Our vision for the new Monroe Christian High School

We recently held a fund-raising banquet with the goal of generating some essential start-up funding for the new Monroe Christian High School. During this fine evening together, I gave a presentation on the vision for the new high school. I was able to highlight our intentions for engaging students in their learning and equipping them for service throughout high school. I also highlighted what blended learning can look like for Monroe Christian High School, and shared some exciting news regarding the attention that we are garnering as more people learn about our model. (Unfortunately the audio is not strong for this video, so it is necessary to adjust your volume accordingly.)

Click here to watch and listen: A vision for the new Monroe Christian High School

Students need S-P-A-C-E to learn

I was recently introduced to Challenge Success, which is an organization that works with schools to help create balance and academic fulfillment for students. One of their cornerstones is based on the notion that students need SPACE to learn. SPACE is an acronym for five practices that can help change a student’s experience of school:

S – Students’ use of time

P – Project-based learning

A – Alternative and authentic assessments

C – Climate of care

E – Educate parents, students and faculty

It is worth viewing the recommended SPACE policies and ideas that can positively influence a student’s experience of high school.

Interestingly, we have been advocating for these same principles (minus the fancy acronym!) and planning for many of the recommendations for our new high school. It is rewarding to see how our efforts are aligning with recommendations from the research base for school success.

Of particular interest is focus “C” on developing a caring community for students in which they feel safe and appropriately challenged to learn. This is so central to our plans for Monroe Christian High School, as it is in a Christian community-based learning environment that discipleship and student development can occur. Our high school students need community and a caring advising system in which teachers will get to know their students in order to help them succeed academically  We don’t believe that a fully online, virtual high school will lead to the type of academic and personal growth that we desire for our high school graduates. We remain committed to the deliberate blending of on-campus learning experiences and positive relationships with the best that online learning options may offer for high school studies.

Resource:

Barseghian, T. – Why kids need schools to change

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.

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.

Centrality of mission to the Christian school

I am learning that my understanding of Christian education is not as well developed as I would like. For this reason, I have been selecting some key resources that will help me to better understand Christian education and the Christian schooling movement. I plan on sharing some of the insights I am gathering in this blog site.

I very quickly noticed how different publications repeatedly emphasize the centrality of a carefully articulated mission statement to the Christian school. As Frost (2007) summarizes, the best, or most successful Christian schools reveal a “passion” (p. 39) for its mission. The mission serves as the school’s purpose and should distinguish the school as being Christian. The mission should drive excellence in the building. When conscientiously considered and acted upon, this mission should influence policies, financial decisions, the day-to-day interactions, etc. of the school. Perhaps most importantly, the mission should provide energy and focus for the curriculum. It should answer the question “What do we expect students to be like when they leave our school?”

Mission measurement should be a whole school community effort. It should involve the Christian school board, the administration, the teachers and even the students. It should address the mission as it applies to the various disciplines that make up the school’s curriculum. Students, too, need to be asked questions that reflect the mission and its goals. Alternative forms of student assessment such as portfolios, projects and performance exhibitions can help determine overall mission attainment. In addition to assessment activities that follow classroom instruction, mission assessment can also take various other formats such as alumni and community surveys, and accreditation reviews.

I am learning that most, if not all, Christian schools have a carefully articulated mission statement. Most, if not all, appear to work conscientiously towards fulfilling their mission. However, the biggest lesson I learned in reviewing From mission to measurement (Vander Ark, 2000) is that far too many Christian schools drift away from their mission over time by failing to assess the school’s attainment on their mission. This is a key component that needs to be remembered and addressed to keep the Christian school’s mission central to all life and purpose of the school.

References:

Frost, G. (2007). Learning from the best: Growing greatness in the Christian school. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Schools International.

Vander Ark, D. (2000). From mission to measurement. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Schools International.