Well-Being for Our Teachers

 Tomorrow, as our students enjoy the start of a four-day weekend, our teachers will be participating in a two-day professional development event focusing on well-being.  This is an important topic, since we have been serving in one of the most difficult periods in modern educational history.

The average person may not fully appreciate all that our teachers have been asked to do this year.  On top of what would normally be a difficult work load, they clean their classrooms throughout the day, keep students socially distanced, work with a mask on the majority of the time, and then connect virtually with students who come in and out of the system due to testing positive or being in close contact with someone who has tested positive.  Many teachers are exhausted managing these extra duties while trying to give each student the individual attention he or she needs.

This conference is being presented by the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), and knowing the organization as I do, they will not be suggesting that our teachers need to work harder in order to obtain well-being.  They will be helping us find ways to better manage our energy, emotions, focus, time, etc.  Looking at the speaker list and session titles, I think we are going to hear things that we will find both encouraging and practical.

As an administrator, I’ll be searching for ways we can design our processes so they work better for teachers and staff, even though we are in a place where we cannot spend money to hire other people to spread out the work.

Thank you for your prayers as you ask God to give us the wisdom, grit, and endurance we need to go the distance this school year!

Empathy – A Walk in Someone Else’s Shoes

I am not very empathetic, but I’m working on it.  If I say that I love someone, but cannot take the time to put myself in their place, my words have a hollow ring.

I have been reading a book that covers the history of what black people have endured since they first arrived on our continent centuries ago.  It is a very sad, gut-wrenching story that we should never forget.  It hits close to home, since all of my family’s roots are in the south.

How can any person claim to possess someone made in God’s image as if they were property?  Some stories disturbed me deeply, not just regarding how brutally our black brothers and sisters were treated, but also knowing that many who dished out this inhumane treatment claimed to be Christians and used Scripture to justify their actions.

The fall of slavery did not end this abuse.  For many decades, the Ku Klux Klan terrorized and murdered black people.  Freedom fighters like Martin Luther King faced bitter opposition.  All of this took place while many white believers were opposing equal rights or doing nothing to help.

Today we see people protesting more than one act of prejudice – they survey the injustice imposed on blacks throughout history, which has left most of them far behind white people, both socially and economically.  We might not actually be able to trade places, but we can care enough to see America through the eyes of others.  While I do not approve of using violence to protest, I want to put myself in their place.

I’m using what I’ve learned to help me care for all students empathetically.  When they hear me say, “I love you!” I hope it rings true.

Desperate Times Call for Different Disciplines

This morning we were hearing from staff members who live in or near Wauwatosa about the protests and violence that took place last night.  None of those I spoke with had property damage, but it is unsettling to keep families safe and calm in disruptive and sometimes dangerous conditions.

As protests rage across the country, we have the continuing drama of the presidential election playing out before us.  I have never seen any political situation in my life that has caused more rancor and division, even among Christians.

If that wasn’t enough, we have COVID-19 continuing to be present in our communities.  At Heritage, we currently have 3 active positive cases and 36 quarantines.  Most, if not all, of the sources of these cases seem to have come from situations outside of school, but that does not change the disruption that students and families are experiencing, even as teachers double their efforts to meet the needs of students both in and out of school.

I struggle along with everyone else to deal with these troubling issues.  Here are some daily practices that are helping me, and I encourage you to consider:

  • Think about passages from the Bible.  -Matthew 14:23
  • Write down things for which you are thankful.  -Philippians 4:4
  • Go to bed earlier.  -Psalm 127:2
  • Limit time watching news – focus on other things.  -Philippians 4:8
  • Be humble and approachable.  -Romans 12:3, 16, 18
  • Put others before yourself.  -Romans 12:10

The actions that help us overcome turbulent times are not hard to grasp, but they are difficult to do consistently.  The more we do these spiritual disciplines, the more we not only survive, but we thrive as only Christians can.  Let’s encourage one another in these ways as we follow Christ together.

Welcoming an Important Team Member

As we have been gaining momentum in advancing the mission of Heritage Christian Schools, we have been keeping our eyes open for someone who could help us in our development efforts.  I am pleased to say that God has led us to hire Laurie McIntyre to be our Director of Development!

For many of our constituents, you already know who Laurie is.  For over three decades, she served on the pastoral team at Elmbrook Church, most notably in the roles of Pastor of Women’s Ministries, Lead Team Pastor of Adult Ministries, and Pastor of Communications and Creative Arts.  Laurie is a gifted communicator and effective administrator, as those who are long-time Elmbrook members can attest.

