Academics and MCA

It is difficult to speak to this vital topic without referencing the previous post concerning Kingdom Education.  But I will try to share specifically about academics while encouraging you to read that post if you have not.

Academic goals are reached when the right combination of excellent teachers, motivated students and quality curriculum come together.  I believe we have the right teachers here for this time at MCA.  Our teachers have a wonderful blend of experience levels, backgrounds in education, and diversity of personal histories.  The faculty continues to demonstrate a commitment to learning and adapting to new knowledge, tools and needs of the current generation.  All of our teachers are certified with the accrediting organizations and the state of Kansas.  Most importantly all teachers are committed to service to God and pursuing excellence in their work as an offering back to Him.  The faculty loves their students and wants them to succeed today and in the life God has for them.

This is an unusual year for MCA in the number of new faculty across the Academy.  The adjustment effort and duration have been significant for students, parents, faculty and staff.  However, I believe we are hitting our stride.  I have recently enjoyed watching this partnership begin to pass from the startup sprint phase to the middle of the race where meaningful adjustments can be made and relationships are strengthened.  One example is when a mom and dad dropped by and shared some specific concerns with myself and Dr. Fritz about two academic areas.  Many good things happened in that process:

  1. The feedback (delivered by the parents very professionally with a spirit of partnership) confirmed corrective work that was already in progress.  That illustrated for me that mentoring and coaching processes are working and that parents are motivated to come alongside leadership and teachers for a healthy learning environment.
  2. New issues were also identified, and through it all the teacher received the feedback well.  This included the teacher’s explanations of their methods and objectives as well as frankly considering adjusting to the feedback.

In visiting with students, I am hearing that they are learning not only the subject matter, but they are learning how to benefit from the new teachers.  One senior told me something that was very encouraging,  “Although our new math teacher has pushed us hard, we have grown to appreciate them and can see how they are helping us prepare for college.”

I believe most of our students are motivated to excel in their studies, and we have seen evidence of that already.

  • All of the students who wanted to pass the Compass Math test to qualify to take college credit for college algebra did pass the test (or qualified to be exempted from the test).
  • We had several 7,8, and 9th graders qualify for District Honor Band.  This band consists of students from 84 1A through 6A schools.
  • Elementary students are eagerly prepping for math, spelling, science competitions.
  • We have students listening and speaking in Spanish in class.
  • We have students creating quality videos for Video Production Class.
  • The list goes on and on.  Sitting in the classrooms has been a joy.

The bottom line is that quality learning is happening.  These students are being richly prepared to have dominion over the earth as God commanded.   The true blessing is that they are doing so with a biblical worldview and with mentoring from godly men and women.

Please understand that even though all of these wonderful things are happening, we are constantly looking for ways to be better.

  • We are adjusting the Secondary’s brand new LIFT pilot program (accelerated learning) based on what we have learned so far this semester.
  • The faculty meets frequently to discuss effective teaching and to share successful teaching methods and strategies.
  • Mrs. Watt, Mr. Hoduski and Dr. Fritz are regularly working with the teachers to provide feedback and guidance.
  • We are examining data (test scores, GPA, trends in classes) about student performance.  We then evaluate programs and discuss with teachers what this data indicates we should do to improve performance.

I hope you read in this post that we have a strong commitment to academics.  We feel we are performing well across the Academy(and early results from the Annual survey indicate you concur), but that we recognize that we can always get better.  We will not let that pursuit of excellence drop off of our radar screen.

I Heard How to Make Your Student (and You) Smarter

I attended a Christian school conference at Grandview Christian School last week.  I heard some excellent material on the use of technology and how Christians should be talking about sexuality in the home and at school.  The speaker on the use of technology was Brad Huddleston.  He is an author, TV and radio personality and produces visual media as well.  One of his books is titled The Dark Side of Technology.  I recommend getting to know his work.  It has changed my life and my outlook on technology.  I believe it should yours.  You can start at http://bradhuddleston.com/.   He has spoken all over the world about the impact of technology on our lives both in how it is reshaping our brains and impacting our spiritual lives.

One session that I attended with him was about how to make you and your student smarter.  I thought I would share.  I have already passed this info on to my wife, daughter and son-in-law.

