SouthLake Christian Academy Update – November 2022

Dear SouthLake Christian Families,

Every fall I am grateful to live in North Carolina, but particularly this year. Not only have cooler temperatures and colorful trees made our campus particularly beautiful, but we are also enjoying one of the most peaceful semesters in years. Thank you for all the ways you help our school thrive.

Staff Christmas Fund
As the holidays approach, the Parent Teacher Fellowship (PTF) begins their annual fundraising effort aimed at showing our teachers how much we appreciate them. Here is how you can participate. Think about the teachers, administrators, and support staff who impact your children each day. Don’t forget those who teach enrichment classes such as music, art, PE, foreign languages, or our lunch workers, bus drivers, and After School caregivers. Think about an amount of money you might use to purchase a gift for those individuals, and click here to donate. All money collected will be divided equally among faculty and staff members. A portion of the donations will also be used to support the Employee Christmas dinner. The deadline to donate will be Tuesday, November 15. At the Christmas dinner on December 2, each employee will receive a Visa gift card and a name-only listing of participating families so employees will know of your generosity. Participation in this program is not mandatory, nor does this preclude you from choosing to purchase your own teacher gifts. Should you have any questions about this program, you may contact PTF President Tracy Helms at

Sanctuary Dedication
You are invited to a Service of Dedication for our newly renovated sanctuary in the First Building. We are extremely pleased with the outcome of this project, which by God’s grace was completed on time and on budget. We want to set apart the space to God’s honor and glory for the church and school to use for many years to come. The service will be Sunday, November 27, at 10:30 a.m. in the Sanctuary. SLCA families and employees are cordially invited to attend as your present church commitments may allow.

That’s all for now. I will see you in carline, which for the time being is a most pleasant duty. When you see my bald head, feel free to say hello. And if you have a dog, they are most welcomed in carline. I would love to say hello to you and your furry family member. I may even have a treat for the dogs.


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


SouthLake Christian Academy Update – July 2022

Dear SouthLake Christian Families,

I hope you are enjoying time away from school. Things on campus remain busy and productive, but we will be closed next week for the Independence Day holiday. When we return, we will be only a month away from the start of the fall semester. Allow me to pass along some important information as we prepare for classes to resume.

New School App
As of today, the new SouthLake Christian Academy app will replace the Renweb app. The app is available for download by name in the App Store (iOS users), or the Google Play Store (Android users). The app can connect you to school calendars, announcements, financial information, grades, homework, lunch orders, and everything you need to be an active member of the SouthLake community. We are still building content for some features of the app, and some features require login credentials for Renweb or Orgs Online. Thank you to Jennifer Thomas and Brooke Hondros for their diligent work getting this app launched.

Parent-Student Handbook
I have sent by email an updated copy of the Parent-Student Handbook for the coming academic year. We have made minor changes or additions to our Escalation, Disease Mitigation, Behavior at Athletic Events, and Email Communication policies. Additionally, we have added a policy prohibiting the use of ride share services to transport students to or from campus. The updated handbook will also be loaded to our website before school starts this fall. For those who may need to order uniform items, Land’s End is running a promotional sale through July 11.

Water Bottles
If you’ve spent any time on campus during a school day, you likely have noticed the prevalence of plastic disposable water bottles on campus. In addition to its environmental impact, plastic creates a mess around campus and causes a massive accumulation of trash we must pay to dispose. For the past two years, we have been adding water bottle filling stations across campus to decrease our dependence on disposable plastic. Beginning this fall, therefore, we will no longer provide disposable water bottles with school lunches. Students will be expected to have a reusable water bottle with them at school. We plan to stock some in the school store as well. This will allow us to better care for God’s creation, keep a cleaner campus, and contain rising costs for our hot lunch program.

Personnel Changes
This month we welcome our new CFO Dawn Johnson. Dawn joins us from Providence, Rhode Island and brings experience as an accountant, finance executive, auditor, and controller for various corporations and non-profits. We also say goodbye to Rebekah Leonard, who leaves SouthLake after 22 years of service at the Academy, most recently as Associate Head of School. She will be entering semi-retirement, excitedly following App State athletics, and operating a consulting business that provides services to private schools and home school families with special needs students. God speed Rebekah. We will miss you.

