SouthLake Christian Academy Update – May 2022

Dear SouthLake Christian Families,

Friends, we are on the home stretch. The month of May provides us many opportunities to celebrate with year-end programs, awards ceremonies, chapel services, and graduation. With fewer than 13 school days left, we are all tired, so let us pray for endurance to finish the academic year well.

I have an update about the relationship between SouthLake Presbyterian Church and SouthLake Christian Academy. As you will recall, the church and school comprise one legal entity with the church Session (the pastor and elected elders) serving as our final governing body. The Session grants the School Board authority to oversee many school matters. For more than two years, the Session has prayerfully considered alternative ways to structure the church-school relationship. A proposal last December for the two entities to separate fully would have required a transfer of property assets from the church to the school, but the transfer was rejected by congregational vote. The Session is now considering a proposal whereby the school would become a subsidiary of the church with a degree of governance autonomy and an expanded School Board. The Session is working with a school committee to finalize new bylaws for the Academy. Pending legal review and final Session approval, we will apply for our own tax ID and 501c3 status sometime this summer, the final steps in the subsidiary process. I hope to have more details to share with you at my next update.

In April, the Session appointed to the School Board the first SouthLake alumnus to serve, Mr. Jacob Slavik. He is a member of the class of 2007 and serves as a Senior Manager at Sawgrass Partners, a firm specializing in services for senior adult living providers. As a member of SouthLake Church with experience in accounting, auditing, and board governance, Mr. Slavik brings a wealth of both professional and personal experience to the Board. This summer, the Academy will submit two candidates to the Session for approval to replace members whose terms are set to expire. If you wish to nominate someone to serve on the School Board, please let me know and I will send nominees an application. Completed applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis and the most qualified candidates will interview with the Head of School and Session.

We have released the calendar for the 2022-2023 academic year. This summer we plan to work on the academic calendar for 23-24 to help those of you who plan your vacations far in advance. Speaking of summer, please note we have a host of on-campus enrichment camps for all ages in June and July, as well as online classes available for high school students wanting to get ahead. More information can be found on our website and various social media channels.

In closing, let me say a word of thanks to our teachers for what they have done to get us through another unusual school year. I keep praying for a normal year, to no avail. Now I am wondering if perhaps God’s answer to such prayers is to give us the resilience to face whatever circumstances come our way. Our seniors selected Philippians 4:13 as their class verse, which in context reads, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” I see the truth of Philippians 4:13 in the ministry of our teachers every day. Be sure to tell them thank you whenever you get the chance. A kind word goes a long way.

Blessings,

Matthew S. Kerlin, Ph.D.
Head of School
SouthLake Christian Academy

Education Leadership

SouthLake Christian Academy Update – April 2022

Dear SouthLake Christian Families,

I greet you on day one of Missions Week as we begin our celebration of 20 years of missions at SouthLake. For two decades, SouthLake has partnered with 32 missions organizations, provided financial contributions of $436,290.07, and given untold hours of labor in support of mission efforts around the world. This week we will host special chapels on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, students may wear their Missions Week tee shirts each day, and on Friday we will cap off the week with our Spring Festival. I want to thank Kristin Ledford for her stellar efforts to plan and execute our spiritual life activities this year. And thanks to the efforts of the Parent Teacher Fellowship (PTF), this year’s Spring Festival will be free for all who attend, with the notable exception of the food trucks on campus. Please plan to drop by after school Friday to enjoy the festivities.

The April 1 deadline to withdraw from SouthLake without incurring tuition costs has passed, and I am pleased to report a retention rate of nearly 95%. School wide we have fewer than 20 spots left for the coming academic year. All grades are full except JK, 1, 6, and 11 and we have more than 40 students now in a waiting pool. We continue to tour and test students daily with the busiest months of our admissions cycle still to come. There is a very real possibility we could operate at maximum capacity for the 2022-2023 academic year. The only way this happens is when satisfied parents tell their neighbors. We spend almost no money on marketing because word of mouth remains the most common way our new families learn about SouthLake. Thank you for your continued trust in us and for helping to spread the good news about our school in the community.

In December I told you about Autumn Solesbee, a SouthLake third grader who won the regional round of the national Drive, Chip, and Putt competition. This qualified her to compete in the finals at Augusta National this past weekend. Well, we are proud to report that Autumn won the competition, placing first in her age group. The competition was aired on the Golf Channel and in a post-competition interview she was congratulated by Bubba Watson. Congratulations Autumn! You are a champion at Augusta National.

This month we will say goodbye to Harrella Wedington, our Chief Financial Officer. At the end of April, she will become the Controller for a national non-profit organization serving at-risk youth. I cannot overstate the impact she has made on our school, providing stellar leadership of our financial operations for more than four years. During her tenure, SouthLake has gained remarkable financial strength, even while navigating economic fallout from the pandemic. As a CPA with an MBA and vast experience in educational settings, Harrella possesses a rare skill set that will be difficult to replace. I will miss her integrity, business acumen, and good humor, but she will remain on the job until she trains her replacement. We wish Harrella the best as she takes on a new challenge.

To conclude, I would like to highlight the outstanding instruction of our Choral Director Mary Ann Foltz. In addition to teaching music and choir to every age group at SouthLake,

Mary Ann directs our annual spring musical. This year’s performance was Once Upon a Mattress, a humorous adaptation of the fairy tale “The Princess and the Pea.” Mary Ann is a master at casting, placing each student in an ideal role for their abilities. She can tell a brilliant story with a minimalistic set that can easily be transported and assembled for the off-site performance. She helps build a genuine sense of camaraderie so students feel supported and comfortable around each other and in front of an audience. She works tirelessly to construct sets, sew costumes, and rehearse music after hours, all while teaching a full load of music classes during the day. She is a program builder who has seen voluntary participation in choir more than double during her tenure. SouthLake is a better school because of the dedication and hard work of teachers like Mary Ann.

