SouthLake Christian Academy Update – May 2022

Dear SouthLake Christian Families,

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,

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

Education Leadership

SouthLake Christian Academy Update – January 2022

Dear SouthLake Christian Families,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Academics COVID Leadership

SouthLake Christian COVID-19 Decision Timeline

Updated January 15, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 12, 2020 – First Day of Fall Semester.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COVID Leadership

SouthLake Christian Academy Update – December 2021

Dear SouthLake Christian Families,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Education Leadership Race Teaching

SouthLake Christian Academy – Update November 2021

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

There will be no school on Friday November 19.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Academics Leadership

SouthLake Christian Academy – Update October 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fine Arts Leadership Sports

Going the Distance: Resources for Preventing Burnout and Compassion Fatigue in Caregivers

[The following is a presentation I gave at a conference sponsored by the Center for Faith and Health at Samford University, November 2017.]

Introduction

Burnout and compassion fatigue are known occupational hazards for caregivers.  The causes of these conditions are more complex that mere physical exhaustion.  In this presentation, I suggest three ideas that can provide assistance to caregivers for the prevention of burnout and compassion fatigue: a sense of vocation, sufficient margin, and positive social networks.

I spent much of my career in campus ministry, working as a college chaplain on six different university campuses.  My first such job was in 1990. I would wager that my professional experience is similar to many of yours in several key ways.  Chaplains are typically generalists, not specialists, because we often work with a small staff (or no staff) and limited resources.  Chaplains wear many hats.  In 25 years, I have worn many hats: pastor, preacher, teacher, professor, lecturer, counselor, advisor, mentor, supervisor, manager, administrator, coordinator, event planner, travel agent, cook, caterer, editor, chauffeur, sound technician, stage lighting engineer, web designer, graphic artist, photographer, videographer, historian, accountant, DJ, mechanic, pop culture expert, etc. The skills required to continue this work year after year include a willingness to learn quickly, to change readily, and to grow continually.  But maybe more importantly, the job requires determination, endurance, and grit.  We spend long hours, nights, and weekends, dealing with student crises, emotional meltdowns, financial burdens, family dysfunctions, addictions, mental illnesses, academic struggles, and relationship drama.  And honestly, we don’t get paid that well, yet we still love our work and the people at the center of it.  Caregiving in my field requires 10% intelligence and 90% endurance; a little bit of inspiration, a whole lot of perspiration.

I suspect that this sounds familiar to most caregivers, so I also suspect that it comes as no surprise that among the most common occupational hazards of caregiving are burnout and compassion fatigue.  A survey published in 2014 on the prevalence of depression found that over 14% of professionals working in the social services and health care sector suffered from episodes of major depression, the third worst rate of any of the 55 occupations studied. [1]  Frequent interaction with distressed clients and patients, high levels of stress, and low levels of physical activity were found to correlate with depression rates among professionals.  Rates of burnout and compassion fatigue in the healthcare sector could be as high as 60%, further pointing to the costs associated with caregiving.[2]  Additionally, a 2009 study found that nearly 66 million Americans were providing unpaid care for at least one family member.[3]  The emotional, psychological, and spiritual costs of caregiving represent significant personal and professional challenges to many. In my experience, we pay close attention to the details of caregiving, but far less attention to caring for the caregivers.

Burnout and Compassion Fatigue

The concept of burnout was first identified in the mid 1970s by the German-born Jewish-American psychologist Herbert J. Freudenberger.  He identified burnout as consisting of (1) feelings of overwhelming exhaustion, including physical and/or emotional depletion, (2) interpersonal detachment or cynicism characterized by intense negative feelings toward aspects of one’s job, and (3) a sense of ineffectiveness or lack of achievement and productivity at work.[4]  Compassion fatigue, also know at Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS), is a condition similar to but distinct from burnout.  STS is described as a state of extreme stress, tension, or preoccupation with the suffering of others to a degree that is traumatizing for the caregiver.  The key factor distinguishing STS from burnout is the presence of trauma in those for whom one is providing care, although burnout is frequently a symptom of STS, along with frustration, anger, depression, sleep difficulties, fear, intrusive thoughts, debilitating anxiety, and decreased feelings of compassion and empathy over time.  Caregivers at high risk of STS include those who are regularly involved in emotionally charged or traumatic situations, such as first responders, trauma unit workers, oncology caregivers, hospice nurses, public defense attorneys, and military chaplains.[5]

