Proposing a governance structure

The question of governance and accountability of the proposed new high school was brought to my attention last week. Acknowledging that the current MCS Board is fully occupied with its various responsibilities, I offered a suggested governance structure to provide oversight of the school development process as follows:

During the initial development and implementation phase of the proposed new high school, a High School Advisory Council (HSAC) will be convened whose mandate and primary function will be to seek the will of God by providing oversight in matters of development concerning the proposed new high school per the request of the MCS Board.

Goal & Purpose

The HSAC will be charged to make recommendations for consideration, approval and action for regarding initial, annual and long-range plans for the proposed new high school and will serve in an advisory capacity for 3-5 years: one year (2012-2013) for initial preparation, planning and development, and then 2-4 years (2013-2015/16/17) for implementation, assuming one grade level implementation per year.

Expectations

The HSAC will reference the existing Christian School International Vision to Action standards to develop, or cause to be developed, the immediate implementation plan for the new high school. This will include recommendations for consideration, approval and action regarding:

1)       Community (CSI Standard Category 1.0)

This will address and include the development of a proposed high school philosophy, mission, goals statements (1.1), overall school organization (1.2), financial management (1.3), public relations (1.4), and parents (1.5).

2)       Staffing (Category 2.0)

This will address and include the development of policies and expectations for all staff members (standard 2.1), administration (2.2), and teachers (2.3).

3)       Students (Category 3.0)

This will address and include the development of policies and expectations on admission and retention (3.1), student services (3.2), and physical facility (3.3).

4)       Curriculum (Category 4.0)

This will address and include the development, expectations and understanding regarding curriculum procedures (4.1), instructional procedures and resources (4.2), and the written curriculum (4.3).

Level of Authority

The HSAC will be under the authority of, and respond to, the MCS Board. One current member of the MCS Board will sit on the HSAC and serve as a liaison between the MCS Board and the HSAC.

The decisions made by the HSACwill be understood as recommendations for consideration, approval and action when shared with the Monroe Christian School Board, with whom final decision-making authority rests.

HSAC Membership

The HSAC will consist of a minimum of five and a maximum of seven individuals. One current member of the MCS Board will sit on the HSAC and serve as a liaison between the MCS Board and the HSAC. This member will represent the HSAC at MCS Board meetings.

All HSAC members either i) hold membership in the MCS Society or ii) are employed as administrative and/or instructional staff at MCS.

Monthly Reporting Mechanism

The HSAC will meet monthly on an agreed-upon date before the monthly MCS Board meeting. All recommendations from the HSAC for consideration, approval and action will be reported to the MCS Board in the form of written statements and/or minutes of the HSAC meetings. It is expected that the MCS Board will respond diligently so as not to impede the progress of the HSAC.

Meeting with an admissions counselor

I had the opportunity to meet with a university admissions counselor earlier today. I was interested in getting a sense of what counselors may be considering when they review an application from a student who recently graduated from a new or relatively unknown high school.

I was pleasantly surprised that they were not necessarily looking for the number of honors or AP classes that a student took, per se, but, rather, that applicants could demonstrate that they attempted to challenge themselves in school, especially when considering the various courses that could be taken in the school curriculum. Did the student choose the “easy credits”? Or did the student attempt to engage in a variety of classes throughout the curriculum? Is the student a well-rounded student as a result of the high school experience?

The counselor advised the need to let the university know of the school’s graduation requirements at least a year in advance of the first graduating class. This notification should highlight the minimum graduation requirements and expectations of the school’s students. This was especially important should the school expect the students to participate in service learning, internships or offer other learning opportunities for credit. Based on this provided profile, careful decisions are made regarding admission status.

The counselor didn’t even flinch when we talked about a hybrid high school graduation diploma. To her, this was part of the reality of admitting students in the 21st century.

