Summer Reading – People of Character

I love to read!  This summer I read two great books by David McCullough: John Adams and The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge.  Each tells the story of people with great courage and character.

John Adams, a Christian and second president of the United States, played a pivotal role in forging our nation.  Not a man of great means or fame, Adams might have been content farming his family’s land had it not been for the tyranny of the British.  His ability to keep the Continental Congress on task despite tremendous confusion and strife made the signing of the Declaration of Independence possible.  For years he toiled in France, England, and the Netherlands, negotiating peace treaties and securing loans.  Most of a decade he was away from Abigail, his wise wife, who was raising their children with much difficulty.

As President Adams stood resolute on key principals while a new two-party system became contentious, a torrent of false and malicious accusations being leveled at him from both sides.  He stood his ground, fighting for peace and avoiding war, even though his stand cost him reelection.

The building of the Brooklyn Bridge was overseen by a principled man named Washington Robeling.  The undertaking was so dangerous it led to his father’s death and ended up damaging his own health for decades.  Amidst political corruption and terrible physical pain, he never varied from doing what was right and saw the greatest architectural achievement of the 19th century through to completion.

We need to be reminded of great people who did hard things for the sake of principle and in the service of others.  May God bless our children that they might grow to be leaders of integrity in this ever-changing world!

Challenge to Students: Just Own It

One of the most exciting choices we make every summer is the school theme for the coming year.  After careful consideration, and with the input we received from many constituents, we have chosen this:

Theme: Just Own It

Theme verse: Joshua 24: 15 “Choose this day whom you will serve…”

Toward the end of Joshua’s time as leader of Israel, virtually all of the Promised Land had been conquered.  The pioneers that had come through the wilderness were passing away.  It was time for the new generation to fish or cut bait.  Who would be their God?  Would they obey the commands that the Lord had given to them?  There would be no more riding on the coattails of their parents.  What would they do?

All Joshua could do was to ask the question.  He and his family were fully committed to serving God, but he could not make that decision for a new group of leaders.

As we work hard to train and inspire servant leaders through exceptional, Christ-centered education and programs, we will encourage our students to live by faith at Heritage.  We want to empower them to take ownership of their faith, their academics, and their school.  We are here to help them see opportunities and facilitate action.

Please join me in thinking and praying about this important venture.  And let’s be sure to own our own faith now more than ever if we hope to see our students do the same.  May this be a year where faith is evidenced by deeds more than words at Heritage – and to God be all the glory!

Ending the Year Right

When most people think about the last day of school, they picture jubilant students running out the doors crying, “Free at last!”  And while that is accurate, I’d like to paint a different picture of the last day – one that is just as beautiful and joyous.

Soon after we set our kids loose, our teachers and staff gather from both campuses in the MSHS cafeteria.  When they arrive they find about three dozen prizes spread across the front of the room, ranging from 55 inch smart TVs to tool kits, Keurig Coffee Makers to assorted gift cards, etc.  All of these items are purchased by board members totaling thousands of dollars.  Each person is given ten raffle tickets (no cost) to distribute into small buckets in front of the prizes they would like to win.

Next we serve an amazing lunch to everyone.  Hours earlier in the day our kitchen staff, led by Angela Johns, prepares a wonderful meal, topped off by a score of burgers and chicken breasts grilled to perfection by our Business Manager Brad Evans.  It is followed by a variety of wonderful desserts.

As people finish their meals, a game show atmosphere begins.  Normally this is led by School Board President Dave Cotteleer, but this year due to a work conflict he asked Christopher Kidd to do the honors.  Other board members are present to hear the squeals of glee and delight coming as winners are announced and prizes delivered.

For the next hour we honor those receiving longevity awards.  We note each person who is not returning, then their peers stand to pay tribute to the difference they have made.  We close with united praise and prayer.  It’s a sweet and precious ending to a great year!

Our Graduates – Where Will They Go?

Where do our students go to college?  We are committed to exceptional, Christ-centered education, so we welcome the question, although there is a degree to which I think it is misguided.

Over the last eight years our graduates have attended over 90 different institutions from New York to California, and internationally from Australia to England.  Consistently we have students enrolling at UW-Madison as well as other schools in the UW system.  Many have gone to Marquette and MSOE.  Other colleges and universities include Arizona State, Georgetown, University of Missouri, Wheaton, Columbia, University of Nebraska, and University of Minnesota.

