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!

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.