INTRODUCTION

SouthLake Christian Academy opened in the fall of 1994 with 23 students and three teachers in combined classes that included kindergarten through 4th grade. The founders of the school were members of SouthLake Presbyterian Church who intended for the Academy to prepare students for college and to proclaim Christ while welcoming students of all faiths. Over the next nine years, grades five through twelve were added, and in May of 2003, SouthLake Christian Academy sent its first ten graduates off to college. Today, the Academy enrolls 560 students in pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade and maintains its commitment to rigorous college preparation in a Christ-centered environment.

As SouthLake Christian Academy approached its 25th year, the School Board recognized the need for a comprehensive plan to guide the school’s future. The Search Committee for the current Head of School identified strategic planning as a chief priority. Current school administrators see strategic planning as vital to the health of the organization. Our teachers, coaches, parents, creditors, and community partners each have a vested interest in the future of the school. For these reasons, SouthLake Christian Academy launched a strategic planning process in the fall of 2018. This document contains a summary of the results of that planning process. We believe that the substance of the plan detailed below honestly reflects collaborative input from all SLCA stakeholders and represents our best efforts to capture both God’s direction and the collective wisdom of our community. The most challenging step of any planning process is the execution! For this plan to come to life, we will need God’s grace and the participation of all our stakeholders. We pray this strategic plan invites each of you to participate actively in the future that God has for SouthLake Christian Academy.

STRATEGIC PLANNING TASK FORCE MEMBERS

  •  Jed Belvin, School Board and Church Session
  • Lisa Cernuto, Alumni parent
  • Derek Farley, 11th grade student
  • Richard Hester, Parent
  • Brian Hines, Parent
  • Brooke Hondros, Parent
  • Sam James, 2003 Graduate
  • Sholeh Kornegay, Parent
  • Lynn Moore, 2nd Grade Teacher
  • Stuart Ross, Parent
  • Kim Sailors, Parent
  • Kennedy Smith, 2019 Graduate

PLANNING TIMELINE

The following is a summary of the strategic planning process. Supporting documents for each step of the process can be found on the school website: https://www.southlakechristian.org/about-slca/strategic-p.

Established a task force comprised of key individuals who represent a cross-section of the school. Set meeting schedule and timeline. (December 2018)

Gathered data about the Academy, its students, families, alumni, donors, and other stakeholders. Used surveys, SWOT analyses, round-table discussions, townhall style gatherings, and individual meetings to collect data. (January – July 2019)

Analyzed the data to identify common themes and values. Engaged in prioritization exercises with school administration and task force members to identify the main areas the plan should cover. Sketched out a rough draft list of plan categories that best represented the data and perceived long-term needs of the school. Identified the goals for each category. (August – September 2019)

Composed rough draft of strategic plan, identifying five main categories of focus and the top 3-5 goals for each category. (October – November 2019)

Generate buy-in by testing the goals with key constituents to see what resonates and generates excitement. Tweak the rough draft based on feedback from key constituents. (December 2019)

Communicate the plan to all constituents. Print a newsletter to mail to all people associated with the school, outlining the process and outcomes of the strategic planning process and enlisting support from the community. (January – May 2020)

Implement the plan. This is the most important and most difficult step, and will likely include rebranding, refining our mission and vision statements, and launching a capitol campaign to raise funds to implement the strategic plan. (2020 and beyond)

Review the plan. Reconvene the task force after one year to review progress and make necessary tweaks to the plan based on experience and feedback. (Summer 2021)

STRATEGIC PLAN FOR SOUTHLAKE CHRISTIAN ACADEMY

1. Faculty and Student Success

Promote an academically rigorous environment to prepare students for college and life.

Goals:

  1. Recruit and retain teachers of the highest quality, providing them with competitive compensation and supporting their professional development through continuing education, peer mentoring, and regular evaluation and constructive feedback.
  2. Create innovative opportunities for students to learn life skills through technical training, work-study programs, leadership development, and personal finance education.
  3. Promote a classroom environment conducive to learning, keeping class sizes small, behavioral expectations age appropriate, and campus safety a high priority.
  4. Enhance academic rigor by adding classes for ACT/SAT preparation, engineering, robotics, debate, public speaking, Christian ethics, theatre, and American sign language, as enrollment and funding allows.

Action Plans:

  • Conduct a salary study to assess competitiveness of our salary and benefits relative to peer schools.
  • Recruit diverse teachers from strong education programs in North Carolina.
  • Set a budget for professional development and create a grant proposal process for teachers to request funds for conference attendance.
  • Implement our new teacher evaluation and mentoring program (STEP program).
  • Survey parents and students annually for feedback on teacher effectiveness.

