Knocking Down Hurdles: Understanding Why Being a School Board Member is so Tough and What To Do About It

Many a parent has been elected to their school’s board, excited about opportunities to support the mission, exchange ideas with the leadership and instigate growth and improvement. And many a board member has found doing these noble things to be difficult, if not seemingly impossible. This workshop identifies a handful of common realities affecting the performance of many leadership teams. Hurdles exist which, if not recognized, inhibit governing wisdom, organizational effectiveness and the board’s reputation. Understanding our problems is the first step to remedying them.

Charles Evans

Chuck has been a proponent of classical Christian schooling since he became the founding Head of School of Faith Christian School in Roanoke, Virginia, in 1996. As a consultant since 2006, Chuck has assisted dozens of schools in various aspects of development. He was involved in the original leadership of SCL and helped co-found the Council on Educational Standards and Accountability (CESA). He is an annual presenter at the Van Lunen Center for Christian School Management's Fellows Program, and he teaches each summer at Vanderbilt University. Chuck and his wife, Julie, live in Austin. They are blessed with seven children, three dogs, two cats and a rabbit. Really.

Your Board Is Bad, and It Might Be Your Fault: How To Build Cooperative, Productive, Long-Lasting, Successful Boards

Let’s face it. School boards get a lot of blame and not much credit. Working from the insight that harmonious
leadership requires certain types of competency on both sides of the ledger – boards and heads –this session explores the ways in which successful Heads of School strengthen the boards under whose authority they serve. It’s not about following a list of hard and fast rules. It is more complex, but, executed well, better for the school and personally satisfying.

Charles Evans

Chuck has been a proponent of classical Christian schooling since he became the founding Head of School of Faith Christian School in Roanoke, Virginia, in 1996. As a consultant since 2006, Chuck has assisted dozens of schools in various aspects of development. He was involved in the original leadership of SCL and helped co-found the Council on Educational Standards and Accountability (CESA). He is an annual presenter at the Van Lunen Center for Christian School Management's Fellows Program, and he teaches each summer at Vanderbilt University. Chuck and his wife, Julie, live in Austin. They are blessed with seven children, three dogs, two cats and a rabbit. Really.

The Enigma Years: Bringing Middle Schoolers Along for The Long Haul

We all know that pre and early adolescents are curious little creatures. Grades 5 through 8 are the critical hinge point in students’ academic careers, not to mention the point at which they and their parents will decide how and where to invest in their four-year run-up to college. how do we establish middle years programs that reduce stress, strengthen independence, and foster a sense of realized potential in these delicately balanced lives? And how can we keep them with us for the long haul?

Charles Evans

Chuck has been a proponent of classical Christian schooling since he became the founding Head of School of Faith Christian School in Roanoke, Virginia, in 1996. As a consultant since 2006, Chuck has assisted dozens of schools in various aspects of development. He was involved in the original leadership of SCL and helped co-found the Council on Educational Standards and Accountability (CESA). He is an annual presenter at the Van Lunen Center for Christian School Management's Fellows Program, and he teaches each summer at Vanderbilt University. Chuck and his wife, Julie, live in Austin. They are blessed with seven children, three dogs, two cats and a rabbit. Really.

Building a School that Students Love

Effective, transformational education requires a close partnership between teachers and students. While we often think of partnerships as parties contributing equally to the relationship, in the case of teachers and students, this is rarely the case. Teachers have a powerful role in helping students to understand themselves, the purpose of a classical and Christian education, and their own potential contribution to the life of their school. And it all starts with a faculty’s understanding of the things that students desire and need the most.

Charles Evans

Chuck has been a proponent of classical Christian schooling since he became the founding Head of School of Faith Christian School in Roanoke, Virginia, in 1996. As a consultant since 2006, Chuck has assisted dozens of schools in various aspects of development. He was involved in the original leadership of SCL and helped co-found the Council on Educational Standards and Accountability (CESA). He is an annual presenter at the Van Lunen Center for Christian School Management's Fellows Program, and he teaches each summer at Vanderbilt University. Chuck and his wife, Julie, live in Austin. They are blessed with seven children, three dogs, two cats and a rabbit. Really.

Why Can’t They All Be Rhetoric Students?

I am starting to feel sorry for some of the younger students in classical schools. They sit in rows, laboring through stacks of information, occasionally standing to chant or recite in chorus. They are not unhappy, but the big kids get to discuss, disagree, to show off what they are learning—they are rhetoric students. But why can’t the little ones start to learn what it takes to be taken seriously by others, to impact someone else, to impress what they know on someone their own age? In short, why can’t they all be rhetoric students?

