Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Why is Your School Successful?

One of the parents who came to one of our recent open houses asked me, "What do you think is the reason that your school is successful in academic achievement?"  I believe there is actually more than one reason, and I am always glad to share this with anyone who asks.  Some reasons are unique to Portersville Christian School and its environment, while others are characteristic of Christian schools in general.  I've never really understood where the myth developed that Christian schools are not necessarily good schools in terms of academic achievement, because that's just not the case. 

1.  We are successful because we are committed to providing education that is distinctively Christian, in an environment that stives to follow Biblical principles.  One of those principles says that parents are responsible for the education of their children and so we enter into a partnership with parents when they send their children to us.  Another principle requires us to do everything as if we are doing it "unto the Lord."  Teaching children to always do their best produces an environment in which success is celebrated and considered the result of serving God. 

2.  We are successful because we are free from cumbersome, entangling regulations imposed by government on the public education system.  In our system, the trained and called educators are in charge of the educational program of the school, accountable first to God, and then to the parents who send their children here.  In the public system, educators are accountable to a bureaucracy that is largely controlled by politicians, and they are pushed to produce results that distract from the school's ability to deliver an education.  The focus is on the product, the test score and the result, not on the student and what he is learning.

Even the alternatives, such as charter schools or cyber education, are bogged down with over-regulation, and in most cases, aren't even producing results equal to the public school system.  As long as Christian schools are free from government interference, they will continue to be successful.

3.  We are successful because we remove the distractions that keep students from focusing on their educational objectives.  If you've ever wondered why Christian schools are "strict" when it comes to rules about everything from dress and hair styles to piercings and make-up, that's why.  Students are easily distracted when the focus moves away from education, and on to their appearance, or their "coolness" based on their appearance.  Students do a lot better when their focus is directed toward academic pursuits rather than toward their outward appearance. 

4.  We are successful because there is a level of sacrifice involved for both parents of students, and for the school's staff.  Those who teach here aren't doing it because of the money.  What would it tell you about the interest of your teachers if, in the middle of your senior year, they decided to walk out for more money and benefits, and caused your graduation date to be pushed to the end of July?  In spite of our modest tuition rate, parents are also making a financial sacrifice for their children to be here, in most cases giving up some material things they might enjoy in order to make it possible. 

5.  We are successful because character development and teaching by example are core components of our curriculum, beyond just imparting knowledge in a set of core subjects.  The goal is not limited to test scores alone, but to the complete development of the individual, in preparation for life, career, and service in the Kingdom of God.  Success is measured by whether or not each student who graduates from here is ready to move to the next step of their education and development. 

Collectively, we never say "mission accomplished."  But each year, as we say goodbye to our graduating class, and we look at their goals, plans and desires, we can evaluate where we've done well, and where we need to improve.  With the school having been in existence since 1963, we are also seeing the children, and in some cases the grandchildren, of graduates and former students come to the campus for their education.  That's a great compliment, and a great measurement of success. 

The assumption that Christian schools do not do well academically is proven wrong by the students and graduates of Portersville Christian School whose achievement in academic measurements sits well above average in virtually every category.  And while what we call success might not be observed in every student who has graduated from here, we know that they've seen what it looks like and have had it modeled for them here. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Critical Week for Christian Schools in Pennsylvania

There are some powerful lobbying interests in Harrisburg who are working very hard to defeat Senate Bill 1, which is the current school choice bill being considered in the Pennsylvania legislature.  Teachers unions see this bill as an additional threat to their revenue stream that has already been cut back considerably.  This is a bill that provides benefits which would improve the educational quality for Pennsylvania's students, but as with most educational issues that become politicized, money becomes the bottom line. 

The fact of the matter is that the provisions of this bill would lead to both improvement in the quality of education offered to students, and would involve a reduction in the cost of that education to the state.  How does that work? 

First of all, the cost per student in tax dollars for a year of schooling in the public system in Pennsylvania is over $10,000.  But the value of a voucher that would be given to students to attend a private, parochial school is limited to the amount of the highest rate of tuition and fees at whatever school accepts it.  At PCS, the highest tuition rate for 2011-12 is $5,200, which would result in a savings to the state, per student, of almost $5,000 per year.  Estimates statewide are that the state would save approximately $3,000 per student per year on each student who entered the program. 

Second, students in private, parochial schools perform significantly better than those in the public system on the standardized tests used to measure progress.  In our own case, here at PCS, we take the Stanford test, which is nationally "normed."  Our average scores are at or in the top 25% nationally.  On the Scholastic Aptitude Test, which is the standard college entrance exam, our students consistently average 200 or more points higher than the state and national averages.  So, any student who came our way with a voucher would be in both a spiritual and educational environment that would contribute to their success in school. 

