Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Joe’s Take: Thanks to CAPE’s President

This past weekend brought me to the spectacular city of Colorado Springs to attend a retirement dinner for the spectacular Ken Smitherman, president of the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) since 1996 and president of CAPE since 2005.

I first met Ken in the fall of 1997 at a conference of national private school leaders in Dayton, Ohio. He and I were newcomers to our respective jobs, and we both shared complementary goals: I was eager to expand CAPE’s membership, and Ken was eager to expand ACSI’s influence as a force for Christian education.

The following March, Ken attended his first CAPE meeting as a guest and then returned in October, when, during a discussion about CAPE’s mission statement, this “guest” suggested CAPE should probably think about developing a vision statement, which, as he explained to the board, was “a statement of what the people we serve would be like if we were successful at what we do.” Needless to say, we soon had a vision statement at CAPE, as well as an obvious new force for good.

In October 1999, ACSI became a member of CAPE; by 2001, Ken was CAPE’s treasurer; in March of ‘02, he was elected vice president, and in 2005 president—a rise to the top that rivals President Obama’s in rapidity.

CAPE’s board, made up of the CEOs of the major national associations of religious and independent schools, knows leadership when it sees it. Indeed, when a board of leaders elects you as their president, it’s pretty much a solid confirmation of your leadership skills.

And lead he has—not in a domineering, spotlight-seeking way, but by calling forth the gifts of the group, gently guiding us back on track, respecting divergent points of view, and letting us believe we got to the goal on our own. But we didn’t. Ken’s calm, insightful ways, his tact and skill in moving the agenda forward, and his instinct toward consensus guaranteed that we would get there together.

Ken is always calling his colleagues to new horizons, often by recommending books, like Built to Last, or Life at the Bottom, or Letters by a Modern Mystic, in which Frank Laubach writes about his efforts to keep God in mind all the time as a constant companion and guide in life by listening to the voice of the Spirit.

Recall what Ken taught the CAPE board about a vision statement: “a statement of what the people we serve would be like if we were successful at what we do.” In his foreword to Letters by a Modern Mystic, Ken in effect described his own vision statement, imagining what individuals, families, schools, and communities would be like if they lived in, as he put it, “intentional moment-by-moment relationship” with God.

Ken has pursued that vision, spread that word, shared God with others—not only by distributing Laubach’s book, but by being a personal witness of the life of the Spirit. So for all the gifts and talent and time and friendship and witness he has brought to CAPE, the Christian school community, and the private school community at large, we salute him and thank him.

(Posted by Joe McTighe, CAPE's Executive Director)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Culture of Accountability

In April, our U.S. secretary of education, Arne Duncan, said, "We need a culture of accountability in America's education system if we want to be the best in the world." I like that sentence for three reasons:

1. It's true. Every presidential administration in our lifetime has said the same thing, demanding that schools be accountable for their mission, promises and funding through a rigorous set of standards that, curiously, remain pretty much intact for the present administration.

Page one headline from the education establishment journal, Education Week (April 8, 2009): "Obama Echoes Bush On Education Ideas."

- Obama: "set high standards, have high expectations ... cultivate a new culture of accountability in America's schools."

- G.W. Bush: "insist on high standards and accountability ... every school should teach."

- Bill Clinton: "all successful schools followed the same proven formula: high standards, more accountability, so all children can reach those standards."

- G.H.W. Bush: "Accountability, flexibility, tougher standards, [results] - all of these have got to be out there on the table."

2. Of all the schools in the nation, religious and independent schools are the most accountable. How is that? If we do not fulfill our mission and our promises, our funding evaporates overnight. The paying public (who, by the way, pays twice. Once, through taxation and, then again, through tuition.) can decide to pay someone else. Now that's accountability. We either do what we say we'll do or ... the old adage comes true: our citizens will vote with their feet.

Maybe that is why government schools even fear their own charter schools.

3. We do want to be the best in the world. Mr. Duncan had the same goal for the Chicago Public Schools. As a Chicago taxpayer (still), it is fair to say the goal to be the best in the world didn't quite materialize for him in Chicago but, at least, he knows the value of competing to be the best.

Here is how we can be the best: when schools are truly accountable to citizens and when the educational playing field is truly competitive (i.e. full public and private school choice), people will vote with their feet. The monopoly will be over. America's schools will, again, be the best in the world.

(Posted by Gary B. Arnold, Arkansas State CAPE)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Joe’s Take: Nurse Pappas to the Rescue!

I attended the Flu Summit at the National Institutes of Health yesterday, where the main take-away was “Prepare for the Worst!” (Read details here.) No one can tell with certainty the extent to which the H1N1 virus will strike in coming months, but as President Obama told the delegates during a phone call from Italy, “the potential for a significant outbreak in the fall is looming.” He called for “vigilance and preparation.”

Secretaries Kathleen Sebelius (HHS), Janet Napolitano (DHS), and Arne Duncan (ED) all addressed the summit, and a panel of governors participated via video link.

But perhaps the most engaging presenter was Mary Pappas, a school nurse at St. Francis Prep in New York City, the first school hit by the flu outbreak last spring. Attendees listened intently as Pappas recounted how she triaged the scores of sick and scared students who sought her care when the flu first erupted -- scared because they had arrived at school healthy that morning only to suddenly develop symptoms later. Pappas, who eventually sent home 102 students that day, enlisted the assistance of other school personnel to take temperatures and record the results on a sticky note stuck to each student’s uniform. With just a single phone line in her office, Pappas commissioned students to use their own cell phones to find parents. The nurse then informed each parent of the child’s condition.

The key to handling the emergency, said Pappas, was staying calm and relying on her experience and training as a medical professional. (Quick thinking and ingenuity also played an obvious role.) Her effectiveness and expertise have earned her new respect among students, parents, and administrators. Preparing for the next possible outbreak, she counsels students to stay at home if they’re sick, cough into their arms and, when they come upon a strange substance, "If it's wet and it's not yours, don't touch it."

“Every school should have a nurse,” said Pappas. The crowd agreed with vigorous applause.

(Posted by Joe McTighe, CAPE's Executive Director)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Joe's Take: More Than Math and Reading

CAPE enters the blogosphere with this initial posting about a stimulating conversation that state CAPE representatives had earlier this week at their summer institute in Little Rock, Arkansas. The discussion (one of many valuable exchanges) centered around the need to distinguish religious and independent schools in fundamental ways from public traditional schools and public charter schools.

Private schools represent so much more than being effective vehicles for securing improvements in math and reading skills, which is what many public policy advocates seem to believe is the only justification for their existence. As some public schools are narrowing the curriculum in pursuit of having every child achieve at an illusory level of proficiency in reading and math, private schools need to remind the public that such skills are only a single point on a path toward educating the whole child. Critical thinking, analytical skills, imagination, creativity, compassion, character, an appreciation of art and music, athletic ability, and the development of spiritual and ethical values -- these collectively constitute the purpose of religious and independent schools. Quality academics are important, but they are only part of the picture. But too often, even we in the private school community give credence to the notion that the best way to judge our schools is by the upticks they show in reading and math scores.

Religious and independent schools contribute too much to the common good to be reduced to such narrow measures. As Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute said in an interview this week, it is no coincidence that the two minority members of next October’s likely Supreme Court (Justices Sotomayor and Thomas) once attended urban religious schools.

One state CAPE representative this week said we have to explain to the public that private schools would be essential to this country even if every public school were producing students with reading and math scores in the 90th percentile. I completely agree. How would you make that case?

(Posted by Joe McTighe, CAPE's Executive Director)