Continuity of Instruction Plan for SouthLake Christian Academy

How does e-learning work?

School may look differently in the days to come, but education will continue. Here you will find our plans to provide instruction to SouthLake Christian Academy students in an online environment, also called telelearning, distance learning, or e-learning. Our teaching plans aim to keep things simple, clear, and flexible.

Simple. Effective online instruction does not need to be fancy. Neither parents nor students need to be technology specialists to learn well in an e-learning environment. We will start with basic tools – phone, email, internet – and build from there. We will focus on essential curriculum and skills. Students WILL learn the most important content.

Clear. Effective online instruction requires clear two-way communication. Teachers should be organized, accessible, and responsive. We ask students and families to relay problems to us quickly. We want our students to have a clear understanding of class expectations and content and not to struggle with logistics.

Flexible. Effective online instruction utilizes both synchronous and asynchronous engagement. Most instruction will be asynchronous, meaning that students will be able to access materials on their own schedule rather than in coordination with the entire class. Synchronous instruction will be scheduled to accommodate student availability. Many of our families have multiple children and childcare challenges. We could potentially move back and forth between live and online classes in the weeks to come. This will require each of us to be patient, accommodating, and supportive of each other.

What can parents and students do to prepare?

  1. Give us the information we need to help you. If you have not done so already, please complete our tech survey so that if you have a problem, our tech team will know what technology you have at home. If you have not done so already, make sure we have the correct demographic information for you in Renweb.
  2. Get organized. You will soon receive more electronic communication from SouthLake than you are accustomed to receiving. Set up an email folder for each of your children or for each class or subject. Check email regularly, file or deleted unneeded mail, and respond quickly and briefly to any emails that require only a short response.
  3. Be patient. This is a learning curve for all of us. We are landing a plane while finishing the runway. We will all make mistakes and maybe get frustrated from time to time. We will try to solve problems as quickly as possible. This plan is a work in progress. We will update, revise, and improve as we go along. Give and receive grace.
  4. Stay connected. You can see what is happening around the school and stay informed by following our school’s various social medial channels. Here is a list:
  • Facebook – SouthLake Christian Academy
  • Instagram – southlakechristian
  • Twitter – @SLCAEagles
  • Head of School Blog – http://www.mattkerlin.com

What technology will we use?

We will use technology platforms that are free, accessible to everyone, and work well on both Mac and PC devices. Teachers will provide instructions for using these resources as needed. Not all teachers will use all of these programs, and our Tech Team will be available to assist as needed. Here is a list of most of the platforms our school will be using.

  • Email – we will use the contact emails you provided in Renweb.
  • Phone or FaceTime – we will use the cell phone numbers you provided in Renweb.
  • Renweb – our online school database and the primary means of posting class content.
  • Microsoft Office 365 apps including One Drive, One Note, Forms – online file sharing and storage (mostly for High School use).
  • Google Suite products including Classroom, Calendar, Docs, Forms – online program for managing classes, assignments, content, tests, quizzes, calendars, and file sharing.
  • Zoom – an online communication tool for video recording and video conferencing.
  • Smart Music – an app for recording individual music practice and receiving feedback.

What if I need technology support?

Email the help desk at slcahelpdesk@gmail.com. A member of the tech team will contact you.

What are our plans by grade or division?

Although each teacher is unique, our plan provides some standardization to minimize confusion to the greatest degree possible. All teachers will use a combination of the following: video (instruction and conferencing), regular email or phone communication, assessment (tests, quizzes, papers, projects, etc.), and virtual office hours.

Junior Kindergarten – 3rd Grade (Spano, Canipe, Calhoun, Moore, Davis, Patton)

  • Teachers will email families regularly to communicate expectations and information needed to complete assignments.
  • Teachers will post weekly plans, assignments, needed documents, web resources, and video content on Renweb.
  • Students may turn in assignments by email, text, or an online student-interactive website.
  • Teachers will phone, FaceTime, or Zoom to connect with students and parents each week to check in and answer questions.
  • Teachers will set up virtual office hours for individualized assistance.

4th – 6th Grade (Boovy, Gonzalez, Bussell, Clemmer, Jacobs, Rowles, Vance, Boone, Belvin, Thomas)

  • Teachers will email families prior to March 30 to explain in detail how to access all electronic resources needed, primarily Renweb, Google Classroom, and Zoom.
  • Beginning March 30, all teachers will communicate via regular emails with information relevant to all 4-6 grade students.
  • Each teacher will email daily with specific information and reminders to check Renweb and Google Classroom for assignments in specific subjects.
  • Needed materials not already sent home will be linked to both Renweb and Google Classroom.
  • Students may turn in assignments using a combination of text messaging, Google Docs, Google Forms, or other Google apps.
  • Teachers will schedule virtual office hours for students needing individualized help.

7th – 8th Grade (Belvin, Bumgarner, Boone, Jacobs, Reeves, Russell, Wilson)

  • Each teacher will email families prior to March 30 welcoming students to e-learning and explaining in detail how each class will work.
  • Beginning March 30, teachers will post lesson plans and links to primary resources in Renweb. They will give assignments and provide instructional content through Renweb, Google Classroom, and curriculum specific sites (science and history). Links to these items will be posted in Renweb.
  • Each teacher will produce video lessons weekly or more frequently, depending on the nature of the content.
  • Each teacher will communicate regularly with students via email, video, and/or phone to provide specific instructions and reminders to check Renweb for assignments.
  • Each teacher will schedule virtual office hours for students or families with questions or concerns.

High School

  • Each high school class is unique, so e-learning plans will be highly individualized, just as they are in a live classroom setting.
  • Teachers will use a blend of synchronous and asynchronous instruction.
  • Teachers will email students prior to March 30 with introductions to online learning and instructions for use of any new technology.
  • Each teacher will post lesson plans, notes, videos, and assignments on Renweb and other file sharing platforms.
  • Students will submit assignments through OneNote, OneDrive, and Google Classroom.
  • Teachers will use Zoom for scheduled online class gatherings.
  • Teachers will schedule virtual office hours for individualized assistance.