As I proofread, I see a lot of superlatives in this email. Maybe that is because we have much to celebrate. Certainly my job is to fix problems, but my job is also to highlight what is good about this place. As we near the conclusion of a tough academic year, I am thankful for all of those who quietly roll up their sleeves and put in the hard work to help make this place great. Hang in there. Spring is here; summer is coming.

Onward,

Matthew S. Kerlin, Ph.D.
Head of School
SouthLake Christian Academy

Education Fine Arts Sports

SouthLake Christian Academy Update – March 2022

Dear SouthLake Christian Families,

My typical first-of-the-month correspondence comes to you a day late so I can report good news about our dual reaccreditation process which wrapped up this afternoon. 

Reaccreditation
We are accredited by the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) and by Cognia, the K-12 division of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). Every five years we complete a lengthy self-study to document our compliance with required standards, and then accreditors conduct a site visit. A team visited our campus this week and conducted interviews with administrators, teachers, support staff, students, parents, and School Board members. They also observed 47 different classes across campus. The team met with me today to deliver the expected good news of their affirmative recommendation to the ACSI Commission on Accreditation. Although their final report will not be complete for another month, I can highlight a few of their commendations and recommendations. The team commended our commitment to excellent financial stewardship, our focus on the wholistic development of children, our research-based approach to instruction and supporting technology, our emphasis on critical-thinking skills and biblical integration, and our policies and procedures to ensure the health and safety of our people. The team also gave recommendations for improving our ACSI teacher/administrator certification process and enhancing our curriculum guide documents. We learned much through the process to help us become a better school. I am particularly grateful to Mrs. Suzy Deneen for her stellar leadership of our highly successful reaccreditation process.

Town Hall
I want to thank those who attended our Town Hall meeting last month. While I question whether such meetings move us forward in the most relevant ways, I do believe they have helped us disseminate facts and express disagreements, both healthy practices for our community. I remain encouraged that almost all interactions at our Town Hall meetings this year have demonstrated civility and Christian charity. Our next meetings will likely be division specific (Lower School, Middle School, or Upper School) and we will be back in touch with you about dates and the topics we plan to discuss.

Exemplary Instruction
This month I would like to highlight excellent instruction by an Upper School teacher who wears many hats. Nathan Simpson teaches AP Computer Science, Algebra I, and Bible. He also serves on our Security Team, Technology Team, and coaches our Wrestling Team. In five seasons, Coach Simpson has coached four state champions, all of whom have gone on to compete nationally, placing 16th or better each time. This year, Coach Simpson had the honor of coaching his son Kaden to a state championship and an appearance at Nationals where he placed 12th. And did I mention that Kaden is a freshman? High School wrestlers have three more years to contend with Kaden’s fierce competitive drive and work ethic, and Coach Simpson’s skill as a mentor and coach. Congratulations to father and son on a remarkable season!

Our spring sports have started and we have great teams for you to watch as the weather warms. Spring Break begins in only 16 days.

Onward,

Matthew S. Kerlin, Ph.D.
Head of School
SouthLake Christian Academy

Education Sports

SouthLake Christian Academy Update – February 2022

Dear SouthLake Christian Families,

The first month of the year is behind us, no small feat. Winter brought us a COVID surge, three weekends in a row of ice and snow (with a fourth in the forecast), a host of accompanying logistical challenges, and some highly competitive sporting events. Our varsity basketball team has been particularly fun to watch as they have a winning record in a talented conference playing a remarkably entertaining brand of basketball. With the playoffs on the schedule for February, I recommend you getting here to see a game when you are able.

Accreditation
February will bring us a site visit from one of our accrediting bodies, the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI). This will conclude a years-long process whereby the Academy completed a comprehensive self-study, submitted supporting materials to ACSI for review, and is preparing for a team to visit at the end of the month. The Parent Teacher Fellowship will help us host and our teachers will be prepared to have visitors in their classrooms each of the days the ACSI team is on site. Pray for us as we complete our reaccreditation process.

Town Hall Meeting
The Parent Teacher Fellowship will host our next Town Hall meeting on Wednesday February 16, from 6:30 to 8:00 in the First Building Commons. The format will be much the same as our last meeting, beginning with an update on school matters from the Head of School followed by Q&A with our administrative team. If you would like to submit questions in advance, you may do so by sending your questions to slcaquestions@gmail.com.

Renovations
The First Building Commons will undergo a major renovation this summer in partnership with SouthLake Presbyterian Church. Your contributions to our annual fund will help make the Commons into a first-rate worship and meeting space with professional sound, lighting, and projection, along with a new stage, drop ceiling, and paint. In addition to use by the church on Sundays, the Commons will be used for weekly chapel services, school assemblies, parent gatherings, and fine arts events. This project would not be possible without strong enrollment and generous charitable giving by our families.

Tuition Rates
Last month I released tuition rates for the coming school year showing an increase of 4.8%. I failed to note that those rates are subject to Board approval, which I will seek at this month’s Board meeting. While inflation rates are near 7% for the past year, we remain committed to keeping SouthLake affordable for as many as possible while still taking care of the financial needs of our employees. Payroll expenses account for just under 70% of our operating revenue. You can find proposed tuition rates on our website and in last month’s email update.

COVID
January broke records in almost every pandemic category, and SouthLake was no exception. After a month that saw 106 students and 17 employees test positive, conditions are now improving. The positivity rate for Mecklenburg County is down to around 28% from its high of over 38% in early January. School cases are becoming less frequent as well. You can find all school statistics on our website under the COVID Dashboard. As before, when the positivity rate drops into the low/moderate range around 5% and school conditions improve, we will again implement mask-optional protocols. I am hopeful Omicron will subside as quickly as it surged.

