CESA Blog

The Question of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Christian School

In the early winter of 2023, our Board of Trustees gathered offsite for our annual retreat. Our primary task was to lay the groundwork for the school’s next strategic plan. As part of the process, a skilled facilitator asked board members to list off the most important threats and opportunities to the school that the plan should take into consideration. Artificial intelligence (AI) topped the list.

Our meeting was two months after the company Open AI released Chat GPT, a new technology in the field of Generative AI which is described as algorithms that can be used to create new content, including audio, code, images, text, simulations, and videosChatGPT represented the most sophisticated (and the most human-like) artificial intelligence technology to date; even a cursory understanding of the technology would lead one to conclude that it would be a major disruption to the way we have historically conducted school, particularly in the realm of assessment. From that moment forward we were determined, with a healthy dose of circumspection, to understand what role this technology could play in our program for the benefit of our students, faculty, and staff.

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The Power of Appreciated Assets - Empowering Your Donors

Why didn’t anyone tell me? Ten years as a nonprofit executive, and I never understood the power of appreciated-asset donations. A huge part of my job was raising money and sharing the vision of what God was going through our ministry, but I didn’t understand this concept, which now tells me there was likely free money left on the table (that likely ended up going to the government instead of our nonprofit). I experienced amazing stories of generosity and impact and saw people live out sacrifice in ways I had only previously read stories about, but it wasn’t until relatively recently that I learned that some of my donors could have given significantly more, without digging any deeper into their pockets.  

Donating appreciated assets (assets that have increased in value) is one of the most tax-efficient and tax-saving ways to donate to non-profits like yours! 

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CESA Schools as Innovation Incubators

The teacher shortage was on my mind more than normal coming out of the COVID pandemic. Front and center with the Vail Christian High School strategic plan were the words ‘Product Superiority’ with Goal #1 reading ‘Recruit, Retain, and Grow Top Faculty,’ and it was the right time to double down on our efforts to ‘retain and grow.’

As I thought about our strategic plan, our place in history, and the arc of my career, I found myself thinking even more about our veteran faculty. What do they need to remain in the profession? What unique professional development opportunities would help them grow? And maybe more importantly, is there a way to measure the correlation between their professional development and student achievement? I wanted to leverage what I had learned in my career and the great work happening in our peer schools, so we got to work.

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Helping Families Navigate Parenting in a World Gone Mad

The Proverb says, “Point your kids in the right direction, when they’re old they won’t be lost (MSG).”

I believe it is every parent’s desire to see their children to grow up with quality character, a conscience built on a strong foundation and with a clear motivation that moves in the direction of success. This is a noble and honorable goal and as educators it is our job to partner with parents in this task. In today’s culture, that goal can feel overwhelmingly scary and impossible. How do we partner with parents well in a world that is trying to influence their child’s identity? How do we partner with parents well in a world that is fiercely competing for their children’s hearts and minds through its ideological constructs? How do we partner with parents well in a world that is trying to over sexualize their children? How do we partner with parents well in a world gone completely mad?

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A SWOT Analysis for Healthy Enrollment

If you’ve been in school world long enough, you’ve likely sat around a conference room table and contributed to a SWOT analysis. For the uninitiated, SWOT is an exercise used in strategic planning that helps leaders take stock of an organization’s current situation; it surfaces Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It’s usually conveyed in a 2x2 grid that looks like this:

Strengths

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A Rhythm of Reflection and Celebration

Here in the United States, we’re feeling the warmer temperatures of May, and they hint at summer break. These weeks at the end of a school year move swiftly, swelling with activities and projects that culminate a year’s worth of learning. From musicals to conference play-offs to capstone trips, this season is indeed full, and we wouldn’t want it any other way. 

But what would it look like if we shifted our focus – and our school community’s focus – to our Maker and Sustainer? What if the celebration of our school’s and students’ accomplishments expanded to include celebrating the One who has made it all possible? What if every end-of-year event marked a time we could internally pause to acknowledge His goodness and steadfastness?

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Godly Laments During the Winter Doldrums

We can all feel it. When this time of year rolls around, we’ve passed the exciting and busy holiday season and entered the long stretch of winter. With shorter days, minimal sunlight, and colder weather across much of the United States, we can see and feel some of the challenges of this unique time of the year.