1)  Remove all digital devices from the bedroom: TV, phones, tablets, etc.  Anything with a screen.

2) Understand your child may not be ready to handle a smart phone.  Parents of young children, his advice is to not even let them look at a screen for as long as you can after they are born…we are talking years.

3) Get aerobic exercise of at least 30 minutes a day for 5-6 days a week.

4) Get enough sleep.  9.25 hours for teenagers and 8.5 for adults.

5) Read analog books – research shows this can help with attention deficit disorders.  It has also been shown to extend short-term memory transference to long-term memory.

6) Connect with nature.  God placed within his nature a peacefulness that is almost impossible to replicate.

7) Set aside regular, contemplative quiet time.  Your brain needs time off from all the stimulation technology provides.

8) No multi-tasking with technology.  Your brain is a sequential processor.  Multi-tasking with technology has been proven to reduce productivity by a minimum of 40%.  Plus other issues, but more on that at another time.

9) Listen to music to refresh other than at night when going to sleep.  Music while sleeping is actually harmful.

10)  Reduce video-gaming to 1/2 hour a week.  Research has tied video gaming to many harmful social issues such as people losing their ability to feel emotions.

Try these with your kids if you want them to do better at school and at life.  It will require some radical changes on your part including the willingness to confront because you know what is best for them.  Do it in love and with patience and firmness.  They will love you for it later.

Bonus for those who have read this far:  Where do the heads of Microsoft, Google, etc. send their students to school in California?  Answer: Waldorf Schools.  Why is that important?  Waldorf does not let technology within the classroom until the student reaches middle school and then severely restricts its use.

The Auction and You

You need the auction.

I understand that is a provocative statement.  The school needs it too.  Let me explain what I mean.  First, you need the auction to provide our community of common purpose a means to rally together and be used by God to provide for His ministry.  Your friends and co-laborers have invested countless hours in developing an experience designed for the whole Academy to have community and have an enjoyable means of making an investment in the success of the Academy.  They have structured the auction so that almost everyone can participate.  The online auction has scores of items with a wide variety of values.  That was done so that no matter your economic situation, you should be able to participate at some level.  The online auction will represent about 40% of the total auction proceeds.  The live auction raises the other 60% and therefore is designed to encourage participation of those that can contribute to that large goal.

Pulling off this type of event is a tremendous investment of time and effort.  To begin to grasp just how big of a task this is, let me list a few of the names involved and their committees:

The Team: Sondra Slattery, Donna Johnson, Deanna Michaud, Kelly Dehnert, Lisa Dumler, Doug Rehfeld, Gail Bragg, Holly McNickle, Leslie Pruitt, Bobbie O’Keith, Christy Smith, Jeremy Ediger, Madison Ediger, Debbie Hamil, Madeline Hartwig, Stacey Welch, and Shelly Higginbotham.

Committees: Donations, Live Auction, Silent Auction, Class Projects, Publicity

Second, you need the auction to help meet the financial needs of the school  The auction has been a tremendous blessing to the financial health of the school for many years.  Last year it contributed over $70,000 to special projects and the general operation funds.  That is a significant boost to general operations.  In addition, what a joy to see the impact made by last year’s of the collective bid contributions: new musical instruments in the hands of the elementary students, new uniforms on the baseball team, new awning on the South elementary entrance, and we will have the new track improvements in place by track season!

Please pray for the team as they work feverishly to finalize details and prepare for the online and live auctions.

You can preview items now at:  https://www.biddingforgood.com/MCAgala

The team is working hard and will be until well after the live auction is over.  Please also express your appreciation for their service to you and to MCA.  Finally I would ask that you do your part towards helping us achieve 100% participation.  Join in the fun of the online auction and, if you can, buy a ticket and participate in the live auction.  You will honor God with your cheerful giving, bring blessings on yourself, be a vessel of provision to God’s ministry at MCA, and show gratitude to those who have served faithfully by enthusiastically participating in the auction.  You might even find some great Christmas presents for friends and family!

 

Facilities – Maximizing the Space

I wanted to provide transparency to work we are doing on the facilities.  God has enabled us to make some significant changes that update and enrich the use of the facilities at both campuses, but especially at South.  Much of this work was funded by the donations to Project 40 last year.

