Wednesday, December 30, 2015

"This is How We Know"...Some Thoughts as we Begin a New Year

"The one who says he is in the light but hates his brother is in the darkness until now. 10 The one who loves his brother remains in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.[b] 11 But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and doesn’t know where he’s going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes." I John 2:9-11, HCSB

You can read through John's short epistle, known to us as I John, in about ten minutes.  The author answers the question, "How can we know that we really know Jesus, and that our faith is genuine?" He answers this question all the way through his letter, repeating the points that provide believers with the assurance they are seeking. 
  • Our love for God is demonstrated by the love that we have for one another.  On several occasions, John flatly states that it is impossible to claim to have the truth, and have genuine love for God unless this is demonstrated through love for each other.  
  • Our faith is secured by our confession of our sin, and our belief that Jesus was the Messiah, God's son, sent to save us from our sin.  John goes so far as to say that anyone who denies that Jesus was the Christ is Antichrist. 
  • Our faith in Christ and our love for God motivates our obedience to his commandments.  We do not obey in order to earn his salvation, we obey because we are demonstrating the assurance of our salvation.  
  • The indwelling Holy Spirit speaks to us and confirms these truths.  The written word is also confirmation.   
At PCS, we ask that every family who sends their children to our school provide us with a testimony to faith in Christ as their savior by at least one of the parents, preferably both.  We expect that students who are admitted after 6th grade have the ability to tell us about their own faith experience.  We believe that, as a Christian educational institution, discipleship is a core component of a student's educational experience, and having that as part of our mission and purpose is part of what sets us apart from public schools, among other things. 

I have spent more than 30 years in a career in Christian education, most of it in a Christian school environment like PCS.  As we look ahead to a new year in 2016, and we look back at how things in our country, in our world, and in our churches, are developing, I think that the leadership which is coming from Christian schools that are providing their students with a solid foundation in Christian discipleship, as well as superior academic training, will be crucial to the future of the Christian church in the US, as much as it will be to the nation itself. 

For more than two decades, now, our church researchers have been telling us that there is a growing gap in generational involvement in the churches in this country.  Churches have been losing a large percentage of the children and youth who have been raised in them.  Initially, the figure that was cited was that 70% of those raised in church were leaving it by the time they graduated from college.  As time passed, into the 80's and 90's, that figure was raised to 80%.  Churches and denominations spent a lot of time and resources on programs to stem the tide, that failed.  The thinking was that perhaps, after time, when they'd had a chance to settle down, and start having families, they'd come back.  They haven't.  The median age of today's church is about 20 years older than that of society in general, and the American church is in a membership decline that is beginning to have an effect on the financial resources need for ministry, including international missions. 

There is some indication that the process which leads to young people going through an intellectual and spiritual shift that causes their exit from the church begins in their early education.  The seeds of a secular worldview are sown early in their educational experience, and during their formative years, their education is separate from their spiritual formation in most cases.  So when they go off to college, where they will be exposed to worldviews and thinking that comes largely from a post-Christian, humanist perspective, they see their church involvement as inconsistent and irrelevant, and they drop out, usually before they get their college diploma. 

Christian schools must stand in the gap.  That is why we are intentional in our mission and purpose.  That is why we do not separate the process of Christian discipleship and spiritual formation from the educational process.  And that is why we strive for academic excellence as well.  The best contribution we can make to our churches, and to our country, is to provide them with leaders who know how to think, and who understand how to think Biblically and spiritually minded thoughts.  Looking around at what is happening in the world, and what is happening in the church, I believe Christian schools may be the hope of the future for both.  I hope that the evidence shows that we are doing the job God has called us to do. 

Happy New Year!  May you be blessed by the Lord in 2016. 
 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Memorizing Scripture in These Troubled Times

"Do not be agitated by evildoers; do not envy those who do wrong.  For they wither quickly like grass and wilt like tender green plants.
Trust in the Lord and do what is good; dwell in the land and live securely.  Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart's desires."  Psalm 37:1-2, HCSB

In her book, The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom mentions a time when she discovered that the words of scripture that she was reading were so fresh and relevant, and applicable to her time and situation, that she "marveled that the ink on the page was dry."  She wrote that from the depths of a prison worse than almost any of us could imagine, or have experienced.  Hope seemed to leap off the pages of her smuggled Bible, and into her mind and heart. 

Our society lives in a time where information is instant, and news from halfway around the world can reach us almost as soon as it happens.  So we've had a front seat to the shootings in Paris and in San Bernardino.  We've also had a front seat to see the way our culture has reacted to those events, and we can almost live the moment with the help of a camera and a way to transmit the information.  And we've seen both the best and the worst when it comes to reactions to these terrifying events. 

"Refrain from anger and give up your rage; do not be agitated--it can only bring harm." (37:8) 

I've heard preachers say that much of the wisdom of the Bible sounds a lot like common sense.  This sure does.  We spend a lot of time building a Biblical worldview, and Biblical principles into our curriculum to teach to our students.  Here's a situation where that can be practiced by all, and seen by all.  There are no exceptions when it comes to the principles of life that are set out in the scriptures.  God certainly knew what he was doing, and he certainly understood every situation in which we would find ourselves. 

It is difficult not to have an emotional reaction, especially when pictures and video from events like this put it right in front of you, and make it seem as if you were there, almost.  But the Psalmist says it three times here--"refrain from anger, give up your rage, do not be agitated." That's quite an emphasis, and it's not an accident that it is mentioned here.  Reacting out of anger, or out of fear, has the potential to create circumstances that cause us, in our humanity, to set aside what God has given to us, and take things into our own hands to resolve the problem.  We should move in a forward in a way that demonstrates our continued commitment to remain in God's will, and be guided by faith, not fear.  Pray.  That always works.

"The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord, their refuge in a time of distress."  (37:39)

Really, this whole Psalm is so promising and encouraging, and worth reading more than once, especially before you sit down to watch the news.  It's so relevant, it is really similar to Corrie Ten Boom's experience of marveling that the ink on the page is dry, and that the words weren't actually written in our time, but thousands of years ago.

The Bible's writers, including the same person who wrote this Psalm, encouraged people to commit scripture to memory.  Part of that was to preserve the words, but part of it was to put them in a place in the mind where they can be brought out when needed.  It's part of our human nature to respond to the things that are going on around us, and we have a tendency to respond according to our own mind, and leave God out of it.  Our selfish nature tells us to do something to even the score, or to inflict the kind of pain we've experienced on someone else, simply to satisfy our own rage.  If these words from scripture are in our mind, programmed to pop out when something like this happens, it's a lot easier to think clearly, act slowly and do the right thing. 





Thursday, November 26, 2015

Re:Act Student Leadership Conference

Fifteen PCS students, mostly seniors, participated in the 2015 Re:Act Student Leadership Conference in Arlington, Virginia Nov. 22-24.  They joined more than 300 other students from Christian schools in ACSI's Northeast and Southeast regions.  The conference focuses a Biblical worldview on a particular theme.  This year, the theme was poverty and persecution.  The issues are always relevant, but this year, with everything happening around the world, it seemed particularly so.

The conference organizers do an excellent job of providing speakers who have expertise in the kind of ministry that is being addressed.  And as is often the case, reality doesn't necessarily always line up with pre-conceived notions and ideas about issues.  We are constantly bombarded with information, much of it now spread by social media which has few, if any controls on it regarding the accuracy of content.  Students are affected by all kinds of information, most of it from a skewed perspective, or from a perception that has gained popular acceptance, but few actual facts.  The speakers at this conference have expertise, they've not only been there, but in most cases, they are going back there, and they tell the truth about how things are, even if the truth doesn't square up with a popular version of "Christian worldview."  And that happens a lot more frequently than you might think.