What about specials like library, PE, Fine Arts, and STEM?

  • Most music classes will move to individualized instruction using the Smart Music app.
  • Other classes will utilize online resources for singing and choreography.
  • Library instruction will include reading recommendations, videos, and book blogs.
  • Art teachers will send weekly project ideas and post completed projects on Instagram and our online art gallery called Artsonia.
  • PE instruction will consist of weekly video workouts that student can do in their own homes.
  • STEM instruction will involve periodic emails with ideas for projects that can be completed at home to support subject area learning.

What about students receiving services from our Academic Development Center (ADC)?

  • ADC teachers will continue to support their students by providing consultation and individualized assistance to students with issues that affect their learning.
  • ADC teachers are familiar with distance learning technology and will have access to their students’ Renweb resources and e-learning apps.
  • ADC teachers have received special certifications for teletherapy and will use Zoom for individualized therapy session.
  • ADC teachers will schedule virtual office hours for those needing additional assistance.
  • ADC teachers will continue to support students with an Educational Plan of Action (EPA), and provide documentation needed for accommodations on standardized testing.
  • ADC teachers will continue to consult with prospective students and their families.

What about high school students needing help for fall scheduling or from our College and Career Counseling Office?

  • Course request meetings will be handled using Zoom. Individualized assistance will be provided by phone or email from our scheduling team.
  • Students needing schedule counseling will use Sign-up Genius for Zoom meetings.
  • Junior planning meetings and sophomore PSAT and Pre-ACT test review meetings will take place using Zoom as students request.
  • Blog posts will contain grade level updates, encouragement, and links to resources.
  • Email communication will inform students of collegiate information and any testing changes.
  • Personal communication will continue to support post-grad research, virtual tours, and senior schedules.

Final Considerations

Thank you for your steadfast faith and trust in SouthLake Christian Academy as we continue to teach and minister to your students. We hope to return to live classes as soon as it is safe to do so. Truthfully, the months that follow may have a profound impact on the future of education. New capacities, efficiencies, competencies, and possibilities will likely emerge from this unprecedented time in our history. We cannot see exactly what the future holds, but we trust that Christ is preeminent in all things.

Compiled and edited by the Faculty and Staff of SouthLake Christian Academy

March 2020

Academics Education Technology

Youth Sports: Keeping It All in Perspective

My oldest child played nearly every sport a boy can. My middle child was a dancer who performed at innumerable school sporting events. My youngest child is a dancer and high school volleyball player. I am Head of School for an academy with 35 athletic teams. Needless to say, I have spent countless hours watching youth sporting events. Fortunately for me, I thoroughly enjoy watching students compete. I am less enamored, however, with how parents behave while watching their children compete. I am blessed to work at a school where parent behavior is almost always exemplary. Through the years, however, I have seen my fair share of parents screaming at the officials, belittling kids, and trash talking the other team. What possesses otherwise reasonable adults to lose their composure while watching their kids compete? Perhaps the rising cost of college tuition drives hopes for an athletic scholarship. Living vicariously through our kids is always a temptation. Whatever the case, here are some suggestions for keeping the right perspective on youth sports.

Let kids make their own choices. Pushing kids to play a sport is generally a bad idea. Pushing them to practice harder or more frequently than they want can become counterproductive over time. If you as a parent are working harder at a sport than your son or daughter, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate how you’re both spending your time and money. Throwing a lot of cash at camps, trainers, and private lessons can backfire, especially for younger children. If they ask for extra help, and you aren’t sacrificing college savings to give them some, then great. Otherwise, pressuring them to perform at unrealistically high levels can generate resentment if children don’t feel like they are living up to parents’ lofty expectations.

Make it about the process not the outcome. Ok, I have to say this. Your kid is not going pro. However good you think he is, he isn’t going pro. He’s big and athletic for his age? Guess what, he’s still not going pro. He’s better than all the other kids? Nope, he’s still not going pro. Why do I say this? Statistics my friend. Nationwide, less than .04% of high school athletes get a chance at a professional career in any sport. That’s one in 2500. You have a similar chance of getting struck by lightning. When you clear your mind of thoughts of a pro career, suddenly your approach to parenting a sports-playing child becomes much healthier. Take the pressure of your children and stop trying to live out your dreams of a pro career through them. Encourage children to work hard, play fair, and be good teammates in practice, in the game, or on the bench. If they get better each practice, each game, and each season, then that is success worthy of celebration.

Yelling at the officials accomplishes nothing. I spend many years coaching baseball when my son was young. One season I volunteered as an assistant coach for a 10-year-old team with a head coach who had worked as an SEC baseball official for several years. In a playoff game, an umpire made a terrible call that cost our team a couple of runs and eventually the game. I voiced my displeasure to the official from the dugout, at which point the head coach looked at me and said, “Matt, if he were any better, he’d be an umpire somewhere else.” That statement put things in perspective for me. Youth officials are amateurs who have families and full-time jobs that usually have nothing to do with sports. They receive only a modest amount of training, supervision, and compensation. They typically officiate for fun because they enjoy watching young people compete and helping teach them the game. So cut the refs some slack, set a good example, and keep your opinions of the officiating to yourself.

Belittling your kids makes them worse not better. I see a frightening number of parents trying to coach their kids from the stands, yelling advice and criticizing mistakes. I’ve never seen a kid who likes this or performs better as a result. We as parents feel frustration and maybe embarrassment when our kids don’t do well in a game. The truth is, this is our problem not our kid’s problem. Here is a little piece of advice that I have heard from many parents wiser than me: Don’t talk to your son or daughter about his performance in games. If you know a sport well and you are asked for help, give only what is asked. Otherwise, play the role of a supportive parent. Offers encouragement, perspective, and calm. When the game is over, talk about where you’re going to dinner. Don’t rehash their performances, especially the mistakes. Let the coaches handle correction.