During these winter months, it is common to experience an increase in lethargy and discontentment. According to the American Psychiatric Association, more than 5% of adults in the United States experience Seasonal Affective Disorder during January and February each year (Torres, 2020). With many of our community members feeling less apt to engage in programming or events, it may seem logical to cancel every non-essential activity and coop ourselves up until spring arrives. Yet, we are called to be in community with others, not just in the good seasons of our lives (or on the calendar).

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Is your school measuring the mission?

In 1869, a Swiss chemist named Friedrich Miescher inadvertently discovered a microscopic substance that we now know as DNA. Some 85 years later, the duo of James Watson and Francis Crick were able to map the structure of DNA, the building block for life. As any high school biology student can tell you, the structure of our DNA forms our make-up – how each of us is uniquely created.

Christian schools have DNA as well. But, in most cases, this DNA hasn't been "mapped." Leaders might have an understanding of their school's unique make-up, but they haven’t always intentionally and deliberately documented the components, and they almost certainly haven't measured it on a consistent basis.

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Thoughts about Staying On-Mission

About six years ago, I found myself speaking to a group of board members and seated heads of school at a conference in Baton Rouge, LA. The topic I was tasked with addressing was the relationship between a school’s stated mission and its resulting culture.  After spending over half an hour defining terms like mission and culture and community values, as well as referencing data from 3rd party sources and offering up a few defining examples of a mission shaping a culture (sort of thing), I shifted our focus toward collegial dialogue around the topic.  What ensued during that time has stayed with me to this day.  

Over and over, it became apparent that most board members in the room had little to no confidence in re-stating their particular school’s mission, often showing some discomfort even putting it into their own words.  However, their respective head of school often casually paraphrased the language of their mission, made ready application points, and effortlessly carried the conversation forward.  On the surface, this may strike us as simply par for the course, as one is in the seat of governance and the other in the seat of management.  Yet, when considering the potential impact this mission-meaning awareness might have on board/head relations, as well as their collective efforts to lead the greater school community with mission fidelity, it is clear that this disconnect warrants further pondering.

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What Kind of Tired Are You?

There is a common axiom, “You cannot give what you do not have.” And, if we’re honest, most of us these days don’t have much, if anything, left to give. 

We’re tired and stressed. Worn out to the core. The demands remain but our ability to respond doesn’t. Emotionally, mentally, even spiritually we’ve been left hanging by a thread. 

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Have our Boys been Forgotten?

In the new post-pandemic world, nothing looks quite the same. Arguably, the greatest shift in our culture is our common understanding and language around biological sex. What is a man? What is a woman? Does gender impact learning? Three questions that have become increasingly dangerous to answer. In the world of academia, they are landmines quietly waiting to devastate a tenured career. Given the climate where gender relativism and toxic masculinity are king, our young men are paying the highest price. Have our boys been forgotten?


The History of Teaching Boys

Presently, industrialized educational systems have become hostile to the modern-day male learner. Before today’s schools educated the masses of society, boys learned necessary skills from invested parental figures (Gurian & Stevens, 2007). In small tribal communities or vocational apprenticeships, boys were equipped to be productive members of society with an inherent utilitarian drive to their learning. Gurian and Stevens (2007) explain, “Boys learned what they needed to know by hunting with their relatives, managing a farm, fixing machinery, or devising a new invention for everyone in their tribe to use–boys now find themselves in boxlike rooms” (p. 21). Rather than seeing an immediate need for the skills they are learning, boys now spend thirteen years progressing through a curriculum that does not immediately pertain to the success of their future lives. Educating kids through reading, writing, and sitting in one’s seat has become the “acceptable standard” within our schools (Gurian and Stevens, 2007, p. 21). These “acceptable standards” of educating our youth have created devastating consequences for young adolescent males. Around the world, boys take part in educational experiences that fail to support how their brains acquire new information effectively. Simply stated, modern educators are not adequately trained to teach the male brain. In turn, schools are quick to reward compliant behavior over authentic academic growth. These two practices increasingly marginalize male learners year after year.

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Admissions in Times of Abundance…and Otherwise

Admissions in Times of Abundance…and Otherwise
Sarah Donovan, Senior Director of Advancement and Parent Relations

The First Academy, Orlando, Florida 

Enrollment. It rocks our independent school worlds. It’s the survival and sustainment of the school community, culture, and ultimately our calling to grow His Kingdom. And at the helm of this driving force: The Admissions process. 

Currently, Admissions teams are celebrating the fruits of an abundant enrollment season. Now more than ever, families are craving a strong, Christ-centered educational experience for their children and are willing to sacrifice for it. This, along with the movement of families from one state to the next, has equated to high demand and wait lists. Thus, this is the perfect moment in time to pause and reflect on the rise of the Admissions process:  What have we learned? and Where are we going in the future?



