Introducing the CESA Blog
I get it. I really do. There are a lot of blogs out there, many of which I’m sure you read, and most of which are written by people who are much smarter than I am. So, why then, are you seeing this inaugural CESA blog in your inbox? It’s a fair question, but one that can be answered by remembering what CESA was founded to do 10 years ago.
A decade ago, in meetings from Boston to San Francisco, people gathered to address what they perceived to be a gap in the marketplace. After several iterations of discussions and debates, a large group of Christian school Heads determined that something distinctive- not necessarily better- was needed for a subset of schools that were feeling lost in the shuffle, undernourished. I hope your schools were founded with a similar distinctiveness in mind- to provide something that was unavailable elsewhere. So in time, the concept of CESA galvanized around a few central principles, and those principles can be found in our name. Those principles, too, are why this blog is getting started, to add to the conversation about what high-quality Christian schools should be thinking about and doing. CESA, and therefore this blog, seeks to reclaim the historic position of Christians in the heart of the academy, leading the way in robust thinking and research, all as an act of worship onto our Lord.
The first distinctive of CESA is that we are a council- not an association. That term was a not matter of semantics, but rather a central principle about the ethos the founders were trying to create, a part of the DNA of this new organization. A council uses distributed leadership and shared responsibility for the organization, which means a responsibility for and to one another. Knowing that our God is deeply relational, and even incarnational, our founders saw fit to design this organization to put a premium on the relationships of Christian school leaders with one another. It wasn’t to be a social club, however. The relationships were to be central to the purpose of this new assembly- to raise the bar of excellence in Christian schools.
We can see throughout the Bible God’s people moving beyond striving toward compliance to a set of impossible standards to life transformation through meaningful relationships with people teaching the truth of the Gospel. It’s a both-and: there is truth, and that truth is spoken in the context of a relationship, and by the grace of God and the gift of his son incarnate. That is how transformation is modeled for us, and it is a pretty good model for our lives, personally and professionally, and for our schools. So, today, 10 years later, we are a council, and the Council’s voices all carry equal weight as we review schools, determine their adherence to our standards, and help them transform into the schools our country and our world need. You will see that in this blog, I hope, where we will highlight the voices of some of the very best Christian school leaders in the business, with the expectation that we can all learn from one another and see transformation in our lives so that it can happen in our schools.
This brings us to our next distinctive- we are uniquely dedicated to school leaders, beginning with the Head of School. I know, it is a very narrow focus, and often I wrestle with the temptation to expand our intended audience. But, there is a reason that some describe CESA as, “an inch wide and a mile deep”- it is because the quality of our schools depends on the quality of our leadership. I am not at all saying that school quality is only about the leaders who officially sit on executive teams; we know that our teachers and teacher leaders are incredibly important. My point is that the leadership of the school, from heads to principals to advancement staff to the business office, are able to create an environment in which quality teachers can thrive. Disfunction and mismanagement LIMIT teachers’ abilities, and therefore limit the EFFECTIVENESS of their schools. CESA was created to “go deep” with school leaders, believing, and now seeing the results that would support the notion that quality leadership- exemplary leadership- is a critical variable in the development and sustainability of exemplary schools. So then, you will see this blog do just that- go deep with CESA school leaders on topics they have been thinking about and working on in their schools. Whether you are a leader in the classroom, on the executive team, or on the board, you will find your peers speaking into the issues that will help you more fully understand the breadth and depth of the markers of a healthy Christian school, even those outside your current job description. We hope that by sharing the wisdom of these leaders, we will all grow in our ability to serve our families and our communities better for the glory of God.
Lastly, our name includes the term “standards”, too. This often sounds rigid and uncompromising, and in some ways it is! When a school joins CESA as a Candidate, it is the responsibility of the Council, those Heads whose schools have passed the CESA Review, to ensure schools understand and have the tools to apply the standards to the context of their schools. These rigorous, research-based aspirational standards are tough- ask any of the Members of Council and they will tell you that their schools were stretched as they prepared for and received feedback from the review. The standards are based on a meta-analysis of research that reveals good practice; we probe areas that few other organizations do. The standards are written to provide a scaffold for schools to build upon. They are effectively a foundation and rough blueprint for a successful school, but the finishes are up to the school leaders. That is to say, we are uncompromising in that we expect schools to meet 100% of primary and 80% of secondary standards, but meeting the standards does not result in standardization of our schools. No school has met every standard, and we have found that there are consistently some standards that schools are struggling to meet, so in this blog, you will find resources that can help you think about the standards in a ways that can help your grow in some of the most difficult areas to take you to the next level.
Almost without exception, leaders’ blind spots come to light during the process; every school leader that has been through it knows that one has to come to CESA with humility to have your weaknesses exposed. Over the past 10 years, CESA schools have valued a process that prioritizes conversation over compliance, peers over policy, and stretching over security. So why do it? Why get uncomfortable? Why read this blog? Why join the movement of strengthening Christian schools so that they can be a beacon of light and truth for generations to come? Because our Christian schools matter to our families, communities, and the Kingdom, and it is time that we reclaim our heritage as cutting-edge thinkers and leaders in our communities. So, if this sounds interesting to you, read on…
Dr. Katie Wiens is the Executive Director of the Council on Educational Standards and Accountability (CESA). Spending almost 2 decades in education, Katie has a passion for high quality Christian schooling. Katie’s has spent most of her career researching and writing; most recently her work on moral formation with The University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture was published in The Content of Their Character: inquiries into the varieties of moral formation. Katie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.