SouthLake Christian Update – May 2021

Amazingly, only 13.5 days of school remain before summer break. I’m not typically one to count down the days, but this year is an exception. Each day in person this year has felt like a gift, and every week a victory. I will save my congratulations for the official end of the school year, but for now, I cannot thank our teachers enough for their herculean efforts to make this year possible. Did you know that the average tenure of our faculty is greater than 10 years? We have never needed their experience and expertise more than this year. I encourage you to drop your teacher(s) a note of appreciation next week. You have no idea how far those notes go toward sustaining endurance and boosting morale.

I have a few general updates on how we plan to approach the 2021-2022 school year in terms of COVID safety.

  • We will continue our Online Academy for students who need it for health reasons.
  • We plan to keep classroom capacities where they are now. Although the CDC has said three feet of spacing is adequate, we value small classes and hope greater spacing will allow us to relax other safety measures sooner.
  • We would all like to move away from masks as soon as we can do so safely. This will depend on vaccine acceptance by our students, families, and teachers, along with metadata showing vaccinated people are unlikely to contract or spread the virus. Although we do not plan to require the vaccine at this time, it’s likely our fastest way to eliminate masks.
  • We plan to return to as many in-person gatherings as possible, including weekly chapel services, although meeting sizes will depend on area conditions and health agency recommendations.
  • We will soon discontinue temperature checks as the NC Department of Health now considers them optional.
  • We plan to play football this fall. We have a full slate of games already scheduled, and I look forward to Friday nights under the lights once again.
  • We will keep you posted as we are able to make additional changes toward normal operations.

This past week I had the opportunity to spend three days at a Christian school a few hours away, serving on a site visit committee with ACSI (Association of Christian Schools International), one of our accrediting bodies. As a relatively new head of school, I found the experience incredibly educational as we prepare for our accreditation site visit next year. I came away from the experience with a head full of ideas, but mostly with gratitude for SouthLake and all that we’ve successfully navigated during our three years together.

Finally, we have a busy summer ahead as we offer a full range of enrichment camps on campus and several high school classes through our Online Academy. You have probably been bombarded with information on these topics, but if you need a refresher, let me know. We will also make campus improvements, prepare our classrooms for the fall, and finish academic scheduling to get you that information around July 1. And sometime in July, we’d like to take a few days to rest before we start it all again this fall. Until then, I encourage you to finish well, say thanks to your teachers, and say a prayer of gratitude to God for his blessings during a most unusual but successful academic year.

Onward,

Matthew S. Kerlin, Ph.D.

Head of School

SouthLake Christian Academy

COVID Education

One Year Ago …

One year ago, we closed our campus and moved to online instruction for all students. At the time, I will confess I had grave concerns about what the following months would hold for our school. How long would our campus remain closed? Would our people get sick? Would our students thrive online? Would we survive financially? How and when might we reopen our campus? These and a hundred other questions weighed heavy on my mind during long days working from home and occasional sleepless nights.

Fast forward to one year later. We are a better school today in every way. Enrollment is strong and nearing capacity as we have added four new classes in our lower school. Our financial position is sound and participation in charitable giving has grown remarkably. Our teachers have learned to navigate online learning with amazing skill and our technological sophistication as a school has developed at light speed. Our students have learned new coping skills that will pay dividends long after this pandemic ends. We all learned the value of cooperation and trust as we navigated this year together as a community.

One year after our world shut down, I feel gratitude. I am thankful to each of you for your support and cooperation this past year. We faced many issues that threatened to divide us as a community, but we remained unified in our commitment to educate and care for our students. I am thankful to the medical professionals whose wise guidance has helped us navigate the complexities of running a school safely during a pandemic. I am grateful to our teachers for the sacrifices they make every day to continue the noble work of education by whatever means necessary. And finally, I am thankful to God whose providence and protection we owe for whatever good the past year has brought us, and whose love for us in Christ drives us forward in our mission. The past 12 months have brought us precious little to celebrate, but today, we can certainly celebrate that we are still here and still doing the work God has for us, day by day, week by week, until one day all things are made new.

Academics community Education

Thank you SouthLake Christian Academy

We made it. We completed a full semester of in-person classes, five days a week for all students in all grades. In previous years, such an accomplishment would hardly be noteworthy. This year, it feels like a monumental achievement. I will confess to a few sleepless nights this past summer considering our options. We had to weigh the risk of certain harm to many by keeping students online, against the risk of possible harm to a few by returning to in-person classes. That decision was the most difficult of my professional life. In the end, we decided to support both in-person and online classes. I won’t bore you with the details of what it took to prepare, but I will tell you the preparation was worth every cent and every second. A doctor whose children attend SouthLake said to me in July, “If any school can pull this off, SouthLake can.” In retrospect, he was exactly right. We are by no means out of the woods, but as this semester ends, there are a few people I need to thank for our success so far.

First, I want to thank our teachers. They bore the most substantial risks. Would students in their classes give them COVID? Would our safety measures really work? Would students and their families cooperate? They faced this semester with uncomfortable unknowns and re-entered our classrooms when many teachers across the country refused to do so. They were careful, but they were not hesitant. They did not complain about all the many changes we had to implement to make this work. They taught students in person and online simultaneously, which is incredibly difficult. Some got sick or had to quarantine yet still taught remotely from their homes by Zooming into their classrooms on campus. I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it here: our teachers are unsung heroes of this global pandemic.