One of the most impressive, and inspirational speakers of the conference was a lovely lady named Bernadette Todd.  Suffering from a severe form of muscular dystrophy, Bernadette faced many challenges, from the medical issues that accompany her disease, to cruelty of people who ridicule the handicapped.  Bernadette had some dreams, though.  She was a sharp student, graduated at the top of her class, and achieved a college degree.  Though her body was deteriorating, and her disease would not only never be cured, but would cause her muscular strength to continuously deteriorate, she met the man of her dreams, and he married her.  As a result of that meeting, Bernadette also came to know Christ as her Lord and Savior.  Her initial prognosis was that she might not make it to eight years of age, but she is now in her late 40's.  Her muscles have deteriorated to the point where she has very little freedom of movement now, but she has a tremendous smile, and she offers it as she speaks, along with a testimony of how God has used both she and her husband in ministry. 

Bernadette spoke at the beginning of the conference, and set the tone.  Each evening, as our students gathered together for reflection, there were more and more comments made about what they had learned, and how they were going to put it into action.

During our excursion to Washington, D.C., splitting into two groups to see different sites, both groups had an opportunity to put something they learned into practice.  One of the speakers had made note of the fact that when Christians see people on the street, obviously homeless, sometimes begging, we have a tendency to look away, not necessarily deliberately, but because they make us uncomfortable, and we have a way of ignoring the problem.  The speaker pointed out that such an action reduces the humanity of the person who is suffering from the problem.  One group encountered a homeless man lying on the sidewalk outside of the restaurant where they were about to eat lunch, and determined not to ignore him.  Acknowledging that we cannot do much is a simple fact.  But we can resolve a simple and immediate problem.  So, the man, and his friend who accompanied him, got a hot meal that day, which certainly did meet an immediate need.  The other group had a similar experience.  Hopefully, the experience will be a powerful enough reminder to permanently change the way we do things.  The speaker connected the concept to the story of the Good Samaritan. 

Life transformation is a core principle of Christian faith, and as such, it is also a core principle of Christian education.  Our schools are integrating Biblical principles into the curriculum, but they are also emphasizing the need for our graduates to be the kind of people who make a difference in the world.  And that's the value of a conference like this.  It's just a couple of days, and after a while, much of what was said will fade from memory, but hopefully it made just enough of an impact to cause a life transformation, and send a student down the path of exploring God's plan for their life a little more closely, and with a few more specific details. 



Monday, October 26, 2015

A Most Memorable Sermon

Sometimes, a preacher begins a message, and you know you're in for a word from the Lord. A week ago Friday morning, the first speaker on the ACSI Nexus program was Dr. Vernard Gant. I don't think his presentation was intended to be a "sermon" as such, but the moment he stepped to the podium, that's what transpired.  It certainly generated many "amens" from the teachers gathered to watch it in the student center auditorium at Erie First Christian Academy. Dr Gant has quite an impressive resume, mostly as an educator, an advocate for disadvantaged children, and a college professor.  I didn't see preacher or pastor listed there, but Dr. Gant most definitely stepped to the podium and delivered a word from the Lord.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  Acts 1:8, NIV

Dr. Gant linked the indwelling and empowerment of the Holy Spirit to the process of education as an essential element for students who are developing skills, and faith.  In essence, what he did was confirm, for those of us who have known since we became involved in it, that teaching and working in a Christian school is a ministry tied directly in to at least one of the Biblical functions of a church.  What occurs in a Christian school is Biblical discipleship, because teachers who are born-again believers in Christ have a spiritual connection to their students that allows them to connect spiritually, on a deeper level than simply being in charge of the acquisition of  knowledge for nine months. 

One of the examples he used as an illustration was one that I found particularly inspiring when it comes to the work that we do.  A government education official once told Dr. Gant that Christian schools actually "cheat" when it comes to academic success, and the progress that our students make because we weed out undesirable students, and accept only those that come to us ready to learn.  He used a deck of cards as an analogy, saying that a Christian school shuffles through the deck, discarding the twos, threes, and number cards, and selectively chooses the aces, the kings and the face cards based on a variety of factors, from previous academic success and behavior patterns to economic and social background.  The official said that if a player went through the deck of cards prior to playing a game, and "stacked the deck" that way, it would be called "cheating," and that was his perception of the way Christian schools did education. 

Dr. Gant countered by saying that, while there may be some Christian schools that do separate out the students, stack the deck, and choose only those with the advantages, the bottom line of a genuinely Christian philosophy of education was exactly the opposite, and the proof of our educational philosophy comes when we do what Jesus did.  Instead of discarding the lower value cards, a Christian school should separate the deck, and then start by laying down the twos and the threes, and making room for those students to have a seat in our educational ministry.  If we're truly operating under a Christian philosophy of education that states our mission and purpose is to help all students realize their full potential in order to serve God, then we must measure our success by deliberately choosing the "lower number cards" in the deck, and providing a Christ-centered education to them, regardless of the circumstances. 

Isn't a Christian school, full of teachers and staff members who are believers, along with many of the students, the best place for a student who needs more attention, help, and guidance than others?  Where do they go, to get what we claim to offer, if we don't make room for them, include them, and take an interest in their success?  How do we reconcile our mission and purpose if we selectively eliminate those who need this ministry the most?  Who are we, and what are we accomplishing if we have excluded students because of intellectual, social, or economic disadvantages?  Aren't those the very people that Jesus spent most of his time with? 

Amen, Dr. Gant.  Amen. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Warrior Legacy Fund

Established in 2012, the Warrior Legacy Fund is now beginning its fourth year of service to PCS.  It is an annual fund established for the purpose of providing a source of funding initially for the purpose of supplementing the school's financial aid program by stabilizing and evening out the irregularities in the EITC/OSTC contributions which the school receives.  An allowance was also made for the fund to help provide money for what is hoped to be a developing and forward moving technology program.

With initial assistance from a consultant provided by GraceWorks Ministries, the Warrior Fund was launched.  Utilizing direct mail, a phone-a-thon, and endless piles of envelopes passed out at various school events like Open House, Grandparents Day, even graduation, the fund has successfully raised between $40,000 and $60,000 each year, "annually" as it is supposed to do, without having significant impact on the school's other fundraising capability.  In fact, the Warrior Fund has increased the dollar amount raised through fundraising by just about the dollar amount it raises each year.  Well, that makes sense.  It is always a risk, especially in a school our size, that any new fundraising venture will just cut into the old funds coming from the same place, but the Warrior fund really hasn't done that.  Much of the money has come from people outside the current school community, like alumni families and families of former students. 

We do have EITC contributors who provide for financial aid through the Children's Tuition Fund of ACSI at PCS.  EITC is set up for business contributors, because it offers tax credits against their state corporate tax liability at a rate of 90% of the actual contribution.  But that is not available to individual contributors who don't pay business taxes in Pennsylvania.  The Warrior Legacy Fund is a way for individuals to demonstrate their support for Christian education.  So the contributions are smaller, but the need, and the effect they have on meeting it, are still the same. 

The Warrior Legacy Fund got a great start a week ago Saturday with the first annual PCS Vendor Event.  Final totals are not in  yet, but the event was a success all the way around, and provided a nice contribution to the Warrior Legacy Fund as well as a good day's business for the vendors who came.  We deeply appreciate their support, and hope to see them again.  After hearing their comments about how well that event worked out for them, I think we will. 