Let the coaches do the coaching. Believe it or not, your child’s coaches probably know your child’s abilities better than you. Coaches are not perfect, obviously. They are subject to prejudices and politics, first impressions and hot tempers, just like the rest of us. But when it comes to your child, you are not remotely objective. Coaches are more likely than you to know what position is best, what playing time is best, what offense to run, when to call a time out, and what best to say to encourage, motivate, or correct your child. So, for the love of all that is decent in the world, don’t complain to your coach about positions or playing time. You don’t have to like all your coaches or everything they decide. If a coach is inappropriately hot-tempered, profane, or belittling, by all means confront that sort of childish behavior. But remember that for the rest of your children’s lives, they will have classmates, teachers, professors, bosses, colleagues, and neighbors that they don’t particularly like. They need to learn to live with and learn from people they may not like. We parents need to model this for our kids.

Play multiple sports. The popularity of club sports has made players more skilled at earlier ages by extending the playing season. School season, club season, private lessons, camps, and off-season training mean that many teenagers play their sport almost all year. Much of this is driven by economics. Parents are willing to pay big money to see their kids improve and many coaches are eager to turn a profit. Yet, the rise in overuse injuries suggests that such intense dedication to a single sport exacts a physical toll on young bodies. According to recent studies cited by USA Today (September 5, 2018), more than 3.5 million under age 14 receive medical treatment for sports related injuries each year. High School students account for nearly 2 million injuries, 500,000 doctor visits, and 30,000 hospitalizations. Of equal but overlooked importance is the mental fatigue associated with playing a single sport all year. Kids need down time, yet often their schedules are too busy for proper sleep, a healthy diet, or adequate time to decompress. Kids can use the mental break that comes from getting away from their primary sport, meeting new people, learning new skills, and developing a broader base of fitness. A 2017 study by the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine found that early specialization in a sport did NOT increase an athlete’s chances of playing that sport at the high school, collegiate, or professional level (www.sportsmed.org; July 2017).

Let the kids play. As badly as I want to see my team win, in my calmer moments I realize that a youth athletic competition is a low stakes affair. The outcome isn’t going to have a particularly profound or lasting impact on either the winners or the losers. For that reason, sports should be fun. There are too many seriously important things in life to take something that should be fun and treat it too seriously. I think it is easy for parents and coaches to suck the life out of sports for our children and strip from them the pure and simple joy of competition for its own sake.

 

Parenting Sports

Social Drama: How to Handle It, Or Better Yet, Avoid It Altogether

[The following is a chapel address presented to Junior High and High School Students at SouthLake Christian Academy on January 8, 2020.]

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: ‘Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross.’” – Philippians 2.3-8, New International Version

Social drama is common among teens and adults alike. People living and working in close proximity with one another will inevitably experience relational conflict. This is a normal, natural, and necessary part of any family or community. People have to learn to exist peaceably with one another. The problem comes when conflict isn’t resolved effectively and persists creating unnecessary stress for those involved. So, let’s define social drama as unresolved relational conflict that creates undue emotional distress. (For the purposes of this address, I am not talking about situations involving physical harm or the threat of injury. Social drama is both more common and more trivial.) Here is an example of social drama that I observe frequently. Susie says insulting things about Adam to her friend Beth. (These are not real people). Beth tells Adam what Susie said and Adam gets angry at Susie, who in turn gets mad at Beth for telling Adam. Then Beth gets mad at Susie for starting the whole thing and she gangs up with Adam against Susie. Susie gets her other friends involved to take her side, and Adam and Beth do the same. And on the drama goes!

The passage from Philippians 2 quoted above gives four instructions. (1) Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. (2) Consider others more important than yourselves. (3) Look after the interests of others. (4) Be like Jesus who was equal to God but gave his life for us. If everyone followed these instructions, social drama wouldn’t exist. Here are some of the causes of drama as I see them.

Personal insecurity is the most obvious and common cause of social drama. People who are uneasy about their position in a community, people who do not feel liked or trusted, people who are not comfortable in their own skin, people who feel unsure about their friendships, or people who are lonely will often try to bring others down in order to feel better about themselves.

Competition for social position isn’t unique to teens. We adults can be more overt and vicious in our quest for popularity. Teens follow the examples we set. Who is friends with whom, who travels where and with whom, who hosts parties and who is invited, who lives where and who drives what … these are the concerns of socialites. You’ll avoid a lot of drama simply by refusing to play this game. Have close friends but be a friend to all. When you travel or host social events, don’t post pictures about it that inevitably make others feel excluded. Be less concerned with who likes you and more concerned that you treat others with unfailing kindness and respect.

Gossip, rumors, and slander often pose as genuine concern for people but accomplish nothing good for anyone. Some seem to thrive on involving themselves in the private business of other people and use gossip to fill a personal void. Other use slander as a weapon of war against those with whom they hold a grudge. Spreading negativity about other people fuels one’s ego, but the fire can burn all involved. The old expression seems to apply here: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say it.”

Attention seeking behaviors are those actions intended solely for the purpose of drawing attention to oneself. Social media exists because we are attention seekers by nature, but social media allows us to deceive by painting a picture of our lives that isn’t real. We show online what we want others to see not what we truly are. We exaggerate what is good about our lives to impress others or exaggerate what is difficult about our lives to get their sympathy. We express opinions to impress or to annoy, and the attention that results helps us feel smart or important or validated. Yet, a growing body of research indicates that the inevitable result of our online existence is jealousy, anxiety, and discontent. Limit your time online and remember that everything you see is contrived.

