Ending the Year Right

Imagine an extremely large room filled with handwritten notes stacked so high you could not see the top.  Over to one side there is a computer screen with an email program running.  You notice there are billions of emails that were not sent.  And then there is a phone with a red light flashing.  You look at the screen and it says it has millions of voicemails that have never been heard.

As you look around the room you sense sadness.  What are all of these messages?  They are all expressions of thanks that were intended but never sent.

In my final blog of the year, I don’t want to miss this chance to thank you for partnering with us in the education of your children.  We are deeply honored that you have entrusted them to our care and we sincerely hope we have been good stewards of the opportunity you have given to us.

May I also encourage you to express your thanks for a final time to our teachers and staff?  In some cases this may be your last chance to do so as some will be leaving us to move on to new ventures.  Those departing include:

  • Tanis Huebner, Elementary Resource Teacher
  • Becky Lubbers, 2nd Grade Teacher
  • Lisa Roberts, 5th Grade Teacher
  • Shelley Sopa, MSHS Math Teacher
  • Sean Steinke, MSHS Choir and Bible Teacher / Drama Director
  • Patrice Hoban – MSHS Resource Teacher
  • Ruth Saueressig, Hot Lunch Manager / Special Events Food Coordinator
  • Cindy Tanel, Elementary Custodian

If you are thinking of sending an expression of thanks, please do it now.  It could make a big difference to someone, but the message left unsent does no good.

And may God bless you and your family with a wonderful summer filled with all of His goodness!

Looking Back on 2016-17

Every summer the administration spends a lot of time asking the question: “What is the most important thing we can accomplish in the coming school year?”  There is always at least one thing that we can focus on to really improve the school in some significant way.

At the end of last summer we were convinced that we had serious work to do in the area of leadership development.  Our mission statement clearly states that we are training and inspiring servant leaders.  What exactly do we mean by “servant leaders”?  What specifically are we doing at every grade level to accomplish that goal?  It was with these questions in mind that we chose our theme for the year: Learn2Lead.

We soon found that we had even more questions than answers.  What framework would we use to construct a leadership program?  What would be our goals?  Where would we find content and how would we put it into action?

A breakthrough came mid-year when we agreed that we would base our goals on our Portrait of a Graduate.  We would use the four main points as the pillars of our program: Relational, Honorable, Godly, and Prepared.  We have asked every division of the school – preschool, elementary, middle school and high school – to determine what needs to be done at each level to help our students take the steps needed to eventually become that ideal graduate.

So where are we?  The framework and key ideas are in place, but there is more work to do.  So we will continue working this summer and likely well into the next school year to complete the process.  I am so excited about what this will mean for our students in the years to come!

What Time Is It?

Last week I wrote about the importance of time.  This week I want to ask you if you know what time it is.  Let’s use this passage from Ecclesiastes 3 to help us:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

Apart from the calendar there are many seasons of life.  What’s next for you?  Where do you need to give birth to something new?  What aspect of your life needs to draw to an end?  What needs to heal?  What needs to be mourned?  Maybe it’s time to dance?  What needs to be built up?  Is it time to keep quiet about something? Is it time to speak up?  What do you need to start loving?  What needs to be hated?

You can’t choose whether summer comes, but you can choose what to focus on in the next season of your life.  Choose wisely!

Our Most Wasted Resource

Try to name something that cannot be re-purposed, reused, or recycled.  Today it seems that we can find a second purpose for just about everything.  Even in our personal lives we can reverse bad trends in our health, finances, and relationships.  But there is one thing that we waste every day that can never be reclaimed: time.

I have enjoyed reading the book 15 Secrets Successful People Know about Time Management by Kevin Kruse.  It has stirred within me an urgency, both in my personal life and in the life of our school, to maximize the minutes that God is giving us, knowing we’ll never get them back.

Here are some thoughts that may challenge your use of time:

  • Most Important Task (MIT) – Do you daily identify what is the one undertaking that will make the biggest difference in accomplishing your goals? Do you schedule time for it, or do you leave it to chance?  Be proactive and don’t let lesser things take the place of that which is most important.
  • Message Management – Do email, texting, social media, etc. take too many of your precious minutes? You may get a rush by reading a message and responding immediately, but is that the best use of your time?  Try blocking pop-ups on your screen and plan specific times to read and respond to messages.
  • Best Time of the Day – What is your most productive time in the day? Do you plan the things that deserve your best energy and attention to take place during those most productive hours?