Any consideration of teaching rhetoric to anyone can begin with the classical canons. Organized by Ciceronian era orators, the five canons comprise the essential rhetorical skills that are taught, in sequence, to formal rhetoric students.

1. Discovery—the research into and the formulation of arguments that might be used to support a thesis

2. Arrangement—the organization of arguments for greatest effect, including the anticipation of responses (refutations) against the thesis

3. Style—composition, including the basic components of the persuasive essay or speech

4. Memory—in classical times, speeches were always memorized (often with amazing speed)

5. Presentation—the basic elements of oratory, including poise, voice strength, diction, intonation, gesture, etc.
When we teach high school and college students, we ordinarily take these in their traditional sequence. For most students, the first three canons—discovery, arrangement, and style— will constitute the majority of a course. Modern rhetoric texts such as Corbe and Connors (Oxford University Press) and Crider (Intercollegiate Studies Institute) typically reccommend that onehalf to two-thirds of the emphasis be placed on research and the formulation of arguments. Of course, this is the element that requires the greatest amount of academic skill and training. It would be largely inappropriate to emphasize these skill areas with first graders!

So, what can we do to introduce younger students to the study and practice of rhetoric? The traditional route has been to employ the progymnasmata, an ancient series of recitation and composition exercises, creatively revived by several contemporary authors and publishers. These exercises are certainly useful and historically were designed for use with students as soon as they could read, if not before. The basic goal is to train students in the habits of effective writing through imitation and the practice of structured forms. The “progym” is a developmentally appropriate way to introduce students to the rudimentary writing skills required in effective rhetoric.

But there’s more we can do with these canons that will serve to support a whole host of other academic goals for our littlest students. If we invert the canons, reversing the sequence by which we introduce the skills, we might actually be able to start training five and six-year-old rhetoricians in earnest.

Presentation (pronuntatio in Latin) is the ability to stand before someone and to say something understandably and attractively, even entertainingly. We have all heard somewhere that most people’s number one fear is public speaking. It makes perfect sense that this is true, since very few of us were taught at a young age to do it, regularly and with formal guidelines. Imagine the difference in the majority of our students’ abilities to converse, present, or debate if they had spent their first three or four years in school standing before classmates on a weekly basis to recite poetry or to give short speeches.

I can anticipate the objection here that it wouldn’t be fair to shy children or those with speech difficulties to put them on public display so often. It is precisely those children, however, who, if  given the chance to learn a formal manner of public speaking, would benefit the most! Not to mention the gregarious kids who would learn how to respect an audience and resist the temptation to draw attention to themselves with silliness.

In classical schools, there isn’t a recovery of traditional learning more important than the emphasis on memory. In Wisdom and Eloquence, Robert Littlejohn and I expand substantially on the need for students to remember information and skills. Just as important, however, we stress the need to teach students how to remember things.

The fourth rhetorical canon (second in our inverted sequence) is memory. I observe that in most classical schools with which I am familiar, things are memorized primarily to be recounted in writing. This is certainly more effcient than sixteen weekly recitations, and it may be appropriate in many situations. But doesn’t it seem that we could give students more opportunities to recall what they remember orally, following the guidelines established under a rubric of “presentation,” as above?

If the goal of a classical education based in the trivium is to produce skilled rhetoricians, the earlier a start we get, the better. And the more effectively we help our students to master the classical canons, the more effective their rhetoric will eventually be.

Starter Conversation

Dear C,
Everywhere I turn, spiritual formation is the topic of conversation in Christian schooling circles. Always, however, from the point of view that schools are missing the boat by neglecting spiritual formation of students and that the faith dropout rate of students can be laid at the feet of the schools. After twenty years in Christian ministry and education, I am becoming skeptical that schools can or should try to take on the spiritual formation of students. Any ideas?

— R.

Dear R,
I tend to share your skepticism. I would add the nuance that academic training in a Christian context IS spiritual formation. But parents and ministry and school leaders often want something else. I’m not sure they believe that smart Christians are really spiritually better off. So, the spiritual formation or character education program — even Bible classes — is a way to dumb things down for a few hours a week so we can really “get at the kids’ hearts.”

It’s a huge bias. Try to convince a group of parents that one of the main reasons that kids lose their faith in college is not that they are too smart, but that they are not smart enough!

So, what can a school legitimately do? We can teach students to study the Word, and occasionally preach it to them. Parochial/liturgical schools might administer sacraments. We can pray. We can practice self-denial in the context of our academic and social responsibilities. And we can serve others. What else is there? I would guess, if you had this conversation with someone, they would say, “Yes, yes, I know that, that’s all good, but I just don’t feel like we’re getting to their heeeaaarrrts!” And then you say, “What does that mean?” And then they blame you because their kids are acting like teenagers, but especially like the teenagers with whom their parents let them spend every unsupervised minute of every weekend.