I know that most of the people who read this blog are currently connected to the school, but not everyone is.  The Warrior Legacy Fund aims at raising funds outside the immediate school community.  There are a lot of very good reasons, besides the tax breaks, for your contribution to support Christian education at Portersville Christian School.  Please allow me to elaborate on a few.
  1. Portersville Christian School is the only private, Christian school serving students in Pre-K through 12th grade in Butler, Lawrence and Mercer Counties that is fully accredited.  We are dually accredited by Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools and by the Association of Christian Schools International. 
  2. For more than a decade, PCS has been the academic leader in its area, with test scores at the top of the field in its region, and measurable academic excellence in the list of colleges and universities that are first choices for graduating seniors.  Elementary students also show measurable progress and exhibit the ability to master high academic standards. 
  3. The school has made significant measurable progress between the date of the survey given by GraceWorks in the initial year of the annual fund, and the school's most recent accreditation visit.  PCS met every goal set by the visiting team in 2006, and the level of parent satisfaction with the school and its program has showed major improvement since 2010.  PCS has truly become one of the top Christian schools in the Greater Pittsburgh area, and it continues to make progress in academics, spiritual formation and development, fine arts and athletics, and is an educational institution of distinctive Christian value and academic excellence.
  4. All of the measurements used by private schools in evaluating their effectiveness are present at PCS.  Enrollment has increased by 25% over the past five years.  All of the tests and measurements used by the school, including the ACT, SAT, PSAT and Terra Nova Achievement Test, show academic progress and stability.  The school has expanded its offerings and increased the number of special needs students it can serve.  And it continues to produce students who are very aware of their spiritual life, and desire to have a ministry regardless of the career that they are called to serve. 
I cannot think of a better way to utilize the effectiveness of the money that you contribute, than to give it to Portersville Christian School's Warrior Legacy Fund, and help someone choose to be here for their education.  God will bless you for it, as he has blessed us. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

A Call to Action

"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."  Romans 12:1-2, ESV

Dr. Russell Moore is the executive director of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.  In light of what is happening that involves religious freedom in our country right now, his most recent book, Onward:  Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel, is right on target, and will provide a lot of both perspective and comfort for Christians who are trying to sort through what is happening, and figure out how to best be the kind of salt and light that points to faith in Jesus that transforms lives while at the same time not losing the Christlikeness that is an essential part of that testimony in responding to things which, frankly, require a response from Christians.

Life transformation comes by grace through faith in Jesus, says Dr. Moore, and that must always be the primary message and focus of the church.  Christians should know that salvation and transformation can't be legislated, and that life change doesn't happen because of the law.  The culture is going to change, because it can't help itself, and if the church has lost its focus on the transforming message of the gospel, it will not effectively deal with the change.  It is in the business of pointing people to a faith that will transform their life, and equip them to handle anything that the culture throws at them.  And it will stay strong as long as it stays focused on that.

Legislation has been introduced into the Pennsylvania House and Senate which will have an particular impact on people who profess a Biblically-centered Christian faith, and subsequently those who are involved in a church affiliated institution, agency or ministry.  HB1510, introduced into the House, and SB974, introduced into the Senate, will create a special status for "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" with regard to the practice of discrimination, and will apply to employment, education, housing and any public accommodation.  In effect, the legislation removes protections of religious objections for those who would be considered "conscientious objectors" to any redefinition that allows for same-gender marriage. 

The courts have already been ruling that private business owners cannot be exempted on religious grounds when it comes to objecting to providing products or services to same gender couples, such as cakes, flowers and photographs for same-sex weddings.  This legislation would have an impact on religious-based agencies and institutions as well. Some states have already introduced anti-discrimination legislation that has had an impact on religious-based agencies and institutions. Similar legislation in other states has forced Catholic Charities to stop adoption and foster care in those states because their policy restricts placements to married couples of one man and one woman. 

Hopefully, our ministry is focused on pointing people to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ, and we're not trying to discriminate against anyone.  But this legislation, if passed, while it may protect some people from discrimination, will cause it to happen to others, mainly to those who hold a traditional Biblical, Christian view of marriage, and who, in following the teachings of their savior, Jesus, believe that when he said a marriage was defined as one man, and one woman, leaving their own families, come together to form a new one. 

ACSIPA, the group of school administrators in Pennsylvania who advocate for Christian schools in the state with the legislative body in Harrisburg, is asking that Christian school communities unite in opposing these two bills which would most certainly have a negative impact on our schools and their ministries.  You can go to the website, http://acsipa.org and click on the Voter Action Center tab.  This will take you to a page which has information on these two bills and their potential impact on Christian schools.  There is another tab you can click which will take you to the voter voice email that has been prepared for this issue.  If you choose to send it, it will go to your state representative, your state senator and to the governor's office.  I can assure you, their offices keep track of the public's opinion on issues like this. 

And in the meantime, let's keep our focus on leading people to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ. 


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Student Led Chapel

Therefore, let us no longer criticize one another.  Instead decide never to put a stumbling block or pitfall in your brother's way.  I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself.  Still, to someone who considers a thing to be unclean, to that one it is unclean.  For if your brother is hurt by what you eat you are no longer walking according to love.  Do not destroy that one Christ died for by what you eat.  Therefore, do not let your good be slandered, for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  Whoever serves Christ in this way is acceptable to God and approved by men.  So then, we must pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another."  Romans 14:13-19, HCSB

In accordance with goals set in the area of spiritual life at PCS, the weekly high school chapel service leadership has been placed in the hands of students.  Part of the overall, measurable progress of the school as specified in its governance policy is related to the spiritual growth of its students, and the administration and faculty believe that the students have demonstrated the ability to assume responsibility for planning, conducting, and praying for chapel worship. 

Today was the first "official" student led service. 

Whether they knew they'd done it or not, the message that they delivered today was very well connected to the Biblical theme for the year, found in Matthew 5:9:

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.

The scripture passage above, from Romans, was one of the foundational passages that the chapel committee used to explain to the students about the mission and purpose of chapel at PCS.  And there's that word, peace, not once, but twice in their theme passage.  Chapel is a time of worship, where our students and staff come together as the body of Christ.  The students emphasized the fact that as we come together, we draw strength from the Holy Spirit, who guides us, and we give honor and praise to Christ.  And as we come together, though we are all individuals with unique personalities, and with a unique inner connection to God, we are unified as we worship, by the "righteousness, peace and joy" in the Spirit. 

I think our students "get it." 

We live in a "me, first" world, where things like peace and love give way to greed, selfish ambition and a demand for personal freedom and rights.  But here, at school, there is a time that is set aside and dedicated to having them come together in unity, share the inner light of God that comes from their unique relationship with him, and worship in an atmosphere of love and peace that pulls them together in unity.  In a classroom setting, we'd evaluate that as visible evidence that they've learned the objective.  Can they pass the test?  Can they come together, in righteousness, peace and joy, and instead of judgment or condemnation, can they put the spiritual needs of others ahead of their own desires in such a way as to point out the pathway to God, week after week? 

We'll see.  Today was certainly an encouraging indication.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Calendar Planning at PCS: Some Insights FYI

As a private, Christian school in the state of Pennsylvania, PCS is very fortunate to have some advantages that similar schools in other states don't necessarily enjoy.  Generally, private schools in Pennsylvania are considered independent when it comes to Department of Education regulation.  We are free to determine our own curriculum objectives, choose our own curriculum support materials, including those with a Christian worldview as a philosophical foundation, set our own qualifications for teaching staff, and choose which tests we will use to measure our progress.  We can avoid textbook driven instruction, "teaching to the test," and educational objectives which are not consistent with our Christian worldview.  And we have the additional privilege of running our own bus system, which is, in and of itself, a real blessing. 

We can also determine our own calendar. 