Entertainment is a cure for boredom and social drama can surely be entertaining. Perhaps it’s not a bad idea to have a good-humored approach to the drama that swirls around you, so long as you don’t seek to create it for your own amusement. Jokes and pranks and poking fun can help us cope with a world that is filled with tragedy, but these things can go too far and become belittling or damaging to others. If you are sensitive to those around you and consider their interests ahead of your own, you’ll develop the sensitivity to know when you are about to cross the line from humor to humiliation.

Now here are some things you can do to handle, or better yet, avoid social drama altogether.

  1. Never speak negatively about other people. Yes, sometimes you need to blow the whistle on bad behavior. Sometimes you need to give those in authority an honest evaluation of someone’s behavior. But aside from those rare circumstances, if you follow the simple practice of never speaking badly about others, you will be a happier person in the long run. The Rotary Club promotes an ethical standard called “The Four-Way Test,” recited by members at each meeting. “Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it bring goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?” These are good questions to ask yourself regularly.
  2. If someone offends you, talk to that person. In Matthew 18:15, Jesus gives these instructions to his followers: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” These conversations will seem difficult to those with little experience having them. But there are simple and gracious ways to talk to someone who has offended you. You do not need to get in their face or become confrontational or drag up years of offenses. A simple statement like, “Hey, you said something that bothers me, and I was hoping we could talk about it sometime.” You will get better having difficult conversations over time. Best to become comfortable with difficult conversations now while you are young, and the stakes are low. As you get older, difficult conversations will become more common and far more consequential.
  3. Apologize when you mess up, and when you don’t. Sometimes the solution to social drama is a simple apology. And sometimes, you need to apologize even when you don’t think you are at fault. If the objective is a mended relationship, then at some point it doesn’t matter who is right and who is wrong. Be a peacemaker not a drama creator. Of course, you need proper boundaries to know that there are times when you must insist that others take responsibility for their behavior. But most instances of petty social drama will never be resolved by pointing fingers. If you aren’t ready to say you’re sorry when it isn’t your fault, then you aren’t ready for any serious relationship, romantic or otherwise. Jesus gives us the best example I know. As He gave His life, dying a martyr’s death in torturous despair, he said of his executioners, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
  4. Forgive, forget, and move on. Middle school and high school are too difficult already. LIFE it too difficult and too short for you to hold grudges. Each grudge you carry is like a brick in a backpack that you cannot remove. The books and supplies you’re carrying are heavy enough already and each time you fail to forgive, you add more weight. You are only hurting yourself. Forgive. What if the other person doesn’t apologize? Forgive. What if the other person refuses to admit he or she did something wrong? Forgive. What if he or she keeps doing it over and over? Forgive. You may need to get some help from an adult, but you still need to forgive. Jesus was asked once how often we needed to forgive. “Seven times?” was the question. Jesus answered, “Seventy times seven.” He did not mean 490 times. Seven is the biblical number of completion. Forgive completely.

In conclusion, I considered asking that we make it our New Year’s resolution to avoid social drama. But the thought occurred to me that this approach will not work. If the root cause of drama is personal insecurity, then simply resolving to avoid drama can’t possibly be effective. We must each address the insecurity that we feel as broken and fallen people in a broken and fallen world. Or rather, I should say we must each allow God to address the insecurity in us. As the theologian St. Augustine writes in Confessions, “Our souls are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”

community

SouthLake Christian Academy – Strategic Plan 2020 (DRAFT for public comment)

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.

Uncategorized

Preparing for Exams

At SouthLake Christian Academy, students will soon be taking exams, that bi-annual rite of passage that creates fear and loathing in the minds of students and parents alike. But fear not! Exams do not have to be miserable experiences. There is a wealth of learning research to help students prepare better and dislike the experience less. Here are a few research-based pointers to assist and to keep things in perspective.

1. Eliminate distractions. Contrary to popular belief, multitasking is a myth. Neuroscientists know that the brain cannot perform many high-level cognitive functions simultaneously. Rather, the neocortex switches between tasks as called upon to do so. Task switching wastes time and increases the likelihood of errors. The brain is less efficient at reorienting to a new task than it is at attending to the one at hand. So take 15 minutes to get organized, eliminate clutter, shut down screens, steer clear of noise, minimize social interaction, and then get down to business.

2. Study harder AND smarter. More time spent studying does not always translate directly to higher grades on exams. Proper preparation requires both memory consolidation (knowing the subject matter) and deep processing (the ability to make meaningful connections, solve problems, and think critically about the material). Exam prep often involves flash cards and study guides, tools useful for rote memorization. For deeper learning, however, try creating concept maps to make connections between concepts and help you understand why a particular fact is true and why it matters. Of course, both memorization and deep learning take time, so spread your study sessions out over a few days and give your brain the repetition it needs to absorb and process the material.

3. Sleep well. Studies show that REM sleep is necessary for information acquisition (receiving), consolidation (keeping), and recall (retrieving). Students deprived of REM sleep show deficits in short-term and long-term memory, and decreased problem solving abilities. Sleep deprivation also elevates stress and anxiety levels (as measured by perception and biochemical markers) and deteriorates overall performance. In other words, students who study over time with good sleep will outperform those who use all-night cram sessions for last minute preparation.

4. Take strategic study breaks. Although the brain makes up about 2% of a person’s body weight, it accounts for up to 20% of the body’s energy use. Intense studying is among our most exhausting tasks, so take breaks. Schedule study time to include periodic short intervals of rest. For younger students, study sessions may last 30 minutes followed by a 15 minute break.  For older students, a 50 minute study session followed by at 10 minute break may suffice. Students with learning differences may need additional rest. Strategic rest will help with cognitive endurance and allow you to study longer and better over the long haul.