Some of the research on the prevalence of burnout and STS may shed some light on its causes.  Studies indicate, for example, that in many caregiving professions, young caregivers are at significantly greater risk of burnout than older ones. This seems counter-intuitive, does it not?  Female and unmarried caregivers are also at greater risk than male or married ones, suggesting that a sense of control over one’s life and work plays a role in preventing burnout and STS.[6]  Additionally, caregivers who report being “quite a bit” to “extremely” religious had lower levels of diminished empathy and emotional exhaustion than those who were less religious.[7] 

The key point here is that burnout and STS involve more than mere physical exhaustion. These conditions result from an absence of meaning, the lack of belief that one’s work is important or significant, and a sense of hopelessness in the face of life’s demands.[8]  These conditions are emotional, psychological, and spiritual as much as physiological, and so a holistic approach to their prevention and treatment seems clinically advisable and arguably unavoidable.

I think you agree that solutions to the problems of burnout and STS involve more than mere rest from caregiving, otherwise I would simply recommend that you go somewhere and take a nap!  But that’s not my recommendation, so it seems to me that my task as a presenter is to help provide you with some emotional, psychological, and even theological resources to help you who are caregivers for people in crisis stay in this profession and remain effective over the long-term.

Vocation

The first helpful resource that I would like to discuss is vocation.  An oft-quoted passage from the American Presbyterian writer and theologian Friedrick Beuchner serves as an effective introduction to the concept of vocation:

“Vocation comes from the Latin vocare (to call) and means the work a person is called to by God. There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of society, say, or the superego, or self-interest. The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need to do and (b) that the world needs to have done. If you find your work rewarding, you have presumably met requirement (a), but if your work does not benefit others, the chances are you have missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work does benefit others, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you are unhappy with it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a) but probably aren’t helping your customers much either. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”[9]

The concept of vocation is rooted in the claim that you are the happiest and most energized when you are doing the work that bring you joy and meets a genuine need.  [e.g. cigarette sales and cardiology]  No doubt, the world needs caregivers, but if Beuchner is correct, you are not going to last very long at it unless you find some level of gladness in it.  Vocation frees you to think about your work as a calling rather than merely a job.  Your vocation and your job need not be the same thing identically.  St. Paul, the missionary who authored a considerable portion of the New Testament, was a tentmaker by trade, a job that allowed him to pursue his missionary vocation.  A job is meaningful only to the degree that it allows you to pursue your calling, and can be stifling if it does not.  A series of jobs strung together over a lifetime we call a career, and careers typically follow the paths of ambition and upward mobility.[10]  But they need not do so. 

Henri Nouwen and Albert Schweitzer provide two examples of people who forsook the enticements of career for the rewards of vocation. Nouwen was a Dutch-born Catholic Priest who left a successful academic career that included two decades of teaching at prestigious universities such as Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard.  He left the academy at the age of 53 to live and work with physically and mentally handicapped people in a small community in Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada. Schweitzer, a German organist, theologian, and medical doctor left behind a brilliant music career in Paris at the age of 30 and became a medical missionary in what is now Gabon, Africa.  During his first 9 months on the continent, he treated thousands of patients and performed hundreds of surgical procedures with the help of his wife, a trained anesthetist, in a hospital that he built on his own out of corrugated iron.