The state does mandate that all schools, public, charter, private, or home-based, provide a minimum of 180 days of instruction for students.  That is one requirement with which we must comply, though within the framework of the law, we are not bound to specific holidays or to follow a specified calendar.  Regardless of when we start, early or late, every student in every school in Pennsylvania will spend 180 days in school, and most of those days will be involve at least 6 hours of instructional time. 

The public schools generally follow a calendar with equally divided semesters, and their start and finish dates, and holidays are scheduled around the academic requirements, rather than to provide time off to celebrate holidays.  Fortunately, because of the influence of Christian churches and groups, the academic breaks are worked out to coincide with Christian holidays, aside from the mandated government holidays, but if you look at the calendars, "Thanksgiving vacation" is "Fall break," "Christmas Vacation" is "Winter Break," and most still give Good Friday, though in some cases, it is a teacher in-service day. 

There are some considerations at PCS which drive our calendar planning and they are generally related to our Christian mission and purpose, and our Christian identity as a school.
  • We celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter as holidays.  Because we value family time together, we provide school holidays in conjunction with these calendar dates to facilitate families being together.  The extra time at Christmas also facilitates the ability of families to participate in, and be involved in, programs and concerts which celebrate the Birth of Jesus at their local church.  Likewise, for Easter.
  • Giving a full week of Spring Break associated with the Easter holiday enables a number of our students to participate in a mission trip to the Dominican Republic each year, sponsored by Meeting God in Missions. 
  • We have been asked to, and have agreed to, give our students the actual calendar date off for Veteran's Day.  The reasoning behind that is self-explanatory, and there are several events in our area held on that specific day. 
  • MLK Day, President's Day, and Easter Monday not only allow us to put in some much needed breaks, and recognize the significance of those days, but they can also serve as "take or give" snow days if needed. 
  • There are actually 182 days in the calendar.  Because of our school hours, we have several "built in" days, but if we exceed that amount, or if we have a larger than normal number of delay starts, then we will have school June 6 and 7.  If we are under the threshold, we'll be done on the 4th. 
Because we started on the 20th, the last possible day of school will be June 7, unless we have an inordinate number of snow days.  Most everyone else will be going until at least the 10th.  So the "early start" does work its way out at the end.  But with one exception, we've started on the third Thursday in August since at least 2007.  As it happens, it seems earlier than usual this year, because of the late date for Labor Day.  But the bottom line is that, regardless of when we start, or when we finish up, we will have no more, and no less, days of school than anyone else in the state. 

There are those parents who don't like the earlier start, though it was only three school days before most everyone else around us, and in the general area, started (except Butler which, of course, has a lot more preparation work to do this year).  But there are others whose children are involved in the Dominican Trip, or who appreciate the extra time with family or to travel at the holidays, and think the early start is worth it.  Of course, we're not going to agree on everything.  But, as believers, we are responsible to see that this issue doesn't become a divisive thorn in the side of the school's ministry. 

And as with anything else related to Portersville Christian School, if it is an area of the school that falls under administrative authority and direction, you are more than welcome to give me a call to chat about it, or come into the office.  Constructive and positive feedback is always welcome, and is, in fact, preferable to either conflict over personal preferences, or complete apathy.  There are some things we can't change, and some things that are probably better left alone, but discussions about perspectives are always welcome, if they're constructive, and of course, joining together in prayer is always time well spent. 

We've had a relatively smooth start to the school year.  For the second  year in a row, we are near our enrollment capacity.   We are seeing students grow in their faith, and graduates going out to make a difference in the world.  That can't be making the enemy happy.  Your prayers for this ministry, every day, will not only be deeply appreciated, but they will be the best thing you can do for us. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

It's that Time of Year

The school year has started, and so have the appeals for funds from various sources.  Well, there are expenses involved in operating a Christian school, most of them not on the radar screen of most people because, well, we sort of take things for granted because the way public education is funded, most of the costs are hidden from us. 

The magazine sale is now going on, always one of the first, because it provides a solid foundation of funding for athletics.  And at PCS, the athletic program is one of several extra-curricular programs which help us undergird the Christian foundation of the school, because it provides our students with many practical applications for their faith. 

Unlike almost every other aspect of American culture and society, the public education system, and the way that it is financed, is a major obstacle to the principle of school choice.  As Americans, we have all kinds of choices when it comes to businesses, services, medical care, even coffee houses.  We can choose based on quality, value, personal preference, appearance, or just about any other criteria.  In education, we are required to pay for one system, whether we choose to access it or not, and our choice is based on where we live, and where our property is located.  We do not have a choice when it comes to quality, or value of the service provided.  Some of the most costly school systems are also some of the most ineffective when it comes to results.  And when it comes to content, we have even less of a choice, since the curriculum objectives are pre-determined, and are required to be secular in nature, because the system is paid for by tax dollars. 

In Pennsylvania, it takes approximately $12,000 to provide an education for one student for one year in the public education system.  That figure varies from district to district, but that's about as close to average as we can get.  The money comes from taxes at the federal, state, and local level.  Of course, for an individual taxpayer, that amount is spread out over a lifetime, and among the population at large, whether they have school-aged children or not, but if you work out the numbers in averages, over a lifetime, the "average" family of four will pay about three times as much money in taxes as it actually cost their two children to go to school for 13 years apiece. 

It costs approximately $7700 for one child to be provided with a year's education at Portersville Christian School. You pay an average of $6,300 in tuition and fees, and the rest of that money comes from generous individuals and businesses who make contributions to our various funds, fundraising activities, restricted accounts which fund athletics and fine arts, the transportation fund, and other odds and ends.  That sounds like a bargain, right?  And it is, considering the quality of the education you receive here, as well as the inclusion of Biblical truth in the curriculum.  But since it is on top of what you are already paying in taxes, to support the public schools, it is not really a "choice" as much as it is a simple matter of economics and affordability.  So offering a Christian education in America becomes a matter of money, and there's an automatic income limit placed on those who can access it.  On average, about 7 out of 10 families who make up the constituency of potential Christian school families, are unable to exercise their religious choice in education, because their income is not sufficient to provide the tuition and fees necessary to enroll their children in Christian schools.  And we're not talking about just lower income families, either.  Add two children in a private school on to your expenses, and most middle class income families can't make those figures balance for them. 

So, you can see why we put so much time and effort into fundraising.  Yes, it seems like a lot of asking, and it gets tiresome, but when you consider where those funds are being invested, I tend to think that it's worth it.  And when you consider the outcome of a Christian school education, especially here, where students leave mostly focused on their own spiritual development, and equipped to meet the challenges of the next level of education and service, every penny and every minute spent to get it is worth it. 

We have a few things on the table that you can help us with.  Of course. 

The Warrior Legacy Fund:  This is our annual scholarship and technology fund that provides resources which specifically aim at lowering the cost of education at PCS based on income qualifications.  The legacy fund allows individuals to contribute to a scholarship fund that works to close the shortfalls which occur in the EITC and OSTC scholarship funds. 

Don't forget the Fall Vendor Event on September 26th.  This will raise money for the Warrior Fund and will be a great time to do some shopping as well. 

EITC and OSTC:  The two tax credit programs are in the process of a large expansion.  The Senate is now considering a bill which would raise the cap on EITC to $100 million, and on OSTC to $80 million, doubling the size of the current available tax credits.  Businesses who apply for two year contributions receive a 90% tax credit from the state on a wide variety of state taxes.  If you are interested in helping PCS, please contact our development team chairperson, Anna Marie Hernandez, through the school office. 

