Love Does

How complicated is Christianity?  At times religious people can make it seem distant and hard to understand, but Jesus said that unless we come as little children, we can’t enter the kingdom of God.  So if you want to read a book that is a breath of fresh air, check out Love Does by Bob Goff.

Bob was drawn to Christianity by people who lived out their faith in unpretentious ways.  A high school friend told Bob about Jesus after they had gotten into a BB gun fight that left a pellet in Bob.  They had fun together and his friend’s faith seemed very real.

Later Bob decided to drop out of high school.  When he told his youth leader, that man decided to go camping with Bob for several days.  He didn’t lecture Bob – he just was with him.  Bob got his head back on straight and returned to school, and was forever impacted by this young newlywed man who simply walked alongside him.

Deep within his heart, Bob realized that love is all about doing, not just talking.  In chapter after chapter he tells stories about living out faith with a joy that is absolutely contagious.  He eventually became a lawyer (against all odds), and began a ministry in Uganda to free young people from sex trafficking and severe injustice.

I am challenged, because Bob Goff lives out his faith in practical ways that are very convicting.  I believe in planning and strategy, but sometimes we waste time talking when we could get to work, love the people we are with, and put feet to our faith.  If you read this book, be prepared to laugh a lot and probably find yourself saying, I wish my faith was more like Bob’s!

The Greatest Show

One of our school’s core values is the word exceptional.  It poses a great challenge – many things can be excellent, but only a few things can truly be exceptional.

Over the past 32 years I’ve seen dozens and dozens of theater productions at Christian schools.  Very few were bad, and many more were really good, but it has been rare to honestly call one exceptional.  I felt like we had a taste of that quality with our performance of The Wizard of Oz last weekend.

We lack some of the extras that large schools have, like large auditoriums and grand stages.  But there are many ways our performances of The Wizard of Oz were uniquely exceptional:

  • Innovation – It wasn’t the first time I’ve seen a school try to do theater in the round, but it was the best by far. The planning and execution was truly amazing.
  • Movement – Things were always happening at lightning speed, and often with wonderful choreography. Even the ninjas flew across the stage as scenes changed.
  • Color – Though there were no backdrops, every costume and prop was well-designed and infused with wonderful hues.
  • Humor – Not only did the cast slam-dunk all of the punchlines the script delivered, but they also threw in some great gags, like inserting a reference to The Lion King and launching a flying cow during the tornado!
  • Characters – Our actors nailed their parts by becoming their own beautiful versions of the iconic roles they played, while singing wonderfully.
  • Volunteerism – Parents pitched in to make all of the preparations and performances go smoothly.

Maybe the best part was the tremendous attitude and spirit of cooperation among the students.  Hats off to Director Abby Thompson for being the architect and conductor of this exceptional, Christ-honoring extravaganza of fun!

Navigating Uncharted Territory

In 1805, Lewis and Clark set out to traverse the northern part of the Louisiana Territory, seeking a route to the Pacific Ocean.  Part of the trip was fairly predictable – similar to what they had experienced before.  But then came the Rocky Mountains, and it was a whole new ball game.

In his book Canoeing the Mountains, Tod Bolsinger compares the challenge of leading a Christian organization in today’s culture to the task Lewis and Clark faced.  These explorers might have been trained in navigating rivers and communicating with Indians, but that did not prepare them for mountain climbing.

Our society is becoming less post-Christian and more non-Christian.  Truths and beliefs that once were almost universally accepted are now not revered in any way.  Morality is moving toward a standard where everyone does what is right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25).  And it is moving at a hyper-pace, accelerated by the deafening din of social media.

So how do we manage these times?  Bolsinger suggests the most instructive part of the Lewis and Clark metaphor was the guidance they gleaned from their young Indian guide Sacajawea.  She was native to this territory, understanding it better than they did.  While they needed to keep in mind their charge from Thomas Jefferson, they had no hope of reaching it apart from setting aside their pride and learning from this young mother.

At Heritage, we are firmly grasping the undeniable power of the Gospel and the unchanging truths of Scripture while reaching students who lack the moral anchors we once knew.  More than ever we need to learn from them, even as we are teaching them what they need to know.  Plowing ahead with old maps and canoe paddles won’t help us cross the mountains ahead.