Their career fields have been as diverse as their college choices.  Within the last three years nearly 50 different majors have been chosen, many of which are in the medical, engineering, communications, education, and technology industries.

We have had many students achieve near perfect entrance test scores, receive full-ride scholarships, and enter college with many credits through Advanced Placement.  Through the years we have had graduates enter almost every imaginable field of work in countries across the globe.

With all that said, why is the question of where our students go to college misguided?  Because it seems to imply that the institution that one attends or the career realized is a measure of true success.  Even when looking at this from a non-spiritual view, that conclusion is highly questionable (see this blog for further insight).

As Christians, we know that our ultimate achievement is to love God and to love others.  We are much more than GPAs, diplomas, and the extra letters before or after our names.  Let’s encourage graduates to, “…seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

Fine Arts Program Growing and Improving

What does it take to build a strong fine arts program?  I’m convinced that it really has nothing to do with having an unusual amount of talented students attending your school.  It has little to do with the amount of funding for the program.  Surprisingly, growing an excellent fine arts program is more of an art than a science!

No one does it better than Bret Deardorff.  He was my fine arts director in Elkhart, IN who grew his program to involve more than half of the students in the MSHS.  His bands and choirs always received top ratings at state competitions, and one year his choir finished sixth in the state.

This is what I learned from Bret: great directors work with seemingly ordinary students and unleash the talent and passions that already lie within them.  There was nothing about our school in Elkhart that caused them to have exceptional musicians.  Bret inspired, challenged, encouraged, cajoled, and celebrated his students.  And in turn they loved him and wanted to be on his team.

I see these same things taking place here at Heritage.  This spring we have seen an outstanding school musical (My Fair Lady), a great elementary concert, a warm and engaging fine arts dessert, a fun elementary fine arts showcase, and an impressive MSHS spring concert.  In all of these events I clearly sensed two things: the students are performing at increasingly higher levels and the spirit of camaraderie among them is growing.

I loved the end of the MSHS concert when all the band and choir students cheered and clapped as our ABLAZE group performed.  They are buying in.  They love one another.  And best of all – God is moving and doing a good work in them!

The Triumph of “And”

In 1999 I became the MSHS principal of a large Christian school in Elkhart, IN.  In my first week on the job I met with one of the pastors (it was a church-run school) who hit me with a hard question: If you could help this school be a 10 academically or a 10 spiritually, which would you choose?  I thought for a moment and responded: I am going to try to do both.

That conversation galvanized a lot thinking for me.  We can be hard workers and have appropriate fun.  We can be strong and sensitive.  We can expect a lot out of students and encourage them when they fail.  Too often we are trapped be the tyranny of “or” when we could know the power of “and.”

No place is this seen clearer than when Jesus was described as being “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).  Sometimes grace and truth seem to be on opposite ends of the spectrum.  We point out someone who emphasizes grace, but lets truth be ignored to some extent.  Then there is the one who doesn’t hold back the truth, but seems to lack grace.  And maybe we feel we can get it right if we play good cop/bad cop – half the time we are grace givers and the other half we are truth blasters.

But here is the beauty we find in Jesus – He was full of grace and truth.  He didn’t skimp on either.  He did not compromise one for the other.  He spared the woman caught in adultery and told her to sin no more.

At Heritage we are striving for a culture that is full of grace and truth.  Please pray for us and tell us how we are doing!

Early Release Allows Professional Learning Communities to Bloom

We are announcing an important change – next year we will be having early release days which will take place monthly.  Before I give you the “what” of this change, let’s start with “why”.

We have been investing a lot of resources into our professional development program to help our teachers get critical training that will greatly impact their ability to serve our students’ needs.  There is strong statistical evidence showing the importance of this need.

However, when teachers do not get the chance to collaborate with each other for decent lengths of time throughout the school year, we lose much of the benefit of professional development.  The effectiveness of training multiplies when educators can share with each other what is working and what is not working in their classrooms.  And if you doubt this, just ask our teachers what this time means to them.

This process of taking time to meet and discuss educational practices is often called professional learning communities (PLCs).  We have been trying to carve out time for PLCs by having parents take lunch and recess duties at the elementary and MSHS teachers meeting during common available periods, but these initiatives have been woefully inadequate.

