Christian School Choice: Impertinent Paradigms for Parents (Part 2)

If it were only once that my parents accused me of impertinence I could have avoided the struggle of finding my place in life. Impertinence is defined as "exceeding the limits of propriety or good manners, improperly forward." But as with every good thing and considering St. Paul's words from I Corinthians 6:12, "All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient…," impertinence can find its fifteen minutes of fame.

While so many questions take prominence when choosing a Christian school for your children there are those ignored which should be given serious consideration. These "impertinent" questions explore foundational elements directly affecting the administration and faculty charged with carrying out the school's mission effectively. Remember this, your children aren't about to enter a government school where your voice is meaningless, but you are a "consumer," someone paying for a product to be delivered. So, what are these "impertinent" questions, the "forward interrogatives" which may create a bit of discomfort, but will reveal a perspective the usual process doesn't provide?

Since much of the early part of the admissions interview will be about academic and spiritual matters, I ease into this "second phase" by asking about the "honor roll." What percent of the student body is on the honor roll? This would include: high honors, honors, dean's list, principal's list, or whatever honors are recognized. It isn't unusual to discover that two thirds of the student body finds a place on one of these lists. This strains credulity. What's more, by intention, trying not to offend anyone, the unrecognized one third could be devastated. You will want to discover an "academic integrity" which is fair, giving honor where honor is truly deserved.

Since you will be paying tuition which at most schools is an unrealistically depressed tuition, some sort of fundraising program will be practiced to "bridge the gap" between tuition and cost. Explore this aspect. It will often be described as "development," but it falls outside the definition and is simply a gimmick designed to acquire additional revenue. It would be better to add the money which you will spend buying: gift wrap, cheesecakes, and candy to tuition and not be bothered with this three or four times a year. I like to ask a question which puts things in perspective, "When was the last time your college asked you to buy a cheese cake?" The silence is usually deafening.

Another area for exploration which will reveal "budget bloat" or excessive spending has to do with a top heavy administration, that which resembles government schools and lacks the efficiency of the well run independent school. When a school has a: head of school, principal, assistant principal, disciplinarian, class deans, or any combination of these and more, you may expect budget strain. This then forces activities, trips, and extra-curricular programs to be served up "ala carte" adding difficulty to your planning and controlling the home budget.

Finally, but certainly not least important is the school board's make-up and function. What type of board governs the school? One type, and in my mind the weakest, is the church board or a sub-committee of the church board governing. This places excessive time management pressure, as well as delicate financial decision making centering on spouses and children involved at the school. Virtually every decision will affect church leaders and families viscerally.

Better, but still weak is the parent run board. The aforementioned disadvantages are included here, but now every financial or tuition decision affects the family. Disciplinary decisions become overly complicated even clumsy. Hiring or firing can involve spouses and children forcing very poor outcomes. The issues surrounding these two board forms make for potential and uncomfortable tension which can seriously affect relationships.

Over the years, I have served on college, school, and other non-profit boards. These boards were independent boards with members chosen from the general public and based on qualities and characteristics developed by the founding board. Characteristically these boards meet two, three, or four times a year with a couple of committee meetings, in person or by conference call. This is very different from a typical Christian school board which meets monthly with two or three committee assignments also meeting monthly. What capable and busy individual can make this kind of commitment? Those that try often become bitter and tired of meetings which seem endless. Boards that meet this often generally exceed that required of a board: hire/fire the chief executive, establish policy, and assure fiscal stability. With these monthly meeting the board quickly runs out of things to do and then begins to "meddle" in day-to-day operations making it difficult for administrators and faculty to work effectively.

Asking these questions should never become argumentative, just a simple search for pertinent information, information which will make your "school choice" so much more informed. William Barclay the Scottish Bible teacher said, "The conviction of the Christian worker is that every single piece of work one produces must be good enough to show to God." This is one of those "pieces of work" both for the school and for you!

Robert F. Davis has 40 years of experience providing counsel for educational and not-for-profit institutions. He previously served as vice president for Advancement at Bryan College in Tennessee and consulting vice president for Advancement and Alumni Affairs at Liberty University in Virginia.