Overall, I appreciated the opportunity to discuss what a new school needs to consider from a university admissions point of view. Clearly, the need to explicitly express minimum graduation requirements is important. Even more important is to articulate the vision and expectations that a new Christian high school may have for its students as graduates and representatives of the school when they leave to go to college.

A visit with the pastors

I had an important meeting yesterday afternoon to share our developing vision for a new Christian high school in Monroe. The MCS Administrator and I were invited to spend a couple of minutes with a group of pastors from the local churches in Monroe.

We shared our vision for a high school that would equip students for the 21st century; a vision to prepare students for discipleship and stewardship.

I felt it important to communicate how we started on this project together and shared God’s whisper for a new high school. As I mentioned to them, after a rich history of Christian education in the local community for more than 50 years, we believe that now may be the time to consider a new high school for Monroe.

We highlighted that the proposed high school would offer a high quality, Christian, secondary school education that is:

1. Focused on academic excellence; grounded in discipleship, stewardship and service,
2. Meets/exceeds minimum WA high school graduation requirements, and
3. Aligned with knowledge, skills, and competences required for the 21st century.

We ended by asking if the pastors and their churches would help us by praying for this significant expansion on Monroe Christian School, specifically for insight into God’s will for the school, the overall development and implementation process, and that families may come forward to choose Christian education for their children.

The pastors seemed open to our brief presentation. They had a few preliminary questions. One that surprised me was on the overall validity and effectiveness of this new approach to “doing” high school. I do believe that I was able to ease any concerns they might have had. I look forward to their support in prayer as we move forward.

Library access for the 21st century school

How is technology changing today’s school libraries? was the tagline that caught my attention today. In the first of a three-part series on this topic, THE Journal highlighted one school’s library designed around an iCommons concept.

The iCommons serves as a center for learning and academic life. It has a relaxed atmosphere and includes plenty of space for student collaboration and work. It includes smaller work rooms for students and areas with comfortable couches for interaction and discussion. “It is not a ‘sushing’ library” but, rather, a workspace.

The digital library collection includes access to various databases and online full-text books by using sites such as  Questia and Google Books. These sites allow students to access materials 24/7, create their own “virtual bookshelves”, and even mark or highlight information as needed. Since it is all digital, there is never the problem of a resource being checked out and unavailable for student use.

The article highlighted at least two important needs that must be addressed when considering this concept:

1. Necessary media and information literacy training to help students access and evaluate the resources and relevent information in their searches.

2. The importance of educating parents regarding the purpose and use of  a library organized around this concept.

Reference:

McCrea, B. (2011, Oct. 5). iCommons: The library evolved.  Accessed October 7, 2011 through thejournal.com.

The challenge of funding …

Every private school begins with a dream. The challenge for the visionaries is to realize the dream.

Marks (2006) highlights the fact that far too many potentially good private schools fail simply on account of a lack of funding. I have not studied private school finance, so his brief article provided a very cursory introduction to private school finance.  The “crib sheet” he provided highlighted categories of expenses that need to be considered in the set-up. These included:

  • determining school location and facility rental
  • necessary building renovations to serve the school population adequately
  • budgeting essential building services, such as landscaping or janitorial services, to support the facilities
  • insurance costs for running the school
  • learning supplies, including computer network, laptops, art supplies, etc.
  • library upkeep and subscriptions
  • budget line for faculty training and professional development support

In the end, the greatest budgetary expense relates to personnel. One aspect that successful new schools plan on to keep staffing costs low is to require as many employees as possible to have a regular role with students. There are no employees with limited direct contact with the students. The notion is that every adult plays a significant or contributory role to student learning, including those with administrative responsibilities. This is meant to minimize costs for solely non-instructional staff members.

Since the lion’s share of the operating budget is tuition- and donation-based, all new school planning needs to address establishing, developing and maintaining a constituency of families and alumni who remain interested in the school’s mission. New parents need to understand the call to Christian education and believe that a Christian high school is a viable education alternative for their children. Similarly, alumni need to be reminded of this call and their commitment as adults to support Christian education at their local school.

