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)