These men left behind prestigious careers to become caregivers.  They traded ambition for vocation.  Their work was not easy and they were not perfect – Nouwen struggled with depression and Schweitzer with exhaustion – but their stories illustrate the powerful pull of a call.  Are you called?  Do you think that you have merely inherited your work by accidental necessity?  Or do you believe that there is a divine providence that organizes our universe by matching others’ necessity with your ability?  Vocation reminds you that you are here for a reason, created for a purpose, and equipped for that purpose.

Margin

I first encountered the concept of margin in a 1995 book by that title, written by the physician Richard A. Swenson. Swenson describes margin as “the space that exists between ourselves and our limits.”[11]  Swenson observes that the stresses of modern life devour margin. Technological progress helps us do things faster, but simultaneously gives us more to do and increases the pace of life. Every space is filled with clutter.  Every moment is filled with noise.  Every dollar is spent, and probably a few more.  We have not a minute to spare.  Our relationships with family and friends weaken, we limp through life physically exhausted, sleep deprived, and emotionally drained.  We lack the time to practice genuine reflection and build true virtue.  So although scientific progress benefits us in many ways, it may also make us less likely to experience lives of meaning and purpose.  As a medical doctor who restructured his own life and practice in order to create margin, Swenson’s prescription for what he calls “overload syndrome” is fairly predictable: work less, earn less, spend less, accumulate less, exercise more, sleep more, rest more, etc. (That actually sounds like vacation to me.)  In other words, we regain margin not by making a few small behavioral changes, but by transforming the way we live entirely.

Good caregiving requires margin, doesn’t it?  We need margin for emergencies, for unexpected or unwelcomed interruptions, for serendipitous opportunities to show kindness, and for timely conversations.  Genuine compassion is difficult to schedule because caregiving is the ministry of interruptions.  Add to that the fact that many of us in this room chose our professions for reasons other than earning potential, so we are particularly subject to the economic pressure to spend more than we earn, and the resulting pressure to work harder and longer in order to earn more.  So in a profession in which margin is sorely needed, the evidence suggests that it is sorely lacking.  We need change, individually, institutionally, and culturally. 

What Swenson is suggesting, and what I am suggesting, is not unlike what Christian theologians have commended for centuries.  In the Christian classic Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster notes that “superficiality is the curse of our age.”  By contrast, “the classical disciplines of the spiritual life call us to move beyond surface living into the depths so that we have the capacity to “be the answer to a hollow world.”[12]  Foster’s prescription for the shallow life consists of three sets of practices: the inward disciplines (meditation, prayer, fasting, and study), the outward disciplines (simplicity, solitude, submission, service), and the corporate disciplines (confession, worship, guidance, celebration).  But who has the time, or the discipline, for all of these disciplines?  Just glancing at this list of disciplines makes me tired.  And here is the irony: how many of us seek to reclaim some margin by avoiding the practice of margin-giving disciplines?  We have become very much like the proverbial woodchopper who has little time to sharpen his axe.  We know we could work more efficiently with a short break, but we feel as if we will fall hopelessly behind if we take one.  And so we continue to chop, with decreasing effectiveness, until exhaustion overtakes us, and the blade becomes almost irreparably dull.  All the while the disciplines of religious faith call to us, or more accurately, God calls to us.  “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.”  If we cannot claim the time to respond to that call, to care for our own souls, then we will not likely care well for others for very long.

Positive Social Networks

Let us turn our attention now to the network of people that you need to survive as a caregiver long-term.  In a 2012 book entitled When Our Leaders Do Bad Things, social worker and clinical psychologist Mangal Dipty argues that people fall into three categories in terms of their impact on us. There are positive, negative, and neutral people.  Positive people are those who, on the whole, contribute more to us relationally than they cost us.  Every relationship costs you something, but positive people make a net contribution to your coping resources and your margin.  Negative people, on the other hand, cost more than they contribute.  Neutral people cost about what they contribute, for zero net gain or loss relationally.  Admittedly, you cannot quantify relationships with exact precision, and relationships change such that people who were once positive can become negative and vice versa.  That said, I still find this idea persuasive, that you need a critical mass of positive and neutral people in your life so that you can help negative people.  We cannot and arguably should not spend all of our time with positive people.  Most healthy adults consider helping others an essential part of life, so we should spend some time with negative people.  The key strategy is to balance the negative people with positive to maintain balance.

