The Vancouver Symposium on Christian Education – Day 1

Today was the pre-conference day to discuss specific elements of digital learning strategies and methods as applicable to the Christian School. It was a good day together. Unlike other conferences that I attended, I found that the day included quality breakout sessions and meaningful conversations all around. I was impressed by the sense of collegiality that permeated the various sessions and I had a chance to meet some very dedicated professional educators. I chose to attend three specific sessions.

Success Strategies for the Business of Education helped us reconfigure the business and marketing end of schooling. Of the many insights I gained, I thought the most simple and practical was to get students involved in the touring process for prospective students and families, especially at the middle and high school levels. This can definitely help students see themselves “fitting in” which is so important when families enroll or transfer to the school. I realized that we do this on our university campus, so it makes sense here. I wonder why we didn’t think of this before.

Physical + Virtual = Space for Learning challenged us to reconsider our use of physical and virtual space in teaching and learning. This was a brilliant presentation of what can be, especially with regards to self-directed, competency-based learning. I like the emphasis to keep relationship and community deeply centered in the learning landscape.

Change Leadership for Dynamic Times offered some insight into leading change in a school where some resistance may be encountered. An eight stage approach to ensure effective change was shared. I found the first step, namely “creating a sense of urgency in what needs to be done” as one of the more important steps since it helped focus energies on initiating the process of necessary and better change in the school.

This was a good day to start the symposium. I will definitely need to review and consider my notes and ideas a bit further, especially as they apply to the high school project.

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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.

Categorizing my thinking

Peabody College of Education at Vanderbilt University recently launched the Developing Effective Schools Center (DESC), a national research and development center on identifying programs, practices, processes and policies that make some high schools more effective at reaching certain students than others. The DESC notes that consensus has grown among practitioners and researchers around the essential components of a successful high school. These include quality instruction, a rigorous curriculum, a culture of learning, professional behavior, connections to external communities, systemic use of data, system performance accountability, and learner-centered leadership.

Marzano (2003) reviewed 35 years of research of ‘what works in schools.’ He organized his results into three general factors of  influence on student achievement. These are 1) school-level factors (viable curriculum, challenging goals and effective feedback, parent and community involvement, safe and orderly environment), 2) teacher-level factors (instructional strategies, classroom management, classroom curriculum design), and 3) student-level factors (home atmosphere, learned intelligence and background knowledge, motivation).

As I reviewed the two lists, I wondered if considering these components and categories would be helpful as I continue to organize my thoughts regarding a new Christian high school. It seemed that each component and category could be applied to a Christian education context with little difficulty. I then recalled my recent site visitation experience at Monroe Christian School which introduced me to the accreditation standards that are central Christian Schools International. These are Standards 1) Community, 2) Staff, 3) Students, and 4) Curriculum. I mapped my understanding of the components suggested by DESC and the Marzano categories of what works in schools to the four CSI Standards and decided to include those additional components that a private institution needs to consider. This led to following organizing framework:

1. School

  • centrality of vision and mission of the Christian school (including the philosophical foundation of education/school)
  • connections to external communities (including parent and community involvement)
  • responsibilities & relationships among all participants in the learning process (including the student-level factors of home atmosphere, motivation, and learned intelligence and background knowledge)
  • systemic use of data to guide decision-making and inform system performance
  • facilities

2. Teacher

  • teacher development and support
  • healthy, professional, and biblical teacher leadership
  • developing a culture of learning

3. Students

  • discipleship and development
  • student services & programs
  • enrollment (admissions & retention)
  • graduation requirement

4. Curriculum & Instruction

  • a guaranteed, viable & rigorous curriculum
  • quality instruction & classroom management
  • learning environment
  • educational technology

I am going to start categorize and/or tag my posts in this blog according to this framework. This should help me as I continue to reflect and act upon this “whisper” for a Christian High School.

References:

Christian Schools International. (2006). Vision to action. Retrieved October 12, 2010 at http://www.csionline.org/.

Marzano, R. J. (2003). What works in schools: Translating research into action. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Peabody College of Education. (2010, Fall). Ideas in action. Peabody Reflector. 11.