Second, I want to thank our business team. This year they’ve had to make 10,000 complicated decisions in conditions of remarkable uncertainty. From CARES Act legislation to emergency financial aid disbursement to quarantine payroll tax adjustments, nothing this year was normal and nothing was easy. Both our CFO and our Senior Accounting Clerk are highly trained and experienced CPAs who care deeply about our families and never forget about the people behind the numbers. Without them, we’d never have finished 2020 with our current financial stability.

Finally, I want to thank our SouthLake families. You overwhelmingly supported our desire to return to in-person instruction and our plan to do so safely. You trusted us, cooperated with us, rolled with the changes, stayed flexible, kept us informed, and did your best to keep our students and teachers as safe as possible. You followed our protocols when your students had to be quarantined. You attended school meetings and parent-teacher conferences on Zoom. You were patient with tropical storms, power outages, early dismissals, and the accompanying carline delays that followed. And to top it off, you gave generously to the teachers’ Christmas fund.

I have never been prouder to be associated with SouthLake Christian Academy. By God’s grace and providence, we end 2020 as a stronger school than when the year started. May God give you and your family a blessed Christmas and New Year.

Sincerely,

Matthew S. Kerlin, Head of School

SouthLake Christian Academy

Uncategorized

Why I Am Thankful, Now More Than Ever, For a Liberal Arts Education

I have an undergraduate degree in French Horn Performance. I have master’s degrees in business and theology, and a PH.D. in philosophical theology. Aside from my MBA, all of my education has been in the so-called liberal arts. As opposed to concentrated vocational training in a career-specific course of study, a liberal arts education focuses on the academic disciplines of philosophy, history, language, literature, music, art, and the social sciences. Also called the humanities, these courses of study teach one to think and write and solve problems rather than merely to do a job. The humanities endeavor to make one a better person rather than merely a more credentialed one. I have never held a job that specifically requires me to have any of the degrees I hold, and yet in every job I have had, and at every stage of my adult life, I have been incredibly grateful for a liberal arts education. This is especially true now, for two key reasons.

First, closing and opening a school during a global pandemic has forced me to think carefully, critically, and calmly, skills without which I might have lost my mind or my job long before COVID could get to me. This year I have had to read and study more diligently than ever, sorting through mountains of data, discerning fact from fiction, disregarding hyperbole and speculation in order to attend to relevant information. Leading an organization during a public health crisis requires the kind of information literacy that a liberal arts education helps develop. Sure, a degree in public health would be helpful, but one cannot earn a degree to match every crisis. The abilities to learn concepts quickly and apply them appropriately are valuable precisely because they are transferrable.

Second, the racial turmoil and political polarization we have seen in recent months has exposed our inability as a nation to engage thoughtfully and productively in public dialogue on controversial topics. We are all tempted to exist in an echo chamber, listening to voices that reflect our own, viewing events exclusively through the lens of our own experience, and discounting alternative perspectives. Sustained engagement with the humanities inoculates against the kind of narrow ideology that divides and radicalizes. When we humbly subject our viewpoint to sustained critique, we are much more likely to see our own blind spots and to show empathy toward others with whom we disagree. I see no other way to live peaceably with my fellow citizens.

The free and critical exchange of ideas lies at the heart much of the western intellectual tradition from its inception. As the cost of a true liberal arts education has increased exponentially, I fear the value has been increasingly marginalized. Research shows that the humanities tend to have a moderating influence; serious students tend to view the world with less dichotomy and more nuance, less polarization and more subtlety, less estrangement and more empathy. In the process, perhaps students of the liberal arts also come to see that both politics and pandemics have less ultimate significance than matters of faith. Diseases and democracies rise and fall, but the Kingdom of God remains forever. Worry less about the schools you or your children may attend. Worry less about the fleeting social dramas that tend to occupy our immediate attention. Let us concern ourselves more intently with the kinds of people we are becoming, the kind of society we are helping to create, and the God who sits enthroned above all our fleeting and temporal concerns.

Education Leadership

First Thoughts: SouthLake Christian Academy School Updates, September 2020

Dear SouthLake Christian Family,

For those new to SouthLake, I send a school update on the first of each month entitled First Thoughts, a name I borrowed with permission from a colleague. I take this opportunity to send crucial information that will help you better understand and support our school. Today’s update includes information about our safety measures, enrollment, finances, School Board, and church affiliation.

First, let me begin with a word of appreciation. Thanks to your efforts and cooperation, we have had only 5 cases of COVID in our student population since the start of school. In each case, we were able to identify close contacts, quarantine the appropriate individuals, and provide them with online instruction. We now have first-hand evidence that our safety measures are preventing the spread of the virus at school. This takes remarkable effort on the part of all members of our community. Thank you, and let us all remain vigilant.

Second, our enrollment at this moment stands at 593. On this same day in 2019, our enrollment was 556. Almost all of this growth has taken place in grades JK-4 where we added classes to facilitate demand and keep our class sizes small. We begin this year with more than 150 new students and 23 prospective students still on a wait list. Most of our new families report they heard about SouthLake from other SouthLake families. Our retention rate, defined as the percentage of eligible students who return to SouthLake each fall, remains at 92%. These healthy numbers and upward trends are a testament to our teachers whose reputation has helped sustained SouthLake through multiple economic downturns.

