Category Christian School Education
Title Core Principles of School Sustainability
Author/s Todd Clingman
Preview Faculty and staff must be wholeheartedly committed to putting their lives and stories in front of kids as they point students to Christ in word and action.
Text

As society and culture brand their expectations on students and schools, Christian schools find themselves needing to maintain consistent school growth. As school leaders, we must ask ourselves: What is the relationship between a quality faculty and a school's viability? More importantly, we must answer honestly, or we will put our schools at risk. If the quality of our faculty is lacking, it will only be a matter of time before enrollment begins to suffer and the life of the school is threatened. With more than 25 years of faculty and leadership experience, I have learned a lot about what makes schools work. Below are five P's to consider regarding a school's sustainability:

Philosophy

For a thriving school, a relevant mission and compelling vision are paramount. For North Cobb Christian School, the raging cultural battle for the hearts and minds of our young people fuels our fire to fulfill the worthy mission God has given us. The real difference maker is defining the skills that will make our students credible and competent as followers of Christ, as well as competitive in the twenty-first-century job market. We set our curriculum to equip students with the knowledge necessary for the next level of their education, and then strive to teach the content with differentiated instruction.

Population

Students and families are the ministry, but a school must decide whether it is a covenant or evangelistic school. There is no wrong answer, but whatever the chosen path, it is vital for a Christian school to be effective in its calling and mission.

Programs

With the philosophy established, schools can then define their programs as a method by which the mission and vision will be fulfilled. All programs fit into four buckets: academics, arts, athletics, and student life. Don't fall prey to the temptation of having programs just to fill space. Evaluate what you offer to ensure it helps fulfill the ultimate mission; eliminate what does not.

Places

The classrooms, labs, theater halls, and ballfields provide the spaces to teach students to see the world through the lens of Scripture. It is there that students can be molded through interactions with others and be empowered as they grow up to be Christ followers.

People

The faculty and staff of a school present the compelling reason for families to send their children to Christian schools-arguably the most important component of sustaining school growth. The faculty and staff live their lives out every day as disciples of Christ in front of students who are watching carefully. We are told in the New Testament, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." Faculty and staff must be wholeheartedly committed to putting their lives and stories in front of kids as they point students to Christ in word and action.

Although a Christian school relies in part on the effectiveness, expertise, and competence of teachers teaching the formal curriculum, there is true power in a staff living consistently in line with biblical principles. When students see a constancy and faithfulness for 12-15 years, it leaves an impression that lasts long after graduation. The modeling, mentoring, and discipling done by living our lives out day-by-day and year-by-year in front of our students is the "secret sauce" of Christian schooling. Because of the level of influence and importance that faculty members play in accomplishing the mission of Kingdom education, every effort must be made to ensure that we have the right people on the bus in the right seats. Therefore, I recommend that those making hiring decisions at Christian schools consider what we call the "3-3-3 approach" to hiring.

After doing your due diligence of praying for God's wisdom and guidance, as well as casting a broad net to solicit as many quality candidates as possible, the narrowing process can begin to ascertain which candidates will be brought to campus for an interview. In my career, it has always been a much more thorough and effective experience when at least three candidates are brought to campus to visit with at least three people at least three times. Too often, Christian schools focus on only one candidate.

The 3-3-3 approach has proven much more effective due to the fact that you see multiple people multiple times and receive the wisdom of multiple staff members. It is also recommended that, on one of the visits, the prospective teacher teach a sample lesson to a class of students with appropriate staff observing (these staff members will later offer input on the hiring decision). For this to be effective, prior to the sample teaching, a point-person will supply curricular content and other pertinent directions to the prospective teacher, setting him or her up for success.

Faculty and staff must be wholeheartedly committed to putting their lives and stories in front of kids as they point students to Christ in word and action.

Once the faculty is in place for any given year, it is also important to have a mentoring program for those who are new to the field and/or new to the school to acclimate them to the culture and/or the field of teaching. Providing all teachers with feedback on their levels of effectiveness in a candid, timely, and loving way will provide a predictable environment in which teachers feel safe to take risks-as well as ensure that teachers have no surprises.

Of course, struggling teachers should receive written feedback that will provide them with a roadmap for improvement and success. The toughest-and most important-decisions we make as Christian school administrators are related to who will stand in front of students to teach, model, and disciple them. This huge responsibility should convict us to hire well, evaluate efficiently, and, when necessary, relieve a staff member of his or her duties. These decisions will have a great impact on the lives of our students; we will be accountable to our Creator for them.

When dealing with a difficult staffing situation, "not deciding" is a decision. Be prayerful, seek God's wisdom in the situation, and surround yourself with a group of wise counselors so that the best decision will be made in the best way for the school and the students you serve.

These decisions will have a great impact on the lives of our students; we will be accountable to our Creator for them.

All five P's are necessary to sustaining a Christian school, but without quality teachers as the backbone of our ministry, the viability of our school will be in jeopardy. Hire well. Continuously solicit feedback. Provide professional development opportunities. Equip your faculty so that they will be with you for a long time-they are the heartbeat of the school and will have an eternal impact on your students!


Todd Clingman serves as head of school at North Cobb Christian School in Kennesaw, Georgia. He previously served as head of school at McKinney Christian Academy and high school principal at Prestonwood Christian Academy, as well as serving seven years at Dade Christian School, where he had attended as a student for 13 years. He has his bachelor of science in business finance from Liberty University and his master of arts in educational leadership from Florida Atlantic University.

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