“New” Teachers Both Impressed and Impressive

There are times I wish every parent could see what I see.  An example would have been on Monday morning when we met for several hours with our “new” faculty members.  I use quotation marks because none of them are new to teaching, and several of them are not new to Heritage.

I would love for others to have seen the genuine enthusiasm and excitement these teachers displayed as the principals and I shared our passion and plan for Heritage.  These veteran teachers were excited about who we are and what we are trying to accomplish.

At one point I asked them to share with a few people near them why they wanted to be teaching in a Christian school.  Several had tears in their eyes as they revealed their heart for God and their students.

I was thankful that God had given us such a seasoned group of newcomers.  Out of the nine full-time teachers, four has earned a master’s degree or beyond, nearly half are taking pay cuts to teach at Heritage, eight have children of their own, five taught at Heritage before, and the average educational experience is 11 years.  One is a graduate of Heritage and another is married to a Heritage grad.

After the meeting one man said to me, “My family is so excited to be here at Heritage.”  He told me about how he went into Christian education because of his love of young people and his desire to support them in a loving, biblical way.

I wish you could see all of our teachers, old and new, uniting around our mission as we prepare this week.  Our community is a beautiful thing.  And we will be more than ready for the first day of school.

A Plan for Life

My wife and I just flew back from a trip to Los Angeles.  We drove out with our son in his car, which he needs as he attends college there.  But before all the miles and the sad goodbye, we planned out our trip.  Makes sense – right?

Why am I willing to meticulously plan a trip that lasts less than a week, yet find that I spend less time strategically preparing for the rest of my life.  Wasn’t it just yesterday that the kids were starting Kindergarten?  Now the nest is empty – what’s next?

These questions led me to read Living Forward by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy.  Sometimes we find that our lives have drifted to a place we never intended to go, but often it’s because we had no plan to be somewhere else.  With no future goals firmly in place, we get distracted and overwhelmed.

The book encourages us to develop a life plan – a short written document that describes how we want to be remembered, articulates our personal priorities, provides specific actions necessary, and is a living document.  It helps us determine what matters most and how to get to where we want to be.

I have developed my own life plan and have found it very helpful.  By reviewing it often I find it gets me moving in areas where I have become complacent.  It’s helped me proactively work on some of the most important relationships in my life and I’m seeing excellent results.

This process is similar to our Leadership Trek, which incorporates our vision for what we want our students to be.  It keeps us focused on helping them be relational, honorable, godly, and prepared at every grade level.  We’re leading them to become well-rounded people on purpose!

Putting the Unity in CommUNITY

I like doing jigsaw puzzles.  With hundreds of interesting pieces, each one is very different but meaningless on its own.  But when each finds its place, it not only finds a perfect fit with other pieces, but also becomes part of a bigger, more beautiful picture than it could ever be on its own.

God made us to be together.  Then sin and shame broke us apart, creating distance and distrust between us.  Only one person could put the pieces back together again, bringing meaning back to this chaotic world.

Jesus Christ paid the price of our sin and now wants to make us whole, not just individually, but also collectively.  He loves us as one.  Forever we will be one with him, but on this side of heaven, we need to cooperate with His Spirit to know the unity he desires for all of His children.  The Apostle John recorded this prayer that Christ offered to His Father before He died, “that they may be one even as we are one,  I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one…”

Some puzzle pieces are easy to find and fit, while others seem odd and out of context with the others.  But if we trust the puzzle maker we can be sure all of the pieces belong and have a place.

This year, with our theme CommUNITY in Christ, we want every child to find their place, where love and encouragement surround them as they are challenged to become all that God made them to be.  But beyond the students, we want to see parents, teachers, alumni, administrators, and donors come together like never before.  We can’t wait to see the beauty that emerges!

A Final Word on Tess Corners

In my final blog of the year, I want to bring everyone up to speed on future facility decisions being made by our board.  Last week the decision was made to no longer pursue the Tess Corners Elementary School building as a future campus at Heritage.  Yesterday the final paperwork was signed to officially withdraw the offer to purchase.  But behind this news, there is something greater to celebrate.

The communication between parents in the school with the administration and board was excellent, beginning with the well-attended Town Hall meeting in March regarding consideration of Tess Corners, the survey which received excellence response, and the many one-on-one discussions that took place over the last few months.  We clearly heard many were concerned about the location of the building, and that weighed heavily on our deliberations and final decision.