2. Spiritual Vitality

Foster Christ-centered community at school and beyond.

Goals:

  1. Establish ways for students to serve the community and the world, sharing Christ through local service projects and international mission trips.
  2. Develop a school-wide Bible curriculum and discipleship initiatives to ensure that SLCA graduates possess both the biblical literacy and theological competency to engage culture through a Christian worldview.
  3. Teach students to worship and to lead in worship by building music programs and ministry leadership initiatives that serve the school and local churches.
  4. Create ways to minister to SLCA families through parent Bible studies, spiritual life conferences, and pastoral care to families in need.
  5. Provide additional support for students with specialized academic, spiritual, and mental health needs.

Action Plans:

  • Identify service-learning projects for each school grade and deepen our relationship with our community.
  • Evaluate and strengthen current Bible curriculum and spiritual life programs with a thorough understanding of demographic trends so that we can spiritually invest in our students more fully.
  • Develop a robust worship leadership program through Chapel Band class, performing arts ensembles, and other worship leadership programs.
  • Begin a weekly Bible study for parents, host periodic special events for families (lunch speaker series, conferences, etc.), and identify resources to minister to families in need.

3. Financial Strength

Build financial stability and create a culture of philanthropy to protect the Academy’s future.

Goals:

  1. Launch a Capital Campaign to fund the major initiatives of the SLCA Strategic Plan, including academic, athletic, fine arts, and facilities improvements.
  2. Create an Annual Fund that will allow SLCA to cover the gap between revenue and expenses, help fund financial aid, and keep SLCA affordable for as many as possible.
  3. Retire debt, allowing the school to contain tuition increases and devote more revenue to school improvements.
  4. Build an endowment to provide resources for potential school emergencies, disaster recovery, employee assistance, and other unexpected financial needs.

Action Plans:

  • Conduct a feasibility study to determine realistic fundraising goals.
  • Establish convenient methods of charitable giving, including complete matching funds information, payroll deduction, estate and stock gifts, and gifts in kind options.
  • Designate a percentage of income from Annual Fund and Capital Campaign contributions to go toward debt reduction and endowment growth.
  • Seek an Advancement and Marketing employee to lead the school’s fundraising efforts and build a culture of loyalty and philanthropy with our alumni, parents, grandparents, and community constituents.

4. Enrollment Growth and Marketing

Create ownership and appreciation for the SLCA mission, reputation, and brand.

Goals:

  1. Establish standards for efficient and effective communication between SLCA and employees, families, alumni, and other constituents.
  2. Manage the SLCA brand for consistent messaging and appearance of our logos, colors, website, social media accounts, signage, uniforms, mascot design, and school-related print materials.
  3. Develop a plan to mobilizes SLCA constituents to share stories of school success and achievement that reflect the school’s Christ-centered commitments.
  4. Recruit students and employees from the ranks of international and minority populations so that SLCA reflects the population of our city and the diversity of the Body of Christ.

Action Plans:

  • Manage information flow from the school to all constituents in order to reduce the number but increase the value of emails while maximizing social media as a means of communication.
  • Engage a professional marketing firm to conduct a brand audit and help us better tell the SLCA story by all means possible.
  • Right-size school enrollment to a level at or near our efficient operating capacity by grade and class.
  • Engage an enrollment consultant to assist with minority student recruitment and maximize financial aid for growing under-represented student populations.
  • Develop social media as a major platform to promote the innovation and excellence of our teachers.

5. Facility Enhancement

Improve campus facilities and infrastructure to support the Academy’s academic and spiritual mission.

Goals:

  1. Provide new full-service dining space and a commercial kitchen for on-site food preparation, providing healthy food options to meet the dietary needs of all students.
  2. Update the appearance and function of First Building to reflect current usage, beautify property with new campus-wide landscaping, improve playgrounds, and install a sound system in the stadium.
  3. Build a new gymnasium to provide added space for JK-12 physical education, athletic competition, indoor recreation, and supporting locker rooms and meeting spaces for teams, coaches, officials, and teachers.
  4. Reconfigure existing gymnasium for use as a space for worship, fine arts, and school assemblies.
  5. Upgrade technology infrastructure to increase WIFI bandwidth, provide teachers with new laptop computers, and update touch-screen technology in classrooms,

Assessment:

  • Draw up a master site plan map to provide visual support for the SLCA strategic plan.
  • Consult with a general contractor to assess the feasibility of converting the lower level of Hampton Hall to a full-service dining facility for use until a new building is built.
  • Engage a general contractor to assist with plans for remodeling the exterior of First Building.
  • Engage a landscape architect to assist with campus-wide landscaping improvements.
  • Engage a general contractor to draw up plans for converting existing gym to space for worship, fine arts, and school assemblies.
  • Engage architects to draw up preliminary plans for new dining, gym, and assembly spaces.