Exemplary Teaching
This month I had the opportunity to observe Mrs. Kendra Boovy’s class as they studied a biography of Harriet Tubman (1820-1913). As an escaped slave, Union spy, and conductor on the so-called underground railroad, Tubman helped dozens of slaves escape captivity. She never lost a passenger and was never caught, even after slave owners posted a $40,000 reward for her capture. Mrs. Boovy introduced students to freedom quilts, a clandestine method of communication for abolitionists. Hung out to dry after the wash, quilts with particular designs helped fleeing slaves identify safe houses and navigate the best escape routes. Mrs. Boovy passed out sample designs and had students work in groups to make educated guesses as to the meaning of each. She used this exercise to teach students about Tubman, how the underground railroad worked, and the perilous journey to freedom. As we begin Black History Month, I am grateful for the dedication of our teachers to highlight African Americans who have shaped our nation’s history.

May God grant you grace and peace for the winter days ahead.

Blessings,

Matthew S. Kerlin
Head of School

Education Teaching

SouthLake Christian Academy Update – January 2022

Dear SouthLake Christian Families,

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and a restful break. I wish you and your family blessings for the year to come. Inspired by Dr. John Nerness’s teaching during faculty devotions this past fall, I have adopted Colossians 3:12 as my verse for the year to come: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” As 2022 begins with many of the same challenges we’ve faced for two years, I can think of no better goal than by God’s grace to embody these virtues.

Year-End Giving
Let me begin by saying thank you to all who made year-end contributions to SouthLake. Your generosity speaks shows support for our teachers under continually difficult circumstances. As of December 31, we had received 125 donations totally $137,639 in cash and $21,000 in stock. Of course, there are many more important ways to measure our success as a school, but people vote with their enrollment and money, and on those metrics you have made us stronger during the pandemic. For that I can only credit God’s grace and the dedication of our people.

Safety Protocols to Start Semester
While we are set to return to campus on January 5, it will come as no surprise that many in the SouthLake community are sick with COVID right now. I have consulted with our Clinical Task Force regarding safety protocols to start the semester. Here is what we know:

  • The now dominant Omicron variant is significantly more contagious than previous variants, and cloth masks are less effective against Omicron.
  • The Mecklenburg County 7-day average positivity rate as of December 27 was 12.8%, up from 5.5% in November when SouthLake moved to mask optional.
  • Charlotte area health systems are tracking at an almost 30% positivity rate.
  • Hospitalizations are rising, albeit at a slower rate, suggesting Omicron is less virulent.
  • Vaccines often reduce severity of Omicron to cold-like symptoms making it difficult to distinguish from other illnesses.
  • Antigen tests (rapid tests) are very difficult to find now making diagnosis more complicated.
  • New CDC guidelines on quarantine for infected and exposed persons can shorten time away but require extensive use of masks. You can see updated CDC guidance here.
  • Breakthrough infections are more common with Omicron, but vaccination remains the safest way to protect yourself from serious illness.
  • Omicron is likely to peak in January and begin to subside thereafter.

For these reasons, effective immediately, we are requiring masks of all students and employees while indoors except when eating or engaged in strenuous aerobic activity. We also ask everyone to use surgical masks rather than cloth (unless you have a documented medical problem with surgical masks), and we will provide those to whomever needs them while our supplies last. We will re-evaluate after two weeks and adjust as conditions improve, just as we have done in the past. This is the unanimous decision of our Executive Administrative Team and a decision we make with the full knowledge of the School Board and with full support from the Ruling Elders of SouthLake Presbyterian Church. 

Tuition Rates for 2022-2023
While the Consumer Price Index, the nation’s primary inflation indicator, shows an increase of 6.8% over the past year, SouthLake tuition will increase by only 4.8%. Strong enrollment growth, generous charitable giving, and robust financial aid allow us to continue to offer a SouthLake education to as many people as possible. Here are the rates for the 2022-2023 academic year:

  • Junior Kindergarten – $9750
  • Kindergarten – $11,200
  • Grades 1-4 – $12,350
  • Grades 5-6 – $12850
  • Grades 7-8 – $13,350
  • Grades 9-12 – $14,650

As a reminder, SouthLake utilizes a continuous enrollment process. Students remain enrolled (as long as they meet conduct and academic requirements) unless parents tell us otherwise. If you plan to unenroll your child for the 2022-2023 academic year, please notify us by January 15 so we have time to halt your auto-draft of enrollment fees scheduled for February 15. Fees unpaid after February 15 may result in cancelled student enrollment. 

Exemplary Teaching
This month I would like to highlight my observation of Stephen Jacobs, our middle school Bible teacher. Mr. Jacobs is a veteran teacher and a decorated veteran of the US Marine Corp, an E-5 Sergeant who served active duty for 8 years completing tours of duty in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also a true intellectual who reads with enviable breadth. His life experience and depth of knowledge shine in his teaching; his classes include elements of philosophy, apologetics, and biblical scholarship, with contemporary application. The day I visited, he walked students through several classical arguments for the existence of God. He then taught students the details of the Exodus as described in the second book of the Bible. Finally, he played a game with students affectionally called trash ball, whereby they answered questions on the day’s lesson and were rewarded with a chance to throw a ball into a trash can for points. Sometimes the simple things matter. The balance of seriousness and fun means students are learning and growing while finding joy the process.

My prayer for each of us is that we find joy in the process. We will get through the next few weeks together regardless of how complicated they may prove to be.

Matthew S. Kerlin, Ph.D.
Head of School
SouthLake Christian Academy

Academics COVID Leadership

SouthLake Christian COVID-19 Decision Timeline

Updated January 15, 2022

The following represents dates of significant COVID-19 decisions made by SouthLake leaders and some of the data informing those decisions. This timeline was constructed from email records and meeting notes. I have not included decisions of lesser significance so this timeline is not comprehensive. In a small number of instances, I list the month of an event rather than the specific day because that is what my notes indicate. I offer these records as a transparent reflection of both the enormity of the leadership challenges our administration faced as well as a testament to how many decisions were made collaboratively and on the basis of specific data from public officials, health agencies, and SouthLake parents who are medical doctors.