Fiscal Year Ends
Today marks the end of the 21-22 fiscal year and another successful annual fund campaign netting $257,547 in undesignated gifts to the Academy. We continue to see strong participation rates from our parents and employees. The annual fund allows us to complete projects above and beyond what tuition dollars alone can provide. Last year’s giving allowed us to begin major renovations to the First Building to create a first-rate meeting space for chapel, fine arts presentations, and school assemblies, a project scheduled for completion this August. We hope to have an announcement soon about our next facilities improvement project. Thank you for your continued generosity.

It appears our enrollment will be near capacity when we start school this fall. With our commitment to small class sizes, we have an enrollment capacity of 634 school wide. Our retention rate remains high at 94% and we have already added 100 new students for the coming year. We have space remaining only in grades 3, 4, and 11, and we have 38 students on wait lists for other grades. Word of mouth has always been the most common way people hear about SouthLake, so thank you for spreading the news about our school.

Parents Bible Study
Have you ever wondered what your students are learning in Bible class or in chapel? Beginning this fall, I will help lead a Bible study for parents one morning per week where we will study some of the same things as your students. We will keep the study brief for those needing to get to work. If there are particular topics or interests you have for us to consider, please let me know and we will do our best to incorporate those into the study. I will be back in touch with more details as the start date approaches.

That’s all for now. Schedules will likely be released later today. We will see you soon.


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


SouthLake COVID Safety Measures for 2021-2022

Dear SouthLake Christian Academy Families,

As we prepare to begin school, you will find in your email inbox a document listing our safety measures for the coming year. The final page includes a document for you to sign and return to the school. I will summarize our plans here and respectfully ask you to read this email in total and reserve judgment until the end.

What Has Changed
Here are safety measures from last year we have relaxed. We will no longer do temperature checks as students enter buildings. Students may now observe 3 feet rather than 6 feet of space between their peers. We will no longer do chapel in individual classrooms but will return to group worship by division in large well-ventilated spaces. We will restart our STEM Lab for students in grades JK through 4. Students may now work in groups and share classroom supplies when needed. We will resume all Middle School and Upper School sports and our athletic association plans to allow spectators. Contact tracing guidelines now exempt vaccinated individuals from quarantine if they remain asymptomatic. Individuals who were masked when exposed to COVID may also avoid quarantine if their exposure was otherwise low risk. Parents will once again be able to volunteer on campus. We based all these changes on updated health guidance and our own operational experience, and each change will improve our ability to teach.

What Stays the Same, For Now
Here are safety measures we will keep in place for the time being. We will continue to provide online instruction for students when quarantine or documented health conditions necessitate. As last year, we may on occasion move to online instruction for a short time following major school holidays as a buffer for people returning to town. We will continue to wash hands and sanitize surfaces frequently. We will continue to use HVAC filters rated MERV-13 or higher. We will fully utilize our outdoor spaces for lunch, play, and instruction as often as logistics and weather permit. We will continue to open doors and windows wherever possible. And now I turn to the subject of masks.

We will start this fall as we finished last spring, with all students, staff, and campus visitors wearing masks when indoors and on buses. We will begin to relax this requirement as soon as conditions allow us to do so safely. There are a few exceptions to our mask policy. Vaccinated teachers may deliver lessons unmasked when at a distance, and then mask as they move closer to students. When engaged in strenuous aerobic activity indoors, students may remove their masks. Those with a documented medical condition making masks unsafe to wear may request an exemption from our policy with a written recommendation from their primary care physician. We will provide students with mask breaks as often as needed. Students may use their own CDC approved two-ply re-usable masks if they hook around the ears, fully cover the nose and chin, and visible markings on the mask conform with school dress-code standards. We will also provide one washable cotton/poly SouthLake mask for each student who has need. And now, I believe you deserve the following explanation.

Delta Variant
Based on the best data available to researchers right now, here’s what we know. The Delta COVID variant swept through India and Great Britain earlier this year and now represents more than 80% of new COVID cases in the United States. As compared to previous strains of COVID, Delta appears to be about 50% more contagious, particularly for unvaccinated children and adults under age 50. Delta makes unvaccinated people sicker, and symptoms develop more quickly, leading to rapidly deteriorating hospital capacity and likely a higher mortality rate. While vaccines greatly reduce the risk of serious illness from Delta, data suggests vaccinated people can still become infected with viral loads sufficient to make them contagious even when asymptomatic. While admittedly limited in scope, the data on Delta so far gives us reason for more caution than we had just a month ago.