5. Ask for help. Some students will struggle for hours on their own to avoid asking for help. Self-reliance is commendable to a point, but as exam time approaches, be quicker to ask for help. Compile questions that you need answered and email a teacher or speak to him/her during a free period of the day. Friends can help too. Group study sessions, used sparingly, can be helpful for content-intensive subjects if you keep needless socializing to a minimum. Practice teaching others the material. Verbal processing with others can help you know how well you know the material.

6. Avoid excessive caffeine and sugar. Studies show that while caffeine can improve alertness and the performance of some motor tasks in fatigued individuals, it does not improve memory or deep processing. In excess, caffeine can increase anxiety and thereby decrease one’s ability to absorb and recall information. As to sugar, the brain needs it to function, but not the simple processed sugars found in candy bars and energy drinks. The glucose that is found in fruits and complex carbohydrates does improve brain function. Save the junk food for a post exam celebration.

7. Keep it all in perspectives. When I taught at the university level, I always gave my students the following speech prior to the start of an exam: “This exam is important but it is not the most important thing in your life. Your identity as a person is not determined by the outcome of this exam. You are no better a human being if you make an A on this test, and no worse a human being if you fail it. Your identity is NOT determined by your performance. You are a person created in God’s image, loved by God, and redeemed by Christ. Nothing that happens in this life can change that, especially not an exam. So relax, do your best, and move on. I love you, I’m rooting for you, and you’re going to be OK.”

I do. I am. And you are.

Go Eagles!

 

Academics

My Experience with Learning Disabilities

My life’s work has been in Christian education. But I am also a parent, and that’s what I’m writing about here.  I have three children, all redheads. I often joke that I am the patriarch of a ginger dynasty.  All three of my kids are really smart, but we’ve often thought of Kate as the smartest.  When Kate was 3 years old, she learned how to play a matching game that involved placing cards face down in columns and rows and flipping over cards two per turn until you make a match.  The person with the most matched pairs wins.  To this day, nobody in our family has ever beaten Kate.  We thought for a while that she’d figured out some way to cheat, until we learned that she also has a near photographic memory for faces and the details of events and places we’ve visited.  I taught her to play chess when she was 5.  She played for a few weeks and then lost interest.  She picked up the game again nearly 6 years later, and to my surprise still remembered the rules.  When it came to children’s books, Kate memorized all her favorites.  She would know when I tried to alter the story or skip a page.  She could “read” the story to me if I let her, and she knew from the pictures when to turn the page long before she could actually read. I could tell stories about Kate at length.

In 3rd grade we began to sense that something was wrong.  Kate began to do poorly on AR quizzes.  She started to lag behind her classmates on standardized tests.  She was barely reading at grade level while many of her friends were reading 2 or 3 grades above it, as her two older siblings had done.  At parent-teacher conferences, we expressed concern, but Kate was our third child and by then we were chill parents.  Kate was and is the kind of kid teachers loved – obedient, quiet, kind, respectful, cooperative, liked by her peers.  Teachers told us not to worry, and we followed their advice.  In fourth grade, the trend continued – low standardized test scores, reading comprehension problems, alternatively great and then terrible grades, depending on the kind of assignment or the style of test she took.  Picture books increasingly gave way to chapter books, and Kate’s love for reading evaporated.  It was a chore to get her to complete book assignments, and she often seemed to daydream when she was supposed to be reading.  The school had a special program for students with reading difficulties.  She entered and then completed that program, but we noticed no improvements.  We hired a reading specialist who worked with Kate two afternoons a week for about 4 months, and who then told us that everything seemed normal and that Kate was just a “laid-back kid,” which I suspected was code for a student who is not motivated.  Her fourth-grade teacher was the first, but not the last, to suggest that Kate might suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder.  I’d never noticed any attention deficit in Kate before, except when she was supposed to be reading, and neither had anyone else, and so that suggestion seemed to me like grasping at straws.

One day around this time Kate was trying to read a schoolbook to my dad, who himself cannot read out loud with any fluency because of his own learning disabilities.  My dad noticed that Kate tended to use her finger to follow words as she read and that she often skipped articles and prepositions and could not sound out words she did not know.  These are all things that I knew about Kate, but my dad commented that he did the same things still.  I was familiar with my dad’s story.  He did terribly in school and was told by his high-school counselor that he “wasn’t college material.”  My dad graduated with a biology degree from the University of Georgia and went on to have a brilliant career in business, teaching safety and environmental responsibility to multi-national companies drilling for oil offshore around the world.  Incongruously, I have distinct memories of standing next to my dad in church as he tried to sing from the Baptist hymnal.  He mixed up the words and lines of the hymns so badly, that if God had judged his theology based on the lyrics he sang, he would surely have been guilty of damnable heresy!  It never occurred to me to ask why a highly intelligent and accomplished biologist, businessman, and environmental advocate did so badly in school, could not sing from a hymnal, and had read fewer than a dozen books in his life.  But when my dad saw himself in my daughter, I began to suspect that something more complex was going on with his and my daughter’s ability to process language.  We talked to our pediatrician and at his recommendation we visited a developmental psychologist who tested Kate for a variety of learning disabilities.  He determined that she had an IQ of 125 (not a surprise) and that in his opinion, she exhibited no language processing deficits (a big surprise) because in his words, “she didn’t invert letters or numbers with any consistency,” as if that were the only or primary indicator of a language processing disability.  His determination was that Kate was “possibly” suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder and he suggested medication.  Well, when a guy with a Ph.D. in child psychology says it, it must be true.

