SouthLake Christian Academy Update – January 2022

Dear SouthLake Christian Families,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Academics COVID Leadership

SouthLake Christian COVID-19 Decision Timeline

Updated January 15, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 12, 2020 – First Day of Fall Semester.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COVID Leadership

How SouthLake Christian Academy Makes COVID-Related Decisions

When setting safety protocols, school leaders evaluate the following:

  • Recommendations by local, regional, state, and federal health officials
  • Guidance from a task force of medical professionals associated with our school
  • The number of COVID-19 cases in the primary zip codes that feed our school
  • The percentage of COVID-19 cases in our area affecting children ages 0-17
  • The best available scientific evidence regarding the transmission and virulency COVID and its most prevalent strains
  • The best available scientific evidence regarding the effectiveness of COVID prevention measures and their associated costs and risks
  • Our capacity to identify COVID cases in our school community and follow contact tracing and quarantine protocols to contain viral transmission
  • Transparency and cooperation from teachers, parents, and students sufficient to operate safely

First, we attend carefully to health guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS), and the Mecklenburg County Health Department (MCHD). Additionally, the Governor of North Carolina and the North Carolina Department of Non-public Instruction issue guidance, recommendations, and/or mandates to which we must attend. All of these agencies update their guidance regularly, but sometimes in ways that conflict with other agencies.

Second, we try whenever possible to make decisions based on conditions in the primary zip codes that feed our school. Conditions in Mecklenburg County or NC as a whole can, at any given moment, be significantly better or worse than conditions in our primary zip codes.

Third, to help us review this ever-changing volume of data and make the best decisions for SouthLake, a team of medical professionals associated with our school review all proposed COVID protocols. In the end, our Executive Administrative Team makes final decisions, seeking to balance the medically ideal with the educationally feasible. We will continually assess current conditions adjust our safety protocols as needed.

We always aim to find a path between the extremes of panic and denial. We will assess risks in a reasonable way without being paralyzed by fear or pretending the pandemic is over. We will adopt the safety measures necessary to keep our students learning in person, on our campus, as safely as possible. We know not everyone will agree with every decision we make. We appreciate the cooperation of all our families nonetheless, and we recognize that as a part of a diverse community, we must operate with mutual trust and transparency to be successful. Our children deserve nothing less.

COVID Leadership

SouthLake Christian Update – May 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

COVID Education