The battle is against the bias. CS Lewis, Harry Blamires, Frank Gaebelein, Frances Schaeffer. More recently, educators like Bruce Lockerbie, Doug Wilson, Robert Littlejohn, Richard Riesen, and John Seel are fighting the fight. Who else?

— C

Dear C,
Thanks again for your input on my question.

The caution about not overstating as well as the thoughts about how the church has historically approached spiritual formation were very helpful.

A Christian school meeting several years ago got me pondering the role of schools. An administrator painted a picture of what a “graduate” should look like – the list heavily slanted toward spiritual outcomes – while at the same time admitting that schools were at least 3rd in rank of spiritual influence on students, after parents and church.

I politely questioned the emphasis at the time, but received no satisfactory reply. Since then, I have been thinking, observing, and wondering.

Whenever I bring it up with other educators, I get dismissive responses – “Yes, it’s ultimately the parent’s job, but we do have a role—we are, after all, ‘in loco parentis.’” I can agree with that, but “having a role” and making it a concrete objective are two very different things.

I’ll spare you the process, but I have pretty much concluded that Christian education is ill- served when we make spiritual formation of students anything other than an organic by-product of participating in a community of faith centered on academic endeavor. When we say we are about the spiritual training and nurture of students, we either are misrepresenting ourselves or losing sight of our true mission. I also concluded that I had probably stepped over the edge from an alternative, but reasonable position into outright heresy, since it was hard to find others clearly saying the same.

Then my Nov. issue of First Things arrived and Gilbert Meilaender has a review of Stanley Fish’s latest book. As part of the review, Meileander draws some pretty clear distinctions between what Christian education can and cannot do. I would do him a grave injustice to try and summarize, but it certainly resonated with me. Of course, he is talking about college education, but I think much of it still applies. So, if I am off into deep heresy, at least I’m not feeling quite so lonely!

On Thursday I went to a Christian school conference for the day. The last time I went (several years ago), I was very heartened by the emphasis on academic excellence, raising the bar, the value of challenging the mind. I reported back: “They are singing our song.” This time, I heard over and over ideas similar to “if it doesn’t have an immediate spiritual application and impact, it is worthless.” Even from a college professor. It was discouraging but it is the only logical end if our job is a spiritual one.

There are 1000 facets to this whole discussion and nuances too fine for my reductionistic tendencies. But I would love to see this discussion taking place in the ranks of SCL. Have we just bought into the latest “ x” for the undeniable spiritual anemia of students? I was also intrigued by Ken Myer’s comment in Peter Leithart’s article in the ISI Journal when he wondered if the classical Christian school movement would lose its bearings and be drawn into a utilitarian view of producing cultural change agents. Aren’t these important questions for us to be asking ourselves?

— R

Dear R,
One of the problems with the confusion on this topic is that it subjectivizes what we do, and I think it feeds the consumeristic mentality that we often find ourselves battling with parents. Many Christian parents don’t look to their churches as the most profound spiritual influences in their lives—lots of people I know say that they didn’t learn to be Christians in church, but individuals in college or someplace taught them to be Christians. So when they think about their kids’ faith, maybe we’re the new Campus Crusade.

Would you mind if I circulate your thoughts and see what kind of responses we get?

— C

Budgeting Basics: Funding Your Mission With What You Have

Revenue and costs are the simple components of a school’s financial planning and management policies. But they are not that simple, are they? This workshop walks through the process of determining costs, matching price, and experience the benefit of prudent planning. This seminar provides a discussion of common problems like addressing rising costs, designing realistic budgets, dealing with negative cash flow, and collecting tuition.

Charles Evans

Chuck has been a proponent of classical Christian schooling since he became the founding Head of School of Faith Christian School in Roanoke, Virginia, in 1996. As a consultant since 2006, Chuck has assisted dozens of schools in various aspects of development. He was involved in the original leadership of SCL and helped co-found the Council on Educational Standards and Accountability (CESA). He is an annual presenter at the Van Lunen Center for Christian School Management's Fellows Program, and he teaches each summer at Vanderbilt University. Chuck and his wife, Julie, live in Austin. They are blessed with seven children, three dogs, two cats and a rabbit. Really.

Keep ’em Coming: 5 Ways to Make Sure Your Parents Are Getting Their Money’s Worth

Christian education is one of the most costly investments parents will make for their children, and in the midst of a recession, many families are examining ever more closely the real value of the education our schools provide. How do we reassure parents that the investment is worth the sacrifice? What priorities should we set that will help our schools’ missions resonate with the families who are part of our community and whose students we’d like to keep?