Third, I offer this brief financial summary. Last year we received $6.9 million in net revenue from tuition and fees after awarding $1.2 million in need-based financial aid. 65% of revenue went to salaries, 18% to instructional costs, 12% to facilities (including debt), and 5% to administrative costs. In spite of the economic calamity caused by COVID, we received $115 thousand in cash donations, approximately $203 per student, only a slight decrease from the previous year. These numbers will obviously look different for the 2020-2021 academic year, but they will be different in amount not proportion. Our goal remains to spend most of our revenue on the thing that matters most to your students – the people who teach, minister, and invest in their lives.

Fourth, our school is governed by the SouthLake Christian Academy School Board. Four members of our School Board are also members or ruling elders of SouthLake Presbyterian Church, of which we are a wholly integrated ministry. The remaining three members of the School Board are selected by the school from among parents actively involved in the school. Members serve a three-year term and their primary responsibilities include financial oversight for the school along with supervision and evaluation of the Head of School. You can find more information about our School Board in our Student Handbook and on our website.

I mention this because the relationship between the church and academy is set to undergo some revision. At the conclusion of our annual audit in 2019, the CPA firm Franklin and Franklin recommended that the church and school divide into two separate legal entities to facilitate greater financial autonomy and transparency. Subsequently, the School Board voted to recommend to the church’s governing body that the church and school form separate 501(c)3 organizations. The church has now taken this recommendation under advisement and is considering what forms of church governance should remain to protect the long-term Christian mission of the school as the two entities separate. These discussions involve complicated details about asset allocation, debt management, financial accounting, and non-profit governance. I am happy to discuss these things with you, but I suspect I have already lost much of my audience at this point. Suffice it to say that our mission remains unchanged: to educate and disciple students in all aspects of God’s reality.

I would apologize for the length of this email, but those who would appreciate an apology likely stopped reading a few paragraphs ago. My tendency is to err on the side of transparency, sometimes at the expense of brevity. I want you to know how our school operates, and more importantly, the purposes for which it operates. So without further verbosity, let me close by saying that I am grateful each of you are part of the SouthLake family.

Leadership

Why SouthLake Christian Academy Will Not Play Football This Fall

Last week we made the difficult decision as a school to cancel high school and middle school football this fall. While this decision was not a surprise to many, it was likely a disappointment to everyone. I want to offer a full explanation of why we made this decision.

First, there is no way to play football and comply with the health and safety recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, or the Mecklenburg County Department of Health. As a school, we have chosen to follow the advice of scientists and public health experts whose job is to protect the common good by preventing the spread of diseases. In the opinion of doctors and researchers, the safety protocols we have in place for this school year give us the best chance of staying at school for in-person instruction on our campus. It makes little sense to work diligently to follow safety guidelines during the day and then ignore them to play a sport each afternoon.

Second, the North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association (NCISAA) categorizes football as the only high-risk sport played during the fall. Football is typically the largest fall sport in terms of participants and is by far the most logistically complex. Managing locker room and bathroom usage, transportation, team meetings, pre-game meals, access to our trainer, and the other logistics of the sport while maintaining physical distancing is not possible. Football also places our students in close contact with students at other schools that are not implementing the same safety protocols we are, adding to the cumulative risk for everyone involved.

Third, were a player to test positive for COVID-19, in all likelihood much of the team would be considered a close contact by health department standards and need to be quarantined and tested. An outbreak on the team, such as we have seen among NFL and college teams in recent weeks, could force us to close the high school and/or the middle school for a period of time. Because we have so many siblings at SouthLake, a high school closure would likely impact the middle school and vice versa. Many students at SouthLake have parents who teach here so closures would also impact our faculty. As we learned the first week of this fall, a positive case of COVID-19 can have far-reaching ripple effects across our school.

Fourth, the risk calculations we have to make about football does not support us playing the sport at this time. There are risks associated with everything we do now. Live instruction carries risks, but so does online instruction. When we make decisions of any kind, we balance the risks and ask ourselves which risks are worth taking and which ones are not. In our estimation, the risks of live instruction on campus were lower than the risks of keeping students at home. That risk calculation was based on data about the number of COVID-19 cases in our area, coupled with what we know about the educational and psychological effects of long-term social isolation. We did a similar cost calculation as we considered football this fall. The risks of playing are great, significantly greater than other sports, and those risks are not necessary for us to take. I acknowledge that other sports pose some risks too, but the risks are lower on average, the safety logistics easier to manage, and the implications of a positive COVID-19 test less severe.

Finally, let me say that I was hoping the NCISAA would reach this conclusion about football itself. Making this decision in unison with other schools would have been preferable to us having to make the decision alone. It has become clear to me, however, that even though a significant number of school leaders in our association have similar concerns about football, none have been willing to step forward, choosing instead to string students and their families along with the hope of a normal season. Increasingly I felt uncomfortable with this course of action. As we fought to keep our own school open in week one, I realized it is time for me to lead and to level with our young men and their families about the facts. The facts show that apart from a significant medical breakthrough, we cannot safely play football this fall.