December 2019 – Conversations with Mr. David Rowles regarding financial implications of potential coronavirus disruptions. Conversations with Dr. Hank Capps regarding preparations for campus closures with likelihood that coronavirus will spread to our region.

January 2020 – Discussion with Executive Leadership Team (Head of School, Associate Head of School, Division Heads) about preparations for online instruction in event of campus closure.

February 2020 – World Health Organization names the novel coronavirus COVID-19. SLCA faculty meeting asking teachers to begin preparations to teach online after Spring Break; School Board updated regarding possibility of campus closure.

March 1, 2020 – Email to SLCA families announcing our intention to attend carefully to CDC guidelines and to local, state, and federal guidance regarding COVID safety. SLCA Tech Team establishes Google Classroom and Zoom as school distance learning tools, begins training teachers and students accordingly.

March 6, 2020 – Consultation with legal counsel regarding SLCA safety protocols. Business review of relevant provisions of our commercial insurance policy.

March 8, 2020 – Email to SLCA families announcing implementation of distance learning tools and restriction of school-related travel to avoid areas severely affected by COVID-19.

March 10, 2020 – NC Governor declares State of Emergency in North Carolina in response to COVID-19 pandemic. North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issue guidance recommending elimination of mass gatherings and closure of schools to in-person instruction.

March 11, 2020 – World Health Organization declares COVID-19 a global pandemic.

March 12, 2020 – SLCA suspends all non-local school-sponsored travel, cancelling field trips, the Intermediate School Disney Trip, and High School trips to Appalachian Service Project and Washington DC. North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association suspends all sports.

March 13, 2020 – City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County both declare State of Emergency in relation to COVID-19 spread in our area. SLCA Executive Administrative Team decides the following:

  • SLCA will close a week early for Spring Break and suspend all school-sponsored travel.
  • SLCA will continue to pay full-time and part-time salaried employees and all essential hourly staff. Non-essential hourly staff will not work, including bus drivers, After School care employees, and teaching assistants. We will care for our non-essential hourly employees if closure lingers.
  • Custodial staff will deep clean the entire campus beginning Monday.
  • Instruction will resume on March 30 in an online format using distance learning tools put in place as part of disaster preparedness planning.
  • Monday March 16 we will host teacher training to finish preparations for distance learning. The training is voluntary for those with underlying health conditions that place them at heightened risk. The tech team will be available during the week by appointment for staff members who need technical assistance with distance learning plans.
  • Tuesday March 17 we will send out our Continuity of Instruction plan to school families.
  • Teachers will work at SouthLake through Friday March 20 in their classrooms or at home. Staff will dismiss for Spring Break on Friday March 20.
  • March 30 we will launch our Continuity of Instruction plan for all grades in all subjects, including PE and fine arts.

March 14, 2020 – NC Governor issues Executive Order closing schools and limiting public gatherings to fewer than 100 people across the state.

March 16, 2020 – SLCA Business Team meets to discuss financial triage plans in the event of signification fallout from campus closure; decides to pay all employees through the end of the week; School Board begins receiving regular updates about all SLCA administrative decisions related to COVID-19.

March 17, 2020 – SLCA Administrative Assistants call all school families to assess needs for online school; Tech Team makes provisions to loan laptops and/or iPads to families without devices or families with multiple children and limited devices; Business Team provides tuition credit for families needing to purchase desktop printers for home use.

March 23, 2020 – NC Governor orders public schools closed through May 15. NC Department of Non-Public Instruction issues same guidance for private schools.

March 25, 2020 – SLCA Business Team plans to continue to pay all employees, reassigning some staff to support cleaning and facilities improvements while campus is closed.

March 27, 2020 – NC Governor issues executive stay-at-home order. CARES Act signed into law by President Trump establishing the Paycheck Protection Program.

March 30, 2020 – Online instruction begins for all students, all grades, in all subjects. HS Principal begins calling every student weekly to assess academic progress and family needs.

April 2, 2020 – SLCA School Board approves school application for Paycheck Protection Program providing forgivable loans to small businesses and non-profits that retain employees.

April 4, 2020 – SLCA Administration decides to cancel senior trip to Peru and prom, to reschedule junior trip to DC, and to delay graduation. Begins plans to hand deliver yard signs and weekly gifts to graduating seniors.

April 13, 2020 – SLCA launches survey assessing the first two weeks of online instruction.

April 23, 2020 – SLCA hosts virtual Town Hall meeting discussing school’s COVID-19 response, online instruction survey results, and plans for finishing the school year. HS and MS personnel begin intervention with students struggling in the online learning environment.

April 24, 2020 – NC Governor announces schools to remain closed through the end of the school year.

April 30, 2020 – School Board Meeting to discuss federal COVID-19 relief possibilities and the establishment of an Emergency Financial Aid fund to support SLCA families with income affected by COVID-19 closures.

May 7, 2020 – SLCA hosts National Day of Prayer drive-up prayer meeting in school parking lot.

May 15, 2020 – Final day of school online. Kindergarten Graduation held outdoors. Graduation for the class of 2020 delayed until late June.

June 16, 2020 – SLCA Executive Administrative Team cancels travel for Fall 2020, including Global Next trip to Oxford, Windy Gap, and most field trips.

June 26, 2020 – SLCA Graduation Ceremonies for the Class of 2020 take place outdoors in Eagles Stadium.

June 2020 – SLCA Business Team review applications for emergency financial aid and distributes nearly $150k in assistance to SLCA families losing jobs or income as a result of COVID-19 closures. Executive Administrative Team reviews guidance from the NCDHHS and CDC regarding reopening campus to in-person instruction. HOS consults with school parents who are medical doctors to get feedback on reopening plans.

July 1, 2020 – SLCA Executive Administrative Team announces plans to reopen campus five days per week to all students and to follow all relevant local, state, and federal health agency recommendations, including classroom capacity limits, surface cleaning, hand washing, social distancing, and use of CDC approved face coverings.