CONCLUSIONS

A good strategic plan should guide an organization for approximately five years. No plan will capture all that a school does. Some initiatives identified during the planning process are already underway or complete. As no plan is perfect, minor changes to the plan will be necessary. We need the flexibility for additions, subtractions, and adjustments to the plan to reflect continuously changing realities. Because our plan is ambitious, we may not complete every goal. Because our God is able, we may accomplish more than we imagine.

For some organizations, strategic planning takes years and involves significant struggle and disagreement. This has not been the case with SouthLake Christian Academy. It is possible that those familiar with the Academy will read this document and ask, “Why did this plan take more than a year to devise? These objectives were obvious to me before the process began!” If that is your response to our Strategic Plan, then the Task Force will have accomplished its purpose. Task Force members will testify to how harmoniously a consensus emerged concerning the main objectives of the plan. Our belief from the beginning was that many voices would yield a better result than only a few. Participation in the formation of this plan was extensive by all SLCA constituents, including parents, teachers, students, administrators, alumni, and community members. The results are better for it. SouthLake Christian Academy will be better for it. Our prayer is that the Kingdom of God will be better for it as well.

APPENDIX: STRATEGIC PLANNING DOCUMENTS OF IMPORTANCE

SWOT Analysis: Task Force and SLCA Administration – January 2019

Strengths

  • teacher & staff engagement with students – employees care deeply about students
  • happy school, filled with joy, strong sense of community
  • location between Denver and Huntersville
  • strong college prep curriculum and track record
  • Christian commitment, teaching Bible, ACSI affiliation, Student Missions Fellowship
  • student trips, especially grade-specific connections to service and ministry projects
  • safe school with small class sizes
  • strong writing instruction, particularly in the high school
  • Academic Development Center resources
  • affordable & less than most private schools in area, availability of financial aid
  • connection to alumni years after graduation, teachers form mentor relationships
  • sports programs – availability & variety of teams, contribution to maturation

Weaknesses

  • facilities, especially lower school
  • lack of continuity in leadership and vision (3 heads in past 5 years)
  • absence of clear definition of success with buy-in from community at large
  • we aren’t good at “tooting our own horn”; telling the story of our successes
  • poor student attendance at many sporting events
  • lack of communication to parents about how to support service projects
  • poor communication, brutally long weekly emails ineffective
  • tuition is difficult for some
  • lack of cultural/racial diversity
  • occasional teacher weaknesses, people teaching subjects outside their ability
  • Wi-Fi & technology problems
  • questionable longevity of the church & theological guidance in its absence

Opportunities

  • market research to determine why students come to SLCA
  • tell our story, marketing, especially word of mouth and social media development
  • student ownership of more programming, clubs
  • strengthening connections between HS and LS students, building relationships
  • take advantage of our status as a neighborhood school
  • promote ADC more to outside constituents
  • advertise where our seniors have been admitted to college
  • create incentives/programs to entice students to attend sporting events
  • improve diversity of student population

Threats

  • charter schools
  • debt structure/load of the school
  • hwy. 73 expansion

Executive Summary of School Survey – May 2019

Demographics of respondents:

  • 68% female
  • 25% millennials
  • 92% white
  • 90% Christian
  • 70% Protestant
  • 65% associated with SLCA > 6 years
  • 50% live within 10 miles of SLCA

Priorities:

  • Top words/phrases that describe SLCA: Christ-centered, academically rigorous, biblically integrated, loving
  • Top words/phrases that should describe SLCA: Christ-centered, academically rigorous, loving, college prep
  • Top reasons for affiliation – Christian values, teaching, caring, location
  • Top facilities improvements – dining, Wilcox, lower school, athletics
  • Top projects to which you’d donate – academics, technology, gym, athletics

Perceptions: (percentage of people who agree or strongly agree)

  • SLCA operates consistent with Christian mission – 85%
  • SLCA is a good value for quality – 79%
  • SLCA students are well prepared for college – 76%
  • SLCA students are well prepared for life – 63%
  • SLCA teaches problem solving/critical thinking – 70%
  • SLCA has competent qualified teachers – 76%
  • Quality athletic programs – 74%
  • Quality fine arts programs – 58%
  • Competent/qualified administrators – 80%
  • Appropriately sized classes – 90%
  • Rigorous math – 83%
  • Rigorous language arts – 78%
  • Rigorous STEM – 65%
  • Rigorous foreign language – 44%
  • Broad options for electives – 45%
  • Broad clubs/extracurricular activities – 49%
  • SLCA students are motivated to learn – 67%
  • SLCA teachers communicate with parents effectively – 70%
  • I contribute financially – 32%
  • I attend athletics events – 56%
  • I attend fine arts events – 48%
  • I am willing to contribute to a capital giving campaign – 44%
  • SLCA does a good job marketing – 28%