The problem for us caregivers is that we are particularly at risk of spending much of our time with relationally negative people.  Notice that I am not necessarily talking about the attitude of the people who need care.  Some may have quite positive attitudes, but relationally they likely require more of us than they can give to us.  And if we surround ourselves with mostly negative people most of the time, then we will eventually be of little help to anyone.  Excessive relational negativity can lead to what University of Washington psychologist John Gottman refers to as “negative sentiment override,” a condition in which a relationship becomes conflicted to the degree that even positive messages are interpreted negatively.[13]  When you reach this state, your environment has become toxic and your physiological response to that environment changes biochemically.  Your blood pressure and heart rate increase, your brain’s ability to process information is reduced, hormones trigger your body’s most basic fight or flight instinct, and compassionate care becomes almost impossible.  Emotionally, physically, and spiritually you cannot sustain critical levels of relational negativity.  They have the power to taint your vocation and ruin your career. 

The bottom line is that we need relationships that nourish us.  All caregivers need caregivers.  We are incapable of surviving long-term in these demanding fields without resources that we simply cannot get on our own.  We are fallible and dependent creatures.  Until we admit this, we are in trouble.  When we admit this, then we are free to seek in humility what can save and sustain.  The Christian tradition calls this grace.  And I know that other religious traditions provide comparable resources. The forgiveness and compassion that was hard earned by Christ is offered to us freely, so that we in turn can offer it to others.  Grace is the relational resource that feeds our vocation, giving us the margin to run with endurance the race set before us.

Conclusion

Three years ago I took up trail running.  I have been a runner and cyclist for many years, but with age I have slowed.  So, when the Red Mountain trail system opened just seven minutes from my home here in Birmingham, I found a new hobby.  Trail running requires of me physically what my vocation requires of me spiritually.  Many trail races are longer than marathons (usually 50k or longer) and as a result, trail running is less about raw speed and more about steady progress.  Trail runners must carefully balance nutritional intake with the strategic expenditure of energy for long hours over difficult terrain.  Even the best trail runners walk or fast hike up steep inclines in the mountains.  At mile 30, every runner wants to quit and every runner needs a good reason to keep going, a calling to continue.  Slow and steady wins the race, or at least finishes it.  Strangely enough, trail running energizes me.  A weekend without a few hours on the trail seems empty, almost wasted.  The physical depletion that accompanies a dozen miles in the July heat also includes for me a reconnection with God’s creation, a time for reflection, and a rejuvenation of the soul.  Everyone needs his or her version of a good trail run.

For the surgeon and author Richard Seltzer, it is the library.  And now I’d like to quote a brief excerpt from an essay that appears in Seltzer’s book entitled Letters to a Young Doctor that will conclude and I think captures the heart of my talk today.  The essay that I abridge here is called “Toenails.”

It is the custom of many doctors to withdraw from the practice of medicine every Wednesday afternoon.  Some doctors spend Wednesday afternoon on the golf course.  Others go fishing.  I go to the library where I join that subculture of elderly men and women who gather in the Main Reading Room to read or sleep beneath the world’s newspapers, and thump through magazines and periodicals, educating themselves or just keeping up.

How brave, how reliable they are!  So unbroken is their attendance that, were one of them to be missing, it would arouse the direst suspicions of others.  And of me.  For I have, furtively at first, then with increasing recklessness, begun to love them.  Either out of loyalty to certain beloved articles of clothing, or from scantiness of wardrobe, they wear the same things every day.  For the first year, this is how I identified them.  Old Stovepipe, Mrs. Fringes, Neckerchief, Galoshes – that sort of thing.

