Chung moved to Hong Kong to hire local Christian translators to facilitate the translation of the Old Testament portion of the Preacher’s Outline Commentary. Church of the Highlands assisted with the publishing of these books.

March 2009 – Highlands Christian Schools decided to close the Alta Vista facility due to external legal circumstances, which prohibited us from purchasing it. We had been in Escrow since 2006, but God had different plans for the school. Highlands began looking for a place to move the College Preparatory division. HCCP and Alma Heights Christian Academy (AHCA) announced a merger of the two high schools. The merger nearly doubled the size of the student body, giving more opportunity for additional classes, including more Advance Placement (AP) classes with enhanced facilities.

June 2009 – Pastor and Mrs. John Chiara were transferred to pastor a church in North Carolina. She will also be close to assist her mother who lives in the area.

July 2009 – Church of the Highlands was awarded “The 2009 Best of San Bruno Award” in the Community Churches category by the US Commerce Association, Washington, D.C.

2009 – The San Francisco Business News listed Highlands Christian Schools in the “100 Top Businesses in the San Francisco area’.

2009-2010 – The merged high school had a wonderful year with minor adjustments needed. We thank God for a great year.

2010 - Church of the Highlands was awarded for the second year “The 2010 Best of San Bruno Award” in the Community Churches category by the US Commerce Association, Washington D.C.

2010 – The San Francisco Business News listed Highlands Christian Schools in the “25 Top Businesses” in  the San Francisco area.

2010 –Highlands Christian Schools was nominated as “The Best of the Bay” private school in San Mateo County by KRON Channel 4 “Best of the Bay.”

April 2010 – Construction of the youth center for Church of the Highlands began.

May 2010 - Dr. David Johnston assumed the position of Assistant Superintendent. He came to us from Sydney, Australia, where in 1983, he founded Wesley Institute, a well-known international college for ministry and the arts.

May 2010 - Congratulations to Mrs. Frances Leonor for completing her Doctoral Program and becoming Dr. Frances Leonor Ed.D.

Summer 2010 - The school library is being moved and expanded, adding new books and resources. New offices are being created for the finance department.  A youth center for Church of the Highlands is being built.

September 2010—San Bruno experiences a major gas explosion near the Monterey Drive campus, which burned down 38 homes in the neighborhood and damaged another 18. Several employees, church and school families were affected. Church of the Highlands actively ministers and supports local authorities to restore the community.

2010 – present The Church’s present ministry is in Borneo, Indonesia, building a Christian village to educate children and teenagers toward leadership with a Biblical worldview. Pastor Donald Sheley is directly working with leadership in organization, construction of the buildings as well as spiritual leadership of the adult volunteers.

Church and School Missions & Ministries – Over the years, Pastor Donald and Mrs. Vernita Sheley have helped over 150 churches through financing, architecture, building and organization. They have also assisted 60-80 Christian schools in Tonga, Russia, Ukraine, Korea, Philippines, South America, Central America, Mexico, Australia, Indonesia, China, California and locally.

We completed our missions to the Philippine Islands and to the commentary for the Pastors in China. People of the church supported and assisted in the Katrina hurricane recovery efforts in Mississippi and Louisiana repairing pastors’ homes and churches.

In addition to the above, Church of the Highlands has supported a missionary in Israel and World Vision (a mission that helps children all over the world). In the local San Francisco Bay Area, our outreach ministries help people who are in jail, homeless, First Resort (Pregnancy Crises Center), the sick, elderly, those in recovery, or in difficult personal situations.

God has truly blessed Church of the Highlands and Highlands Christian Schools in so many miraculous ways during these fifty years, plus. Ministries within the church focus on enhancing, enriching and equipping the lives of our members, parents and guests through worship, music, Bible studies, care groups, marriage maintenance, parenting classes, biblical counseling, Sunday School, prayer support, seminars and many other ways. Please let us know how we can serve you.