Friday, July 27, 2012

It Won't Be Long Now...

We are one month away from the beginning of the 2012-13 school year at Portersville Christian School.  The summer is going by quickly.  In a week or so, soccer and volleyball players will be gathering for pre-season practice. 

On August 2, I will begin my third year as head administrator.  It doesn't seem like that much time has passed since I first walked through the door of the school in June of 2010 and realized that same night that this was the place God was calling us to serve.  I have learned a lot since then, more than I realized I would have to learn in order to do this, and enough to know that there is still a lot to learn.  Some goals have been met, others have either been changed, or are still in the process of being met.  This coming year, 2012-13, will involve a concentrated and much more directed effort at working toward reaching the goals I set for myself, and for the school, over these past two years. 

This past year was, in many ways, very productive in meeting goals, and yet, in some ways, was a much more difficult year from an administrative perspective than the year before that.  There were some difficult challenges resulting in difficult decisions.  The process of depending on God to provide a sense of direction and confirm decisions, which I have always relied upon through thirty years of ministry in Christian education, was put to the test and stretched quite a bit.  I realize that was God's way of teaching, and providing the opportunity to grow, through some very stressful moments and emotional experiences.  It is the sort of thing that makes us ready for what lies ahead.

There will be some changes next year, related to what has been learned.  Our discipline policy and procedure, which was put to the test on several occasions last year, and found to be somewhat lacking in effectiveness, has been changed to be more consistent with a distinctively Christian environment, and more effective in helping manage student behavior.  In practice, we hope to be more consistent with Biblical principles related to authority, obedience and discipline, and clearer and more focused in our expectations as well as enlisting parent involvement and clearer communication. 

We have learned that it is necessary to be more direct and deliberate with our approach to spiritual life as part of the school community in order to see our students experience spiritual growth.  Things don't just happen because we promote and protect a Christian environment.  In Bible teaching, corporate worship and mission involvement, we need to unpack a vision of involving our students in an educational experience that includes planning for their spiritual growth and development, with expectations that they will meet specific goals related to the practice of their faith in this school community.  This will be reflected in our worship, in Bible classes and in opportunities for Christian service that our school works to provide for its students.

We discovered, through the survey that Grace Works conducted for us at the end of last year, that our constituency rates us very, very high in the area of Christian distinctiveness and academic achievement, believes that we have an excellent balance between the emphasis on Christian atmosphere, academic achievement and involvement in athletics and fine arts, and by a fair majority considers us a step above other educational options they have pursued, including home education and other Christians schools.  We have made note of the areas where improvement was suggested.

The 2012-13 school year will include two extremely important steps for our school.  One is that our application for renewal of our accreditation has been approved by ACSI, and the self-study will take place during the next ten months.  That will determine whether we are meeting the accreditation standards and where we need to do some work to get there.  Accreditation is important, contrary to what some people might say about it, and one of our goals for the upcoming year is to make sure that we are exceeding the standards required for renewal.  The other is that we have undertaken the task of raising $100,000, primarily from an alumni community that will be given the opportunity to show their appreciation to their school for everything it contributed to their success.  Approximately $70,000 of this will be added to existing financial aid resources to provide additional funding for qualified families, while the remaining $30,000 will go to improving and upgrading the technology required to bring PCS into the 21st century in that regard.  The school board has already approved major upgrades that improve our server firewall protection, will result in a new elementary computer lab, and upgrade teacher computers. 

Parents will be asked to serve on the committees involved in both the accreditation self-study, and the annual fund.  Please put these two items on your daily prayer list as well, since that will be the key to our success, as it is for everything else we do.  Join our faculty, staff and students in praying for the success of Portersville Christian School each day. Our success depends on it.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Survey Says...

As part of our preparation for the annual fund, current and former families of PCS from the past few years were asked to participate in an electronic survey of their impressions of the school.  The survey will provide valuable information about how the school is perceived among its own constituents as well as in the community.  We will use it as an evaluation tool, to make necessary improvements in the school program as well as a way to help with the annual fund. 

As of July 6, about 70% of the families represented in the group that was sent the tokens to participate had responded.  Some families had two members respond, while others had only one, but we have a pretty good picture of how the school is percieved from those responses.  Some good news includes the fact that positive responses overwhelmingly outweighed the negatives, especially among families with students currently enrolled or recently graduated.  Other good news includes the number of volunteers who used the survey to indicate their interest in helping in a particular area.

As expected, the school received its highest marks for its Christian distinctiveness, something mentioned as its most positive attribute by more than 80% of those who responded to the survey.  Respondents mentioned everything from the integration of Biblical principles into the curriculum to the overall spiritual atmosphere of the school, to the fact that what students learn at school supports what they are taught at church and what they learn at home.  More than half of those who responded, about 55%, mentioned the academic strength of the school and its academic reputation as a positive aspect.  The numbers add up to more than 100% because many people mentioned both of these aspects of education at PCS.  The presence of a well balanced, well rounded extracurricular fine arts and athletic program was also mentioned by at least 20% of those who responded to the survey.

Most of those who responded to the survey who indicated experience with other schools rated the education their children are receiving here as being superior to that they have had elsewhere, with a few parents noting that PCS compares equally or favorably to other Christian schools where they have been involved.  Several respondents noted that the regular curriculum here is comparable to, or even superior to, the honors program at a couple of local high schools.  It is always nice to hear that you are doing well in the eyes of your constituents, and to hear that the progress you are making is consistent with your mission and purpose. 

It is always nice to receive constructive criticism.  This is what helps you evaluate your progress in a most honest way, and make improvements.  Approximately 5% of the respondents to the survey offered information which will help us take advantage of opportunities for improvement. 

Expanding and upgrading our technological capabilities, including improvements to the two computer labs and the science lab were a priority for some parents.  One suggestion involved exposing PCS students to conferences, seminars, and gifted speakers related to increasing their exposure to Biblical worldview issues, political issues, and cultural arts.  Another suggested that we add foreign language exposure and "hands on" curriculum to the elementary school program.  Keeping a comprehensive list of tutoring opportunities was suggested as well.  Other suggestions included setting dates and making financial aid arrangements earlier in the summer.

One parent mentioned that whenever you have three people who get together in a situation like this, there will be differences of opinion about how things are done.  Homework was one of those subjects.  A couple of respondents thought that the homework load was too much, and that students should be doing most of their work at school, rather than at home.  A couple of others felt that the amount of homework at PCS was an indication of a lack of academic rigor, and that it should be increased as a means of getting more parents directly involved with their children's education.  Two of the respondents felt that discipline in the school is "too relaxed," while two others felt that discipline at PCS is too strict, and one indicated that our dress code is too restrictive.  Considering that these responses represent real perceptions, differing observations are certainly possible, especially with regard to issues such as this.  As far as discipline goes, there are some changes coming.  As far as homework goes, that's something you need to take up with the teachers. 

This information will now be used by the Annual Fund Committee to assist with their work, and it will also be passed along to the school board.  Obviously, it will most definitely be a factor in helping determine the direction we will go, and where we need to improve.  If you want to contribute to the discussion, please feel free to drop an email to the administrator, l.saunders@portersvillechristianschool.org, and your suggestions will be included.