On a personal note, let me say that of all the things the pandemic has taken from us as a school, losing the opportunity to see our students compete in sports is among the most painful. For years now, my fall Friday nights have been spent watching our students compete and cheer. Honestly, I miss that more than I do NCAA or NFL football, and I know many of you parents feel the same. But I also know that even had we played it would not have been the same. The NCISAA has wisely banned spectators from attending any athletic competitions this fall, so I will not see our students compete in person in any sport for the remainder of 2020. I do not like any of this, but I believe our efforts and sacrifices give us the best chance to keep school open for as long as possible for as many as possible. This too shall pass, and we will be under the lights on Friday nights once again.

Sports

Message to SouthLake Christian Faculty and Staff

As we began faculty in-service last week at SouthLake Christian Academy, I addressed our teachers with an annual State of the School update and some words of encouragement and motivation. I commended their unity as a faculty and their commitment to teaching our students in ever changing circumstances, and also acknowledged the challenges they face as our operations are turned upside down in every conceivable way. I offered the following devotional thought and challenge.

Matthew 14 and John 6 tell the story of Jesus walking on water, but they tell it a bit differently. In Matthew’s account, Jesus walks on water through a storm, gets into the boat with his disciples, and “the winds ceased.” In John’s account, Jesus gets into the boat and “immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going. If you are a contemporary historiographer, this may appear as a contradiction. Some argue that the two writers are telling two different stories. For Matthew and John, however, I believe the gospel genre in which they were writing was use for theological rather than purely historical purposes. Matthew tells us when Jesus arrived, the waters calmed. John says that when Jesus arrived, they were carried across the waters; the voyage ended. Sometimes God intervenes to calm our waters and we keep on rowing. At other times he carries us through the waters, the voyage ends, and the difficulty is over. How God chooses to intervene is his choice by providence, and I believe, for our greater good.

In that light, I challenged our faculty and staff to shift their thinking in the following ways:

  1. Shift from likes to needs. Rather than think about operational changes as things we like or don’t like, conceive of them as things we need to continue live instruction as safely as possible for as long as possible.
  2. Shift from opinions to facts. We may all have opinions about school opening, about CDC recommendations, about the politics of wearing masks, etc. but those matter far less right now than science and data. Opinions matter, but facts are actionable.
  3. Shift from feelings to strategies. As conditions change, and inevitably they will, how we may feel about changes is less relevant than the strategies we implement to cope as well as possible with whatever comes our way.

While I would prefer that God simply carry us through this storm, it appears that we still have some rowing to do. So I will hope for calm waters, trust God’s providence, and pray for endurance to give every stroke of the paddle my best.

Biblical Interpretation Leadership Theology

SouthLake Christian Academy Reopening Plans

Introduction

The Executive Administrative Team of SouthLake Christian Academy has established a plan to return to live instruction on campus this fall. While we acknowledge that there is no risk-free way for students and teachers to return to campus, our plans intend to mitigate risk and balance the spiritual and educational needs of our students with the health and safety needs of the entire community. Attempting to resume on-campus operations during a pandemic will require careful strategy and unprecedented cooperation. We are committed to the words of our vision statement “that Christ may be preeminent in all things” (Colossians 1.18) and we take seriously the promise of our mission statement to education and disciple students “in all aspects of God’s reality.” We also know that we have an obligation to the common good, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. With these principles in mind, we will keep our plans flexible, our operations nimble, and our eyes attentive to changing circumstances.

Our decision to reopen campus for all students, five days per week, is based on the following considerations:

  • Monitoring the number of COVID-19 cases in the primary zip codes that feed our school
  • Monitoring the percentage of COVID-19 cases in our area affecting children ages 0-17
  • Available scientific evidence showing that children are at lower risk than adults for contracting the virus and developing severe symptoms
  • Available evidence that prevention practices such as physical distancing, hand washing, surface cleaning, and face covering (masks) significantly reduce the risk of infection
  • Mandatory COVID-19 testing for all SouthLake employees prior to the start of school
  • Enrollment caps to allow sufficient room in school classrooms to space students safely
  • Our ability to implement daily health screening and safety practices schoolwide
  • Willingness on the part of our teachers, parents, and students to return to live instruction, understanding both associated risks and prevention strategies
  • Our continued ability to provide quality online instruction during the year when it becomes necessary for students with health concerns or those in quarantine
  • Information from health officials allowing us to make precise decisions by class, grade, hallway, or building about any needed shut down of operations
  • Continuation of Phase 2 or 3 or North Carolina’s reopening plan and the absence of stay-at-home orders by government officials

Should there be an outbreak at school or increasing disease prevalence in the areas where our families live, or if local, regional, or state government officials issue stay-at-home orders or other restrictions that make campus operations impossible, SouthLake Christian Academy will shift to online instruction until conditions allow us to return to campus. The Executive Administrative Team, in consultation with local health officials, will continually assess current conditions and closely follow the latest research to adjust our safety protocols as the school year unfolds. The following document outlines details of our reopening plan that parents and students need to know. This is a long document, but we ask that you please read all of it carefully.

Executive Administrative Team

  • Matthew Kerlin, Head of School
  • Rebekah Leonard, Associate Head of School
  • Becky Makla, High School Principal
  • Mark Apgar, Lower School Principal
  • Jennifer Thomas, Middle and High School Assistant Principal

Communication

Successfully navigating the 2020-2021 school year will require clear channels of communication. Email is the official means of communication for SouthLake Christian Academy. Emails from the school to families should include SLCA in subject line and a brief description of the content. The school will send at least one weekly email communication to all families and the Head of School will send schoolwide updates on the first of each month. Teachers will send regular communication related to classroom activities. For urgent, emergency, or time sensitive communication, parents may receive a Renweb Parent Alert (text and/or voicemail). Certain times of the year may require more frequent communication than normal.

