This time of year is definitely an emotional roller coaster for the administrator of a Christian school. The end of the year is quickly approaching and we look back on all the successes of the last 10 months. Academic programs, fine arts competitions, educator's conferences, legislative tasks, Christmas programs, Spirit Week, achievement testing, classroom activities, administrative accomplishments, student progress… the list could go on. This year’s staff has been the best one ever—a team of dedicated, hard-working, enthusiastic teachers who have sacrificed so much for such little monetary compensation. Our students have excelled academically and – I’d like to say—spiritually over the past school year. Grades are up, spirits are high and camaraderie is at its peak. All in all… it has been a fantastic year. The best one yet in our 13-year existence.
All that said, what could possibly get me down? Well, it’s commitment time. The time of year when our current parents begin returning letters of intent for the next school year. Because of our feeble operating budget, we have to know early on how many students we should expect to invest in. Will we need another teacher? Will we need additional staff to handle the number of students enrolled? Or, God forbid, will we be forced to let a teacher go because of lower enrollment? And for the record…There’s never enough quality staff on board in any Christian ministry, but in ministries like ours, decisions are often affected by financial outlooks. That is why we prepare. That is our due diligence.
Parents often look back at the sacrifice they have made each year and weigh out the positives and negatives of sending their students to our academy. Almost always, the positives outweigh the negatives and families recommit with no qualms. Most of those negatives have nothing to do with the quality of education or the spiritual stimulation offered. Most reasoning for leaving our school is financial hardships. For others it’s location— seeing many drive a good distance to bring in their children. For others, it may just be a difference of philosophy. All these reasons are mulled over by parents during the month we give them to pray and seek God’s wisdom about recommitting to another year.
That month of prayer is for them, but more importantly, it is for the school. I have no doubt that Christian education is essential for every believing, God-fearing family. But those parents who deem the sacrifice too big to send their students to our school and choose another path, I consider it a blessing to see them depart. I don't say that cruelly. Yes, there is reason to be sad when families depart and say farewell to us. But God is in control and I am confident He will bless our school with the right families each and every year. We will minister to them as they come and we will pray for them as they go. And certainly, for those who leave... we will continue to love them help them as much as we are able. I want to minister to families that God directs to us for that particular year. My prayer is, and has been for the last few years, that God sends us the right families each year. And if that means we lose some, then I feel that is exactly the scenario God will bless. The Christian school will always see people come and go for whatever reason. God is in every decision and our academy will have exactly who He wants there every year. We are always hopeful that His plan includes more and more students each year, but regardless of enrollment, we will pour ourselves into whomever God places with us.
Truthfully though, as a Christian educator, I desire families who value what we do. Those who see the daily sacrifices our teachers and staff make on behalf of their students. Those who desire a staff that prays for and is truly concerned with each student’s academic and spiritual growth. Yes, it saddens me, that even after all the prayers, financial aid, personal time and great effort that we invest into individual families each year, they choose to walk away—stating reasons that are illogical to me. When they say, “We can’t afford it,” God hears, “My kids aren’t worth that sacrifice.” When they say, “The drive is too long,” God hears, “My kids aren’t worth that sacrifice.” You see… just about every reason the Christian uses to excuse himself from the obligation of Christian schooling comes down to the cost (not always money either). The sacrifice it takes to properly “train up a child in the way he should go” comes in various forms. The question then, which begs asking is: what kind of sacrifice are you willing to make to see you child receive an education at the Christian school? And... Is it worth it?
Before we answer those questions, let's venture into the realm of the "why's?" That is, reasons why families walk away from solid Christian schooling. So, here goes. Is there ever a good reason to leave a good Christian school? Yes.
First, those who desire to home school. Home schooling done properly is the very best choice, even above the Christian school. But it is imperative that the home educator is capable and dedicated to seeing it done right. All too often we receive students who have come from failed home-schooled settings where there is no structure or discipline in seeing out the completion of school work and managing student assignments. They are turned over to us for a year or two to repair the damage, and then they are ripped from our grasp to save a few dollars by resuming the home schooled method.
