Qualities of a First-Class School
What makes a school first class? How do good schools differ from poor schools? These questions are not as easy to answer as it might appear at first consideration. Good schools require a sound philosophical base, the right people, appropriate programs, and adequate physical facilities (Deuink & Herbster, 1986). They differ significantly from schools lacking any of these particulars.
A Sound Philosophical Base
As one's personal philosophy of life dictates his actions, so an institution's philosophy of operation dictates the management of the organization. A Christian school usually defines its philosophy of education as "conforming young people to the image of Jesus Christ." Many schools have not gone beyond that minimal philosophical base to state how they will operate to meet that objective. There are, I believe, ten facets of school administration that must be addressed in a philosophy statement if a Christian school is to be consistent and biblical in its operation:
- purpose of the school
- curriculum (spiritual, academic, and extracurricular programs)
- admissions policy (elementary, junior high, and secondary levels)
- supervision of instruction
- behavioral standards for students
- academic standards
- graduation requirements
- physical facilities
There is not space in an article of this length to develop each of these points; however, the list above provides the framework for an organizational philosophy statement that will give should direction to any Christian school. A school without a carefully developed, written philosophy statement is like a ship without a rudder.
People are the most important component of any school. As I reflect on the good schools I have observed through the years, I note that their strengths were not all in the same areas--that is, with one exception: they all had good leaders. To realize the potential of a group of people, solid leadership is essential. I have never seen a good school that had poor leadership. In church schools, that leadership typically comes from the pastor of the church sponsoring the Christian school and/or the school administrator. In the independent school, the leadership is typically shared by the school administrator and the school board.
Specific strengths of leadership in able school administrators are not always the same, but some qualities seem to be essential and are found in all leaders of good Christian schools. These leaders are genuinely spiritual people, whose spirituality extends beyond their personal needs and focuses on the spiritual needs of others. They recognize the importance of their own spiritual condition and are willing to make the necessary investment in themselves to prepare for ministry to others. Good leaders encourage others to develop the talents God has given them and provide their coworkers the means to improve themselves. They are men and women we could refer to as "Philippians 2 people."
Good leaders understand the importance of people in an organization. They make every effort to recruit qualified personnel and treat them with the dignity and respect that their office requires. Those who are committed to the goals of an organization and who believe that the organization values them will give their all for its success. Teachers should be well paid, provided with suitable benefits, furnished with an adequate classroom environment and educational resources, and given public recognition for their contributions, on appropriate occasions. Other members of the staff should be treated well also. Unhappy people do not make desirable employees. No Christian organization can project a godly testimony to its constituency unless it has the right kind of people in its employ.
Good leaders recognize the importance of preparation. This awareness is reflected in their personal preparation and in the preparation they seek in personnel employed to meet the needs of their school. Ideally, Christian school administrators should have undergraduate training in education and experience in the classroom in addition to graduate degrees in school administration. Some have had highly successful ministries without these prerequisites; however, they have recognized the deficiencies in their preparation and have specifically addressed them through formal and informal programs of continuing education. Classroom teachers should have bona fide college degrees, preferably in education. Those whose training took place in secular educational environments or who did not major in education need strong in-service programs in Christian philosophy and methods to insure they will be properly prepared for the Christian school classroom.
Good leaders, like Moses, recognize they can accomplish more if they do not insist on doing everything themselves. They understand that long-term goals are best served by taking the time to develop other people for the ministry. They can accomplish this by delegating responsibilities to capable coworkers, freeing themselves for the thinking and planning necessary to expand the ministry and anticipate its future needs. In church-related schools, pastors often find it difficult to surrender the administrative responsibilities of the school to the school administrator. Most pastors find that when they fail to do this, their primary role as pastor of the church suffers. Even if this is not the case, most pastors have not been trained for the role of school administrator and are not well suited for this position. A first-class church school is typically administered on a day-to-day basis by a qualified school administrator who has a close working relationship with his pastor.
Good leaders anticipate and plan for the needs of the future. At the same time they are dealing with the problems of today, they are making preparations to meet the challenges of tomorrow. While they are wise enough to recognize that much can be learned from the past, they do not dwell on the mistakes of the past or allow past mistakes to deny them a bright future.
A good Christian school places appropriate emphasis on three areas of its programs: spiritual, academic, and extracurricular activities. A Christian school's only reason to exist is to provide an academic education framed by the Word of God. No student should be required to receive a second-rate academic education in order to have a Christian education. But no student should have his faith undermined in the process of receiving a quality academic education.
A good balance requires a curriculum that presents all academic subject matter in light of what is taught in the Bible. In a good Christian school the Bible is also taught as a separate subject with the same commitment of personnel, textbooks, and educational resources as any other subject taught in the school. Chapel has a prominent place in the program, and preaching is the dominant activity in chapel. All academic subjects that are appropriate for the grade levels offered by the school must be available to teach each subject. These teachers are provided a classroom with furniture and other educational resources appropriate for the students and the subject matter taught.
Extracurricular activities are recognized as "extra" activities. They are not offered until other essential programs have been given appropriate support. They are added to the program to complement the curriculum. As popular as fine arts activities and sports may be, they cannot be allowed to control the focus of the school. Funds allocated to these activities should be proportionate to their contribution to the objectives of the school and the number of students participating in them.
Adequate physical facilities are an essential component of a modern Christian school. It is true that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Master Teacher, never had a classroom that He could call His own. Certainly no one would deny He was an effective teacher. We are not the Lord, and in our era physical facilities are important to people. Schools without suitable facilities will find it difficult to establish credibility in their community.
In good architectural design, form follows function. Some of the best educational facilities I have observed were not ostentatious. In fact, you tended not to notice them at all. Everything that was necessary for a favorable learning environment was available without drawing special attention to the facilities. Good school facilities focus on the practical. It is the rare school that has sufficient funds to be extravagant in the form or materials utilized in construction.
A first-class school requires balance. The leadership of the school needs to have a clear picture of its objectives and how they are to be achieved. The business management of the school should enhance rather than impede the school ministry and its testimony. The academic program the school provides its students must reflect sound educational principles. Subject matter presentation should be appropriate to meet the needs of students in the community. The academic focus should never be permitted to diminish the spiritual emphasis of the school. The spiritual goal must always be paramount. It would be better for a young person to enter Heaven's gates illiterate than for his educational experience to keep him from coming to know the Lord in truth, though such a choice would never be required in a good Christian school. The school needs an appropriate facility in which to operate, where the learning environment and educational resources are conducive to the attainment of the school's spiritual and educational goals.
Deuink, J.W., & Herbster, C.D. (1986). Effective Christian school management (2nd Ed.). Greenville, SC: BJU Press.