Both parents and employees are encouraged to attend carefully to all school information, particularly information related to safety protocols. As rumors tend to proliferate during stressful times, remember that the only official source of information for school operations is a direct communication from an official representative of the school. Everyone should be certain that all relevant contact information is correct in Renweb. To update your contact information, go to the “Family” tab in Renweb or the “School” tab in the Renweb app.

School Calendar and Attendance

School will begin as scheduled on August 12. Fall Break will be October 5-9 and Thanksgiving Break will be November 23-27. Other relevant dates will be updated and posted on our website at southlakechristian.org at About > School Calendar prior to the first day of classes. Calendar dates are subject to change this year as needed to protect instructional time or promote safety.

Attendance policies for the coming school year have been revised. For the 2020-2021 academic year, students will be allowed 10 absences for semester-long classes and 20 absences for year-long classes, twice the number of allowed absences from last year. This should prevent students from feeling pressure to attend school when they are showing symptoms of any illness. Furthermore, should a student contract COVID-19 or be required to quarantine because a member of his/her household is being tested or tests positive, we will seek to provide online instruction and suspend normal attendance policies provided we receive documentation of the positive COVID test. Documentation allows us to isolate potential spread of the virus and to assure that we make attendance allowances fairly and accurately.

If online instruction becomes necessary, students will be expected to participate fully unless illness prohibits it. In cases of illness, we will provide grace and reassurance, doing our best to help students make up any work missed. The school may make additional changes to policies for assignments, grading, and exams as needed to effectively facilitate any necessary online learning.

Health Screening, Hand Washing, Cleaning

Each student will have a temperature check every morning. Students with a temperature of 100.4 or higher will be isolated and sent home. Parents should be familiar with COVID-19 symptoms, including:

  • congestion, sore throat, runny nose
  • recent loss of taste or smell
  • worsening cough, shortness of breath
  • nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • fever, muscle aches, unusual fatigue

Students with any of these symptoms should stay home and seek medical attention from a physician to determine whether a COVID-19 test is needed. A signed commitment to this effect appears on the final page of this document.

We will make time in our daily schedule for students to wash their hands on a regular basis. Students who change classes (grades 5-12) will wash hands between every class using staggered dismissals and assigned sinks. Students in self-contained classrooms will wash hands at least every 90 minutes. Sinks have been added in all JK-2nd grade classrooms to minimize hallway traffic. All bathrooms will be equipped with both electric dryers and paper towel dispensers. Students are encouraged to use paper towels to open bathrooms doors upon exit.

All surfaces used in class will be cleaned between classes with a cleaning solution approved by the CDC to kill viruses and bacteria. Except in cases where we have a student with a chemical allergy, we will use a properly diluted and safe solution of water and chlorine bleach, paper towels, and gloves. In grades 5-12, students may use masks and gloves to assist with surface cleaning between classes.

Face Coverings/Masks

Students and employees will be required to wear an approved face covering (mask) when they arrive at school, when they transition between classes or lunch, when they are dismissed from school, and any other time when physical distancing is not possible. Administrators and teachers may require masks at any time during the day as they deem it appropriate to protect the safety of students or teachers who may have a heightened risk of infection or complication from the virus. We will begin the semester wearing masks anytime we are indoors, but our aspiration will be to relax use of masks when seated and spaced in classroom as health conditions in our area allow. Students with health problems that might prevent them from wearing a mask in certain settings should submit documentation from a primary care physician to that effect. In such cases, we will consider exceptions to our mask policy on a case-by-case basis. All parents and guests entering a school building will be required to wear a mask.

We will provide three washable cotton/poly masks for each student. Additional masks may be purchased from the school. We recommend that you use the masks we provide for a few days to test for comfort, breathability, and fit before purchasing more. Cotton/poly masks should be washed and hung to dry after each day of use. In addition, students may use a standard disposable light blue surgical mask. Disposable masks should be used for no more than one day. No other types of masks or face coverings will be allowed except by written recommendation from a primary care physician. We will consider such situations on a case-by-case basis.

School Arrival

School buildings will open at 7:15 AM each morning. No student will be allowed to enter a school building prior to 7:15. Students should not be left at school unattended before 7:15. Students should wear masks as they enter school buildings each morning.

  • JK – 8th grade students will arrive at Hampton Hall and proceed to the lower level until 7:30 when they will go their classes. Students in grades JK – 8th who arrive at 7:30 or later will go directly to their classrooms.
  • High School students will enter Wilcox Gym upon arrival and will leave for their A block classes at 7:30. High School students arriving at 7:30 or later will go straight to their A block classes.

Class Transitions

  • Students in grades JK-4 will transition to PE, specials, and recess by grade and separated from other students.
  • Students in grades 5-6 will change classes as normal.
  • Grades 7-12 will change classes in a staggered format, one-half of each class dismissing at a time, separated by five minutes to minimize hallway traffic. Students will be allowed to use backpacks should they wish to do so to avoid the need to go to a locker after each class period.