She and her husband Bob enrolled their two daughters, Anna and Makayla, in our kindergarten many years ago.  The McIntyres were active volunteers and supporters of Heritage as their daughters excelled in classes, leadership, athletics, and fine arts.  Anna graduated in 2016, and is currently a senior at Palm Beach Atlantic University, while Makayla graduated in 2018, and is now a sophomore at Marquette University.

Laurie continued to be involved here, even after her girls graduated.  Most recently, she played a major role in the planning and execution of the Gala Auction that successfully launched last winter.  In her new position, Laurie will continue to be involved in fundraising events, while also turning her focus on building relationships with donors who want to help Heritage make a difference in the lives of our students.

Personally, I’m honored that God would lead Laurie to join our administrative team.  He has blessed her with a great mind, a heart for people, and a passion for Heritage.  Please join me in giving her a warm welcome to our team!

An Unexpected Visit from the President

Last week, with less than 24 hours’ notice, we found out Heritage would be having a visit from the president – but not the one running for reelection.  Dr. Larry Taylor, President of the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), was excited to come to Wisconsin.

Dr. Taylor has been in his position for less than a year, but has done many things to revitalize the largest Christian school association in the world.  Being a hands-on kind of guy, he was eager to attend many of the fall meetings of administrators around the United States.  Unfortunately, almost all of these are virtual.  When he heard that our school was hosting a meeting that was both live and virtual, he made a last minute decision to come.

A veteran of Christian school administration, Dr. Taylor began his career as a teacher and administrator in Florida, and for many years he served as head of school at Prestonwood Christian Academy before coming to ACSI.  At Prestonwood, he led the school to not only enroll over 1,600 students, but also develop its own online academy and multiple campuses.  Their latest campus, The King’s Academy, serves extremely poor students in urban Dallas.

Larry’s humility, passion, and heart inspired me.  He is leading our association in putting together a spectacular strategic plan, but he was most excited when telling how his former students were succeeding, not just in their careers, but in their walk with God.

Through the leadership of ACSI, we are not just dealing with our current crises, but also thinking strategically about how we can make Christian schools sustainable and accessible to more children for years to come.  Dr. Taylor sees a bright future for our students despite the darkness of our world!

Reporting on COVID-19 Issues at Heritage

The most important thing we do at Heritage is accomplish our mission to inspire servant leaders through an exceptional, Christ-centered education.  Dealing with COVID-19 issues allows us to keep delivering that mission with students in-person.

We sent an email on Monday, September 14 to inform everyone of a new positive COVID-19 test for someone in the Heritage community.  After working with the Waukesha County Health Department (WCHD), we found no one else needed to quarantine for being in close contact with this individual (having been within six feet for 15 minutes or more, with or without a mask).

We did not identify the person who tested positive because we are required to follow the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, better known as HIPAA.  Revealing the health conditions of individuals without their permission is not allowed.  WCHD interprets that to include the person’s name, grade, or even if he or she was an employee of the school.

For your peace of mind, please know that if we find that your student had been in close contact with someone who tested positive, we would be in contact with you ASAP.  In that case, your student would go into quarantine based on a timeline determined by WCHD, which is generally 14 days from the last contact with the infected person.

To keep you informed, we will update the Hotline weekly with information about how many active cases we have, along with how many people are in quarantine.  We now have zero active cases because the health department cleared the case that tested late last week (results weren’t available until late Friday).

Please help us by keeping your children at home if they are showing symptoms.  Thank you for your help, prayers, and understanding!

Summon the Heroes – Our Teachers

What makes a person a hero?  While that word may be overused, in literature The Hero’s Journey is a template that maps out what it takes to become a hero.  I think our teachers qualify!

The journey starts with a call to adventure – this is our teachers’ inspiration to step into classrooms for a living.  The person then crosses a threshold that leads from the known into the unknown, often accompanied by supernatural aid.  Our threshold came on Friday, March 13, when all of education was quickly plunged into the abyss of online education – and our teachers chose to move forward with God’s help and encouragement.

At this point of the journey, the task seems difficult, if not impossible.  There are many challenges (like how to restructure teaching) and temptations (like wanting to quit).  Mentors and helpers step in to assist, much like our administrators and staff did, but our teachers had to face the death of what they were doing, and embrace the rebirth of a new way to educate students.

Our teachers faced those changes, and emerged in spectacular fashion.  Already growing in their craft, they learned what was needed and pivoted quickly.  When the dust settled, we heard many testimonials of how they outperformed their peers at other schools.