Three Things to Know Right Now

This past month has been a whirlwind of activity.  We want to keep communicating with you at a high level so you know what is happening.  So here are three things we want you to know:

  1. We have yet to reach a final deal regarding the possible purchase of Tess Corners School. As mentioned in previous communication and at the Town Hall Meeting last Thursday, Heritage is exploring the possibility of buying an existing elementary school as part of its plan to move forward.  We are revising our original plans due to the nearly $3M increase in projected costs.  Our board is determined to look at every possible opportunity for the school while taking its time and not rushing to conclusions.  If a deal is reached on Tess Corners, Heritage will have 90 days to examine the building, determine further costs, and survey our constituents before making a decision.  Contingencies will allow us to withdraw the offer for any reason.
  1. INSPIRE is our new spring effort to support school projects. Earlier today you should have received by email a description of what we are doing to raise money for technology on both campuses and a new student gathering space at the Middle/High School.  This is the only school-wide fundraiser that we do, so we appreciate your participation.
  1. Professional Learning Community (PLC) days and times are shifting next year. Getting our teachers involved in PD discussions is a high priority at Heritage.  Next year we will be replacing the half-days once-a-month on Wednesdays with approximately 90-minute early release on the second and fourth Fridays of each month.  Childcare WILL be available on these Early Release days.

Please continue to give us feedback and prayer support as we move forward.

Start with the Heart

When I was young I took a brand new pellet gun on vacation to Texas.  My uncle, who was the foreman of a 14,000-acre ranch, told me I could shoot at anything that didn’t moo.  So I had a great time shooting at pop cans and distant birds, missing most of the time.  There was no such thing as a “right” target.

In the world of education, I stay abreast of the current trends, but it is difficult to do when there seems to be an endless number of targets to shoot at.  Experts focus on literacy, STEM initiatives, differentiation, diversity, social and emotional needs, vocational skills, technology, test scores, etc.  All of these are important, but it seems the American education system has no primary objective.

I don’t sense that same ambiguity in Christian education.  While we must interact with all of the pertinent trends in education, we don’t question the chief goal: to win the hearts of our students for Christ.

When you gain someone’s heart, you get the rest of them as well.  How often do you hear it said of someone who is failing, “His heart is not in it.”?  But when someone commits from the heart, you no longer have to drag them along or manipulate them in any way.  They see the why and gladly do the what.

Jesus said the most important thing we could do is to love God with all of our heart, followed by our soul, mind, and strength.  Solomon advised, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”

It is an honor to partner with our parents in providing an exceptional, Christ-centered education knowing that the heart of our students is our chief prize.

Celebrating Our Kohl’s Teacher Fellowship Award Winner

Mr. Davis,

Are you available on March 4 to read Green Eggs and Ham to the first graders?

This may be the most exciting email I receive each year.  The author is the mastermind behind our annual Dr. Seuss week in first grade – and one of the best elementary teachers I have ever had the opportunity to work with: Mrs. Eileen Snodgrass.

But please don’t take my word for it.  Eileen has just been named a 2019 Herb Kohl Educational Foundation Teacher Fellow.  That may sound fancy, but what does it mean?

  • The Kohl Teacher Fellowship program recognizes and supports teaching excellence and innovation in the State of Wisconsin.
  • Mrs. Snodgrass was selected as one of the 100 best K-12 teachers in the state.
  • She will automatically be a candidate for the Private School Teacher of the Year Award.
  • As an Herb Kohl Fellowship recipient, she and Heritage Christian Schools will each receive a $6,000 grant and will be recognized at a spring banquet.

For those of us who know Eileen, none of this is surprising.  She is a consummate teacher, combining great skill in managing students with an excellent grasp of content.  Her people skills are amazing and she is adored by her fellow teachers.  When combined with fellow First Grade Teacher Emily Larson, they form one of the more formidable teaching duos you will ever meet.

So in celebration of this great award, I would like to pay tribute to Eileen with a tip of red and white hat to Dr. Seuss.

Mrs. Snodgrass is:

  • Smarter than The Cat in the Hat,
  • Listens better than Horton,
  • The opposite of the Grinch,
  • And more liked than green eggs and ham!

Oh the places students will go with Mrs. S!

Saying Yes to God’s Leading

I stood in front of our elementary faculty to start an important, special meeting.  I told them how much I appreciate Elementary Principal Ron Nickell and how he has my full confidence and support.  I stepped back, Ron stepped forward, and everything got quiet…

12 years ago Ron responded to God’s leading by taking a teaching position at Heritage.  He heard about Heritage through Dave and Sondra Price, Ron’s in-laws, who were already working at HCS.  Ron hoped to make a difference in the lives of Heritage students.  His care, diligence, and character earned the respect of his administrators and peers.

When I came in 2013, Ron was transitioning from a teacher/assistant principal to the Elementary Principal position.  He quickly won my trust as I saw him make many wise decisions while gaining the love and appreciation of his teachers.  Over time he grew tremendously in many ways, like mastering the art of being on stage, and becoming a champion of teachers growing in their craft.