Open ended questions:

  • Favorites – Christian, teachers, academics (class size), community/family environment
  • Improvements – facilities (dining & gym), classroom/conduct management, diversity, technology
  • Marketing ideas – social media, signage, billboard, print media, internet/website
  • Strengthen Christian identity – too Christian / not Christian enough, chapel-Bible-missions
  • Net Promoter Score – 18.2

Executive Summary of Town Hall Meetings – Summer 2019

Observations SLCA families made about the school survey data:

  • Christian identity and strong college prep are cornerstones of SLCA
  • Small class sizes are highly valued
  • Athletics and fine arts, while good, could both be better in terms of promotion and organization
  • Preparation for life, not just college, could improve (shop, home econ, financial management)
  • Diversity, dining facilities, foreign language rigor, and marketing all need significant improvements

Jobs parents are hiring us to perform:

  • Get my child into a good college
  • Instill in my child a moral framework and/or Christian worldview
  • Provide a safe environment for my child to learn
  • Help my child realize his full potential, become a leader, impact the world, etc.
  • Fix a problem my child has experienced elsewhere
  • Keep my child happy (friends, sports, fine arts)

SLCA’s top competitors (perceptions that appeared on all lists):

  • Cannon
  • Davidson Day
  • Lake Norman Charter (charter schools in general – Westlake, Lincoln, Pine Lake, Langtree)
  • Hough High School

Things that distinguish SLCA from our competitors:

  • Price
  • Mission/identity
  • School culture (family environment, sense of community)
  • Excellent and dedicated teachers
  • Academic Development Center

Attributes to keep at all costs:

  • Christian & college prep
  • Reputation of teachers
  • Sense of community/family
  • Small class size
  • Price/value

Attributes (or perceptions) to eliminate at all costs:

  • Poor facilities
  • Scandal plagued or financially weak
  • Overwhelmingly white, conservative, and privileged

Attributes to develop:

  • Becoming better at telling our story (marketing)
  • Diversity of faculty, staff, and students
  • Professionalism (athletics, fine arts, uniforms, brand images

Things that give you hope for the future:

  • Open conversations and collaborative plans underway
  • School leadership (teachers, administration)
  • Renewed energy and excitement (SLCA is a happy place)
  • Growth in Lake Norman area

Executive Summary of Project Prioritization Exercises – Fall 2019

 Project, Score, and Category                       

  • Enhanced marketing initiatives – signage, website, communications, brand analysis, Score 87, Marketing
  • Updates and beautification to existing facilities, landscaping, playgrounds, Score 72, Facilities
  • New dining space, food prep capabilities, healthier food options, Score 67, Facilities
  • Life skills courses, personal finance, leadership development, life issues education, score 59, Academic/Spiritual
  •  Financial stewardship: creation of annual fund, retire debt, build endowment, Score 57, Financial
  • Teacher development, incentive pay, evaluation, peer mentoring, continuing education, Score 43, Academic
  • Stronger technology infrastructure, training for students, employees, and families, Score 40, Facilities
  • New gymnasium, performing arts center, and worship space, Score 37, Facilities
  • Greater diversity of faculty, staff, and students to reflect the greater Charlotte region, Score 35, Enrollment
  • Enrollment growth to reasonable capacity, new preschool, boat commuting options, Score 29, Enrollment
  • Grow alumni relations, volunteers, and donors through improved communications, Score 25, Financial
  • Spiritual life programs, serving at-risk students, worship, family ministry, Score 19, Spiritual
  • Additional counselor for guidance and mental health support, Score 17, Personnel
  • Safety initiatives, secure facilities, safety officer, Score 12, Personnel
  • Academic enhancements – debate, ACT/SAT prep classes, engineering, Score 9, Academic
  • Develop STEM facilities, robotics, science curriculum, Score 8, Academic
  • New athletic facilities for tennis, softball, reverse home & away sides of stadium, Score 4, Facilities

*Scores reflect the project priorities identified by the school survey, SLCA administrators, and Strategic Planning Task Force members. Higher scores reflect greater interest in a particular project. Scores were intended to inform but not determine the final goals of the strategic plan.

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