At the North Campus, we re-arranged rooms so that the north hall is devoted to preschool and the south wing to elementary.  This allows our preschool to continue to grow, while maximizing the use of the other space.

At the South Campus, Kevin and his team have made some significant changes and updates:

  • Added kitchen space including a sink, pizza oven, serving line and much more in the Secondary lunch room
  • Repainted the Elementary hall way.  Still work to be done in adding scriptures to the walls and building His-story hall in honor of the murals that were on the walls.
  • Consolidated all food services into one lunch room.  We are now looking to repurpose the smaller Elementary lunchroom for academic purposes.
  • Installed glass door and wall in the hallway just north of the Secondary offices.  We will be converting that area into a printer room and repurposing the current printer room into work stations for those teachers who do not have homes yet.

We do not anticipate big building projects over the next 12 months, but there are some important smaller projects we are looking at if we can find the dollars:

  • Replace entry doors at South for security and function
  • Getting a machine that will scrub the heavily used gym floor.  Need to protect the investment we have in the gym.
  • Address the A/C and heating issues in many of our classrooms

I am so grateful for all the hard work and creative deal finding that allowed us to do this work.  Keep praying that God will provide for the care of these aging facilities.

Financial Health of MCA

In several conversation I have had recently, I have discovered that there are some misunderstandings about the finances of MCA.  Today’s post is about starting that conversation to increase understanding of Academy finance and clear up some perceptions.  This is the second post in the series answering the question of where are we headed.

God has blessed this school to allow it to serve Him for 40 years.  There were some years of severe testing during the transition from direct financial support by the church to independence where we were days from having to close the school.  I can speak directly for the last 7 years having served on the Board or as superintendent for all of those years.  In spite of a significant decline in enrollment for 5 of those years, the school’s finances were adequate to the need.  Last year reversed the enrollment trend by increasing enrollment slightly and this year we are up 4% in enrollment.

To spur on that growth, we have intentionally invested in people and resources at a higher level than what current enrollment would suggest.  That has kept margins lower, but still within tolerances.  Going forward our intent is to maintain our investment in people and resources at a level that continues to provide the right breadth and depth of educational experiences which allow us to reach our goals.  In other words, we are shifting from investing ahead of the curve, but rather we are going to be fast followers.  This means that we don’t staff in anticipation but rather wait until the need has been verified.  A key metric here is student to teacher ratio.  In our Secondary, it is 12:1.  That is difficult to sustain financially, but was done intentionally to keep the breadth of offerings available to spur on growth.  In the future, we will be moving toward a 16:1 ratio primarily through planned enrollment growth.

That is some financial direction, but how about some cold, hard facts for the 2013-14 school year?

Revenue – $3,558,023

Expenses – $3,586,764

Net to operations – ($28,741)

When considering that we are working as a non-profit towards a balanced budget, this result is not uncommon.  During the past 7 years, the Net to Operations has fluctuated from a low of ($88,658) in 2012 to a high of $132,471 in 2011.  It is interesting to note that the high and low came back to back.  That is an indicator of the volatility caused by the normal school cycle.  People costs are about 75% of expenses.  Since those costs are mostly set when contracts are issued in March, MCA is taking a calculated risk concerning what enrollment will be the following year.  Once your biggest expense is set, it is hard to adjust your cost structure significantly.  The other considerable variables are donations and fundraising.  We try to budget conservatively about what those will bring in, but if they miss the target, then that gets to the bottom line in a hurry without much chance to adjust.

The other thing I would like to touch on is donations.  We had a record year in 2013-14 in terms of financial giving to the school – over $450,000.  Much of the work that led to that total came under the leadership of our Development Director Matt Schoenfeld.  What is easy to forget is that not all of that giving impacts the budget.  When gifts are designated to a specific project, unless that project is part of the budget, those funds are put in a designated fund outside of the budget.  Let me see if I can make this a little clearer.  Last year we raised a little over $170,000 through Project 40.  None of that money was spent on budgeted items.  All of it was earmarked for investments outside of the budget like producing and airing the TV and radio ads, renovating the South Campus lunch room and purchasing new technology.