God was moving again in 2015 when He called Dave and Sondra to move to Raleigh, North Carolina, to help Ron’s brother-in-law with building a new church start-up.  Since that time, God has been talking to Ron and his family as well.

…so Ron broke the silence in the room to tell his teachers that he and his family would be following God’s lead to move to North Carolina after the school year.  He feels God leading him back to teaching.

We will miss Ron and we applaud the admirable work he has done here.  He came by God’s leading and he leaves for the same reason.  Please pray for the Nickell family and for Heritage.  Ron is leaving very large shoes to fill!

Telling Our Story

A narrative being written by social pundits is currently painting Christian schools in a very bad light.  And we are faced with the question: What are we going to do about this?

This story is summarized in the latest newsletter from the Council of American Private Education (CASE).  The fuse that ignited a social media explosion was lit when Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, chose to return to a previous position teaching art at Immanuel Christian School in Virginia.  Unsurprisingly, the school does not adhere to the same beliefs that many who influence our culture adhere to today.

National media outlets started picking up on trends such as #ExposeChristianSchools claiming that these institutions are fueled by hate and bigotry, thus inflicting emotional trauma on students.  On one hand they paint garish pictures of rich, reclusive, monochromatic schools, while on the other protesting the fact that many diverse families from different economic backgrounds are coming to these schools with the help of government incentives.

The kindness of opinion in our culture isn’t trending in our favor.  While I could tell about how I was mistreated in a public school, receiving overly-harsh corporal punishment in front of my classmates, that would not matter.  Every school has its scars that come from broken teachers interacting with broken students.  Positive Christian school experiences are generally brushed aside and the good being done is ignored, but every tale of trouble is brought forth as evidence of our insincerity.

We need to tell our story!  The CASE article states it well: “In the face of reporting that simply assumes… policies are motivated by pure animus and bigotry, religious institutions operating in the educational space will need to… defend what they believe, and not be bullied into silence.”

Goodbye Quest, Hello Inspire!

For everything there is a season… Ecclesiastes 3:1

Leaders have to be able to distinguish the difference between purposes and programs.  Purposes, like our mission statement, rarely change and are very stable.  Programs like The Quest, which can be very helpful, sometimes must be revamped.  It’s time for a change.

In previous years we have spent six weeks, from late February to early April, raising sponsorships for our students who spend a day serving the community.  The procedure was cumbersome – students were asked to send out mailers to friends and family for support.  Each campus had contests running for the six weeks that tracked the number of mailers that were sent along with the amount of money being given.  The goal was to raise money for beneficial school projects.

But we heard feedback from many saying that this process was difficult and contests were taking up valuable educational time.  There had to be a better way.

So we are launching a new program called Inspire that will be much simpler.  Here are some changes:

  • Class/group contests will be condensed to one week (Inspire Week, April 8-12).
  • There will be a fundraising dinner/event for everyone (Inspire Event, April 12).
  • Students will not send mailers.

Some things that will not change:

  • All students will still participate in service projects.
  • The funds raised will be used for projects that will advance the mission of the school.

This year we are raising funds to pay for new elementary Smartboards, upgraded hardware in the MSHS computer lab, and student seating near MSHS entrance two.  And while this does not raise funds for the new addition, you will be hearing more as we draw closer to seeing the new High School wing become reality.  Stay tuned for more information coming soon!

Pray Bigger Prayers

How big is your God?  Is He proportional to the size of your prayers?

Last week I attended the Global Christian School Leadership Summit in San Antonio, Texas.  The event brought together over 1,100 administrators from all over the world to discuss the biggest topics facing our schools today.  We prayed big prayers.

Unfortunately, our personal, daily prayers are often not focused on the big picture.  My arm is sore, someone is mad at us, the car needs repairs – all of these are proper things to pray about.  However, if we focus only on our immediate needs, we end up praying small prayers that are helpful in the short run, but make little impact on eternity.

Something changes when we make His priorities our emphasis.  Our most earnest prayers are directed away from our desires toward the greater work God is doing in this world.  We are burdened over struggling churches and the people who are not being reached with the gospel.  We begin to allow our hearts to break over things that break His heart.

I am challenged to pray bigger prayers.  For example, I am boldly asking for the money we need to complete our capital campaign, which will help facilitate future life change in the lives of our students at Heritage.  Our greater mission fulfillment will bear fruit as our graduates raise godly families, help those in need, right major wrongs, and ultimately alter the course of history.

At the leadership summit we were encouraged to unite all constituents in an international Day of Prayer on February 12, 2019.  Please mark this day on your calendar and join us in sending up big prayers for Heritage, our students, and for all Christian schools.  Big faith-filled prayers always make a big difference.