School Dismissal

Students in grades JK-6 will dismiss at 2:30 as follows:

  • 2:30 PM – car riders will dismiss for the pavilion
  • 2:40 PM – After School students will move to the Lower Level of Hampton Hall
  • Late Wait students will remain in their classrooms until 3:10 and then dismiss for the pavilion

Students in grades 7-12 will dismiss at 3:10 as follows:

  • 3:10 PM – bus riders and students picked up by a parent or guardian dismiss for the pavilion
  • 3:20 PM – student drivers and their siblings dismiss to cars

Classrooms

We have established a maximum capacity for each classroom on campus that allows us to separate students by approximately 6 feet from nose to nose in each classroom. Most Hampton Hall classrooms will seat 18 or fewer students. Most Wilcox classrooms will seat 16 or fewer students. First Building classrooms seat between 12 and 18 students. On the rare occasion that a class size exceeds designated limits, that class will be moved to a larger area on campus such as the First Building Commons, Mezzanine, Library, or lower level of Hampton Hall. School HVAC systems will be adjusted to provide maximum air circulation and classroom doors and windows may remain open as weather and security precautions allow.

Chapel

To start the semester, Wednesday chapel services will be pushed entirely into individual classrooms through livestreaming and video curriculum. Our aspiration is to transition to in-person chapel services when circumstances make it safer for large gatherings. In the first stage of that transition, chapel services on will operate on a rotation.

  • JK and K classes will alternate weeks with grades 1 and 2, attending chapel in person in the First Building Commons (8 AM) one week and holding chapel in individual classrooms the next.
  • Grades 3and 4 will hold chapel together each week in the First Building Commons (11:25 AM).
  • Grades 5 and 6 will alternate weeks with grades 7 and 8, attending chapel in person in the Wilcox Gym (8 AM) one week and livestreaming chapel in their A Block classes the next.
  • Grades 9 and 10 will alternate weeks with grades 11 and 12, attending chapel in person one week in Wilcox Gym (9 AM) and livestreaming chapel in their A Block classes the next.

Lunch and Breaks

Our Hot Lunch Program allows students to pre-order food from area vendors who prepare and package meals off campus and deliver to SouthLake. We keep the food warm and serve it to students during one of three designated mealtimes. Most meals and breaktime snacks will be eaten in classrooms during the first few days of school. To minimize crowds in our lunchroom, we will deliver lunches to classrooms whenever possible.

  • Teaching assistants and lunch volunteers will deliver lunches to students in grades JK to 4.
  • Students in 5th to 8th grades will wear masks and dismiss to get lunch on a staggered schedule by grade, and then return to classrooms to eat.
  • High School students will wear masks and depart for lunch staggered by cohorts to wash hands, get food, and then return to B block classes to eat.
  • Each stairwell will facilitate one-way traffic only. After the first few days of classes, students may eat outdoors in our pavilion and other designated areas on a rotational basis, as the weather allows.

Because some students have food allergies to nuts and nut-based products, each classroom will have 1-2 desks that are designated nut free and marked accordingly. Students with nut allergies should always sit at a nut free desk in each classroom they use. Teachers will strictly monitor to be sure that only nut free meals and snacks are consumed at nut free desks. Some classes with students having a severe nut allergy may be asked to bring only nut-free snacks at the discretion of the teacher and our school nurse.

School Supplies, Curriculum, and Library

We are purchasing additional supplies and textbooks to limit the need to share resources in the classroom. When technological devices must be shared by students they will be cleaned appropriately. We are purchasing additional art supplies and redesigning art projects to limit group work. The list of school supplies that families purchase for the coming year will be shortened to eliminate items that are now expensive or difficult to find and the school will order needed supplies in bulk. The library will be used primarily as a classroom this year and library time for lower school students will be pushed into individual classrooms on rotation. STEM instruction will be incorporated into individual classes as the STEM lab will be closed and repurposed for the academic year.

Technology for Online Instruction

Online instruction at SouthLake involves three primary platforms.

  1. Renweb is our school information management system where you access student information, schedules, class resources, and grades.
  2. Google Classroom is a free online class content manager that integrates with Renweb and facilitates assignment creation, grading, testing, and file sharing.
  3. Zoom is a free online video conferencing tool. Zoom meetings require a meeting ID and password. For security purposes, students and parents entering a Zoom meeting should use their real names as they appear in Renweb.

Other online platforms may be used as curriculum dictates and we will provide training for parents and students as needed. If parents or students have a technological need, they should contact the Technology Help Desk at slcahelpdesk@gmail.com. During school hours, a member of the Tech Team will typically respond to your request for assistance within a few minutes. After-hours responses may sometimes take longer.

Bus and School Travel

We will continue to provide bus service to and from school each day. Buses will be limited to half capacity with one student per seat. Siblings are encouraged to sit together in the same seat. When weather allows, buses will travel with windows open to allow maximum ventilation. Students will be expected to wear masks during bus travel unless directed otherwise by a school official.

Travel to any scheduled school athletic events will follow the same bus protocols mentioned above. Field trips to indoor public places and all overnight travel has been cancelled for the fall semester. In some cases, we are working to reschedule trips and retreats for later in the school year.

After School Care

After School Care will operate following the same safety protocols outlined above. Parents entering a building to pick up a child from After School will need to wear a mask.