It's always my hope that our legislators will someday see how much of an advantage it would be for our society to offer school choice across the board, and revitalize our sagging, failing education system with places where students can be encouraged to do their best, and thrive.  Keep praying, and put feet to those prayers.  Go to the ACSIPA website, http://acsipa.org, and click the voter action tab to send a message to the Senate, encouraging them to pass the EITC expansion.  The governor gets your message, too.  The expansion has been proposed because these legislators heard from YOU.  Let them hear from you again. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Thoughts on the Verge of a New School Year

"Be self controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour."  I Peter 5:8

It was a warm, summer day in July, 2010 when I first walked on to the campus of Portersville Christian School.  It was a day of anticipation, after having spoken several times on the phone with the committee that was searching for a new head administrator.  Since then, I've seen God bless this school in many ways.  Many of the students who were seniors that first year have now graduated from college.  The biggest blessing has been in seeing how their commitment to Christ has grown since they graduated.  Some are starting careers, some have become engaged, a few have already married, and their future is being shaped.  Every time one of them tells me how God has blessed them, and how he used their experience at PCS to shape their life, I'm blessed. 

We've also been very blessed as a school community.  Specific goals that were set related to academic progress and curriculum development, spiritual life, student activities and faculty and staff have been met.  Our enrollment increases over the past three years point to a high level of satisfaction with what is provided for students at PCS. Our faculty turnover rate has been extremely low. We celebrated our 50th anniversary, and achieved re-accreditation in the same year.  We've had the privilege of teaching five students who qualified as National Merit Semi-finalists, and one recognized as a Finalist, while many schools never get to teach even one student who earns that recognition.  Our graduates find it relatively easy to get into their first choice college, and many of them are discovering that they can graduate early (or have more freedom to change their major) because of the dual credit we offer.  We have many new students and families ready to join us for the 2015-16 school year.  Three of our graduates are now part of our teaching staff.  The first major construction on the campus, a new 1,000 square foot stage, is nearing completion. 

I see the scripture at the top of the article from I Peter as particularly relevant in a Christian school setting.  Our ministry is discipleship.  We undergird the spiritual foundation of our students while they are engaged in the educational process.  So in addition to teaching the principles of scripture, we also reinforce their truth by integrating them into the core objectives of all other subjects.  Education here doesn't undermine spiritual truth, it supports it.  So can you see why that doesn't sit well with the enemy? 

There are many ways open to the enemy to disrupt the work of training up children in the "nurture and admonition of the Lord."  Christian schools can have their ministry harmed and damaged by the same things that cause problems for the church.  Selfishness and gossip are tools that can do a lot of damage in a short period of time, and sometimes, it can be enough to bring a profitable, effective ministry to a halt.  Selfishness, and the pursuit of one's own benefits at the expense of others causes conflict which affects families and students.  Fighting over the school's benefits and resources, creating problems over who gets the best part in the play, or who gets to start in a game, or who gets to be the valedictorian, are all tools that can disrupt the ministry of a Christian school. 

In my thirty plus years of Christian school ministry, I've seen a lot of things cause harm and do the enemy's bidding in rendering a Christian school ministry ineffective.  Sometimes, it is just a matter of watching the demographics of the neighborhood change, and for the school to find itself in the middle of a community in which most of the residents are not financially able to put their children in a private, Christian school anymore.  I've seen bickering and fighting over who gets what, when it comes to benefits or leadership.  I've seen the moral failure of staff members or school leaders slow down and diminish a school's ministry. 

PCS has been through its own share of difficulties and problems, sometimes not within the grasp of its own ability to control, sometimes when it could have been prevented.  We've been fortunate to emerge from dark days and hard times, and that, I believe, is the one, clear sign that God still wants us around.  The school was still weathering the storm in 2010, amid some concern for its future.  I believe its future is in God's hands  And I believe that our school community, on its knees on behalf of this school, is the best protection we have against the schemes of the devil. 

Please take a moment each day, over the course of the next week and a half, to pray for the ministry of Portersville Christian School. 


Sunday, August 2, 2015

On Being "Sons of God": Blessed are the Peacemakers

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."  Matthew 5:9, ESV

It is always a matter of much prayerful consideration when it comes to choosing a theme verse for the school year.  It requires discerning the spiritual needs of a student body that ranges in age from 5 to 18, and focusing on something that will provide the foundation for the chapel program and worship for nine months.  It's always a pretty sure conclusion that something related to relationships between believers will be very beneficial and complimentary to a school year's worth of other kinds of lessons, in an environment where students spend 6 hours a day with the same people.  But there are also some major themes in the Bible, related to faith, that push the formation of faith to a different level. 

Our role as a Christian school is much more than just teaching Bible and having chapel services added to a week of basic education in skills and concepts.  Look around.  We are living in a time when technology is capable of collapsing on top of us, as rogue nations, in spite of sanctions, inch closer to the knowledge of how to use it to produce a nuclear bomb.  A major institution with a known mission and purpose, also a major abortion provider, has quietly but systematically been making money by selling body parts from the abortions, and the practice, as it turns out, is not illegal.  There's been a very vocal reaction to the revelations, but only from a relatively small segment of the population.  A religious war has been raging across the desert between Syria and Iraq, as an extremist group of Muslims attempts to use the vacuum created by the unraveling of Iraq and a civil war in Syria to establish an old line style Islamic Caliphate, and the brutality reaches us on a weekly basis via the media.  Just this summer, people were shot to death while attending a Wednesday night prayer meeting, or watching a movie in a multi-screen theater. 

Over the course of their life, and particularly during their early years, your children will be confronted with a wide variety of philosophies and worldviews that attempt to answer the questions related to human existence.  In spite of your attempt to protect them, and your effort to guide them, they will be exposed to other religions, to distortions of the Christian faith itself, and to the idea that humans have the intelligence and capacity to resolve their own problems, and that there is either no need for God, or that he doesn't exist.  The earliest exposure they will have to the wisdom of the world will come through their educational experience.  In light of all that has been mentioned in the previous paragraph, isn't it comforting to know that you can send them to school every day knowing that the faith you are trying to help form in them is supported and undergirded by what they are learning at school, and by their teachers? 

The Christian faith isn't just passive acknowledgement of God, and of the salvation from sin that is provided through Jesus.  The presence of a Christian brings with it the dynamic presence of the Holy Spirit.  The Bible describes the fallen condition of humanity.  But it also puts forth, in great detail, God's plan for redeeming it, and the center of the plan is focused on people who believe that Jesus is the savior that God sent to accomplish this.  We are not called to judge the world, we are called to make it better by bringing the very presence of God himself into the corner of it that we inhabit.  We are called to make a difference for others by living the life God has instructed us to live. 

It is interesting, in this particular list that we know as "The Beatitudes," that this particular attribute, being a peacemaker, is accomplished with the blessing of being a son of God.  That's a tremendous blessing.  It's a high honor, and isn't that the way you want the creator God of the universe to think about you? 

In her book The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom describes the atmosphere in the dorm room of the large prison camp at Ravensbruck where she and her sister were being held by the Germans during the waning days of World War II.  There were angry screams, scuffles, and fights between the prisoners, being evacuated from camps all over Europe as the Russian and Allied armies closed in.  It was overcrowded, fetid, and the women couldn't even speak to each other because of the language barriers.  Corrie and her sister prayed, that God would bring the peace of his spirit into that room, and change it.  Over the next days and weeks, the change came.  Corrie discovered other women in the same room who were followers of Christ.  Together, they ministered to the desperate needs of hundreds of prisoners.  As prisoners themselves, they were limited in the scope of their resources, but they followed their calling as Christians, and they witnessed the influence of God's peace in that room. 