July 30, 2020 – SLCA School Board formally establishes Clinical Task Force to advise the Head of School on COVID-19 related issues. Task Force is comprised of two medical doctors whose children attend SouthLake, SLCA school nurse, SLCA athletic trainer, and one member of the School Board.

August 1, 2020 – SLCA releases full school re-opening plan document to school families; promises to provide online instruction for those with medical necessity; Online Instruction Coordinator position created and new employee hired to fill the job; Covenant of Cooperation and Hold Harmless document created and released to school families for signature agreeing to follow and support school safety measures; SLCA orders CDC-approved reusable cloth masks for all students and employees.

August 4, 2020 – Faculty Workshop meets for professional development. A Christian Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC) with Center for Family Transformation conducts training for faculty on crisis intervention and post-trauma pastoral care.

August 10, 2020 – Pastor of SouthLake Presbyterian Church and Head of School begin weekly meetings to keep each entity fully apprised of all COVID-related decisions.

August 12, 2020 – First Day of Fall Semester.

August 13, 2020 – First student COVID cases reported to Head of School by a high school parent. High School closes on August 14 for contact tracing and reopens August 15. Clinical Task Force and Mecklenburg County Department of Health consulted for quarantine procedures. 23 students enter quarantine/isolation. Four students subsequently test positive for COVID-19. Director of Admissions subsequently gets training from Mecklenburg County Health Department to assist with contact tracing.

August 17, 2020 – Head of School announces cancellation of fall football based on recent COVID cases, the inability to compete while following CDC guidelines, and safety concerns expressed by SLCA staff and parents. All other sports continue, some with truncated schedules, all following CDC guidelines including use of face coverings while indoors. Most sports experience temporary disruptions due to positive COVID tests.

October 22, 2020 – CDC changes its definition of “close contact” from someone within 6 feet of a positive individual for “15 consecutive minutes” to “15 cumulative minutes.” In consultation with the Clinical Task Force, SLCA Administration decides to retain prior definition of close contact (15 consecutive minutes) because the new definition would be nearly impossible to implement and the old definition was working well at SLCA. SLCA agrees to be more nuanced in contact tracing to include as close contacts those with high-risk exposures who may not meet the consecutive minutes guideline technically but were unmasked during exposure.

November 9-10, 2020 – Five students test positive for COVID following two off-campus social events. High School moves online for two days for contact tracing. 30 students enter quarantine/isolation. SLCA Administration announces plans for online instruction for two days following Thanksgiving break as a buffer following holiday travel.

December 2, 2020 – CDC adjusts quarantine protocols allowing close contacts to exit quarantine after 7 days if they have no symptoms and test negative for COVID beginning no earlier than day 5 after exposure. After review of SLCA data and consultation with Clinical Task Force, Executive Administrative team agrees to adopt the shorter quarantine measures.

January 12, 2021 – Mecklenburg Department of Health issues a Health Directive asking residents to stay home for all but essential activities. After consultation with legal counsel and the Clinical Task Force, SLCA Executive Administrative Team decides to continue with in-person instruction based on data showing the minimal risk of in-school COVID spread when using appropriate safety protocols.

February 18, 2021 – 15 students test positive for COVID following several off-campus social events related to the Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day. 40 students and two teachers enter quarantine/isolation. High School closes February 18, 19, and 22.

March 16, 2021 – SLCA Administration announces two days of online instruction following Spring Break for students in grades 3-12.

April 12-14, 2021 – SLCA resumes Windy Gap spiritual life retreat for juniors and seniors only, testing all students for COVID in advance of the trip. Limited capacity required by Windy Gap guidelines.

May 13, 2021 – CDC announces fully vaccinated individuals can resume normal activities without use of masks except where masks are otherwise required by local, state, or federal guidelines and regulations. NC Governor subsequently lifts mass gathering and capacity restrictions but keeps in place his executive order requiring masks in Mecklenburg County, shifting decision-making about masks in schools to the NCDHHS “Strong Schools NC Public Health Toolkit.” SLCA finishes the school year with all safety protocols still in place.

May 15-24, 2021 – Senior Trip to McAllen, Texas. Our typical missions partner Peru Mission is still not functioning, so Administration decides to partner with a similarly cross-cultural mission organization. Students are tested in advance of travel and potential quarantine lodging is established. Many student participants are vaccinated and several others recovered from COVID in the 90-day period prior to departure.

May 26, 2021 – Junior-Senior Prom. All attendees tested within 24 hours prior to event.

May 28, 2021 – Graduation for the Class of 2021 takes place outdoors in Eagles Stadium. No capacity limits and masks not required.

June 2021 – Summer Enrichment Camps begin with relaxed COVID safety measures due to small size of camps, Mecklenburg positivity rate below 5%, and few COVID cases in the SLCA community.

July 9, 2021 – CDC updates guidance for schools indicating that fully vaccinated individuals do not need to wear masks except in crowded indoor settings in regions with substantial to high disease transmission (a positivity rate above 5%). Unvaccinated individuals should remain masked. (Positivity rate of 3.7% recorded for this week in Mecklenburg County.)

July 27, 2021 – CDC updates guidance for schools based on surging DELTA variant and evidence suggesting increased transmissibility for both unvaccinated and vaccinated individuals. Universal masking recommended to begin school year. Clinical Task Force consulted and concurred. (Positivity rate of 10.9% recorded for this week in Mecklenburg County.)

July 28, 2021 – Head of School posts blog explaining how SLCA makes COVID-related decisions.

August 1, 2021 – COVID Safety Plan for the 2021-2022 school year released to SLCA families relaxing most safety protocols while keeping in place contact tracing, quarantine protocols, surface cleaning, hand washing, and use of face coverings while indoors. All sports and field trips will proceed according to pre-COVID practices as long as current conditions allow.

August 8, 2021 – SLCA hosts Town Hall with Clinical Task Force doctors for all families to hear more about SLCA safety measures and the science surrounding use of masks and vaccines for COVID prevention.