Neckerchief is my favorite. He is a man well into his eighties with the kind of pink face that even in July looks as though it has just been brought in out of the cold. A single drop of watery discharge, like a crystal bead, hands at the tip of his nose. His gait is stiff-legged, with tin, quick, shuffling steps accompanied by rather wild arm swinging in what seems an effort to gain momentum or maintain balance.  One day, as I held the door to the Men’s Room for him, he pointed to his knees and announced, by way of explanation for his slowness: “The Hinges is rusty.”  From that day, Neckerchief and I were friends.  I learned that he lives alone in a rooming house eight blocks away, that he lives on his Social Security check, that his wife died a long time ago, and the he has no children.

One day I watched as Neckerchief , having raided the magazine rack, journeyed back to his seat. As he passed, I saw that his usually placid expression was replaced by the look of someone in pain. Each step was a fresh onslaught of it. His lower lip was caught between his teeth. His forehead had been cut and stitched into lines of endurance. He was hissing. I waited for him to take his seat, which he did with a gasp of relief, then went up to him. “The Hinges,” I whispered. “Nope. The toes.” “What’s wrong with your toes?” “The toenails is too long. I can’t get at ‘em. I’m walkin’ on ‘em.”.

I left the library and went to my office. “I need the toenail cutters. I’ll bring them back tomorrow,” I said to my nurse. Neckerchief was right where I had left him. “Come down to the Men’s Room,” I said. “I want to cut your toenails.” I showed him my toenail clippers, the heavy-duty kind that you grip with the palm, and with jaws that could bite through bone. One of the handles is a rasp. I gave him a ten-minute head start, then followed him downstairs to the Men’s Room. “Sit here.” I pointed to one of the booths. He sat on the toilet. I knelt and began to take off his shoes. “Don’t untie ‘em,” he said. “I just slide ‘em on and off.” The two pairs of socks were another story, having to be peeled off. The underpair snagged on the toenails. Neckerchief winced. “How do you get these things on?” I asked. “A mess, ain’t they? I hope I don’t stink too bad for you.”

The nail of each big toe was the horn of a goat. Thick as a thumb and curved, it projected down over the tip of the toe to the underside. With each step, the nail would scrape painfully against the ground and be pressed into his flesh. There was dried blood on each big toe.  It took and hour to do each big toe. The nails were too thick even for my nail cutters. They had to be chewed away little by little, then flattened out with the rasp. Now and then a fragment of nail would fly up, striking me in the face. The other eight toes were easy. Now and then, the door opened. Someone came and went to the row of urinals. Twice, someone occupied the booth next to ours. They’ll just have to wonder, I thought.

I wet some toilet papers with warm water and soap, washed each toe, dried him off, and put his shoes and socks back on. He stood up and took a few steps, like someone who is testing the fit of a new pair of shoes. “How is it?” “It don’t hurt,” he said, and gave me a smile that I shall keep in my safety-deposit box at the bank until the day I die. “That’s a Cadillac of a toe job,” said Neckerchief. “How much do I owe ya?” “On the house,” I said.

The next week I did Stovepipe. He was an easy case. Then, Mrs. Fringes, who was a special problem. I had to do her in the Ladies’ Room, which tied up the place for half an hour. A lot of people opened the door, took one look, and left in a hurry. I never go to the library on Wednesday afternoon without my nail clippers in my briefcase. You just never know.


[1] Lawson Wulsin, Toni Alterman, et al, “Prevalance Rates for Depression by Industry,” Journal of Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology (2014): 49:1805-1821.

[2] Bernie Monegain, “Burnout Rampant in Healthcare,” Healthcare IT News (April 30, 2013) online at http://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/burnout-rampant-healthcare.  Accessed July 31, 2015.

[3] Lauren G. Collins and Kristine Swartz, “Caregiver Care,” American Family Physician (June 1, 2011): 83 (11): 1309-1317.