Charles Evans

Chuck has been a proponent of classical Christian schooling since he became the founding Head of School of Faith Christian School in Roanoke, Virginia, in 1996. As a consultant since 2006, Chuck has assisted dozens of schools in various aspects of development. He was involved in the original leadership of SCL and helped co-found the Council on Educational Standards and Accountability (CESA). He is an annual presenter at the Van Lunen Center for Christian School Management's Fellows Program, and he teaches each summer at Vanderbilt University. Chuck and his wife, Julie, live in Austin. They are blessed with seven children, three dogs, two cats and a rabbit. Really.

Classical 104: Five Steps to Improving Every Classroom

Good teachers want to be effective; administrators want to be able to provide concrete advice that helps them to achieve their goals. This workshop looks at five characteristics of classical teaching and learning that can be applied in any Christian school classroom. Students will learn more, and you’ll have more fun teachings them!

Charles Evans

Chuck has been a proponent of classical Christian schooling since he became the founding Head of School of Faith Christian School in Roanoke, Virginia, in 1996. As a consultant since 2006, Chuck has assisted dozens of schools in various aspects of development. He was involved in the original leadership of SCL and helped co-found the Council on Educational Standards and Accountability (CESA). He is an annual presenter at the Van Lunen Center for Christian School Management's Fellows Program, and he teaches each summer at Vanderbilt University. Chuck and his wife, Julie, live in Austin. They are blessed with seven children, three dogs, two cats and a rabbit. Really.

Can Good Government Save Us?

I think the poet Catullus is noted first to have said, “The government that governs least, governs best.” Paine, Jefferson and Thoreau each followed with their own versions of the sentiment, though each also with their own intent. As a principle, I tend to agree, but in the current climate, I’m not sure anyone else does.

We do rely on our governments, though. In times of war or economic disaster, where else would we turn for protection or assurance? In the modern era, governments both reflect and shape the values of the governed. Even in an age of disenfranchised democracy, we hold up our own government as a symbol of who we are, what we really believe.

In this issue, several contributors discuss the importance of civic life and responsibility to our schools, our students, and the education we provide. By historical standards, citizens of modern liberal democracies possess a great deal of power to influence the people and mechanisms by which we are governed. The more knowledgeable, the more spiritually grounded, the be er equipped with relevant skills, the greater the influence our students might have in their lifetimes. And if they understand themselves to be both citizens of heaven and this world, their civic contributions will be means by which God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

In many ways, schools are no different than nations. When I look carefully at the schools which many admire for their commitment to educational mission, their confident Christian identity, their institutional prosperity, and their consistent impact on graduates, I find one consistent characteristic: good governance. A school improperly staffed or inadequately designed may not be rescued from failure and insolvency by an active board, but trustees who govern within a culture of goal-oriented planning provide good schools with the energy and resources to achieve their potential. A good board can’t save a bad school, but a good board can lead a good school to greatness.

Conversely, in his article for this edition of The Journal, Bill McGee describes the detrimental impact that a poorly functioning board can have on even the best schools. He also proposes steps that can be taken to help the boards of promising schools to improve their performance and the prospects of the schools they govern. This is timely, because the trend in Christian schools seems to be that their governance is getting worse, not better.

One indication is that the average tenure of heads of school has dramatically decreased over the past twenty years. According to one source, the average tenure of a head of school twenty years ago was eight years. Today, average tenures are less than half that. That’s half the time to envision, to nurture, to build. Half the time to bring families and students along in partnership with the school’s mission. Half the time to establish a faculty culture of loving expectation. Half the time to fulfill the expectations of families who have entrusted their most valuable possessions to our care.

The financial poverty that the current recession is exposing in many Christian schools is another indicator. One prominent Christian school leader recently told me that he expects as many as 20% of Christian schools in his association to fail— shut their doors, lay off their staff, sell off their desks and football pads—in the next two years. Not only is this tragic for the students and families left without a Christian schooling option, but it is a tragedy for our culture. As John Seel asserts in his article for this edition, Christian schools have never been needed more than today.

Can all of this be blamed on poor governance? Certainly not. There is plenty of blame to go around, from consumer demands to hide bound administration to teachers who just punch the clock. Still, it is also true that no group of stakeholders is more prominently positioned to either move a school forward or to hamper progress than its governors, the trustees of the school’s mission. It is a sacred trust, deserving the best effort, the best information, and the undivided a ention of every board and every board member.