The school year is almost over and our minutes are slipping away.  The same is true for our lives.  May we count all moments as precious and invest them in ways that make a real difference!

Another Big Step Forward

We are doing a lot of major things at Heritage to move the school forward, but nothing is physically bigger than our buildings.  Three years ago we didn’t own any buildings as we were renting at three different locations.  Here is an update as to how God has been working!

The first step in tangibly building the future of the school was buying the current Middle/High School campus in November 2014.  Through the help of wise money management and God’s blessings we were able to trade two lease payments for mortgage payments, purchasing the building and 10 acres of land for $1.75M.

The second step was to remodel this building and update technology.  Needs included new flooring, painting, reconfiguring rooms and offices, running computer cables, buying new computers, installing speaker and lighting systems, etc.  The estimated costs of this work was $600K.

Here is the exciting news!  We have raised the $600K and will complete the planned remodeling this summer.

Now even more exciting news: all the money we raise from this point forward will go toward the new addition which will house the new gym/high school wing, making room for the elementary in the existing building.  With an estimated cost of $6M, we plan to raise $2.5M over the next three years while working with our bank to finance the remainder.

This summer I will continue to meet with potential donors seeking lead gifts toward the building.  We already have a tremendous, encouraging lead pledge of $700K and our board has pledged over $250K.  In total, we have over $1.5M in cash, gifts and pledges toward the $2.5M we seek.  We will provide much more information and hold special meetings concerning these fundraising efforts in the fall.  Praise God for His blessings!

Outer Space and Robots

This week’s blog may be a bit “out there” but it highlights some good things happening at our Middle/High School:

Darth and Luke – When our teachers entered the school on Monday this week, they were surprised to find Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker in the midst of a lightsaber battle. It was a unique way to launch our Teacher Appreciation Week at the upper campus.  Principal Mark MacKay was the man behind the black mask while I took the role of “the young” Skywalker, defending our teachers and making sure they were not drawn “to the dark side.”  Teachers were also greeted by a large banner stating, “Our teachers are out of this world!”  The doors to their rooms were covered with supportive messages and decked out in the space theme.

This morning many of the teachers joined the administrators in space costumes, with Mr. Caleb Conn named best-dressed as Dr. Who.  A breakfast of galactic goodies was served on Tuesday to be followed by a “space spuds” lunch on Friday.  Special thanks goes to the Heritage Parent Connection and Volunteer Coordinator Angela Roosien for making the week very extra-terrestrial!

HCS Robotics Impact World – After a year of unprecedented success, Heritage’s FIRST Tech Challenge Robotics team went to the World Championships last week and made quite a splash.  Our group was chosen as one of the most inspiring teams on the planet, being nominated for the prestigious Motivate Award.  Junior Tim Keup scored a huge personal achievement by being one of only ten students in the world named to the FIRST Dean’s List, making him a top candidate him for scholarships from many of America’s most prestigious universities.  For more details, see the related articles below.  Congrats to our amazing team, the Supposable Thumbs!

The Great Stone Face of Character

As our year-long study of leadership recently turned to the role that character plays in a leader, I was reminded of The Great Stone Face, a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

A man named Ernest grew up near a mountain with a peculiar rock formation that looked like a man’s face.  Ernest heard the local legend that someday a native of the area would leave while young and then return as a great and noble person resembling the great stone face.  He would be the greatest person of his time.  Earnest not only believed the legend, but felt it was his calling to look for this person to come during his lifetime.

Ernest constantly stared at the face and imagined the goodness and character that would reside in the one who would fulfill the prophecy.  Over time several famous people came back to the area whom Ernest hoped would fulfill the prophecy: a wealthy businessman, a conquering general, a renowned politician and a brilliant writer.  But Ernest was disappointed by them all.

The writer, who admitted that he was not that great person, visited when Earnest was an old man.  By that time Earnest had become a local preacher and all the people revered him.  While attending one of Earnest’s sermons on a moonlit night beneath the mountain, the writer excitedly proclaimed that Earnest himself resembled the great stone face.  But Earnest dismissed the idea, very sure that someone greater than himself would come.