[4] H. J. Freudenberger, “Staff Burnout,” Journal of Social Issues (1974) 30:159-165.

[5] L. R. Simpson and D. S. Starkey (2006), “Secondary traumatic stress, compassion fatigue, and counselor spirituality: Implications for counselors working with trauma.” Retrieved July 2015, from http://www.counseling.org/resources/library/Selected%20Topics/Crisis/Simpson.htm.

[6] L.L. Emanuel, F.D. Ferris, C.F. von Gunten, and J. Von Roenn eds. Education in Palliative and End-of-life Care for Oncology (Module 15: Cancer Doctors and Burnout). Chicago, IL: The EPEC Project, 2005.  Retrieved July 2015, from http://www.medscape.org/viewarticle/754366.

[7] K.M. Kash, J.C. Holland, W. Breitbart, et al. “Stress and Burnout in Oncology,” Oncology (2000) 14:1621-1633.

[8] A. M. Pines, “Burnout: An Existential Perspective” in W. Schaufeli, C. Maslach, and T. Marek, eds. Professional Burnout: Recent Developments in Theory and Research. Washington, DC: Taylor and Francis, 1993.

[9] Friedrick Beuchner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, Harper & Row, 1973, page 95.

[10] Brian J. Mahan, Forgetting Ourselves on Purpose: Vocation and the Ethics of Ambition, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2002, pages 9-14.

[11] Richard A. Swenson, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, Navpress, 1995. A newer edition of this book was published in 2004.

[12] Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1978.

[13] John Gottman, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, New York: Three Rivers Press, 1999, page 21.

Campus Ministry Leadership Theology

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

Why I Am Thankful, Now More Than Ever, For a Liberal Arts Education

I have an undergraduate degree in French Horn Performance. I have master’s degrees in business and theology, and a PH.D. in philosophical theology. Aside from my MBA, all of my education has been in the so-called liberal arts. As opposed to concentrated vocational training in a career-specific course of study, a liberal arts education focuses on the academic disciplines of philosophy, history, language, literature, music, art, and the social sciences. Also called the humanities, these courses of study teach one to think and write and solve problems rather than merely to do a job. The humanities endeavor to make one a better person rather than merely a more credentialed one. I have never held a job that specifically requires me to have any of the degrees I hold, and yet in every job I have had, and at every stage of my adult life, I have been incredibly grateful for a liberal arts education. This is especially true now, for two key reasons.

First, closing and opening a school during a global pandemic has forced me to think carefully, critically, and calmly, skills without which I might have lost my mind or my job long before COVID could get to me. This year I have had to read and study more diligently than ever, sorting through mountains of data, discerning fact from fiction, disregarding hyperbole and speculation in order to attend to relevant information. Leading an organization during a public health crisis requires the kind of information literacy that a liberal arts education helps develop. Sure, a degree in public health would be helpful, but one cannot earn a degree to match every crisis. The abilities to learn concepts quickly and apply them appropriately are valuable precisely because they are transferrable.

Second, the racial turmoil and political polarization we have seen in recent months has exposed our inability as a nation to engage thoughtfully and productively in public dialogue on controversial topics. We are all tempted to exist in an echo chamber, listening to voices that reflect our own, viewing events exclusively through the lens of our own experience, and discounting alternative perspectives. Sustained engagement with the humanities inoculates against the kind of narrow ideology that divides and radicalizes. When we humbly subject our viewpoint to sustained critique, we are much more likely to see our own blind spots and to show empathy toward others with whom we disagree. I see no other way to live peaceably with my fellow citizens.