Kate spent much of the 5th grade trying different brands and dosages of ADD medication.  The stimulant effect kept her awake at night, suppressed her appetite, and made her moody and aggressive.  We would have been willing to tolerate those side effects, except for the fact that the medication had no impact whatsoever on her academic performance.  Parent-teacher conferences were again predictable.  “Kate is such a sweet child, she just needs to work harder on reading and try not to daydream so much,” again, code for “we think she’s ADD.”  Kate continued to struggle with any assignment in any subject that had to do with reading.  Strangely, she was great at math as long as there were no word problems. She hated word problems.  She was also great at spelling when the tests involved recalling a simple sequence of letters, a colossally easy task for a kid with her memory skills.  But when the spelling assignments involved more complex skills like using words in a sentence, or differentiating homonyms, words that sound the same but have different meanings, Kate was as lost as a ball in high weeds.  She fell further and further behind her peers on reading comprehension and fluency scores.  But she still made mostly As in school, to her disservice I might add, and she continued to beat almost anyone at any game that involved memory or problem solving skills.  And so, the 5th grade passed and we continued to listen to teachers who assured us that Kate was fine, and that as far as they could tell, she was just a normal kid who needed more reading practice.

Just a few weeks into the 6th grade, Kate was failing every subject except math.  Adding insult to injury, we received the results of her ACT Aspire test that showed her in the bottom 25% nationally in multiple areas of academic progress.  Something just did not add up and my wife and I got serious about finding answers. We got scientific about things.  We had a hypothesis: that our daughter had a problem with the way her brain processed language, and we tested that hypothesis by collecting all the data we could and then seeking help from any expert who could help us interpret the data.  This led us by way of a network of contacts, to a Hoover based speech and language pathologist named Hettie Johnson.  After hours of extensive and expensive testing last fall, we got some answer.  One the bright side, we got confirmation that Kate had some unusual gifts: working memory – 95th percentile; cognitive problem-solving skills – 98th percentile; IQ – 98th percentile.  The IQ test is non-verbal and uses geometric shapes and items in a series to examine problem-solving abilities. The tester showed me some of the problems and asked me to solve them.  I got a few of them correct, but it took me several minutes to solve what my daughter solved in just a few seconds.  When the tester asked Kate to explain to me how she came up with the correct answers, I realized that her brain was working on an entirely different level than mine, and far more efficiently than mine.  It was as if I were talking to a genius.  But at the same time, the tests showed the source of Kate’s struggle: language comprehension – 23rd percentile; phonetic decoding efficiency – 23rd percentile; reading accuracy – 5th percentile; reading fluency – 9th percentile; reading comprehension – 5th percentile.  This remarkable combination of unusual gifts and striking deficits is called dyslexia.  For 10 years our school system missed it.  Skilled teachers, reading experts, and tutors missed it.  Pediatricians and a developmental psychologist missed it.  Kate’s own Ph.D. dad and nurse mom missed it.  I felt horrible, terrible, guilty about all the times I’d simply written her problems off as insignificant, or the result of ADD, or laziness, the times I’d told her simply to work harder, or coerced her to read more and more, and told her to pay attention, as if a blind person could learn to see with better concentration.

Dyslexia is an inefficiency in the way the brain processes language that expresses itself in any combination of dozens of ways, including an age delay in speaking, difficulties with pronunciation, struggles connecting letters to the sounds they make, problems sounding out words, struggles expressing one’s thoughts in writing, spelling problems, speech that is not fluent, pausing or hesitating often when speaking, difficulty finding the correct word to express a thought, and all of these inefficiencies typically show up most clearly when one is reading.  Speaking comes naturally and is learned on an unconscious level. Babies learn to speak on instinct.  Biologists suggest that speaking is a very ancient skill, built into our evolutionary inheritance, perhaps millions of years ago.  Our brains handle speaking quite easily and efficiently.  Reading, however, is a much more complex task and must be learned consciously and methodically.  Anyone who has ever tried to teach a child to read knows that it takes time, patience, practice, and very specialized skills that take years to develop fully.  In most people, the neural pathways utilized for reading develop efficiencies over time that allow us to hear, recognize, and make sense of words on a page with increasing speed, like traveling from Birmingham to Atlanta on I20.  For the dyslexic, however, the pathways used for reading are far more complex, and therefore less efficient, like driving from Birmingham to Atlanta on backcountry roads, slowly taking the scenic route.  Sure, you take in the sights and sounds of the rural south one traffic light at a time, but it takes much longer to reach your destination.  When you get there, you may very well be better for it, unless of course you are being timed and graded on how fast you get there.

If you use an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to examine the brain of a normal person while reading, you’ll see just a few areas of the brain modestly at work.  If you examine a dyslexic reader’s brain in an MRI, you’ll see the brain lit up like New York City at Christmas time, with multiple areas of the brain working at cognitive load capacity.  This explains why dyslexics find reading so arduous, and why they take frequent breaks while reading – the brain is working overtime to get to the meaning.  Dyslexics, like my daughter, develop skills rather unconsciously to cope with the inefficiency.  They learn to memorize things very quickly, they learn to problem solve spatially, mathematically, and non-verbally.  And sometimes they learn to smile, cooperate, say, “yes ma’am” and pull the wool over teachers’ eyes for years to get good grades and get by.  And Kate played the game so well she fooled everyone, including me, until 6th grade.  Our speech pathologist calls Kate’s learning difference “Stealth Dyslexia” – a condition characterized by highly developed coping mechanisms that mask significant deficits and make diagnosis extremely difficult.  She tried to comfort us by listing all of the famous people, artists, inventors, entrepreneurs, and movie starts with dyslexia.   None of this made me feel a bit better.  The truth is, I missed it.  Wanting to believe she was ok, I ignored obvious signs when I could have helped her sooner.