Public Health Guidance
In late July, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services updated its guidance to public and private schools asking for universal masking indoors. The Centers for Disease Control recently recommended the same, as did the Mecklenburg County Department of Health. I regularly consult with SouthLake parents who are medical doctors who work on the front lines of this pandemic, and they recommend the same. The people who study the research most and understand the science best are now all speaking with one voice. Last year we listened to these voices and opened school, stayed open all year, and finished the year successfully. Why would we suddenly ignore these same voices now?

A Difficult Decision
I have toiled over this decision because I am painfully aware this announcement will be a relief to some but a disappointment to others. And honestly, I am disappointed too. My own daughter would love nothing more than to begin her senior year at SouthLake without a mask. But my job is not to make the popular or politically expedient decision. My job is to make the right decision. With more than half our student population ineligible for vaccines, and many in the SouthLake community immunocompromised, I am simply not willing to take unnecessary risks with their health while the Delta variant surges. What would we be saying to these members of our community if we disregard their safety for the sake of our comfort? And if I disregard all federal, state, regional, and local health guidance and things go sideways, would I not be guilty of gross negligence? Are government health agencies perfect? Of course not. I have on occasion taken issue with some of their guidance and the timing and manner of their communication. But I have no reason to believe social media pundits or cable news outlets provide me with better data. Maybe down the road our protocols will turn out to have been overly cautious. I can live with that. When it comes to the health and safety of our people, I will gladly err on the side of caution. That said, schools in our region opening mask optional have already faced significant outbreaks and had to change their requirements. We know from both research and experience that masks reduce risk and maximize our chances of keeping our doors open every day this school year.

School-Wide Zoom Meeting
I know some will disagree with what I’ve communicated here. Fair enough. Every SouthLake parent has a voice, even if not a vote. But before you respond, I make this request. We will host a panel discussion with three of our school doctors on Zoom this Sunday afternoon, August 8, at 2:30 p.m. You will find the Zoom information in the email I sent, and we will record the session for those unable to attend. You may submit questions either in advance or in real time to and we will answer as many as time allows. If you view Sunday’s conversation and still have concerns, I will carefully consider all respectful dissent.

Right now, I know masking feels like an imposition. Some believe mask requirements cause division, but doing otherwise runs the same risk. The truth is this – nothing can divide us without our permission. Some believe masks are a matter of personal liberty. I view the matter differently. As a trained theologian, I see far more in Scripture and Christian tradition about communal responsibility. For a Christian school, the obligation to love our neighbor supersedes other concerns. Indeed, Jesus calls love for one’s neighbor one of the greatest commandments. Caring for those around us does not restrict our freedom; doing so is the only path to true freedom.

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


Thank you SouthLake Christian Academy

We made it. We completed a full semester of in-person classes, five days a week for all students in all grades. In previous years, such an accomplishment would hardly be noteworthy. This year, it feels like a monumental achievement. I will confess to a few sleepless nights this past summer considering our options. We had to weigh the risk of certain harm to many by keeping students online, against the risk of possible harm to a few by returning to in-person classes. That decision was the most difficult of my professional life. In the end, we decided to support both in-person and online classes. I won’t bore you with the details of what it took to prepare, but I will tell you the preparation was worth every cent and every second. A doctor whose children attend SouthLake said to me in July, “If any school can pull this off, SouthLake can.” In retrospect, he was exactly right. We are by no means out of the woods, but as this semester ends, there are a few people I need to thank for our success so far.

First, I want to thank our teachers. They bore the most substantial risks. Would students in their classes give them COVID? Would our safety measures really work? Would students and their families cooperate? They faced this semester with uncomfortable unknowns and re-entered our classrooms when many teachers across the country refused to do so. They were careful, but they were not hesitant. They did not complain about all the many changes we had to implement to make this work. They taught students in person and online simultaneously, which is incredibly difficult. Some got sick or had to quarantine yet still taught remotely from their homes by Zooming into their classrooms on campus. I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it here: our teachers are unsung heroes of this global pandemic.