This verse precedes one that contains two very important principles that Christians must understand in order to be peacemakers.  You are the salt of the earth.  You are the light of the world.  No matter what your career, whether you are a plumber or a missionary, you are a bearer of the hope that God has given to us through his Son.  Look at that second paragraph again, and add to it all of the other human failings and crises that have happened, in the past few months, in the past year.  The world needs peacemakers.  And it needs schools like PCS, where students are strengthened in the faith they need to bring hope to a fallen world. 

The summer is coming to a close.  God bless us as we enter another year of training up children in the way they should go.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Charter Schools, Alternative Education and a Distinctively Christian School

While it is tax supported, and most people in your community readily accept the public school as a viable educational option for their children, there is a significant segment of the population that does not see public school as something which will meet their children's educational needs, and are looking for an alternative.  That includes families who are looking to integrate their Christian faith into the content and instruction their children receive on a daily basis.  Alternative education includes private, Christian schools to which parents can send their children without restriction, as long as they provide the financial resources for their children to go.  It also includes charter schools, on-line schools which are also often charter schools, and home education options. 

If a distinctively Christian education is the desire parents have for their children, educating them in their own home is always a strong option, as is a Christian school that is separated from the financial control of the state, and supports the family and church by sharing their values and integrating Biblical principles into the classroom.  The main way to do this is to have a faculty and staff who have a clear understanding of what it means to be saved by grace through faith in Christ, and who integrate that faith into everything they do.  That's the kind of educational environment you'll find here, by the way, and the education is fully integrated with Biblical worldview, from classroom content to the lives of the teachers who interact with the students.  It's really the only place outside the home that can provide exactly that kind of environment for learning.

Charter schools and cyber schools are state funded.  As such, they are required to teach the established and adopted state curriculum objectives, including those elements that are not compatible with sound Christian doctrine or family values.  And while they may offer an "alternative" environment to that of the public school, one of the more important things which separates them from Christian schools is that they cannot acknowledge the scripture as the written word of God, and the source of His revelation.  Ultimately, that, and the Christian character that can be found in every teacher in a Christian school, is missing.  Is it really worth the money you save on the alternative, if what you are looking for is much more than a charter or cyber school can give, from a spiritual perspective? 

Most Christian schools, certainly the vast majority of them, can also offer an academic environment that is superior to public schools and most of their alternative programs.  Charter schools and cyber education do not always offer the best in terms of academic achievement.  Though most are mission-based, and attract a specific type or interest level of student, they are not always at the top of their game when it comes to excellence in the classroom or online, and some do not provide a high level of support when students need it. 

When you send your child to Portersville Christian School, you know that from the bus driver to the administrator, and everywhere in between, the school's employees are mature, born again believers in Christ.  Biblical principles are integrated into every classroom because the teacher is a believer and a follower of Jesus, and is leading his or her students to do the same.  So if those values are the things that are important, you should realize that a Christian school is the only place to get them. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Why we support the EITC/OSTC Birthday Party Rally in Harrisburg

It seems like a lot of effort to get up early, leave the school campus at 6:30 a.m., drive four hours to the state capital in Harrisburg, spend an hour at a rally, another hour touring the building, leave shortly afterward and arrive home after 6:30.  It makes for a long day, just to gather on the steps of the Capitol building and hear a few people talk about school choice. 

I will give you several reasons why it is important, and why I am proud of the PCS students who are doing so. 

1.  After more than 30 years in Christian education, I have heard many parents say that if it is God's will for their children to be in a Christian school, he will provide a way.  That is a significant statement of faithfulness, considering that between 75 and 80% of the church-attending Christians in this country do not earn an income that is sufficient to provide the additional tuition and fees that most Christian schools must collect in order to operate.  But here in Pennsylvania, the legislature has determined that a tax credit program using private, not state appropriated, funds can be implemented allowing businesses to support scholarships for students going to Christian schools based on financial need. 

These scholarships are considered "equalizers," since Pennsylvania families already pay taxes which support the public school system, which children in Christian schools are not using.  EITC and OSTC scholarships have made it possible for about a third of all students in the state who attend a private, Christian school to be there.  I see God answer the prayers of families all the time by providing a way through EITC or OSTC for their children to enroll here at PCS. 

2.  There are legislators, the elected representatives of the people, who believe that the best pathway to providing an excellent education for the students of their state is to offer parents a choice of schools, rather than requiring all parents to place their children in an environment that is, in theory, "religiously neutral," but which lacks day to day reinforcement of the core values and principles that parents are teaching at home, and taking their kids to church to learn.  These legislators have publicly committed themselves to this position, regardless of its popularity, and this rally is one way that we can show our appreciation and say thanks.

And when we go this Wednesday, it is with the knowledge that the current session is considering a major expansion of EITC/OSTC.  Last year, they were considering a "swinging gate" bill which opened the door to increased tax credit utilization.  They are listening to us.  Support at the rally may be just what they need to see to get the expansion passed. 

3.  As a follower of Christ, and a believer in the written word of God, I believe education is a parent responsibility, not a government responsibility.  That is not currently the system under which we live.  Because the government has assumed the full responsibility for education, it has also assumed the responsibility for collecting and distributing the tax dollars to fund it, and it also assumes accountability for making sure those dollars are spent according to its own intentions.  So the state has also instituted curriculum and standards of measurement, and mandated attendance in a system that it considers to be "religiously neutral," but which, in fact, by the very nature of religious "neutrality," provides instruction and content in a manner that ignores the basic principles of the Christian faith. 

In taking an authoritative view of instruction, the school supplants authority that belongs to parents, and this has the effect of undermining their credibility in the eyes of their children.  In addition, it replaces the values and morals taught in Christian homes with values and morals considered "religiously neutral" that are considerably watered down.  It is difficult to "supplement" truth, since it must be taught with authority.  And while parents do have a choice, it is limited by the state's power of the purse, since they must also fund a system for which they have no use. 

I think it is important for students to see the way our Republic works up close.  We are exercising our constitutional right to free speech, to religious freedom, and to having our rights protected as a dissenting minority, without coercion, when it comes to choices other than the public education system as a means of teaching our children. The coercion results from the way the government has chosen to finance its schools.  And I want our students to see that if they participate, their voice will be heard, but if they don't, those in government will represent the interests of people they think will vote to keep them in office. 

It's the best civics lesson we can have. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Celebrating School Choice in Pennsylvania: May 6 in Harrisburg

School choice in Pennsylvania has taken the form of tax credit programs over the past decade or so since the legislator recognized the need to provide some sort of support for parents who are taxpayers, and prefer to have their children educated in an environment, and with a curriculum that supports and undergirds the Christian values that the Bible's writers instruct them to teach.  Tax credits avoid some of the constitutional issues of "separation of church and state" that arise in voucher programs, and in Pennsylvania, EITC and OSTC scholarship programs also have bi-partisan political support. 

When I first joined the ACSIPA committee charged with the responsibility of keeping school choice issues in front of state legislators about two years ago, our visits to Harrisburg mainly involved meeting with second and third tier legislative aides to representatives and Senators, and there was very little, very slow progress.  That has changed, and there are several reasons for it:
  • Attendance at the EITC Birthday rallies in Harrisburg, sponsored by the REACH foundation, has increased, and the legislators have noticed not only the issue of school choice, but the support that exists for it.
  • The ACSIPA committee has a website, http://acsipa.org, and the website now has a voter voice feature.  During last year's debate on the EITC reform bill, legislators received over 1,500 emails from school choice supporters.  Hence, a bill that we were told a year earlier could never get through an election-year session passed with room to spare. 
  • The ACSIPA committee, of which I am a member, has a regular presence in Harrisburg, and we are now discovering that legislators want to meet directly with us, rather than send an aide in their place.
The result of this increased presence has been that the legislature in Pennsylvania is considering a major expansion of the EITC/OSTC programs, in terms of doubling the amount of tax credit that is available for business donors, and adding more categories of taxes which are eligible for the credits.  The potential benefit to parents, and to PCS, is tremendous.  It will require us working to convince businesses that supporting the high quality, distinctively Christian education our students receive is worth their financial involvement.  And in the meantime, it will require us providing our legislators with the motivation and incentive they need to support this legislation. 

