New Parent Orientation

Why new parent Orientation? To emphasize the mission and the vision of the school. Review the statement of faith and highlight key information in the parent/student handbook. Goal is to remind the parents what they have agreed to do as parents and what they can expect from the school. When do you have the orientation? During the summer before the start of the school year. Ideally, in June, right after the end of the school year or in August before the start of the school year. It’s good to offer two dates since it is a strongly recommended event. How? Start with the plenary session with all the parents to review the school wide information. Take a break with refreshments and then break the groups into different schools. At Geneva School, we had three sections: Preschool, Lower school and Upper school.

Rim Hinckley

Prior to starting The Geneva School of Manhattan, Rim Hinckley taught mathematics at United Nations International School for six years. Along with other Christian believers, she began planning for a classical Christian school in Manhattan in 1995. After a year of planning, praying, pursuing real estate leads, and completing city requirements, Geneva School opened in September 1996 with twenty-two students in three grades. After several years serving as the founder and Head of School, Ms. Hinckley stepped down as full-time headmaster to spend time with her young family. She served on the Board of Trustees for the School until 2011, when she again resumed Head of School responsibilities. Under her leadership, the School has grown to 280 students. Ms. Hinckley serves on the boards of Messiah College and Society of Classical Learning and has previously served on the board of Hope for New York and PAVE Academy Charter School in Brooklyn, NY. She was Teaching Leader for Bible Study Fellowship International from 1996 to 2000. She and her husband Carter Hinckley have two sons, C.J. and Charlie (‘14 and ‘16).

Instructional Support Program

Westminster’s Instructional Support program wants to share its success with other schools looking to increase the student/teacher ratio, give students more individualized attention and increase opportunities for students who need remediation, enrichment or reinforcement of required content and skills. From the “how and why” of the program’s establishment to practical scheduling and logistics issues, we hope that teachers and principals will learn how they can begin a similar program in their own schools. The Instructional Support team will be available for a Q&A session.

Lori Jill Keeler

Lori Jill Keeler is the Lower School Principal at the Westminster School in Birmingham, Alabama, a role she has enjoyed for the past 13 years. She earned a bachelor’s degree in secondary education and English literature and a master’s degree in integrated curriculum and instruction from Covenant College. She served as the educational expert on the founding board of directors for Evangelical Classical Christian School in Helena, Alabama. Lori Jill has written curriculum for Bible and literature, and has a passion for training teachers. She and her husband, Scott, have two sons.

Web Tools for Schools

Learn how to increase back-office efficiency and reduce costs by using low-cost, cloud-based solutions. Gain practical ideas for saving staff time, eliminating process steps, and reducing the number of paper documents that you process and store. Topics covered include marketing, admissions, staffing, finance, electronic payments, academics and governance.

Mark Palmer

Mark is the Board Chair at Trinity Classical School of Houston. He has over 25 years of experience with information technology projects covering application development, cloud computing, analytics, and operational process design. He has served as Director of Application Development and Vice President of eCommerce at a Fortune 100 company. Mark holds a B.A. in Economics from Rice University.

Avoiding Mission Drift

I received a notice in the mail recently from the 100-year old Episcopal boarding school down the street announcing the appointment of a new headmaster. It took my breath away when I looked to the bottom of the letter to read the school’s mission statement, which for a century has been the verse from St. Paul to the Ephesians, “…until we all come to the full measure of the stature of Christ.” This statement is written in Greek in the stained glass of the campus chapel. The statement at the bottom of stationery, however, proclaimed boldly: “until we all come to full stature.” The “of Christ” part was neatly deleted with a simple keystroke, so I presume the students are just growing up with no particular end in mind. Well now, might we be just a wee bit embarrassed about Jesus? Clearly, mission drift has been going on in that school for a long time.

The hard work of sustaining fidelity to a clear mission challenges the most august and established institutions. The last twenty- five years has been a founding generation of classical schools in large part because the mission of providing classical education was dropped by schools that once espoused it.
Since the publication of Wilson’s Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning, there has been a renaissance of schools rising to the effort called for in that and subsequent books. There is a palpable energy felt in the hallways of these schools, freshness in the spirit of teachers in the classroom, an enthusiasm unmatched in any sector of private education. Once the first flush of success dims, however, mission drift can be a great enemy.

The mission of a school is obviously the stewardship of the “owners,” the board of directors. Boards, however, can only affect a relatively small handful of factors that keep the school on course, and most of those are systemic – hire the right head of school, enact policies that are on mission, etc. They cannot – and should not – interfere in the daily discharge of the school’s work. Thus, mission drift is most successfully attenuated when there is buy-in to the mission from top to bottom. Board members must be appropriately profiled and selected, but so must faculty members and students themselves.