Eventually the hero returns to the starting point, but the person is not the same.  In a year when all of our full time teachers return to their classrooms (with the exception of one retirement), we are facing new challenges, but we have fought similar battles before and have arisen victorious.  With God’s help, we will do it again!

I am thankful for our Christ-like teachers, who are doing an exceptional job executing the mission of Heritage.  They are my heroes!

Lessons Learned from the Start/Delayed Start of School

Yesterday, we were relieved to hear the results of testing on our sick elementary teacher came back negative for COVID-19.  We do not regret moving the start of elementary school back when the results did not arrive by our deadline on Tuesday.  We were concerned that other elementary teachers would have contracted the virus and we would have needed time to prepare had multiple teachers needed to quarantine at the same time.

Last week, as teachers returned to prepare for school, we were emphasizing and requiring mask wearing and distancing.  However, if I could do it all over again, I would have made sure teachers were slightly more than 6 feet apart from each other when working together.  Lesson learned!

Meanwhile, as school was starting at the Middle/High School Campus yesterday, plans were in place, teachers and staff were doing extra duties, signs were posted, and students were warmly greeted.  Students were friendly and cooperative, but it was hard to break habits.  New traffic patterns interrupted previously learned behaviors.  Teachers learned that students will struggle to distance themselves in unstructured circumstances, like eating outside.  We realized more specific guidelines where needed in certain situations.

We are all on a learning curve as we bravely step into this new era of education.  Humility helps us graciously address situations.  We don’t have all of the answers, so we are constantly checking our reasoning and challenging our assumptions.

COVID-19 is an obstacle, not our purpose.  We strive to train and inspire servant leaders through exceptional, Christ-centered education and programs.  Transformed lives are what we seek, and we don’t want something like a virus get in our way.  Please keep us in your prayers!

FAITHFUL – A Man Who is Making a Difference

In 1988, a former beach volleyball player from Southern California arrived in Milwaukee to begin work at a Christian school.  Yesterday, that same man let Heritage teachers know that change is in the wind.

MSHS Principal Mark MacKay is arguably the most important Heritage employee ever, having served in a number of principal roles and even a stint as superintendent, for over three decades.  When he hands in his keys at the end of the 2020-21 school year, his legacy will be measured by the massive impact his life has made, not just on the organization, but also in all of the lives he has positively influenced for Christ through the years.

Maybe Mark’s greatest challenge came when the school almost died financially about 12 years ago.  Those who lived through it tell how Mark’s optimism and grounded faith kept faculty and staff encouraged and moving forward, even when layoffs and red ink made the future of the school look bleak.

That positivity continues to shine, even in the midst of COVID-19.  To Mark, obstacles are always “opportunities” God gives us to make us better.  Believing in prayer, he often encourages us to stop talking and start praying.

Mr. MacKay has the deep respect of his current and former students, teachers, and administrators.  Known to be faithful in all things, he does his work with excellence, arrives early, leaves last, and does everything joyfully without complaint.

Fortunately, we don’t have to say goodbye to him for this year, so we can cherish the end of a significant era in Heritage history.  Please join me this year as we thank God for Mark MacKay!  And please pray that God leads us to find the right person to take his place.

Don’t Forget the Power of Prayer

I love the Bible story of Nehemiah, a person who had to work within a difficult government system while encountering a lot of external opposition, all with the goal of accomplishing what God had called to him to do.  His journey parallels some of what we are facing today.

Nehemiah was an exiled Jew who worked for the king of Babylon.  He felt God’s call to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the broken city walls, but he would have to risk his life in asking the king for permission to do so.  For days, he fasted and prayed.

Through the strength and blessing that came from that prayer, Nehemiah not only had the courage to ask the king to let him go to Jerusalem, but he gained the king’s favor, who sent with him men and supplies to accomplish the work.

Nehemiah faced a monumental project with enemies opposing his work all around.  Nevertheless, he kept praying and working until what people thought impossible was done.

At Heritage, our goal is to inspire servant leaders through exceptional education and programs.  We believe in-person teaching is the best way to do that, but in this season of COVID-19, many obstacles stand in the way.  We are dealing with the reality before us, while also moving forward in faith.

Today it is easy to react to the latest news reports while forgetting the difference that prayer makes.  If we are not careful, we will spend much more time debating and worrying than praying and putting our trust in God.

Next Friday, August 28, the Heritage Parent Connection (HPC) is sponsoring a day of prayer (details in Hotline).  Please join us in seeking God’s help as we launch the start of a great school year.