On May 6, a group of PCS students will ride over to Harrisburg to participate in the EITC Birthday Party celebration on the western steps of the Capitol building.  Legislators will notice their presence there.  Last year, all of the Senators and representatives who are from areas covered by PCS families made a point to invite our students into their office, and meet with them personally.  There is a photo in our trophy case of our students with Representative Jarrett Gibbons, of Ellwood City, and Senator Hutchinson, of Franklin.  Both are school choice supporters. 

Parents are welcome to ride the bus.  We can take two busses if we need the room.   

Friday, April 3, 2015

Taciturn: The Opposite of Gossip

 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.  James 1:26, NIV


Taciturn                        
adjective tac·i·turn \ˈta-sə-ˌtərn\
1. tending to be quiet : not speaking frequently, 2.  temperamentally disinclined to talk.
From the Latin taciturnus, meaning quiet and reserved, implying wisdom and a sense of personal judgment before speaking.

I can't really remember the first time I heard the word taciturn.  It was probably one of those SAT vocabulary words, or maybe it was used by an author in a book I was reading.  A taciturn person is a quiet person, but there's a bit more to the concept than just not speaking.  It is the idea of exercising judgment prior to speaking.  It doesn't necessarily describe a person of few words, but it does describe a person who listens, and thinks, before he, or she, talks.  And though the word is not specifically mentioned by James in the verse I quoted, he defines the worth of a person's religion by the taciturn nature of the person practicing it. 

In a Christian school context, it is always difficult to know how, and when to address an issue when it arises, especially one that can have an impact on the school's ministry, mission and purpose, and on individual families involved.  More than any other threat we face, gossip can have a negative impact almost immediately.  I started my work in Christian education in 1983, and I have witnessed more examples of the damage that gossip can do over that thirty-two year period of time than I care to know about.  It is unfortunate that in a community of people who claim to be Christ-followers, as well as Bible-believers, gossip prevails in such a way as to call the commitment to the religion we practice into question, and allow its worth to be compromised. 

Gossip is a symptom of selfishness.  It happens when someone doesn't get their way.  Think about it.  If you come up with another reason why it occurs, I'd be glad to hear it, but frankly, the pronoun that is at the bottom of the issue is "me."  The intention of the gossip is to manipulate the circumstances in order to produce the desired outcome by gathering support for their cause through misinformation, or attempting to gain sympathy in order to increase pressure to sway a decision that will be made. 

 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.  Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.  Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.  Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?  My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. James 3:3-12, NIV

There's a reason James uses such strong language to deal with the words that we speak.  The value of the religion we practice depends on what comes out of the spiritual well that lies within, and he makes it very clear, with his analogy that a salt spring cannot produce fresh water, that a spiritual spring controlled by the Holy Spirit cannot produce "restless evil, full of deadly poison."  As followers of Christ, most of us can point to the visible progress we make as we grow in our Christian discipleship, but I suspect that for most of us, our speech is the place where we need the most grace.

With instant communication, social media sites, texting, and everyone with a phone, communication has become anonymous, and being taciturn has gone by the wayside.  It's easy to be bold, and easier to spread gossip, when you're touching keys on a keyboard, and not directly facing someone.  And for some reason, in a Christian school community, we've lost the concept of being "taciturn." 

Our school is a professional organization, made up of professional employees, and it operates on distinctively Christian principles, along with a set of policies designed to support its Christian foundation, and to provide a level playing field to evaluate the work that we do.  And in being distinctively Christian, the concept of grace is always part of everything we do.  Sometimes that means that policy has to be interpreted, or that a decision must be made to be able to move forward in a situation, and that decision always involves, prayer, careful consideration of the circumstances, and ultimately considers what will best benefit the student who is involved in a way that glorifies God and is obedient to his word.  That's harder than it seems.  It becomes even more difficult when the surrounding conversation isn't uplifting. 

Be discerning when you are listening, and that will be a big blessing to us.  If you are talking about the school, its administrator, board members, committee members, faculty, staff, or volunteers, and the person or people you are talking about are not involved, it is time to become more taciturn.  If you want facts, just ask.  We will be glad to tell you what you need to know.

 


 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A Couple of Urgent Needs

A Christian school like PCS operates on a shoestring budget, but counts on God to multiply its use to his work.  That sums up our finance plan.  Compared to other Christian schools in our area which are fully accredited, and offer a pre-K through 12th grade program, we are among the most reasonable when it comes to tuition and fees.  And with the average cost of educating one student in the public school system being somewhere around $12,000 per year, our full tuition looks pretty good. 

What we need is some help in managing our finances. 

As with most areas of our school operations, the school's finances are overseen by a committee of volunteers.  Right now, it is a small committee that needs a few volunteers, including a chairman. 

The finance committee works with the finance administrator and the board in performing some very important tasks.  It plans the annual budget, sets the tuition rate, and monitors the income from various sources.  As a volunteer, the committee chairman provides a check and balance for the finance office, serving as a treasurer. 

Now, I know there are parents out there who are capable of this kind of responsibility, and would like a way to earn a few service hours as well.  The committee meets once a month.  This is an important area of service, so please pray about it.  You may get a call asking you to serve, and if this is in your area of expertise, we would be grateful for your help. 

We are also looking for a chairman of the development committee.  The primary responsibility of this committee is to help "develop" and promote the school, and link it to potential financial resources.  This is especially important in securing our financial aid program.  It would be great if a family that receives financial aid would want to take the lead in development. 

One of the main reasons the school utilizes volunteer committees in these areas is that our small size makes it possible, and keeps the jobs from being too time consuming or overwhelming.  Another reason is that it allows us to do work that employees don't have to do, which keeps the tuition and fees low for families.  It works well, when there are enough people to volunteer. 

Please prayerfully consider your ability to serve, and get in touch with someone in either the reception office or the administrative office. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Becoming a Kingdom-Class School

Conferences can be great places to learn things.  The Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) usually does them well, especially the administrator conference at the end of January.  The keynote speakers and conference presenters are all experts in the field of education, specifically private education, and their presentations not only help inspire the administrative and board leadership that gathers, but they also provide a lot of valuable, practical information. 

I picked up a few good things from the most recent conference in Lancaster.  Though the phrases and terms are not mine, nor are the organization of the ideas, they are similar to thoughts I've had about Christian schooling for quite some time, and they represent, at least in part, the direction I have sought to go, both personally, and in school leadership. 

So first of all, let me give credit where credit is due.  Dr. Barrett Mosbacher is superintendent of Briarwood Christian School in Birmingham, Alabama, a large Christian school with a long history of service.  Dr. Mosbacher writes a blog which is a great source of information for Christian school leaders.  Dr. John Chubb is executive director of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), an organization which primarily represents independent, academically oriented or traditional private schools, but which includes schools with a Christian mission and vision.  His specialty is professional teacher development. 

Kingdom-Class Schools
Here's the thesis.  Because Christian schools are private, independent, autonomous, and are mission and vision driven, they should be the most creative, innovative, academically excellent, schools in existence.  Naturally, a strong commitment to Biblical core values is a priority, and because we are able to have that as our mission and our vision, we should be able to make unlimited progress toward excellence in everything that we do, primarily teaching our students that they should uplift and enhance the lives of every person in which they come in contact. 