September 13-17, 2021 – SLCA resumes Windy Gap Spiritual Life Retreat for Jr. High and High School Students, masking indoors as per Windy Gap requirements, and testing all students for COVID prior to departure.

October 24, 2021 – Head of School announces that when positivity rate drops to 5% or lower, SLCA will move to mask optional for all students and employees. Head of School also announces no vaccine mandates for students or employees unless required by law.

November 5, 2021 – Positivity rate for Mecklenburg County drops to 5.5%. Head of School announces mask optional policy schoolwide beginning Monday, November 8.

November 10, 2021 – SLCA Executive Administrative Team hosts Town Hall to discuss Church-School relationship and other issues parents wish to discuss. Mask usage and proposed OSHA vaccine mandate issues were raised by parents and discussed with administrators present.

January 1, 2022 – SLCA Administration announces return to mask mandatory policy as Mecklenburg County positivity rate rises above 30% and 13 COVID cases are reported to SLCA from infections during the holiday break. SLCA also adopts new isolation and quarantine protocols announced by the CDC. At their own behest, the Elders of SouthLake Church unanimously approve the school’s COVID safety protocols and the School Board is notified of the decision prior to the January 1 announcement.

January 14, 2022 – Between January 1 and January 14, a total of 13 employees and 53 students test positive for COVID, most from holiday gatherings and family exposures. While there are no classroom clusters, basketball operations shut down due to positive cases on Varsity, JV, and Middle School teams.

February 1, 2022 – As conditions at SouthLake improve, administration prepares to relax mask requirements, moving to mask optional for after school events.

February 10, 2022 – Consultation with Clinical Task Force and School Board, SLCA Administration moves to mask optional beginning February 11, 2022. Contact Tracing, isolation/quarantine protocols, and enhanced cleaning remain in place, subject to adjustment as conditions warrant. Consideration for move to mask optional include the following:

  • The positivity rate in Mecklenburg County has dropped by more than 18% in the last month.
  • Formal testing for COVID continues to drop as well.
  • Research show Omicron infections tend to be milder, especially for younger people and those with immunity from prior infection or vaccination.
  • School now has fewer than 10 active cases of COVID school wide with most set to be released from isolation by Monday February 14.
  • The Mecklenburg County Public Health Director announced on 2/9/2022 that county mask requirements could be lifted as early as the following week.
  • School moved to mask optional policies for after school activities last week with no apparent ill effect.

COVID Leadership

SouthLake Christian Academy Update – December 2021

Dear SouthLake Christian Families,

I hope you each had a blessed Thanksgiving with good food and time with family and friends. We have only three weeks until Christmas break. I often hear parents say “the days are long but the years pass quickly.” That feels true to me, particularly this year.

Today we welcome Coach Cheron Farley who joins our staff as full-time Director of Football and Baseball Operations and PE Teacher. Coach Farley has been associated with SouthLake athletics since 2013. He brings significant coaching and business experience to SouthLake, and he was recently inducted to the Lincoln County Sports Hall of Fame as a standout player on both football and baseball state championship teams. Welcome Coach Farley.

Congratulations to Rebekah Leonard who recently completed her Certificate in School Management and Leadership, a program jointly sponsored by the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Harvard Business School. Mrs. Leonard was selected for the first cohort of the program which began October 2018. The multi-course program helps school leaders apply business practices to an educational setting for more effective leadership. High-caliber professional development like this takes time, money, and effort on the part of our employees and makes SouthLake a better school. Thank you Mrs. Leonard.

Last month I participated in a press conference recognizing one of our very fine third-grade students Autumn Solesbee. This fall, Autumn participated in the national Drive, Chip, and Putt competition against thousands of qualifiers from across the US and Canada. Autumn won the final stage of Regional Qualifying in her age group. She also finished 9th in the US Kids Golf World Championships and won the Best Pee Wee Golf Swing in the World contest. But the best part of Autumn’s story is that she is adopted, something she will cheerfully discuss with anyone. The LPGA did a story on her for adoption month, and in her press conference, her charisma and positive attitude was a remarkable reflection on her, her family, and her school. Well done Autumn!

Let me give you a few reminders about our continuous enrollment process. SouthLake students remain enrolled from one year to the next (as long as they meet academic and conduct requirements) unless parents tell us they plan to withdraw. We utilize this process as a convenience for the 93% of students who return to SouthLake each year. Enrollment fees are drafted in advance of the coming school year, allowing us to hold a seat for your student and make financial preparations for the coming school year. Here are a few key dates for you to remember:

  • January 1 – new tuition numbers released and financial aid application opens. Tuition increases for next academic year will be less than 5%.
  • January 15 – deadline to inform us of your intent to withdraw from the school or make alternative payment arrangements for upcoming enrollment fee billing.
  • February 15 – enrollment fees for the 2022-2023 academic year will be auto drafted from the account on file with our FACTS payment system. Unpaid enrollment fees may result in cancelled student enrollment. Spots will then fill from the waiting pool.

My report on classroom instruction this month comes from Mrs. Lucy Lepeley’s High School Spanish class. My hour observing her class passed by in a flash; rarely have I see such high levels of engagement from a class. Originally from Bogotá, Colombia. Mrs. Lepeley demonstrates complete knowledge of the language and teaches idioms and subtleties of pronunciation as only a native speaker can. From the moment class began, students were immersed in Spanish. They began class reciting and translating the date, Bible verse, and quote of the day. They moved seamlessly into the complicated topic of the subjunctive mood which Mrs. Lepeley taught two different ways before breaking the class into small groups to work on syntax. Barely a minute passed without Mrs. Lepeley calling on students to answer questions or read their work aloud; students had better stay awake and alert. New languages introduce students to new cultures and competencies that will serve them well after SouthLake. We are blessed to have strong teachers in our foreign language programs.