After diagnosis, my daughter began to get the help she needed. She got an education plan that granted her testing, homework, and note-taking accommodations at her school.  She was given extended time to take tests.  She saw a tutor twice a week (at considerable expense) who was a Certified Educational Therapist and who specialized in the Orton Gillingham approach to dyslexia therapy. Since coming to SouthLake Christian Academy a year ago, Kate has thrived. She was re-tested by Dr. Jill Gottlieb who confirmed her earlier diagnosis and gave us good guidance about accommodations. She sees a National Institute of Learning Disabilities certified teacher in SLCA’s Academic Development Center twice each week. She has educational plan of action (EPA) that provides the accommodations she needs to learn effectively.  She has a support system in place now that we would never have dreamed possible in the public schools she attended.  Kate is now on a better road to success, one that recognizes her gifts and gives her a chance to thrive in spite of her reading inefficiencies.  But the truth is that earlier diagnosis would have been much better.  A dyslexia diagnosis can be made as early as age 6, there are warning signs that appear earlier, and outcomes are better the earlier the intervention.  The truth is, I am well educated and I have resources to get Kate help.  But what about other children, in other schools, who lack the knowledge and networks and know-how and resources to get help?  By some estimates, nearly 20% of children worldwide suffer from dyslexia. In prison populations, that number more than doubles to 48%. What hope do under-resourced students have to get the help they need?

I am an educator at a Christian school, so I spend a fair amount of time talking about Jesus.  Like Jesus, teachers touch lives every day that they go to work in ways that they will never fully comprehend and society will never adequately value.  They have a tough job, and honestly, students with learning disabilities make their job even more challenging.  Compounding the difficulty, I believe that generations of teachers have received inadequate instruction in recognizing and understanding learning disabilities.  I think that is changing across the country as it has at SouthLake Christian Academy.  I believe that it must change, not so much for Kate as for children around the country who are far less likely to get the help they need.  When teachers help a student with a learning disability, they demonstrate the love of Jesus to the least of these. Teaching a child to read is not just educational work; it is Kingdom of God work.  If I might paraphrase from Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserable, “To teach another person is to see the face of God.”

Academics Dyslexia Learning Disabilities Uncategorized

SouthLake Christian Academy – School Highlights 2018-2019

The Class of 2019:

  • 53 students graduated from SouthLake this past May
  • 7 graduates will play a sport at the collegiate level, including baseball, football, soccer, lacrosse, and volleyball.
  • 68% of graduates earned scholarship monies, collectively totaling more than $3.6
  • million in awards for academics, athletics, arts, leadership, and commitments to their communities.
  • SouthLake graduates were accepted to 86 different colleges and universities and will be attending 29 different schools in 10 states, as far north as Pennsylvania, as far south as Florida, and as far west as Texas.
  • For the first time in many years, more of our graduates will be attending school out-of state than in-state.
  • 16 graduates started SouthLake in kindergarten or earlier and maintained continuous enrollment through graduation. They affectionately refer to themselves as “lifers” and they have been on a journey together that will forever shape their lives.

Athletics:

  • 80% of Middle School and High School students play a team sport at SouthLake Christian
  • SouthLake competes in the Metrolina Athletic Conference (MAC)
  • Varsity volleyball won the MAC regular season and tournament conference championships
  • Varsity football sought to defend their state championship, reaching the state semifinals
  • Varsity girls’ tennis won the MAC championship
  • Combined girls/boys swim team scored first place in MAC swim championships
  • Varsity boys’ lacrosse repeated as state champions in Division II
  • Five student athletes received All State recognition
  • Two student athletes qualified for the state golf championships
  • Varsity baseball powered to a 14-win season
  • SouthLake Christian won the 2018-19 MAC Sportsmanship Award

Fine Arts Presentations:

  • Christmas at SouthLake – concerts and art display (December 2018)
  • Choir Candlelight Christmas Evenings at the Biltmore (December 2018)
  • Shrek, the Musical – theatre performance, over 1700 tickets sold (February 2019)
  • Lower and Middle School Art Show (April 2019)
  • Lower School Spring Art Extravaganza (April 2019)
  • A Celebration of the Arts – Middle and Upper School music and art show (May 2019)
  • ACSI Festival: High School choir – Superior, Middle School Choir, Concert Band, and Orchestra – Excellent (Spring 2019)
  • Additions to Fine Arts Curriculum & Course Offerings:
    • Chapel Band/Worship Studies was added as course offering.
    • Middle school and High School students may participate in Chapel Band.
    • Theatre is now taught year-round by a new theatre teacher.

Financial Position:

  • $7.5 million in net revenue ($8.7 gross)
  • $6.7 million in net tuition revenue ($7.9 gross)
  • $6.8 million in debt (financed at 5.25%, 5-year term, 25-year amortization)
  • SLCA awards 1.2 million annually in employee discounts and financial aid
  • Expenses:
    • $5m (68%) to salary, benefits, payroll taxes
    • $830k (11%) to facilities
    • $378 (5%) to administrative costs
    • $1.2m (16%) instructional costs
  • 2018-2019 enrollment was 575
  • Donations:
    • $150k cash donations to school ($260 per student on average)
    • $37k donations in kind for athletics (dirt, flagpole, water, lacrosse wall)
    • $23k donations from teachers to classrooms ($360 per teacher on average)
Uncategorized

A Short Guide to Starting School

School starts back at SouthLake Christian Academy this week. Today was open house and I saw a lot of excited families, and maybe a few nervous ones. Here are a few words of encouragement for those starting school for the first time, or returning to school for another year.

  1. Get organized. Calendars, planners, to-do lists, family meetings, and good communication with everyone involved will help you get off to a good start.
  2. Establish good habits. Pay attention in class. Use school hours to start homework and get extra help as needed. Do homework as early in the afternoon or evening as possible in a distraction free environment. Go to sleep each night at a time that allows you consistently sufficient sleep. Keep to a schedule.
  3. Build relationships. Students – get to know someone in each of your classes. Parents – get to know parents in your child’s class. Stay in communication with the teacher. Treat everyone around you with respect, even when you have a disagreement. You will forget most of what you experience at school, but you remember the relationships you make.
  4. Keep things in perspective. Students are not defined by their academic performance (or their athletic or musical performance). Your identity is not determined by whether or not you out-perform your peers. The question to ask is this: “Am I doing all that God created me to do, to the best of my ability?” If the answer to that question is yes, be at peace.
  5. Learn things other than what we teach in school. Read books you love that we haven’t assigned. Visit museums, art galleries, and other cultural attractions that stimulate your interests. One of the most important things you can learn during your school years is HOW TO LEARN, and how fun it is to learn!
  6. Unplug. Spend some time outside every evening. Put down your electronic devices, go for a walk, play in the yard, walk the dog. Nurture hobbies
  7. Don’t worry. Nothing that happens in the first several days of school is likely to make or break your school year. There may be a few emotional, academic, or logistical bumps in the road early on, but you are going to be OK. Be calm, problem solve, and ask for help if you need it. One keen piece of advice Jesus gave his own followers was this: “Do not worry about your life … But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” (Matthew 6.25-34)

I hope your school year gets off to a great start.