Second, I want to thank our business team. This year they’ve had to make 10,000 complicated decisions in conditions of remarkable uncertainty. From CARES Act legislation to emergency financial aid disbursement to quarantine payroll tax adjustments, nothing this year was normal and nothing was easy. Both our CFO and our Senior Accounting Clerk are highly trained and experienced CPAs who care deeply about our families and never forget about the people behind the numbers. Without them, we’d never have finished 2020 with our current financial stability.

Finally, I want to thank our SouthLake families. You overwhelmingly supported our desire to return to in-person instruction and our plan to do so safely. You trusted us, cooperated with us, rolled with the changes, stayed flexible, kept us informed, and did your best to keep our students and teachers as safe as possible. You followed our protocols when your students had to be quarantined. You attended school meetings and parent-teacher conferences on Zoom. You were patient with tropical storms, power outages, early dismissals, and the accompanying carline delays that followed. And to top it off, you gave generously to the teachers’ Christmas fund.

I have never been prouder to be associated with SouthLake Christian Academy. By God’s grace and providence, we end 2020 as a stronger school than when the year started. May God give you and your family a blessed Christmas and New Year.


Matthew S. Kerlin, Head of School

SouthLake Christian Academy


Leadership During a Crisis

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in a Zoom meeting with the president of Samford University Dr. Westmoreland on the topic of leadership. He gave seven principles for managing through a crisis:

  1. Take a deep breath. Pause, reflect, relax, and think before you act. Even a few seconds of deep breaths can calm and center your thoughts leading to better decisions.
  2. Establish priorities. Crises require triage to be sure the important things get done and in the right order.
  3. Filter the clutter. Separate the speculative from the informative. Facts are your friends in an emergency.
  4. Take care of your people and yourself. Set limits on your work, a curfew for your emails, establish boundaries, and get needed rest.
  5. Guard your cash. This applies personally and professionally. In an economic crisis, limit spending to the absolutely necessary.
  6. Don’t quit. Even when your reserves are low, your mood depressed, you hope nearly shot, and your nerves frayed, keep going.
  7. Begin and end each day with Colossians 1:17. “He is before all things and in Him all things hold together.” Connect with your faith and operate with the knowledge that many things are beyond your control or ability to repair.

Were I to add an 8th principle, I would include Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” To be poor in spirit is to have our hearts broken by the things that break God’s heart. To hold loosely the material things of this world in recognition that from dust we come and to dust we will return. To recognize our limitations, weaknesses, and failures. To acknowledge our need for help. To admit when we are wrong and ask for forgiveness. To be humble enough to recognize our complete dependence on God, and thereby strong enough to lead and act with wisdom, compassion, and justice.

Juggling the twin crises of coronavirus and racial violence, I suspect that the easiest parts of both are behind us. When camaraderie fades into frustration and solidarity slips into selfishness the complexities of leadership will multiply. May God give us the wisdom and strength to lead with poverty of spirit and perseverance.


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


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

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


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


The following is a summary of the strategic planning process. Supporting documents for each step of the process can be found on the school website:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


1. Faculty and Student Success

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


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

Action Plans:

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

2. Spiritual Vitality

Foster Christ-centered community at school and beyond.


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

Action Plans:

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

3. Financial Strength

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


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

Action Plans:

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

4. Enrollment Growth and Marketing

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


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

Action Plans:

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

5. Facility Enhancement

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


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


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


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

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


SWOT Analysis: Task Force and SLCA Administration – January 2019


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


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


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


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

Executive Summary of School Survey – May 2019

Demographics of respondents:

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


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

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

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

Open ended questions:

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

Executive Summary of Town Hall Meetings – Summer 2019

Observations SLCA families made about the school survey data:

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

Jobs parents are hiring us to perform:

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

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

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

Things that distinguish SLCA from our competitors:

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

Attributes to keep at all costs:

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

Attributes (or perceptions) to eliminate at all costs:

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

Attributes to develop:

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

Things that give you hope for the future:

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

Executive Summary of Project Prioritization Exercises – Fall 2019

 Project, Score, and Category                       

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

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


My Experience with Learning Disabilities

My life’s work has been in education, but I am also the father of three. All of my children are remarkably intelligent, but our family typically thinks of Kate as the smartest. When Kate was three years old, she learned how to play a matching game that involved placing cards face down in columns and flipping them over, two per turn, until you make a match. The person with the most matched pairs wins. To this day, nobody in our family has ever beaten Kate. We thought for a while she had figured out a way to cheat, until we learned she has a near photographic memory for shapes, faces, events, and places we have visited. I taught her to play chess when she was five years old. She played for a few weeks and then lost interest. She picked up the game again nearly six years later, and to my surprise still remembered the rules. When it came to children’s books, Kate memorized all her favorites. She knew when I tried to alter the story or skip a page. She could recite the story to me if I let her, and she knew from the pictures when to turn the page long before she could actually read.