Finally, I would like to give you a brief summary of our town hall meeting last month. Approximately 117 people attended. Rebekah Leonard convened the meeting and served as moderator, asking attendees to direct questions to a panel of administrators that included me and our Division Heads Becky Makla, Jennifer Thomas, and Mark Apgar. Pastor Dan King read scripture (James 1:19-20) and began the meeting with prayer. The first half of the meeting focused on the future of the church-school relationship. I walked attendees through the history of the discussion, reasons for restructuring, and terms of separation. Questions from the audience centered on the appraised and tax value of the property, the role of debt in the decision, concerns for securing the long-term Christian mission of the school, and the proposed structure of the School Board. In particular, parents asked for a clear understanding of the process by which new Board members will be nominated and selected, something we will certainly provide when the time comes.

The second part of the meeting was an open forum and we took questions on critical race theory (CRT), the Christian mission of the school, mental health, vaccine mandates, and mask policies. As to CRT, the question was posed to our Board asking for their views on the subject. Some Board members spoke in opposition to CRT while others acknowledged they do not yet understand CRT enough to have formed an opinion. All articulated support for teaching history thoroughly and accurately. With respect to the Christian mission of SouthLake, parents expressed the desire to see us remain a Christian school in the reformed tradition, a desire our Board and administration share as well. We addressed a question related to mental health services for students and we outlined the layers of support we provide, including small class sizes, case management for students in crisis, a Licensed Practicing Counselor who visits campus each week, and professional training for teachers to recognize trauma. We also outlined the various expressions of religious life at SouthLake, including Bible classes and chapel for each grade, developmentally-appropriate Bible curriculum, mission projects, retreats, Bible studies, special events, and campus religious organizations. Parents expressed concerns about vaccine mandates. We reiterated that we do not plan to require COVID vaccines for students or employees during the next academic year unless we are legally required to do so. Some parents asked for longer-term promises and others asked us to defy any national mandate, things I declined to promise. Near the end of our meeting, a few parents made strong statements in opposition to our mask policies this year, while others expressed support for using the tools needed to keep us on campus.

Now that I’ve had a few days to process the meeting, two things stand out to me. First, opposing viewpoints were shared openly, heard carefully, and discussed with civility. I want to emphasize this point because it is no small matter. We owe it to our children to model civility, and for the most part, we have done so. Second, we have more in common than what divides us. We all want our students to receive a sound Christian education in a safe environment. We will sometimes disagree with one another. This is to be expected, for such is the nature of living and working in community. We remain committed to listening to our critics and doing all we can to foster unity even through disagreement. I have no illusions that a town hall will magically mend the divisions plaguing our society and sometimes bleeding over into our school. But I am enheartened by the ways our community engages differences with transparency and mutual respect.

Blessings to you and your family as you begin the season of Advent.

Matthew S. Kerlin, Ph.D.
Head of School
SouthLake Christian Academy

Education Leadership Race Teaching

SouthLake Christian Academy – Update November 2021

This time of year makes me glad to live in North Carolina. I hope you’ve had some time to enjoy the beautiful weather and fall colors. This month I have several significant updates. I hope you’ll take time to read this update fully.

There will be no school on Friday November 19.

We are preparing for an accreditation site visit in February and we have some last-minute work to do completing required CEUs in advance of that visit. On the Friday before Thanksgiving, we typically see a large number of absences, so this is a good day to complete the needed in-service training with minimal disruptions. For your information, we are dually accredited by the Association of Christian Schools International, and Cognia, the pre-college division of the Association of Southern Colleges and Schools. We fully expect a smooth reaccreditation process, largely thanks to Suzy Deneen and Rebekah Leonard who are spearheading our efforts.

Congratulations
In October, our Lower School Head Mark Apgar successfully defended his dissertation, completing his Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Gardner-Webb University. His dissertation is titled “Teacher Evaluation in the Christian School Setting.” Mark completed this monumental task as a full-time working professional, with a large family, during a global pandemic. When you see him, be sure to congratulate Dr. Apgar!

School Board
This month we welcomed two new members to our School Board, Dr. Amy Alexanian and Mr. Greg Long. Both have served extensively as SLCA volunteers (a prerequisite for Board membership) and both bring valuable professional expertise and leadership abilities to our Board. You can read member bios and find the Board Policy Manual on our website. Board meeting minutes will also be posted to the website once approved by the Board. The School Board serves three primary functions – to protect the mission of the school, to provide financial oversight, and to supervise the Head of School. Should a parent wish to appeal a decision made by SLCA administration, he or she may do so in writing to the Chair of the School Board. This policy appears in our Parent-Student Handbook on page 7 under the heading “Arbitration Agreement.”

Church-School Relationship
This month the SouthLake Presbyterian Church Session and the SouthLake Christian Academy School Board both unanimously approved the terms by which the church and school would separate as legal entities. In reality, very little about the daily operations of the school would be affected by the outcome of these deliberations. Nonetheless, I encourage you to read carefully the emailed document which gives a thorough explanation of the history of this issue, the reasons for separation, the benefits for both entities, and the terms by which the entities would separate. The final decision on the matter rests with the members of SouthLake Church, but I wanted you to be fully informed on the matter. We will host a town hall meeting on November 10 at 7:00 p.m. in the First Building Commons. We will devote the first part of the meeting to the church-school issue, then open the floor for discussion of other issues attendees may wish to raise. I am sure COVID safety protocols will come up. I’ll be back in touch with a reminder about this meeting and details about the format. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions you may have about the church-school issue.

Outstanding Classroom Instruction
Recently I had the privilege of observing one of our JK teachers in action. Pam Spano has been at SouthLake for nearly 25 years and is one of our most experienced and masterful teachers. The day I visited she led the class through a graphing exercise whereby students took colored foam objects and sorted them by shape, counted each shape, matched each shape to a color, and recorded the number of each shape by coloring in a bar graph. In a single exercise, students had to demonstrate knowledge of shapes, colors, numbers, letters, and words, using kinesthetic skills and attentive focus to follow directions carefully. This is a sophisticated collections of tasks for pre-kindergarten children. With patience and abundant energy, Mrs. Spano kept the class on track while working individually with students who needed extra help. We are only 9 weeks into the semester and Mrs. Spano’s students have already learned many of the fundamentals they will need to be happy and successful students in the years ahead. Some parents opt to start their kids’ education in kindergarten, but for those who start SouthLake earlier, the advantages are clear, both academically and spiritually. As she finished the lesson, Mrs. Spano prayed for the class and then led the kids to lunch, giving a bunch of hugs on the way.