While we were hearing from parents, we were also doing a full assessment of Tess Corners.  While it was clear that the building had many upsides from an operational standpoint, there were also concerns about the long-term costs involved if we completed the purchase.  The initial purchase and needed renovations would be affordable, but the long-term costs of fixing the HVAC system and becoming ADA compliant would be a real concern.

On one hand we were listening closely to our constituents, while on the other hand we were doing our due diligence.  And all the while we were praying for God’s leading in these matters.

Moving forward, we continue to investigate other buildings, including Orchard Lane Elementary in New Berlin, while also seeking ways to get our HS gymnasium built as quickly as possible.  Thanks to all who have been praying, interacting with us, and generously giving to make these future facilities possible!

Tribute

Every year God inspires some teachers to leave Heritage for other opportunities within His kingdom.  Let’s note who is leaving and honor them for their service to our school:

  • Kailan Boston – An HCS alumnus, Kailan came several years ago to teach PE, and then faithfully served as our athletic director and varsity basketball coach.
  • Michael Dick – Many students have been impacted by Michael during his time teaching here. He left five years ago to attend seminary and came back this year, while also serving as youth pastor at a local church.
  • Rebecca Go – Voted most likely to teach at Heritage by her senior class, alumna Rebecca returned to wholeheartedly teach third grade this year.
  • Rachel Knapp – Rachel came to us as a veteran teacher five years ago and has been solid rock among our elementary teaching staff.
  • Ron Nickell – As mentioned in a previous blog, Ron has made a difference at Heritage as both a teacher and elementary principal.
  • Natasha Siebert – Natasha has been a key player in both the elementary physical education and Spanish programs for eight years.
  • Phil Skoglund – A former administrator at HCS, Phil finished his career teaching math with us.
  • Abby Thompson – In her relatively short time as teacher and theater director, Abby (also an alumna) has had a great impact on our fine arts department.
  • Tom Thompson – Over the past 30 years Tom has touched the lives of thousands of students through his excellence as the math department head and teacher of many AP and honors classes.
  • Brandon Valadez – Though only with us for one year, Brandon has been influential while teaching Bible, Spanish, and English.

God was faithful to bring these wonderful people to our school!  We bless them, even as we pray for those who will take their places next year.

PLCs – The Why Behind Early Release

When other people do annoying things, our minds want to guess why.  Sometimes we tell ourselves negative stories.  This can also happen with institutions when changes are made that don’t make sense.  So please let me make a case for one upcoming change.

For over 20 years, evidence has been piling up to validate the use of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) to help teachers improve.  PLCs bring teachers together in small groups on a frequent, consistent basis.  The goal is to improve student learning through continuous, job-embedded learning for educators.

Three big ideas drive the work of PLCs (from Learning by Doing):

  1. Focus on learning – this is the biggest idea: the goal is that all students will learn at high levels (grade level or higher). If we want students to continually learn, we as educators must continually be learning.
  2. Create a collaborative culture – educators must work collaboratively and take collective responsibility for the success of each student.
  3. Results orientation – we must see evidence of student learning.

Our latest upgrade in implementing PLCs came this school year when we scheduled half-days on the last Wednesday of each month.  We understood the inconvenience this caused families, but we felt we needed this time in order to move forward.

And now the change: we are convinced we need to have PLCs meet even more frequently, so next year students will leave school approximately 90 minutes early on the 2nd and 4th Fridays of most months.  Childcare will be available at the elementary.  Supervision will be provided for MSHS students as they wait for rides in the cafeteria.  Thank you for your understanding and cooperation as we seek to increase student learning and be exceptional, Christ-centered educators!

Thank You for Your Feedback On Tess Corners

In late February, due to a huge increase in construction costs, we realized we needed to pick a new path for the future facilities of Heritage.  With $2M raised in our campaign, we could see that finding space for the elementary school in an existing building would be a wise step forward.  Our interest in the Tess Corners building in Muskego was an initial probe on this new journey.

In a few short weeks we held a town hall meeting to discuss the situation.  We explained that in no way were we making a final decision about the Muskego location.  That meeting was followed by a survey to help us understand your thoughts on what we needed to do next.

Thank you to all who responded – your input was vital.  We heard you say several things that were helpful, but most clearly we heard your concern over the location of Tess Corners.  That information is impacting our search.