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

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

We accepted the psychologist’s diagnosis and tried several different brands and dosages of ADD medication over a period of months. The stimulant effect kept her awake at night, suppressed her appetite, and made her moody and aggressive. We would have been willing to tolerate those side effects, except for the fact the medication had no impact whatsoever on her academic performance. Parent-teacher conferences were again predictable. “Kate is such a sweet child, she just needs to work harder on reading and try not to daydream so much.” She continued to struggle with any assignment that had to do with reading. She was great at math as long as there were no word problems, which she hated with a passion. She was also great at spelling when the tests involved recalling a simple sequence of letters, but when assignments involved more complex skills like differentiating homonyms, Kate was completely lost. She fell further and further behind her peers on standardized tests, but still finished the year with good grades, much to her disservice.

A few weeks into the sixth grade, Kate was failing every subject except math. Adding insult to injury, we received the results of two different standardized tests showing her in the bottom 25% nationally in multiple areas of academic progress. Something just did not add up, so my wife finally got serious about finding answers. By way of a network of contacts, we found a speech and language pathologist who conducted hours of extensive and expensive testing. We learned that Kate had some unusual gifts: her working memory was in the 95th percentile; cognitive problem-solving skills in the 98th percentile; IQ in the 98th percentile. The IQ test was non-verbal and the tester showed me some of the problems and asked me to solve them. It took me several minutes to solve problems my daughter solved in just a few seconds. When the tester asked Kate to explain to me how she came up with the correct answers, I realized that her brain was working on an entirely different level than mine. And yet at the same time, the tests showed the source of Kate’s struggle: language comprehension 23rd percentile; phonetic decoding efficiency 23rd percentile; reading accuracy 5th percentile; reading fluency 9th percentile; reading comprehension 5th percentile. I learned that this remarkable combination of unusual gifts and striking deficits is typically called dyslexia. For ten years our public school system missed it. Skilled teachers, reading experts, and tutors missed it. Pediatricians and a developmental psychologist missed it. Kate’s own highly educated parents missed it. We felt horribly guilty about all the times we had written off her problems as insignificant, simply told her to work harder, coerced her to read more and more, and given her meds she did not need.

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

Examining the brain of a normal person using an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), you will see a few areas of the brain modestly at work during reading tasks. By contrast, if you examine a dyslexic reader’s brain in an fMRI, you’ll see multiple areas of the  brain lit up and working at cognitive load capacity. This is why dyslexics find reading arduous and why they take frequent breaks while reading. The brain is working overtime to find meaning in the words. Students with reading differences develop skills rather unconsciously to cope with the inefficiency. They learn to memorize things very quickly and to solve problems spatially, mathematically, and non-verbally. And sometimes they learn to smile, cooperate, act respectfully, and fool their teachers for years to get good grades. Our speech pathologist calls Kate’s learning difference “Stealth Dyslexia” – a condition characterized by highly developed coping mechanisms that mask significant deficits and make diagnosis extremely difficult. She tried to comfort us by listing all of the famous people, artists, inventors, entrepreneurs, and movie starts with dyslexia. None of this made me feel a bit better. The truth is, I missed it. Wanting to believe she was ok, I ignored obvious signs when I could have helped her sooner.