So in summary, the school has not worked with much margin for the past 7 years.  Low margin was deemed acceptable by leadership the last two years as we ramped up investments in people and resources to stimulate growth.  Going forward, we will be managing our expenses, be conservative with revenue projections, and pray that God will continue growing enrollment.  We will try to keep the Academy affordable while balancing the increasing costs of goods and services and striving to increase compensation for teachers and staff to be more competitive.

A final note for contemplation:  the Shawnee Mission School District is budgeted to spend about $15,500 per student this school year.  To generate that revenue they will have a mill levy of about $1240 on a $200,000 home.  MCA’s average cost to educate a child is $8,200.  The $7,300 difference is how they can offer more services, offerings and high salaries.  $7300 x 455 students = $3,321,500 difference in ability to invest in the Academy.  What would the Academy look like if we had that?

Eagle Eatery – Healthy

Continuing our discussion about the current state of the Eagle Eatery…

We remain committed to the focus on health.  We admit that we are still learning how to do this well.  We want to offer healthy options especially to the younger students so that we partner with parents to train the young taste buds to appreciate healthier options.  We need your help in this area by encouraging your kids to participate and try new things.  You can also help by serving similar healthy options at home.

At the same time, we acknowledge that they need to eat.  And if they do not like it, they will not eat it.  So we need to be creative and responsive to trying different things to make the meals appealing.  Some of that will come by using the healthy ingredients and working to make sure the kids like the tastes.  However the reality is that some parts of the American diet encourage more participation in the program.  Participation is essential to make the program viable for the Academy to continue offering.  This becomes a bigger issue as you deal with older students.  They are much more willing to work out alternatives (like bringing their own lunches) if they do not like what is offered.  Therefore in our inaugural offering, we have chosen to gradually move to healthier options rather than a sharp cut over.  We believe we have made a large step in that direction already compared to what was offered in previous years.  As those young taste buds move to the secondary over the coming years, we can continue to broaden the choices for healthy fare.  If you are a family sold out to healthy fare, please have your children express their desire for that fare verbally and by the choices they make at the Eagle Eatery.  That will allow us to have real-time feedback to gauge our ability to add more healthy options.

We also want to continue being accommodating to those with diet restrictions.  It would be wonderful to be able to customize each meal for each student, but as difficult as that is at home for a family of 5, multiply the logistical and financial complexities for 450 children and you understand some of our limitations.  The Eatery team remains committed to creatively providing options for the most common diet restrictions.  We will base our adjustments on having enough students participating on a regular basis to allow us to steward our resources responsibly.  Chef Ross will continue to tinker with ingredients and flavors so that more of our items will be edible by the largest percentage possible.

As with all we do at MCA, we want the Eagle Eatery to bring glory to God and to train the whole child.  Please join us in praying that we accomplish these goals.

Eagle Eatery Update

One of the important initiatives that has been underway for over a year now is the Eagle Eatery.  This program was initiated based on several factors:

  1. Quality – our desire is to do everything with excellence
  2. Stewardship – we set expectations concerning financials, cleanliness, use of our resources.
  3. Health – we wanted to improve our partnership with parents in training the whole child.  In addition, we wanted to be accommodating to those with diet restrictions.
  4. Bless our teachers – we wanted to structure the program to provide another benefit to our teachers

Those involved in the program have continued to learn and adapt as they work towards meeting our expectations and those of the students and parents.  Kevin Bergerhofer, his wife Cheryl, chef Becky Ross and Linda Conklin have continued to learn about how to balance a commitment to healthy fare with efficiency of preparation, costs management, and receptivity of students and parents to the meal offerings.

We remain committed to the 4 initial driving factors, and we acknowledge that how we do them has been educated by our experiences so far.  We want a quality program from the process of selecting food/meal programs, through the process of preparation and serving to the billing/payment process.

As you have seen, we have made significant investments in the kitchen areas at both North and South and in technology to support the program.  Another component of this process that has evolved considerably – (much thanks to Jenniffer Casto, Diane Cochran and Dr. Dunn), and I am sure will need further refinement, is the selection and payment for food purchases.  Moving towards online options for selection and payment in both the North and South programs should advance our efficiency and protect the integrity of the program.  We appreciate your constructive feedback (as well as affirming feedback) about these processes.  We want to do this well and will continue to work towards doing so.

My next post will share thoughts on points 3 and 4.