My wife and her siblings were products of home-schooling, but her mother did it right. They graduated with more education than I received in my public schooling. They were involved in home school groups and they had structure in the home to make sure the children's school work was completed well each day. Were there short-comings? Probably, as my mother-in-law would admit; but nonetheless, it was effective. So, if done effectively, I believe home education is the best option, as my wife and her family are living proof.
But in our time as Christian school educators, we have also seen our fair share of those students who have fallen victim to the home-school experiment. We have dealt with parents who were completely incapable of handling the task of home educating their kids. Often there were too many school-aged kids in the home who were at different grade levels, and mom had to juggle the multi-grade instruction while also managing housework, and taking care of younger siblings not yet of school age. Not an impossible task, but daunting to say the least. There were others who offered their children no structure whatsoever. Mom would sleep in until ten or eleven in the morning and let the children make up their own schedule, just so long as the work got done. Often, quality of work was an afterthought... again, just so long as it was done. Other common trend we see comes when the parent may not be educated enough themselves to teach the more difficult subjects. They “wing it” resulting in a failure to properly translate the knowledge to the child. So from one end of the spectrum to the other we have: Capable, dedicated families who succeed. Families who make the attempt, and drown in good intentions. And the families who do the bare minimum for the sake of getting by. If you choose the path of homeschooling your children, be sure you fall into the first group.
Another acceptable scenario for parents to withdraw their students from a Christian school is when families relocate. My hope is that parents would seek a similar learning environment when they leave us due to job relocation, because consistency is a very important element in a child's education. I feel that when relocating and changing schools, only schools that are of like faith and practice are acceptable choices. If the place you've had to relocate to doesn't have said school, don't move there. Move to a place where there is a good, local church-based school. Maybe you have to travel to get to work or maybe you have to drive a ways to get your kids to a good Christian school, but either way...get your kids in that school! Make that sacrifice.
What is really troubling is when we see families move to areas just outside a comfortable driving distance from us and then enroll their kids into a public school. Many times it’s because the public tax dollar is able to offer more in way of sports, clubs and more. Maybe the excuse is that they want more of a social atmosphere for their kids. We've heard it all. Then— without a doubt— parents justify it by saying, "They'll be fine. They had some great foundations at your school, and they'll use that to build upon in the public school." Unfortunately, that's not the way it usually works. The liberal teaching philosophies in the public classroom are designed to destroy that Christian foundation, not build upon it. Of all the students who left our academy during their high school years, only two stayed true to the faith we helped establish in them. So let's not kid ourselves. Your child probably isn't the exception. The comparison I always use is this: when thrown into a bushel of rotten apples, the good apples don't preserve the rotten. They, too, succumb to the rottenness of the environment.
Finally, having a difference of philosophy is reason to withdraw from Christian school. Academically or in doctrine, if the school is violating scripture or biblical principles, then there is cause for exiting that institution. However, it would probably be wise to have a meeting with the headmaster or founding pastor and discuss the issues before jumping immediately to the side of being offended. Sit down with the school's authority and find out if the school is in the wrong or if you are in the wrong. Often times, what we assume to be differences in philosophy is really just misunderstanding or miscommunication between parties. I know that our academy takes great strides in seeing our academics and spiritual programs line up with scripture, but we are never too proud to hear out a parent who has taken up issue with any doctrine we teach.
So…. Are there other good reasons to leave a solid, academically- and spiritually-sound Christian school? Perhaps... but they are few. It really all comes down to sacrifice. Having your children attend a Christian school is just that... a sacrifice. Remember, the whole concept of a sacrifice is that it is not easy nor is it cheap and there is no commitment without sacrifice. Those not willing to make the commitment are those who are not willing to make the necessary sacrifice. If you Trust God, He will provide the appropriate strength and resources. He always does. The real question parents must ask is… "What kind of sacrifice am I willing to make for having my children involved in Christian schooling?" And then, "Are my kids worth that sacrifice?" I can't answer the first question for you, but as to the second query... My answer is, "You better believe it!"