Education

Why Christian Education

Why Christian Education

[The following is a written summary of an address to the faculty of Westminster Catawba Christian School on August 5, 2019.]

At SouthLake Christian, we began a strategic planning process earlier this year to identify our main priorities as a school for the next chapter in our history. We spent a few months gathering data from our various constituents – teachers, students, parents, alumni, and members of the community – to clarify who we are and what next steps we should take, to select among all the good options the very best ones. Early and often, people identified two traits that characterize our school and must be preserved at all costs: our commitment to academic rigor and our identity as a Christian school. These conjoined twins represent the two main reasons our school was established and continues to exist, the reason parents hire us and pay us to do a job, the reason volunteers and donors give their time and money, and the reason that independent, public, and charter schools haven’t crowded us out. And yet, there are reasons for Christian education superior to those pragmatic considerations, important as they are. I propose that Christian education casts out fear[1], nourishes freedom, and tells a better story.

Bob Woodward’s 2018 book entitled Fear describes the inner workings of the White House with this phrase: “Real power is fear.” Machiavelli’s The Prince articulates a similar refrain: “It is better to be feared than loved.” Many leaders rise to power and maintain that power because they manage effectively to understand and articulate the underlying fears of their constituents. Some leaders maintain power by stoking that fear while promising to ameliorate it. These strategies work because fear plagues us all. It drives us to work and overwork, robs our sleep, wrecks our bodies, taints our relationships, and blinds us to life’s beauty. Fear. Cable news fuels it, social media feeds it, marketing firms monetize it. And the thing we have most to fear is fear itself. Yet we have a solution. Christians have always taught that the antidote to fear is love. The apostle John, for whom 4 books of the New Testament are named, writes that “God is love” and “perfect love casts out fear” and “greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for a friend.” (1 John 4.8, 1 John 4.17, and John 15.13 – NIV). The love that led Jesus to lay down his life for us lives in us. As we love each other and our students and their families, we cast out fear. As we teach that love, and acknowledge explicitly its source and power, we smother the fires scorching our society. Christian education literally makes the world a better place, God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

As we cast out fear, we nourish freedom. Years ago, I attended a conference of the American Academy of Religion, one session of which concerned academic freedom. The panel discussion was led by professors at various types of universities – state, private secular, and Christian. As they each described their context, something became blatantly obvious. Only Christian schools have any chance at true academic freedom! Public and secular private school teachers avoid religious conversations like the plague, by necessity. They can lose their jobs if they appear to advocate for any particular religious conviction. In the name of tolerance or open-mindedness or diversity, our society has pushed theological belief to the margins, treating nearly every other form of belief more amicably. A rather strange state of affairs now exists whereby religious belief, so important to so many, can barely be discussed by anyone in a secular classroom. And so, I ask, who is really free? The answer is YOU. You teach at a school that sees theological conviction not merely as a subject worthy of open discussion, but one foundational to all discussion because every belief of any kind begins with an unproven assumption. All learning requires faith. Your students attend a school where they can ask ANY question and get a straight answer. We can actually promote tolerance and open-mindedness and diversity not because these things are fashionable, but because they are beautiful, and good, and right, and true, and biblical. We have rich theological language by which to say that we should treat each other with respect and kindness because we are all created in God’s image, that we value people different from us because such is the Kingdom of God, that we seek community with people who do not look like us because heaven will be filled with people of “every tribe and tongue and nation” (Revelation 7.9 – ESV). We do not fear others because we love them. We love them because God first loved us. God’s love sets us free.

Christian education casts out fear, nourishes freedom, and tells a better story. This summer I spent part of a day with Scott Dillon, Head of School at Westminster Catawba, and we talked at length about the why of Christian education. What sets us apart from other academically rigorous schools? Why do parents pay us to educate their kids? What do we offer that is distinctive? To approach an answer to those questions, play a game with me. Imagine your school is not a Christian school. A student asks, why do I need to learn this math? You could answer, because you will need it for next year’s math class. Why do I need next year’s math class? Because you will need it to graduate. And why do I care about graduation? Because you need a high school degree to go to college or vocational school. Why do I need college or vocational school? Because you need more education to find a job in a competitive global economy? Why do I need to a job? So that you can live, pay your bills, raise a family, enjoy the world. Why do I need to do these things? Because they contribute to the greater good. And why should I care about the greater good? And on, and on, and on. Eventually, every answer becomes depressingly utilitarian. We do these things because they have pragmatic value. BORING! As Christian educators, we have a better story to tell. We teach and we learn because all truth is God’s truth. Because every equation displays God’s handiwork, and every element on the periodic table gives evidence of God’s ingenuity, and every musical note sounds God’s beauty, and every star in the solar system declares the God’s glory, and every language expresses God’s love, and every event in history ultimately tells His story. And we are story tellers. And what an amazing story we get to tell.

[1] The idea that Christian education casts out fear I owe to Dr. Dennis Sansom, Professor of Philosophy at Samford University. He presented this idea in a Convocation address to the university sometime during the 2006-2007 academic year.

Biblical Interpretation Education Leadership Theology