An Open Letter to Christian Schools: The Future of ACSI
Proverbs 15:22 says, "Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed." As we at ACSI have prayed and wrestled over the future of our association and the Christian school movement, one thing has always been clear: Our plans will fail if they are not shaped by our members. This letter reports our progress toward a new vision for ACSI. I invite all of our members to continue helping us shape that vision as we move toward it.
We Are Listening to Our Members
In the first half of 2017, ACSI engaged a third-party agency to conduct research into the needs and hopes of Christian schools and early education programs. Conducted in two phases over five months, this project was a significant endeavor for ACSI and the Christian schools who participated.
The qualitative phase consisted of a series of focus groups designed to surface new insights. Each of the 108 focus group participants volunteered several hours over the course of a week. I am so grateful to everyone who made the time to contribute to this valuable effort, including the head of school in our Northeast region who contributed to multiple online focus group discussions between the hours of 1 and 3 a.m. during one of the most challenging weeks of his career. Our members' commitment to the Christian school movement is, as always, a source of inspiration for me.
The quantitative phase consisted of a survey designed to validate and measure the insights surfaced during the qualitative phase. A total of 4,452 school leaders and teachers completed a survey, answering questions in thoughtful ways. Again, I'm so grateful for these exceptional levels of engagement.
I am excited to share some of the things we learned about the Christian school movement through this project. Some of the research outcomes were a surprise to me, and others were not. Some were very encouraging, and others brought to light problems that we are committed to addressing.
Building Services Around School Size
We learned that school size, more than geographic location or church affiliation, is the factor that determines the extent to which two school leaders or teachers from different schools can benefit one another. And while all our members shared a commitment to the Christian school movement and a desire to grow, their subsidiary concerns vary greatly and are determined primarily by school size. We also learned that several of our services are not adequately meeting the needs of schools of certain sizes.
We have been taking steps to address this issue for some time. Our accreditation team, for example, recently launched several new programs, two of which will better serve schools with disparate needs. Exemplary accreditation is designed to challenge our most mature schools while Steps to School Improvement replaces our STAR program and will help schools and early education programs new to the process prepare gradually for accreditation. We are investing in a new online community platform to better facilitate connections between schools with similar goals and concerns (and we heard you, loud and clear, that the interface of our current tool is a barrier—we're fixing that, too!). In other areas, we have more work to do.
Regardless of your school size, our commitment to you is this: You will find ACSI's services increasingly tailored to meet your specific needs in the years to come so that you, your school, and the Christian school movement can grow.
Focusing On School Improvement
We believe this generation of students needs strong, innovative Christian schools. A culture of continual improvement in schools is key to this—as is implementing best practices and processes that lead to that improvement. Because of that, we are also making this commitment: Every service we offer will promote your school's continued improvement in measurable ways. Our goal for the coming years is that you will see your membership with ACSI not just as a badge of legitimacy but as a catalyst for school improvement and best practice.
To that end, we have commissioned a landmark research initiative into the drivers of school improvement within the Christian school sector. Our goal for 2017–2018 is to develop a validated, predictive instrument for school improvement, the first of its kind in Christian education. I want to invite you to walk alongside us and to help us shape it by asking for your continued engagement with our research team as we develop this instrument. We believe ACSI is uniquely positioned to conduct such critical research in the Christian school movement, but we won't be able to accomplish it without one another. This initiative reminds me of ACSI's tagline, and in this case, we are literally "stronger together."
Our goal is to make this instrument available to our schools, as well as to use it to help inform best practices and innovation in the Christian school movement. In addition to the value this research will have for your school and the Christian school movement, I anticipate it shaping our services and engagement with you so that your membership with ACSI adds more value to your school.
Increasing Member Value
The research project we concluded in May revealed that many of our members struggle to articulate the full value they receive for their membership fee. Our members did point to services we provide today as being valuable (for example, our legal and legislative and advocacy teams are indispensable to many schools). We need to more clearly demonstrate the value of the relationship between your membership fees and the services we provide. We are exploring ways to do this and will stay in close contact with our members as we do.
Finally, we have gained valuable insights into how to make connections between members of our association more meaningful. Our members love being connected with other members who share similar characteristics. ACSI has been fostering relationships between Christian schools since God breathed life into this movement in 1978. Those relationships remain core to our association, and we will not forget that as we build toward the vision I've described in this letter.
Dan Egeler, EdD