It's hard to compare apples to oranges.  A great deal of our success is directly related to the fact that we operate under Christian principles, guided by the Bible and the Holy Spirit.  Christian schools are often accused of not being "accountable" to anyone.  That's not true.  We are accountable, first to God, and then to the parents who send their children to us.  The public education system is accountable to the state, and as a result, is entangled in a web of over-regulation, cross purposes and bureacracy that substantially increases the cost of providing education and interferes with its progress. 

Education at PCS involves an element of sacrifice on the part of everyone involved.  Our culture teaches that the only way to get people to produce at a level of which they are capable is to offer them money.  But our teachers and staff have a vested interest in the progress that our students make precisely because they are making sacrifices to accomplish it.  So are our parents.  There's a balance that happens in a partnership that works, and works well.  The level of interest of parents in their children's education helps generate the success we see.  The public education system doesn't have that balance, and the system doesn't encourage or facilitate the sacrificial involvement of parents.  Until that changes, all the money in the world won't help achieve success. 

Take a moment this week to call your state senator's office and encourage their support for Senate Bill 1.  If it passes the Senate, it will go to the house, so it is probably time to call your state representative as well. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Wizard of Oz, Part 2

There may not be an event during the school year that shows the character and commitment of our students and families that is quite like the spring musical.  Today, our students performed for about two hours, in front of their fellow students, and about 200 senior adults from several assisted living and nursing facilities in the area.  Though it was their first performance, technically a dress rehearsal, and there were a few rough spots, it was excellent. 

Just looking at the stage and set in the gym tells you that a lot of people have spent long hours working to put together sets and scenes.  There are people working behind the scenes to make sure everything happens like it is supposed to.  The costumes are fantastic.  There is a lot of dialogue and a lot of singing which all had to be memorized, along with the blocking.  And these are students who are also doing homework, earning (for the most part) good grades, and just finished a long and successful basketball season.  Some of them are worship leaders for chapel.  A whole group of them spent their spring break in the Dominican Republic on a mission trip, ministering to people in Christ's name. 

That sounds like a lot.  It is.  But it is the character of the students and families that make up Portersville Christian School.  It is excellence on display, doing their best because they are doing it unto the Lord.  It is at times like this that I am honored to be part of the whole experience. 

And it is very likely a rare experience, at least, as far as educational experiences go.  Most students simply show up for school, do as little as they need to do to get by, and pursue other interests elsewhere.  To be sure, there are some students at PCS who are not certain enough of who they are, or whose they are, to immerse themselves in this kind of experience.  But they are close enough to have a chance.  And all of that is worth thinking about, praying about, and considering at this particular time of year as families make decisions about where their children will attend school in the fall.  This is a special place, and at times like this, it shows.

Thank you, students, parents, teachers, and eveyone who commited themselves to make this event happen.  You've said more about our school through your work than I could say in a thousand words.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Wizard of Oz

The PCS spring musical, The Wizard of Oz, will be performed several times during this coming week at Portersville Christian School.  The gym is being transformed into a theater, students, over 50 of them to be exact, are rehearsing, parents and students are volunteering time to build and paint sets, the lights are up and there is excitement in the air. 

Our school has a reputation for performing excellent musicals and plays.  Many of our students pursue fine arts in college.  As a school activity, putting on a musical is a great way to practically apply our belief and philosophy that in all things that we do, we do our best, because we are doing it unto the Lord.  This is a combined effort of students, parents, faculty and staff.  Tickets are available in advance or at the door.  There is a matinee performance on Wednesday for the elementary students, and evening performances on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Spring Break Missions Involves 18 Students in the Dominican Republic

A week of service as missionaries in the Dominican Republic was the way 18 PCS students chose to spend their spring break.  This has been a regular event for several years now, under the direction of Mike and Lauren McDonald.  The team accompanies several doctors and nurses who go to the Dominican Republic using medical mission work as a means of sharing the gospel of Jesus with people who live there. 

The group returned this past weekend and came back to school on Monday, contagious with excitement and enthsiasm resulting from their experiences.  It is one of the things we want to teach our students here at PCS.  When you put your life in God's hands, and you are open to the moving and working of his Holy Spirit, you can expect that he will use you, and you will be changed by the experience.  The change combines with other similar experiences to produce spiritual growth within, and as I Peter 3:15 says, causes people to ask about the hope you have within.  The campus has been brightened this week by smiles that come from the hearts of students whose lives were lifted up by an encounter with God. 

Good work, students!  May God continue to bless you, and use your enthusiasm to light a fire in others.