Nevertheless, on the question of funding and budget, when God whispers a dream we need the guts to respond …

He will provide.

Reference:

Marks, A., (2006, Nov. 5). Building the Next Dalton. Retrieved July 7, 2011 through New York Magazine (online).

Meeting with the board – for the first time!

I had my first opportunity to meet with the MCS school board last night. They held a special meeting for me to present my ideas for a new Christian high school. I wanted to encourage an open discussion on the whisper that God had given me, so I developed a simple PowerPoint presentation to introduce some of my reflections and musings on what a Christian high school could look like for the 21st century. I was careful to emphasize the need for a paradigm shift as we consider hybird learning as part of the high school experience.

While carefully considering the mission of the school, I felt it was important to align my thinking and presentation to the CSI Standards for accreditation. Part of this included introducing “what works in schools” (Marzano, 2003) as part of the presentation, too. I shared a vision for curricular themes across the disciplines and necessary 21st century fluencies that we would need to foster in our students, the teaching and practice of which would need to be appropriately integrated throughout the curriculum. I attempted to paint a picture of what the students would be experiencing in the school and provided an overview of a daily timetable. Finally, I also wanted to present what we would expect from our teachers and how we would need to support them in this setting.

I recall that the board followed the presentation quite  closely and remained interested in the new ideas. A time for questions and discussion followed. Questions for clarification on how the school would run on so few specialists were addressed. Indeed, gaining a better understanding on how to balance on-campus project-based learning with a learning commons challenged us to consider a new way of experiencing high school. I was most encouraged that the board voted immediately to pursue further this exciting project. I continue to believe that God is speaking to me for this vision, and I am glad that His whisper may now be heard by others, too.

Foundation for 21st century schooling

Kelly, McCain and Jukes (2009) offer research and ideas on how to teach today’s “digital generation.” As others, they assert that today’s traditional, “cookie-cutter” high schools have become outdated. In its place, Kelly et al. suggest that we need to develop a vision that moves us away from the common high school practices in order to better address the learning demands of the 21st century.

They recommend that high schools accept the reality of the online digital world and those associated implications it would have on teaching and learning. At first glance, we might acknowledge that their recommendations are not necessarily novel. This should not, however, detract us from the need to consider them carefully, as these form the foundation upon which 21st century schooling should be based.

1. Schools need to shift instruction to focus on those higher-level thinking skills needed for the 21st century. This call for reform and action is not new. What is different is that additional skills beyond those often associated with the higher-order cognitive processing skills of Bloom’s Taxonomy (analyze, evaluate, create) are being considered more and more as “higher-order.” Organizations such as The Partnership for 21st Century Skills and The 21st Century Fluency Project offer a framework in which to consider these skills.

2. Schools need to embrace the new digital reality. Educators need to acknowledge that technological change is a given in today’s culture. We need to use technology to keep school and the schooling experience relevant to our society. As such, we need to connect with the world that the students experience. They are already using numerous digital tools in their after-school lives, but students need to be taught, and then empowered, to use their tools to apply the higher-level thinking skills mentioned above for learning’s sake. In this way, instruction in the classroom can become more relevant to students as it us linked to their world.

3. Schools need to establish greater connections between in-class experiences and the “real” world outside. The goal of such efforts is to develop greater relevancy of what students are learning at school. Contextualizing content with real-life experiences, field-trips, guest speakers, job shadowing, digital simulations, etc., can lead to more meaningful learning.

4. Schools need to broaden their evaluation policies to include assessment activities that provide a complete picture of student learning. Assessment practices cannot only follow established text-based and/or standardized tests. Alternative assessments, such as student portfolios, presentations, etc., need to be considered in which students are asked to demonstrate their knowledge and developing competency on 21st century skills, abilities and fluencies.

Reference:

Kelly, F. S., McCain, T., & Jukes, I. (2009). Teaching the digital generation: No more cookie-cutter high schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.