Is Your School Accomplishing Its Mission?
Christian schools are uniquely positioned to help students connect what they believe with how they live. As a school leader, you're responsible for providing an environment that encourages a holistic view of faith and practice. But how do you evaluate whether your school is playing an effective role in students' spiritual formation?
Dr. Jay Ferguson, headmaster of Grace Community School (Tyler, Texas), had asked himself this question for years.
"We'd been looking for a way to measure or evaluate the spiritual formation aspects of our ministry—what we were trying to accomplish," he says. "Online surveys have their limitations. We had a hard time finding any kind of assessment we felt comfortable with or we felt like we were getting reliable data from."
Then Jay heard about ACSI's Spiritual Climate Assessment, and he and his leadership team decided to have one done last spring. The assessment began with quantitative research: the entire school community—students, parents, faculty, staff, administration, board, and alumni—took a web-based survey. Then a team from ACSI visited the school to do qualitative research: they conducted focus group interviews and informal interviews, collected artifacts, and observed.
"The team from ACSI spent time talking to my various constituencies within my school—they took the time to understand deeply the spiritual health and quality of my school and where my strengths and potential areas of improvement were," says Jay. "It was a rich study. It wasn't just one type of data gathering method; they used a variety of tools to pull together a rich picture of the spiritual health of my school."
Dr. JuLee Mecham, director of Research and Strategic Initiatives at ACSI, says what sets apart ACSI's assessment is that other studies look only at students. "If you just measure students, you don't know the root causes of the spiritual outcomes they display," she says. "Many factors contribute, including family dynamics, church involvement, relationships with adults and other students in the school, et cetera. You can't just take one piece of your school community and say 'that's where we are.'"
The ACSI assessment team recognizes that students' spiritual growth is the Holy Spirit's responsibility. Yet administrators can control the school's climate: whether they hire growing Christian staff, how they encourage teachers in their faith, their own spiritual growth, and the types of families the school enrolls.
"The study's not prescriptive, offering suggestions like 'have longer chapels, do more chapels,' or what have you," Jay says. "The study gives you perspectives of people: what people are saying about the spiritual health of your school. It's up to you to understand the implications and then make whatever changes you're going to make based upon those observations. And that's how it should be, because you know your school and what's going to work in the context and culture of your school."
The leadership team at Grace Community School found the study's conclusions to be high quality and thoughtful, and they appreciated that people who really understand Christian schools conducted the study.
"We've been able to do a lot in a short period of time," Jay says. "I can't recommend it highly enough. I can't think of another way for a team to come in and assess your school as thoroughly as this team did."