Meanwhile it is becoming more and more common for schools to use early release days to accommodate PLCs, either monthly of biweekly.  Next year we will do the following:

  • When: Last Wednesday of every month excluding August and December
  • Time: Elementary dismissed at noon, MSHS at 12:10pm
  • Buses: Running half-day schedules
  • Childcare: Staff will supervise children who cannot be picked up for an added fee

More details will come this summer, well before the start of school.  Thank you for taking time to understand the great benefits propelling this needed change.

And the Winner is…

These past few days have been interesting.  Starting on Sunday afternoon and ending yesterday, we hosted a visiting accreditation team representing the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) which would determine the renewal of our accreditation.

These wonderful educators, who came as far as Moorhead, MN and Bloomington, IN, had already read the 97 page report that we spent a year-and-a-half preparing for this visit.  Now they were on site to investigate and give assurance that we are actually doing all the things that we had claimed and documented.

It is customary to end such a visit with a meeting of school personnel to hear the highlights of the team’s findings.  So yesterday, just before lunch, our administrators met with them.  They began with an overview of their process and general comments about our school.  They told us that our school is exceptional in a number of ways.

As the chairperson informed us of what will be some of their major commendations in their report (which we will receive about a month from now), I realized that there were some real winners emerging:

  • Teachers – for their Christ-centered care for students, pursuit of academic excellence, and alignment with the mission of Heritage
  • Board – for their exceptional strategic planning and financial stewardship
  • Administrators – for outstanding communication through the Hotline, Town Hall Meetings, email responses, etc.

I could go on, for there were many outstanding aspects of our program that were mentioned during their visit.  But in the end, it dawned on me that the real winners are our students.  Great teachers who are constantly growing in their craft, a stable school with an excellent future, and great communication between school and home – all these things benefit them.  And what happens in their lives is what matters most!

It’s Not What You Know, But Who You Know

Thirty-one years ago I began my career in a small Christian school in South Bend, Indiana.  Since then I have been in Christian education all within this region of the country.  Recent decades have seen some major shifts in the world of education, changing much of what we do and how we do it.  It is impossible to navigate these times alone!

One of the first administrative actions I took after becoming the head of my first school was to join the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI).  Many years later I see the importance of that move.

ACSI has connected me with hundreds of other administrators throughout the years.  I have attended dozens of their professional development events.  Most of my job changes have come through ACSI connections, including my move to Heritage in 2013.  And for many years I have served as an ACSI state representative, starting in Michigan and now for nine years in Wisconsin.

I started out as the rookie, but now feel like a dinosaur.  One thing has been consistent – my network of colleagues within ACSI schools have always been there for me.

Today we hosted 12 administrators and leaders from ACSI schools who participated in a round table discussion of various pertinent topics.  This Sunday an ACSI Accreditation Team will begin a visit at HCS that will last till Wednesday, hopefully ending with a renewed term of accreditation.

In this day of shallow electronic connections with 2D images of our “friends,” it is nice to have long-term relationships with people who help us grow and pursue excellence.  Taking time to network with our peers is hard work, but in the end knowing the right people always makes a difference.

The Seven A’s of Confession

There are some things that we do well naturally.  I’m pretty good at doing things that afterward require an apology.  I’m not always good at apologizing.

Many times in the past I’ve used something that Ken Sande created called The Seven A’s of Confession.  These seven actions, which all begin with the letter A, sum up many biblical principles (see Matthew 7:3-5; 1 John 1:8-9; Proverbs 28:13) related to what we need to do when we have offended or hurt someone else:

  1. Address everyone involved (All those whom you affected)
  2. Avoid if, but, and maybe (Do not try to excuse your wrongs)
  3. Admit specifically (Both attitudes and actions)
  4. Acknowledge the hurt (Express sorrow for hurting someone)
  5. Accept the consequences (Such as making restitution)
  6. Alter your behavior (Change your attitudes and actions)
  7. Ask for forgiveness

Recently I spoke to a group of people and did not do a good job of ordering my thoughts.  Afterward I became aware of the fact that some people there thought I was saying something I was not trying to say at all.  They took offense and I had some apologizing to do.  I sent out an email apologizing to many who were present and asked if they could connect me with anyone who was offended by what I said.  I went to a number of individuals and expressed my sincere sorrow for my miscommunication.

Although it is good to cover all seven of these steps, even more important is the attitude of our heart.  People generally know if we are truly apologizing for the right reasons.  Checking off seven boxes alone won’t cut it.  But when we do genuinely apologize, amazing things happen – walls come down and relationships are healed.