Sometimes, in Christian schooling, we've become bogged down in the "stuff" of doing school, and we allow that to hinder our progress and make us less than we can be.  If our schools are all about the rules, or all about enforcing the dress code, or all about our policies and procedures, we're not sending the right message.  Redemption and restoration are at the very core of Christian faith, and while there's nothing wrong with rules or policies that help students and staff follow a Christ-like path, when that becomes the focus, rather than the students and their future, it is an obstacle to becoming a "Kingdom-Class school." 

The term "Kingdom Class" indicates the mission driven excellence we seek.  It is a way to measure excellence, in a way that is consistent with who we are in our Christian faith.  It represents an educational institution that provides excellent academics, extra-curricular programs that meet student needs and reflect the character of the school, and seeks not only to make progress, but to bring about restoration and renewal for our students in their faith experience. 

Developing Excellent Teachers
Dr. Chubb's book, The Best Teachers in the World:  Why We Don't Have Them and How We Could, has an unusual title, but is focused on what makes teachers great at the job of teaching students the necessary knowledge and skills they need.  The bottom line in developing "Kingdom Class schools" is having Kingdom Class teachers. 

Teachers who are able to enhance the educational experience of their students are excellent teachers.  But in many cases, they are unable to realize their full potential as teachers because of obstacles put in their way.  That can include many things, including a "system" that doesn't really allow them to teach with excellence, or one that doesn't provide them with the guidance they need to improve their teaching so that it reaches maximum potential for students. 

Interestingly enough, it is not necessarily better pay that leads to better teaching, a fact confirmed by the tenure of teachers in private and Christian schools.  The unique problem for those individuals is that since they are obviously not motivated by more money, the school's leadership must find out what does motivate them, and move them in that direction.  And in a mission driven school, they must be completely committed to, and on board with, the school's mission and purpose. 

Students are not generally inclined to evaluate excellent teachers as the "best" ones.  Personal preference factors in their evaluation, so that things which are really not signs of excellence in the classroom, like a low homework load, or free time in class, or a lower level of accountability with assignments, cause students to "like" a particular teacher, and rate them higher than one who holds their feet to the fire, pushes them to their limits, and demands respect of both their intelligence and their character.  It sometimes takes six or seven years after graduation for a student to realize how much of a positive impact a particularly excellent teacher may have had in their life. 

Moving Our School Forward
The Christian School Movement in the United States has been waning for quite some time.  And while misery may love company, it was not encouraging to hear, from Dr. Chubb, that independent schools are also declining.  Across the board, private school enrollment is down by almost 20% over two decades, which has led to the closing of many private schools, Christian and secular.  Part of the reason for that is the development and growth of Charter schools, which are also mission driven, but which are funded by public money and don't charge tuition and fees.  And while much of their growth has come from the public school system, some of it has come from Christian schools.  Obviously, they are meeting the need for mission-driven education that doesn't have a Christian faith element involved. 

Characteristically, schools that have closed in the past two decades do have some factors in common. 
  1. Of 250 Christian schools which have closed in the Northeast region, only one was fully accredited.  The others were not accredited, and did not seek accreditation.
  2. Most of them were in the bottom third as far as tuition costs were concerned, so lower tuition did not attract more students.  What it did do, aside from putting qualified teachers in the poverty range, was cause schools to cut back on professional development for their staff.
  3. There was more weight placed on financial development and raising money than was placed on increasing the enrollment.  Enrollment is the key to a school's survival, and to its thriving existence.  Every student enrolled above the bottom budget line is extra cash flow that can go into financial aid, or an income-based tuition schedule.  But every student not enrolled, even at a discounted tuition rate, is a subtraction, in actual dollars, from the budget.  Maximum efficiency produces maximum budget surpluses.
And what are the things that the schools which have not closed have in common?
  1. Excellence in academics as evidenced in achievement test scores, college entrance exam scores, college admissions, and overall student progress. 
  2. Increased enrollment of more than 10% over a five year period (PCS is approximately 20%).
  3. A re-enrollment rate over the past five years exceeding 90% (PCS is approximately 93%). 
  4. Completion of at least one accreditation cycle, receiving at least a second re-accreditation.
  5. A balance between tuition and fees, teacher salaries, and financial aid that gets close to meeting the Biblical standard for "equal sacrifice." 
We've been here 51 years, and we would like to be here 51 more, God willing.  If we are doing an excellent job, providing our students with an excellent, purpose driven, Christ-honoring, academically challenging education, parents will be satisfied.  And there's nothing that helps enrollment increase more than satisfied parents who talk to other parents about their own experience with a particular school.  Of course, tuition increases and availability of financial aid do have an effect on the bottom line, but in the long run, the enrollment trajectory will move upward in a way that corresponds with the "excellence trajectory." 

We are already an excellent school in many ways, attested to by both our recent accreditation and the commendations of the visiting team, and by the fact that our enrollment has increased significantly over the past three years. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

We Are Fully Accredited!

As of December 1, 2014, Portersville Christian School's accreditation status has been renewed by the commissions of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (MSACS) and the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI).  Accredited schools are excellent schools, and excellent schools seek accreditation.  So what does this mean for us? 

Accreditation is a mark of excellence.  It means that the school has met a set of standards which testify to the quality of its educational program, its extra curricular activities, and the consistency with which it meets its mission and vision, and fulfills its purpose.  The visiting team which made the recommendation to both commissions were all Christian educators from schools like ours.  Using standards that stretch the school beyond the minimum, they thoroughly examined the school's program, measured its effectiveness, its consistency with its stated purpose and standards, made recommendations for improvements, and determined that the school exceeded compliance with the objective standards used to measure it. 

When we say that our school is fully accredited, we are telling our current families, and prospective students, that the education they are receiving here will accomplish their goals.  If families move, or their students transfer to another school, they can be confident that their children will be able to adjust to the new curriculum without a lot of advance preparation.  They will meet the pre-requisites for college admission, and will have the necessary academic skills to succeed in college.  They can even have confidence in applying for admission to competitive major fields like medicine, law or engineering. 

Your children are getting an excellent academic education here.  That's what the accreditation process tells you.

Accreditation is an affirmation of the school's Christian distinctiveness.  Both accreditation commissions require the school to be consistent with its mission and purpose.  PCS is a school that was founded on prayer.  It's mission and purpose are to serve families in fulfilling their God-given responsibility to educate their children "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord."  Our accreditation requires us to be consistent with integration of those Biblical principles not only into our curriculum objectives, but in the way we operate as well.  We say that we are a distinctively Christian school, and the accreditation process provides the evidence to prove that we are. 

The spiritual life of Portersville Christian School is thriving, and strong.  We are especially happy that one of the top commendations we received during the accreditation process from the visiting team made reference to the school's Christian atmosphere and commitment to Biblical principles.

Accreditation places PCS among the best Christian schools in the Greater Pittsburgh Area.  There are many private schools around, and many Christian schools as well.  But when you begin to speak about fully accredited Christian schools, the list narrows down a bit.  Among schools which identify with an Evangelical Christian perspective, PCS is one of just five fully accredited schools in the Greater Pittsburgh Area that offer a full program from Pre-K to 12th grade.  We are very blessed, and it is our pleasure to pass this blessing along to our students and their families.  You can have confidence in knowing that you've chosen well for your children's education.

Please be in prayer Friday morning, January 30, when the administrator will receive the plaque recognizing our most recent accreditation.  Next time you come in the office, take a look at those recognitions from Middle States association, and ACSI, and say a quick prayer for God's continued blessing on our school.