After diagnosis, my daughter began to get the help she needed. She got an education plan that granted her testing, homework, and note-taking accommodations at school. She was given extended time to take tests. She saw a tutor twice a week (at considerable expense) who was a Certified Educational Therapist specializing in the Orton-Gillingham approach to reading instruction. When we relocated to North Carolina, Kate began to meet twice weekly with a National Institute of Learning Disabilities (NILD) certified teacher in our school’s Academic Development Center. She now receives the instruction and accommodations she needs to learn effectively. She has a support system in place we would never have dreamed possible in her earlier years of school. Kate is now on a better road to success, one that recognizes her gifts and gives her a chance to thrive in spite of her reading inefficiencies. But truthfully, earlier diagnosis would have been much better. A dyslexia diagnosis can be made as early as age six and there are warning signs that appear earlier. Outcomes are better the earlier the intervention. I am blessed now to have resources to get Kate help. But what about other children in other schools who lack the knowledge, networks, and know-how to get help? By some estimates, nearly 20% of children worldwide suffer from dyslexia. In prison populations, that number soars to an estimated 48%.

As an educator, I am blessed to see teachers touch lives every day in ways our society will never adequately value. I am grateful for them beyond words. They have difficult jobs, and honestly, students with learning differences make their jobs even more challenging. Compounding the difficulty, generations of teachers have received inadequate instruction in the area of learning differences. University education programs typically devote little time to the subject, and as a result, most classroom teachers report feeling unprepared to help students with even moderate language processing deficits. Robust diagnostic resources remain difficult to access in much of the country so many students still go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. With reported high rates of dyslexia in the prison population, one cannot help wonder what role learning disabilities play in the so-called school to prison pipeline. We must do more to prepare and equip teachers to recognize learning disabilities. We must provide families with resources needed to get specialized help. And we must never overlook the unique contribution neuro-atypical students make to our learning communities. My daughter is a daily reminder to me that remarkable talents accompany the challenges of dyslexia.

Academics Dyslexia Learning Disabilities Uncategorized

SouthLake Christian Academy – School Highlights 2018-2019

The Class of 2019:

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


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

Fine Arts Presentations:

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

Financial Position:

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

An Open Birthday Letter to My Dad

Dear Dad,

For your birthday, I wanted to write you this letter to thank you publicly for being a great dad. You did all of the things that dads should do. You played with me in the yard, took me hunting and fishing, taught me how to train a dog, coached my baseball teams, paid for my piano lessons, and attended endless band concerts. You took me to church, taught me about Jesus, gave me relationship advice when I needed it, and helped me choose a college. And you did these things while loving my mom, caring for my critically ill brother, taking care of your own aging parents, and earning a living in noble professions that helped protect lives and the environment. And to top it off, you were the best man in my wedding, traveled from around the world to see your newborn grandkids, helped us buy our first house, and passed down old cars for us to drive. I don’t say thank you enough for all of these things.

Of course you weren’t perfect. Your haircuts were sometimes a bit shorter than I’d hoped, like the infamous time that you gave me a buzz cut but forgot to attach the guard to the clippers. That was the first time that I ever saw my bare scalp, but it was kinda fun to see my grandmother cry when she saw the aftermath. Oh, and remember the times you tried to teach me about auto maintenance? My cluelessness once got you so flustered that you added fresh oil to the truck without putting the oil plug back in. And then there was the time that we got lost in Washington D.C. on family vacation. There may or may not have been some significant profanity involved after we passed the US Mint for the third time trying to find our hotel.

And while I’m thinking about it, let me just go ahead and apologize for always putting my feet under your seat. Now that I’m a dad, I know just how irritating that is. [Apparently I inherited your sensitive rear end.] I also remember that when we were kids you used to say that you wished we obeyed you as well as our labrador retrievers did. I always thought that was a joke. Now I had three kids and a labrador retriever of my own and I realize that you were actually serious, and I have to agree with you. And let me add that I’m rather disappointed that it’s now illegal to transport children and pets in the back of a pickup truck with a camper top. Sadly, my own children will never know the joys of laying on a mattress covered with dog slobber in the back of an old Ford on a 8 hour trip to see the grandparents.

These memories will stick with me until my dying day. I am thankful for them as I am thankful for you. You’ve said many times that when you became a dad you knew nothing about parenting, and that I turned out OK only by the grace of God. To that I would add one thing: you were there for us. You were a constant and consistent presence in my life. You were home in the evenings and on weekends. You spent quantity and quality time with us. You never tried to make up for lost time because you never needed to do so. I don’t know much about parenting, but one lesson I learned from you and mom stands out above the rest – time covers a multitude of sins. Of all the things I have to thank you for on your birthday, I thank you for your time.