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Foundational Relationships: The Head of School and the Board

Introduction
Stable and predictable leadership is necessary for organizational growth1, because consistent leadership over time has been found to increase student achievement when the head of school serves for more than five years2. Despite studies indicating longevity is key, the average tenure for a head of school has remained steady at only six to seven years since first examined in the 1970s1. A school’s financial stability, morale, and progress toward educational improvements is impacted when the head of school leaves; therefore, factors leading to turnover are paramount to inform board practices in finding and retaining quality leaders3.

In multiple studies, heads indicated the main factor for leaving a school, outside of retirement, was a broken, tense relationship with the board of trustees4. This strained relationship affects multiple aspects of the school system, and negatively impacts student learning5. Studies indicate the board and head of school are mutually responsible for building and maintaining a healthy, cohesive relationship6 in order to produce a quality educational program for the students and faculty within the system.

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On Snowflakes

It seems fitting this week to be talking about snowflakes, doesn’t it? It is cold and snowy in many parts of the country where it shouldn’t be, which is why this concept came to my mind. If you don’t know me well, I am a scientist by training, and I love knowing the way the world works. To some, the detail I want to know is excessive, I suppose. But for me, snowflakes are one of these remarkably interesting things that when we come to understand them in detail, awe for the Creator follows.

Snowflakes are made of single or combined ice crystals that fall from clouds filled with water vapor. Water vapor sticks to very cold, microscopic particles of dirt, ash, or salt in a cloud. These particles attract more vapor and form droplets. The droplets freeze into ice crystals with six sides due to - get this - the uniquely strong INTERMOLECULAR FORCES… that is the way that water molecules interact with other water molecules.  In God’s perfect design, water is a unicorn among other molecules, one that literally makes life possible. I could teach an entire course on the beauty of water. Actually, I did once… and maybe I will again.

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Value-Based Strategy for Christian School

As we reflect on the past 15 months of schooling in a pandemic, it’s easy to recognize that our decision-making has had a markedly different cadence than in years past.  In some ways, we have been able to use the crisis to accelerate necessary change.  As one Head of School told me, “it would have taken 18 months, $150,000 in consulting fees, and I would have lost half of my faculty if I would have made these changes without the pressure of the pandemic”.  Christian schools have fared incredibly well in this regard. The laser focus on our missions, the high degree of trust that exists in our institutions, and the tenacity on the part of our administrators and faculty have allowed many of our schools to provide an exemplary education during these times, especially when compared to many of our competitors.

However, the intensity of the pandemic has also forced us to ask much, much more from our teachers and our staff; these godly men and women have delivered, working harder than they ever have, and doing so without the expectation of any increased compensation.  At the same time, we have asked our parents and students to be content with less.  Parents are unable to be in classrooms volunteering; the bleachers of our gymnasia and stadiums cannot be full of families supporting our student-athletes, and our arts performances have often been scaled down and the audiences streaming rather than standing room only.  It is that combination of asking more of our employees and delivering less to our families that is dangerous in the long term.

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Why We Come Together

Over the course of the past year, we have all learned a great deal about the value of collaboration. Christian schools have led the way in learning from one another to ensure our schools open safely and provide the best possible education to our students. What we have accomplished by the seemingly endless Zoom calls and webinars, by the corporate prayer with peers across the country, and the dedication to the families we serve was possible because we did it together. It was synergy. That synergy is what we have experienced, too, as we—along with many other Christian education leaders from across the world—have come together regularly over the past two years to envision an event that brings Christian schools worldwide together for a few days at Converge 2022.

We are both science aficionados, so a good technical definition is admittedly more exciting for us than for most; at the risk of boring you so early in this post, we wanted to bring you the definition of synergy: “The interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.”  There are some important aspects of for us to digest here.

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The Journey Toward Kingdom Diversity

The Journey Toward Kingdom Diversity

10 Steps to Moving Your Organization Forward

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HOS Evaluation Through the Lens of Strategic Plan...and More

HOS Evaluation Through the Lens of the Strategic Plan … and More

I still chuckle. Like most humor, the punch line is unexpected –and true. The cartoon, tucked in the inner pages of a national periodical, is a drawing of a Roman centurion in his chariot, robe unfurled behind him. The bumper sticker on the chariot reads, “Effluvia happens.”

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