What did Earnest see in the great face?  Character.  And the one who spent a lifetime revering character was the last to realize that he had what it took to lead.  So let us look earnestly to Jesus, finding in Him the character we need to lead!

Leaders Made Here

How do we intentionally build leaders at Heritage?  That is a question we have been asking this year as we have worked on our theme #Learn2Lead.  We cannot just talk about leadership development – we need a plan.

So far developing leadership skills in our students at every level of the school has been our main focus.  We are using our four traits of an ideal graduate (relational, honorable, godly, and prepared) as a template to create specific goals for all students in the preschool, elementary, middle and high school.

But there is another aspect of leadership development that I have been thinking about recently.  I’ve been inspired by a new book: Leaders Made Here by Mark Miller.  It explores how organizations can develop leaders among their employees.

Some might call this a succession plan, but I think it goes much deeper.  Just as we are trying to take our students to definite places in their leadership development, even so we need to do that with our teachers and staff.  It is a process that will help us grow the rising stars among our employees who may someday be the principals or president of Heritage.

How could we go about building this leadership plan?  The book suggests five basic steps:

  • Define it (what does leadership mean)
  • Teach it (provide training)
  • Practice it (make it happen)
  • Measure it (assess our progress)
  • Model it (top people walk the walk)

We can’t leave something as important as developing the future leaders of Heritage to chance, so our leadership team will have work to do in these areas.  My goal when I retire is to have a smooth succession take place that keeps the school on solid ground spiritually while continuing our pursuit of academic excellence and character formation.

What You Know That Other Parents Don’t

Remember when you were first considered putting your child in a Christian school?  Unless you already had the privilege of attending a Christian school, there were assumptions you had to make about what life was like in this environment.  Did you guess right?

According to a recent study done by the Barna Group, chances are you did not perceive the school correctly.  Two groups of parents were asked to give their perceptions of Christian schools: one was parents who currently enroll their children is schools like ours and the other was parents who would consider Christian school enrollment.

The study found that parents outside of the school greatly underestimated the positive qualities Christian schools have on students.  Parents were asked to look over 15 qualities and choose which ones they thought they would find in Christian schools.  These qualities were: challenging, Christ-centered, clean, competitive, focused on child’s future, fosters excellence, fun, imaginative, lets kids be kids, loving, nurturing, professional, orderly, respectful, and strict.

Current parents on average were 25% more likely to choose traits that prospective parents did not choose.  For example, 81% of current parents chose “loving” to describe their Christian school as opposed to only 39% of those considering the school.  Sixty-eight percent of current parents felt that the school “fostered excellence” while only 34% of prospective parents chose that descriptor.

The bottom line is that you see Heritage much more clearly than those who are merely considering us as an option.  They need your help!  Sharing your perspective might be the one thing that would help someone get off the fence and enroll in their child in our school.  For the sake of that child, please don’t be afraid to speak up!

Accreditation – Widening Perspective

Heritage teachers and staff are busy preparing for our re-accreditation that will come in April 2018.  Our goal is to use this process to help us reach for higher standards – doing much more than just meeting the bare minimum requirements needed to keep our accreditation in place.

And while all of this has been taking place at Heritage, I have been preparing a team of educators who will conduct a re-accreditation visit to Madison Christian Schools (MCS).  I am the chairperson of the team and our visit begins this Sunday afternoon and will conclude on Wednesday afternoon.

The people working with me are sharp, including Heritage Teachers Erin King and Nicole Bowen, four heads of Christian schools, and two others administrators who also teach.  Our job for three-and-a-half days will be to verify whether MCS meets the eight major standards and the dozens of indicators that support those standards as established by the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI).  We will be working long hours and meeting with every employee on MCS’s two campuses.  In the course of a few days we will assemble a comprehensive report with a recommendation to ACSI as to whether MCS should be allowed to have their accreditation status renewed.

And why would my fellow team members and I subject ourselves to such a rigorous process while receiving no compensation?  From my perspective, serving on an accreditation team helps me see what we are doing from a different viewpoint.  There are great things to be learned from every Christian school that strives for higher levels of excellence.  So on top of helping MCS get better, I’ll hope to find strategies to help Heritage be more exceptional.  In the end, it will be a win for everyone.