I am grateful for the faithful dedication of SouthLake teachers like Mrs. Spano.

Matthew S. Kerlin, Ph.D.
Head of School
SouthLake Christian Academy

Academics Leadership

SouthLake Christian Academy – Update October 2021

As you head into your week off from school, let me be a cheerleader for SouthLake and give you a few bits of good news.

First, you should soon receive by mail a copy of SouthLake’s Strategic Plan. I hope you will take a few moments to read the document, or at the very least look at the great pictures. This publication reflects hours of collaborative work by many in our community and outlines our school’s strategic priorities for the future. The goals we’ve set are lofty, but I believe you would rather us aim high. A mentor once told me that most organizations overestimate what they can accomplish short term, and underestimate what they can accomplish long term. I am excited to see what God can accomplish as we work together in the years to come.

Second, this week I received a remarkable compliment from the Principal of Hibriten High School, our varsity football rival from one week ago. She called to tell me how impressed she was with our students, staff, and parents this past Friday night. She received many compliments from her staff about how polite and respectful our folks were, and how much they enjoyed having us on their campus. She mentioned specifically that our players were careful to say, “thank you” and “yes sir” or “yes ma’am” when speaking with the Hibriten staff. Whether we win or lose in competition, how we conduct ourselves among our rivals speaks volumes about ourselves, our school, and our Creator.

Third, I would like to recognize SouthLake junior John Levantino for being selected to the North Carolina Honors Chorus. John auditioned with over 700 students from across the state. Only 176 students were selected from 78 participating schools. To put this achievement into context, there are nearly 1000 high schools in the state enrolling over 1.1 million students. This makes John’s accomplishment even more impressive. And let me add that John also plays cello and runs cross country.

Fourth, I continue to observe our teachers in the classroom, and this month’s report comes from our Upper School orchestra. Students are learning an arrangement of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Procession of the Nobles” from the opera Mlada. How do you take an orchestral piece with 50 different parts and make it work for an ensemble of 5 strings, 2 trumpets, one flute, and an electric piano? Well, our Fine Arts Director Jose Bas is a master at solving problems like this and making music with the resources available. In an orchestra of 9 members, every musician is exposed. Mr. Bas knows all the parts, and can sing them when needed, and he knows theory and technique for strings, brass, and woodwind instruments alike. A virtuoso string player himself, Mr. Bas balances his high demands with frequent words of encouragement. Sometimes during class everything falls into place and genuinely beautiful music results. Heaven knows we have our problems, but in moments like these, I am reminded how much God has blessed SouthLake.

I hope you have a restful and relaxing week. We will return from Fall Break as scheduled, fully in person for all grades. See you on October 11.

Matthew S. Kerlin, Ph.D.
Head of School
SouthLake Christian Academy

Fine Arts Leadership Sports

SouthLake Christian Academy – Update September 2021

Dear SouthLake Christian Family,

September has arrived, Labor Day weekend is ahead, and fall weather is around the corner. And while the school year has presented some challenges, overall we are off to a rather peaceful start. My updates this month pertain to the coming enrollment cycle, our COVID dashboard, and my observations of stellar teaching.

First, you will recall we use a continuous enrollment process at SouthLake, meaning your current students remain enrolled from one year to the next unless you tell us otherwise. As a current family, you also receive priority consideration for your non-SouthLake children who may wish to apply. Beginning September 27, current families may submit an application for any grade JK-12. Space is not guaranteed, but if a grade is full, getting on a wait list early puts you near the top of the list when a spot becomes available. Applications will open to the general public October 11. You can find an application on our website under the admissions tab. We process completed applications on a rolling basis in the order we receive them, as space allows. The application fee is $100. If you have any questions, feel free to contact admissions@southlakechristian.org.

Second, we are 16 days into our academic year without disruption. After watching many schools in our area open and then close, I am thankful for the relative calm in our community. Thus far we have seen only a few disconnected COVID cases among our students and employees since the start of school on August 11. To view SouthLake’s COVID statistics, you can visit the dashboard on our website. Rest assured that if your student is ever a close contact of a SouthLake person who tests positive for COVID, we will contact you with all the relevant details. If you or a family member tests positive or if you have questions about how to handle a potential exposure, you may contact our amazing school nurse Elizabeth Metzger at emetzger@southlakechristian.org.

Finally, each month this year I will report on stellar instruction I observe in classrooms across campus. I’ve asked our teachers to invite me to see them at their best – their best project, presentation, lesson, or lecture – so I can brag about them to whomever will listen. Last week I had the privilege of observing Mr. David Gonzalez teach his 4th grade students about the political cartoons of the American Revolution. A sophisticated genre, political cartoons require the reader to understand historical context, symbolism, hyperbole, sarcasm, and subtleties of theme and tone. Mr. Gonzalez led his class through an examination of the interpretative skills needed to understand the cartoons, dividing students into timed discussion groups, and then inviting them to share their observations with the class. With the patience and skill of a veteran teacher, Mr. G wove together the historical details of the Revolution with insightful literary analysis. I was impressed by the speed with which these young scholars caught on and began to share their own unique insights, pointing out details I’d missed, adding to my own understanding of each cartoon and its historical context.

These experiences in the classroom remind me why our work matters. When I get caught up in the comparatively mundane details of day-to-day school administration, the faithful work of our teachers to instruct, coach, mentor, and minister to our students inspires me to do all I can to support all they do. Pray for our teachers. They are doing remarkable work under remarkably challenging circumstances.

Matthew S. Kerlin
Head of School
SouthLake Christian Academy

Teaching