Sports

The North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association (NCISAA) governs competitive sports at SouthLake Christian Academy and other member schools. Our ability to compete this fall, and our ability to host spectators, will depend on both the decisions of the NCISAA and our assessment of the risk of each particular sport for students and spectators. At this time, the NCISAA has delayed the start of all fall sports until at least mid-August. We suspect that high risk fall sports may be further delayed. Voluntary no-contact practices for some sports may begin at the discretion of coaches and the Athletic Director. In the event that a fall sport is cancelled for the season or moved to the spring semester, we will explore all safe options for inter-squad practice and non-contact competition.

Quarantine and Contact Tracing

In the event that a student or a family member living under the same roof shows symptoms of COVID-19 or is tested for COVID-19, we will follow guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS), and the Mecklenburg Department of Health (MCDH) for isolation, quarantine, and contact tracing. The following are some guidelines for responding to symptoms and/or the need for testing. This list is not comprehensive nor intended to replace CDC, NCDHHS, or MCDH guidelines.

  • In the event that a student develops symptoms of COVID-19, that student should stay home and contact a health professional to determine if a test is appropriate. A student should not return to school until he/she has been cleared by a health professional to return to school, typically after testing negative and/or being symptom free for at least three days.
  • If a health care professional recommends testing for a student or any household member under the same roof, you should notify the school and members of that household should quarantine until either (a) the COVID-19 test is negative, or (b) fourteen days have passed and all household members are symptom free.
  • If a student or any household member living under the same roof tests positive for COVID-19, please contact SouthLake Christian Academy immediately. We will consult with the MCDH and relevant medical authorities to determine a timetable for return to school and to provide online instruction during needed quarantine.
  • If a student or teacher tests positive for COVID-19, we will begin the process of confidential contact tracing in accordance with the MCDH and local health officials.
  • We will handle each case of potential COVID-19 transmission on a case-by-case basis in conversation with you, the MCDH, and school medical personnel, giving you enough information to make decisions while protecting the confidentiality of our employees, students, and families.

Determining When to Close

We will take all necessary steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 should someone in our community test positive. This includes identifying students who have had high-risk contact with a person who tests positive and notifying parents or legal guardians of the need to isolate and seek medical advice and/or testing. We have made every effort to schedule classes and school activities to keep students in smaller groups and with people in their own grades to the greatest extent possible. This will limit exposure and facilitate more precise contact tracing should it become necessary. Should a student or employee test positive for COVID-19, it may become necessary to close a class, hallway, or building temporarily (2-5 days) to consult with health officials, to clean and disinfect, and to contact trace. In each case, we will attempt to be strategic and precise with our containment measures, closing as little as possible but as much as necessary. More extensive closures would likely coincide with local or state closure mandates.

Signed Covenant of Cooperation

We have read and understand the contents of SouthLake Christian Academy’s Reopening Plan. We understand that COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization and that COVID-19 is a dangerous and potentially deadly disease. We understand that COVID-19 is contagious and believed to spread primarily by human-to-human contact.

We understand the symptoms of COVID-19 include congestion, sore throat, runny nose, recent loss of taste or smell, worsening cough, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, muscle aches, unusual fatigue, and other less common symptoms. We commit to keep our children home from school should they present any of these symptoms and to seek medical advice concerning the need for a COVID-19 test. Should my child test positive for COVID-19, we agree that we will notify the Head of School immediately so the school can help my child shift to online instruction and begin confidential contact tracing as needed to protect the health of other students and families.

We understand that health practices such as social distancing of six feet, coughing and sneezing into one’s arm, wearing masks or face coverings, washing one’s hands frequently, and cleaning surfaces thoroughly may help to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We agree to support these mitigation efforts by asking my child or children to participate cooperatively in these practices while at school as instructed by teachers and school administrators.

We understand that although SouthLake Christian Academy has put into place preventative measures to reduce the risks of disease transmission, no measures can completely eliminate the risk of exposure to COVID-19 while participating in school-related activities. Having enrolled in SouthLake Christian Academy voluntarily, we understand and acknowledge these risks and agree to assume these risks on behalf of our children for the 2020-2021 academic year. We agree that we will not hold SouthLake Christian Academy, its officers, directors, employees, agents, and representatives liable for damages of any kind caused by COVID-19.

[Document to be signed and returned to SLCA before the first day of classes on August 12.]

Education

Plans to Open School: SouthLake Christian Academy, Fall 2020

Below is an outline of our plans to start school in the fall. I am keenly aware that no matter what we decide, some will be pleased and others will not. That said, I believe the plan detailed below gives us the best chance of balancing the educational needs of our students with the safety of our employees and families. Our Executive Administrative Team has spent many hours looking at CDC and North Carolina recommendations for starting school, and while we know there is no risk-free scenario, we have identified protocols that will help us minimize risk. While we still have some details to iron out, here is a brief overview of our plans for the fall semester.

