Saturday, June 18, 2011

So, Did You Have a Good Year?

School's been out for a week, and that's probably been the most common question people have asked me since then.  Here's my answer.

No.  I didn't have a good year.  I had a great year!

I've been involved with Christian schools since the fall semester of 1983 when I was hired to teach history and journalism at Broadway Baptist School in Houston, Texas.  I know how things can go, and I've observed situations that I'm sure gave administrators some more gray hair, and caused a lot of stress.  I know that PCS has seen some situations like that.  This year, from my perspective, turned out to be more of a learning experience, and I'm glad it did.

One of the benefits I had all through the school year was the prayer support of two local pastors, both of whom are involved with, and love, PCS.  Most Wednesday mornings after chapel, I spend some time with Pastor Frye in his office in the basement of the Portersville Alliance Church and we prayed together, sometimes for personal things, but mostly for the students and staff of the school.  And most Friday mornings, before school began, I got to do the same with Pastor Charles of the Portersville Bible Church, before his 10th grade Bible class.  My most frequent prayer request is always for wisdom and discernment, especially as far as my leadership of the school is concerned.  That's why it was a great year, I'm sure.

Self evaluation is important to me.  Most people don't like change, mainly, I think, because what makes it hard is that when it happens, it makes us uncomfortable because our job and surroundings are no longer familiar and we make a lot of mistakes figuring out what we're supposed to do.  Part of what made this a great year was that people anticipated change, and for the most part were willing to accept what came with it, including the provision of a nice blanket to cover the mistakes I made and the patience to live with them for a while.  My self-evaluation includes knowing where the resources are found, where the limits are located, and accepting change which is needed for improvement. 

My Dad always used to say that he wouldn't demand any more of me than he was willing to do himself.  That always kept me on my toes, because he was willing to do an awful lot, and he always wanted to improve.  His goal was for his son and daughter to have better lives than he did, and he worked hard to make that happen.  Continued self-evaluation means that you are moving in the direction of continued improvement.  Next year will be better, in part because of what has been learned this year.  We will change those things that need to be changed in order to improve.  Our students deserve no less.

So I'll ask this question back.  Did you have a good year?  Through the eyes of a parent, did your children have a good year?  Did you learn some things which will lead to improvement of yourself and your relationship with Christ?  And if not, are you willing to share your experiences with me, in order to increase the insight that is necessary to make improvements?  It's summer.  Call me up and we'll find a place to sit, have a cup of coffee, and chat.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

We're Still Investing in our Students, not Cutting our Budget

Yeah, so I borrowed this thought from the Pittsburgh Christian School consortium to which our school belongs, but I thought it was a good line. 

The recent round of budget cuts proposed by Governor Corbett and debated by the Pennsylvania legislature includes some deep cuts into education expenditures.  I'm certainly not arguing that the budget shouldn't be cut, nor that public education should be fairly included in the cuts, but there are a few things about the way it is being done that make me wonder about it just a little bit.  It seems that most school districts are going to balance their budgets by cutting services to students, laying off teachers and  increasing class sizes, charging participation fees for sports, fine arts, band, or just dropping the program altogether.  In every instance, it is students who will feel the effect of the cuts the most.  Teacher unions are making sure that layoffs are kept at a minimum and salaries and benefits stay in place.  I'm not hearing much at all about cuts in administrative bureaucracy.  Students have the least amount of political clout, so they will suffer the most.

But at Portersville Christian School, that will not be the case.  We're still committed to investing in our students.  The careful stewardship of our resources allows us to provide a quality education to our students for less than half of what it costs the state to provide a year of education to students in the public school system.  We don't have a teacher's union, yet we are able to staff our classrooms with some of the most dedicated professionals you will find anywhere, who understand that the sacrifice they are making in pay is going to be made up in blessings that are too numerous to count.  Our staff does their job well because they see the need for their work, not because they are getting wealthy by it. 

Our facility is a plain, cinder block building, nothing fancy when it comes to either architecture or function.  But inside, our students are getting a high quality education in a Christian environment that can openly acknowledge God as our creator and as the sovereign sustainer of life.  They are receiving high quality instruction in academic subjects which are integrated with the principles of God's word.  The building protects the students from the elements and organizes the space it encloses in a practical way.  That's all we need.  What takes place inside depends on the students, their families, the teachers and the staff, and results from a commitment to Christ-centeredness, small class sizes, removal of distractions, good stewarship of resources, and a hundred other things. 

Maybe these budget cuts are a wake up call.  Downsizing, cutting back on resources, larger class sizes, fewer class and activity choices, and a host of other issues related to budget cuts will most definitely affect the quality of the education children in the public school system are receiving.  Maybe it is time to consider what your child could be getting in Christian school, and particularly in Portersville Christian School.  We're going to continue to invest in our students.  Come over and join us. 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Stanford Achievement Test

Standardized testing should be put in its perspective.  1.  It is one of many indicators of the academic progress of an individual student.  2.  It helps the school evaluate its curriculum and make changes and adjustments where it is necessary.  3.  It is one of many indicators of the academic strength of the curriculum.  4.  It is not the "end product" of the work of the faculty and staff.  If you think about it, a student spends almost eight months in a classroom setting covering literally hundreds of specific objectives.  No test, especially not one given almost eight months down the road, will be able to determine if every student learned every objective.  What we learn from the Stanford test is whether or not the students are functioning on a skill level that is appropriate for students on their grade level, and whether or not our curriculum is covering the objectives expected on each grade level. 

Our Stanford 2011 scores arrived this week.  A detailed analysis will be done, and will reflect in curriculum adjustments and approaches to teaching.  In the meantime, there are some conclusions that can be drawn from the analysis that has been done so far.  I'll share a few of those things with you. 

First of all, 76% of the students at PCS who took the test, from first to eighth grade, finished with an overall score that was higher than the state and national norms.  That's exciting.  That means that our "norm", or middle point, is 26% higher than the national average.  Most ACSI schools use the Stanford Test, which means that the norms are higher than those on state based standardized tests.  Our percentile ranks indicate that our students overall did better than 70% of the students nationwide who took the Stanford test in 2011.  About half of our students placed in the top quartile nationally.  What that means to our parents and students is that they are getting a much higher quality education that they would receive in the public, charter and cyber schools.  It also means that the academics at PCS on the elementary level are excellent and strong.

There are a lot of different ways of analyzing the data, including stanine scores, raw scores, scaled scores and a lot of other terms.  Reading and math scores get the first scrutiny.  Our students did well in both areas, compared to national norms and grade level expectations.  We can look at specific sections of questions, dealing with a particular kind of math problem, or a specific area of reading, and see what we need to improve.  We can also look at individual student scores in order to identify specific areas of difficulty and provide differentiated instruction so that they can improve.  Almost all of our students either meet, or exceed grade level expectations in these subject areas, according to the test results. 

The Stanford results we see are consistent with the PSAT and SAT results we see in the high school, with PCS students performing well above the national and state norms.  But once again, putting these things in their proper perspective, the test scores are not the "product" of the school.  The students are.  What they do when they graduate, not only in academic pursuits, but in the world at large, is the product of PCS.  We're small, and we don't send a lot of alumni out into the world every year.  But the impact of what we produce will occur in and around each graduate, where they live, and who they come into contact with.  That's our product.