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

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