The free and critical exchange of ideas lies at the heart much of the western intellectual tradition from its inception. As the cost of a true liberal arts education has increased exponentially, I fear the value has been increasingly marginalized. Research shows that the humanities tend to have a moderating influence; serious students tend to view the world with less dichotomy and more nuance, less polarization and more subtlety, less estrangement and more empathy. In the process, perhaps students of the liberal arts also come to see that both politics and pandemics have less ultimate significance than matters of faith. Diseases and democracies rise and fall, but the Kingdom of God remains forever. Worry less about the schools you or your children may attend. Worry less about the fleeting social dramas that tend to occupy our immediate attention. Let us concern ourselves more intently with the kinds of people we are becoming, the kind of society we are helping to create, and the God who sits enthroned above all our fleeting and temporal concerns.

Education Leadership

SouthLake Christian Academy – September 2020 Update

Dear SouthLake Christian Family,

For those new to SouthLake, I send a school update on the first of each month entitled First Thoughts, a name I borrowed with permission from a colleague. I take this opportunity to send crucial information that will help you better understand and support our school. Today’s update includes information about our safety measures, enrollment, finances, School Board, and church affiliation.

First, let me begin with a word of appreciation. Thanks to your efforts and cooperation, we have had only 5 cases of COVID in our student population since the start of school. In each case, we were able to identify close contacts, quarantine the appropriate individuals, and provide them with online instruction. We now have first-hand evidence that our safety measures are preventing the spread of the virus at school. This takes remarkable effort on the part of all members of our community. Thank you, and let us all remain vigilant.

Second, our enrollment at this moment stands at 593. On this same day in 2019, our enrollment was 556. Almost all of this growth has taken place in grades JK-4 where we added classes to facilitate demand and keep our class sizes small. We begin this year with more than 150 new students and 23 prospective students still on a wait list. Most of our new families report they heard about SouthLake from other SouthLake families. Our retention rate, defined as the percentage of eligible students who return to SouthLake each fall, remains at 92%. These healthy numbers and upward trends are a testament to our teachers whose reputation has helped sustained SouthLake through multiple economic downturns.

Third, I offer this brief financial summary. Last year we received $6.9 million in net revenue from tuition and fees after awarding $1.2 million in need-based financial aid. 65% of revenue went to salaries, 18% to instructional costs, 12% to facilities (including debt), and 5% to administrative costs. In spite of the economic calamity caused by COVID, we received $115 thousand in cash donations, approximately $203 per student, only a slight decrease from the previous year. These numbers will obviously look different for the 2020-2021 academic year, but they will be different in amount not proportion. Our goal remains to spend most of our revenue on the thing that matters most to your students – the people who teach, minister, and invest in their lives.

Fourth, our school is governed by the SouthLake Christian Academy School Board. Four members of our School Board are also members or ruling elders of SouthLake Presbyterian Church, of which we are a wholly integrated ministry. The remaining three members of the School Board are selected by the school from among parents actively involved in the school. Members serve a three-year term and their primary responsibilities include financial oversight for the school along with supervision and evaluation of the Head of School. You can find more information about our School Board in our Student Handbook and on our website.

I mention this because the relationship between the church and academy is set to undergo some revision. At the conclusion of our annual audit in 2019, the CPA firm Franklin and Franklin recommended that the church and school divide into two separate legal entities to facilitate greater financial autonomy and transparency. Subsequently, the School Board voted to recommend to the church’s governing body that the church and school form separate 501(c)3 organizations. The church has now taken this recommendation under advisement and is considering what forms of church governance should remain to protect the long-term Christian mission of the school as the two entities separate. These discussions involve complicated details about asset allocation, debt management, financial accounting, and non-profit governance. I am happy to discuss these things with you, but I suspect I have already lost much of my audience at this point. Suffice it to say that our mission remains unchanged: to educate and disciple students in all aspects of God’s reality.

I would apologize for the length of this email, but those who would appreciate an apology likely stopped reading a few paragraphs ago. My tendency is to err on the side of transparency, sometimes at the expense of brevity. I want you to know how our school operates, and more importantly, the purposes for which it operates. So without further verbosity, let me close by saying that I am grateful each of you are part of the SouthLake family.

Leadership