School heads are in the single strongest position to guard the mission because they work directly both with boards and with staff. That doesn’t mean that teachers and other administrators don’t play a role. Here are a few suggestions that headmasters and faculty members might try:

Read your school’s mission statement out loud routinely. It sounds cheesy but lead teachers, deans, or heads of schools should consider beginning formal faculty meetings with a unison recitation of the mission statement. I’ve done this for more than ten years, and my faculty agenda template includes the mission statement and the collect of the day (ours is an Anglican school). Every meeting begins with these, and I have often found that even some minor detail on the agenda links directly with something major in the mission statement. Moreover, as time passes, this practice helps newer faculty members obtain a sense of what is important to you. Use those first moments of a meeting to “catechize” new members of the faculty in the big picture in a conversational and uncontrived way. Over time, they will come to understand that the mission is who you are. If you find that reading your mission statement this way is awkward, ask yourself if that feeling is because the mission statement sounds disconnected from what you’re actually doing. If the answer is yes, you’re already in mission drift.

Print your mission statement everywhere.

If you’re sending out printed information, include the mission statement appropriately on every print piece. Will this avoid mission drift? Of course not; but it’s a simple thing, that, over time contributes to establishing the main thing in everyone’s minds. Don’t overlook it.

Consciously justify programming in terms of the mission. Every program a school starts, changes, or eliminates, should be done because there is a missional purpose. If a school has an athletic program, it should be because it comports with the stated mission of the school. A perceptive leader will quickly realize that this drives other less visible policies. If a school’s sports program, for example, is driven by its mission, does it make sense to restrict students from playing sports because of poor grades? Maybe; maybe not. Would a student be withdrawn from, say, Latin, because he had a 74% average? Why then should a student be pulled from athletics if it was within the stated mission to develop students with team sports? One could substitute any number of other curricular inclusions in this example, but the point is to think through the mission and consider how it should drive policy.

Eliminate programs and practices that are not on mission. Before a school starts a new program, leadership should ask the basic question: Are we starting this because of a felt need, a temporary circumstance or because it’s within our mission? If a school’s stated mission is to educate traditional learners, it makes little sense to make significant and costly accommodations for the inevitable minority of students who present learning disabilities. I am not suggesting that a school should or shouldn’t, but before going out on that limb, the board needs to determine if it is part of the mission. A teacher in the classroom can be guided in the same way, albeit at a more granular level. If it’s the school’s stated mission to develop students who think and reason critically, one would expect that faculty and sectional team meetings would buzz with strategies to incarnate those skills in science, history, or Latin class pedagogies.

Talk openly with students about the kind of school they attend. Teachers should not take for granted that youngsters “get” the first principles of the school. They may know the buzz words, but they might not have a clue as to what Trivium, liberal arts, or dialectic actually mean for them. Take time to make the student self-consciously aware not only of what he’s learning, but of the larger commitments the school maintains. In short, provide the larger context of his efforts and the principles that are guiding that process.

Summarily, the mission of the school should not simply be a statement written down on the first page of the school’s by-laws. Every member of the school’s board, administration, faculty, and student body should be conversant in the school’s first principles that give identity and direction to their efforts. In that way everyone gets stewardship of the mission. As these constituencies gel over time, they will give unified voice to the school’s fundamental purpose, and the school’s reputation will successfully express its mission.

Protecting Your School from Employment Discrimination Claims

Hardly anything is more stressful, or potentially expensive, to a school community than the termination of an employee that results in a claim of discrimination. Over the years, we’ve encountered three common myths which make religious schools susceptible to discrimination claims:

First, honest evaluations and documented employee issues are not that important.

In order to carry its burden of proof in an unlawful discrimination claim, the school must be able to articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its action. Once the school does so, the burden shifts to the employee to show the pretext of the reasons given. Schools frequently fail to provide poor employees with reviews that accurately reflect performance problems, nor do they properly document issues with problem employees.

Second, no claims can be made by the employee because they were either at will or because the school simply did “not renew” the contract.

Most state and federal anti-discrimination provisions prohibit unlawful discrimination in any “term or condition” of employment. If an at will employee is terminated or the school decides not to renew the contract of an employee, that only prohibits a breach of contract claim. An employee can always claim that the reason for the non-renewal or the reason they were terminated from their at will job was because of an unlawful discriminatory reason (i.e. race, age, gender, national ethnic origin, disability, etc.).

Third, we don’t need to seek counsel from a knowledgeable attorney before communicating non-renewal or termination decisions.

A party who successfully brings a claim against your school can receive compensatory damages, damages for emotional suffering, punitive damages for intentional discrimination, plus their attorneys’ fees. Many times the school has a legitimate reason for its decision, but the staff improperly communicates the decision to the employee or has not taken the steps to properly document the problems.

Many schools do not have any form of employment practices insurance coverage for employment related claims, meaning the school will not only have to pay its own attorneys fees, but also any judgment rendered and the attorneys fees of the opposing side. As a result, making a mistake can cost the school hundreds of thousands of dollars. Schools should budget an annual amount for attorney consultations and review negative employment decisions with knowledgeable counsel before ever communicating them to the employee.

First Touch – The Culture of the Admin Wing

First impressions are just that – FIRST Impressions. Is the mission of your school communicated clearly by your office staff? More importantly, does the “feel” of your admin wing welcome new and old members of your school? This seminar will address the culture of your Administrative Team, use of technology, and mission-based personal touch.

John Heaton

John Heaton is a native of Orlando, Florida. He has concluded his 20th year as the second Headmaster of New Covenant Schools in Lynchburg, Virginia. New Covenant is a classical Christian School serving around 450 students in Pre-K through 12th Grade.