  • Our intent is to open school on August 12, live and in person, 5 days per week for all students.
  • We will observe Fall Break (October 5-9) and Thanksgiving Break (November 23-27) as normal.
  • We will limit the number of enrolled students in each grade and class as necessary to facilitate appropriate physical distancing in classrooms. With slightly smaller capacity limits, several grades are nearly full.
  • Bus routes will run as normal with staggered seating, one student per seat.
  • Our After School program will operate with students appropriately spaced, utilizing outdoor spaces to the greatest extent possible, as usual.
  • Students will be required to undergo health screening upon arrival, including temperature and symptom checks.
  • Morning drop off locations will be added to eliminate large assemblies of students in a single room.
  • Sinks are being added on the first floor of Hampton Hall (JK-2nd grade), hot water circulation has been improved, no-touch paper towel and soap dispensers will be added across campus, and all students will have designated places to wash their hands on a regular basis.
  • We will purchase additional school resources, art supplies, and curriculum to minimize the need for students to share materials.
  • We will stagger arrival and dismissal from classes and create one-way stairwells to minimize traffic congestion in our hallways.
  • Students will be divided into smaller groups for chapel and will alternate between attending live and watching a livestream from classrooms.
  • Students will be divided into smaller groups for lunches and breaks with some eating in classrooms or outdoor spaces as weather allows.
  • We plan to expand our use of outdoor spaces for PE, recess, lunch, breaks, and some classes as the weather allows.
  • We are increasing our internet bandwidth to improve our ability to livestream classes to the greatest extent possible for those who may need to quarantine.
  • We will adjust attendance policies for students and faculty who document a positive Covid test.
  • Classrooms will be reconfigured to allow students to spread out appropriately.
  • We will adjust our HVAC systems to maximize ventilation and teachers will be permitted to leave classroom doors and windows open where it is safe to do so.
  • Large spaces such as the library, the lower level of Hampton Hall, and the First Building commons will be used as teaching spaces for larger classes.
  • Cleaning protocols will be enhanced in cooperation with our new custodial provider.
  • Field trips to indoor public places and all overnight travel has been cancelled for the fall semester. In some cases, we are working to reschedule trips and retreats for later in the school year.
  • We will address sports on a case by case basis as we get additional guidance from our athletic association.

Now to the subject of masks. Scientific research has demonstrated consistently that the proper use of masks can reduce the risk of disease transmission. We know, therefore, that using masks to some degree gives us the best opportunity to return safely to live instruction. We also know that masks can be a nuisance, especially for younger children. Our strategy will be to use masks as little as possible but as much as necessary. Whenever we cannot be physically distant from each other indoors, we will wear masks. Where we can configure classrooms, activities, and traffic flow to practice safe physical distance in well ventilated areas, we do not plan to require masks. We plan to establish a capacity for each classroom below which masks would not be required, and we will work to keep capacity below that threshold. Masks will be encouraged for anyone who wants or needs to wear them at any time. Students with documented health issues that make wearing a mask unsafe will not be required to wear one. Beginning August 12, all visitors to campus, including parents, will be required to wear a mask while inside school buildings. We plan to purchase CDC approved reusable cloth masks for every SLCA student as part of their school uniform and to distribute them before school starts. These protocols are in keeping with CDC guidelines, current state and local mandates, and the advice we are receiving from medical professionals. Of course, some of these protocols are subject to modification as new scientific data informs our decisions.

Undoubtedly, you will have questions we haven’t answered or concerns we haven’t addressed. We have a few details to iron out, but feel free to ask questions and we will answer them as soon as possible. We know that the fall could be more complex than this past spring, particularly if people in our community begin to test positive for Covid. We all need to be prepared to move into an online environment should government officials enact stay-at-home orders. Whatever the fall brings, I know that God is faithful and you have done amazing work in the year 2020. For these reasons, I am more thankful than ever to be at SouthLake Christian Academy and confident that together we can navigate the coming school year in ways that honor Christ and best serve our students.

Education

Leadership During a Crisis

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in a Zoom meeting with the president of Samford University Dr. Westmoreland on the topic of leadership. He gave seven principles for managing through a crisis:

  1. Take a deep breath. Pause, reflect, relax, and think before you act. Even a few seconds of deep breaths can calm and center your thoughts leading to better decisions.
  2. Establish priorities. Crises require triage to be sure the important things get done and in the right order.
  3. Filter the clutter. Separate the speculative from the informative. Facts are your friends in an emergency.
  4. Take care of your people and yourself. Set limits on your work, a curfew for your emails, establish boundaries, and get needed rest.
  5. Guard your cash. This applies personally and professionally. In an economic crisis, limit spending to the absolutely necessary.
  6. Don’t quit. Even when your reserves are low, your mood depressed, you hope nearly shot, and your nerves frayed, keep going.
  7. Begin and end each day with Colossians 1:17. “He is before all things and in Him all things hold together.” Connect with your faith and operate with the knowledge that many things are beyond your control or ability to repair.

Were I to add an 8th principle, I would include Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” To be poor in spirit is to have our hearts broken by the things that break God’s heart. To hold loosely the material things of this world in recognition that from dust we come and to dust we will return. To recognize our limitations, weaknesses, and failures. To acknowledge our need for help. To admit when we are wrong and ask for forgiveness. To be humble enough to recognize our complete dependence on God, and thereby strong enough to lead and act with wisdom, compassion, and justice.

Juggling the twin crises of coronavirus and racial violence, I suspect that the easiest parts of both are behind us. When camaraderie fades into frustration and solidarity slips into selfishness the complexities of leadership will multiply. May God give us the wisdom and strength to lead with poverty of spirit and perseverance.

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