The survey also indicated that our parents place a high priority on having our two campuses close to each other.  With that in mind, we turned with much interest to an article from this Wednesday’s edition of the Waukesha County Now newspaper regarding budget cuts for the School District of New Berlin.  On top of cutting jobs, the article clearly stated that the district is contemplating closing the Orchard Lane Elementary School on Sunny Slope Road.  That is the nearest campus of its kind to our MSHS campus.

So please join us in praying that God will open up great opportunities like Orchard Lane. If this location should close, we don’t know if it will be put up for sale. Our Board and Administration continues to seek a location that best fits our needs.

The Thank You That WAS Said

Last week my blog contemplated what happens when we fail to do the many small, good things that make a difference over time.  Saying thank you was a prime example – how much potential good do we lose when grateful words are unspoken?  I just returned from a chapel that helped me clearly see the other side of this coin.

As part of Teacher Appreciation Week, MSHS Principal Mark MacKay allowed an open mic for students to come forward to thank their teachers.  He only gave each student 30 seconds, yet for over a half hour high school students poured to the front of the chapel to get their turn to thank both teachers and staff.

Here are some things I really appreciated:

  • Students were very sincere in their remarks.
  • Many stated how much all of their teachers meant to them. One said that each of her teachers showed so much enthusiasm for their subject matter that it compelled her to have a deeper appreciation and openness to what they were teaching.
  • Some of the most heartfelt remarks came when students talked about how a specific teacher made an important difference to them personally. For example, one senior thanked Guidance Director Dave Irwin for caring every day, admitting that he would not have completed the year without Mr. Irwin’s help.
  • Even the staff was sincerely appreciated, as many of them have formed close relationships with students. Some were called “second moms”, and one of the biggest rounds of applause went up for Maintenance Director Ernie Welborn.

I am very honored to work with our tremendous employees at Heritage.  Their individual and collective commitment to being Christ-centered and loving our students fills me with gratitude.  And the majority of our students say, Amen!

The Unsaid Thank You

In the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey is allowed to catch a glimpse of what the world would be like if he had never lived.  The absence of the good he had done left a gloomy picture for the people in his town.  Think about the cascade of events that spill out behind us and into the lives of others.  What are the long-term consequences of the many good things that we fail to do?

Let’s take a something like expressing sincere thanks.  For some people, appreciation is their primary love language, and even the rest of us get a boost when someone takes the time to tell us we are making a positive difference.  Only good things can come from such encouragement.

Maybe some of the difficult and discouraging things we see in our lives today could have been prevented if we had been more faithful and earnest in expressing gratitude to others.  Certainly the lives of those we would have thanked would now be somewhat better and brighter.  Maybe at some critical time, which we may not have known, a cheerful word of appreciation from us could have been a tipping point for someone in great need.  Who knows how things could have turned out differently.

And what about us?  How would our lives have been different if we had said “thank you” twice as much as we have?  We would have a deeper respect for those people and would show them greater levels of honor.  They would likely reciprocate those feelings and actions.

The Bible tells us, “whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”  The corollary is true – we don’t reap what we don’t sow.  Who are you grateful for?  Don’t forget to tell them – today!

New Elementary Principal Sets Tone for Future

Seeking to hire the very best person for a job often means looking far and wide.  But sometimes we realize that a candidate is closer than we think.

A couple of years ago, when seeking to hire a 5th/6th grade math teacher, we found an incredible applicant who seemed overqualified.  Chris Couillard was skilled at teaching math, but he had also served as a principal for two other Christian schools, both of which raved about his ability to lead.  So why was this guy applying for our teaching position?

Chris had started as a teacher at both of those schools, but was quickly drafted into positions of leadership.  While he performed admirably as an administrator, he really wanted to spend a few more years in the classroom.  So we hired him.

When current Elementary Principal Ron Nickell announced that he would not return as principal next year, some of us assumed Chris would want to keep teaching.  But actually he was ready to lead.

Chris was just one of a number of candidates we considered for the position.  Some came with many years of experience and multiple advanced degrees.  But in the end, all who were involved in the interview process were convinced Mr. Couillard was the person for the job.

I had the privilege of introducing him as the new principal at our in-service on Monday.  Everyone enthusiastically applauded.  Back in January, we had chosen Chris to be the presenter at this in-service.  So as Chris taught our teachers, he set the tone for his future leadership.  We spent the day discovering ways we can build stronger relationships with each of our students.  Clearly his heart for loving students will inspire and guide our teachers for years to come!