Saturday, August 23, 2014

LUTHERAN SCHOOLS: 10 Survival Tips for Struggling Lutheran Schools

I know this blog is primarily for congregations but I'm taking a side trip because, let's face it, our Lutheran schools (and probably many other parochial schools) are struggling to survive. They get smaller and smaller, combining classes until they have no choice but to close. What I've found over time is that many K-8 Lutheran schools are great about having religion classes, chapel, devotions, and prayer. Where they often struggle is on the governance, administrative/academic fronts. Here's my professional advice to start turning the Titanic.
  1. Know your competition (private, charter, traditional public). If you don't know what they offer, you won't know how to compete with them and let's face it; you're competing with them and many of them don't charge tuition. Too many Lutheran schools think their only competition is other parochial schools.
  2. Know what you value most. Set priorities, and know what's flexible and what's not. Your arts program may bring students to your school but you do not want to have to explain that your kids get a lot of electives but you skimp on science or math. Some things are flexible and some are not. For example, for 7th/8th grade, some schools have 5 core classes (Religion, Language Arts, Math, Social Studies, Science) and then electives (Health, Art, Music, Band, P.E., etc.). That's 5 classes that have required homework. Now think about electives. Having 4 electives that run all year add 4 more classes with the possibility of homework. That's a lot of homework!! But there are options: fewer year-long electives, one elective per quarter (but band/choir all year), etc. There's only so much elective time. How should it best be used for the benefit of the students?
  3. Understand the needs of your population. The academic needs of elementary students are very different from those of middle schoolers. Know what they are and address them. Most K-8 Lutheran schools will send their students to a public high school. Make sure they're prepared both academically and socially. 
  4. Have a rigorous curriculum, don't just say you do. Prove it with data. I see Lutheran schools all over the place that claim they have a rigorous curriculum but have no data to back it up. So, in essence it's just your opinion. Your curriculum is rigorous... compared to what?
  5. Have a clear and concise website message. There is no prize for a complicated website. When parents are looking for a school for their kids they do two things: ask around the neighborhood or at church, and check schools out on the web. Be sure the top 5 reasons they should come to your school is on your website. After that they'll visit. Be sure your school is visitor friendly. Is the front door easy to find? Once in the front door is the office easy to find? Are the office and classrooms neat and tidy? Is all storage in an appropriate place? Is it clean?
  6. Make sure your school board is trained to run a school and not a church. Schools and churches are two very different entities. A lot of people think the school is a mission and it is, but it is also a business intended with the specific purpose of educating students better or as well as any public school. When the education fails, the school no longer exists. Private schools are not bound by many of the rules or requirements of the state but there are a lot of lessons that can be learned from their governance and administration. (See my Lutheran School Board Information Manual).
  7. Have a fully qualified faculty. All teachers should be licensed. Too many Lutheran schools hire people they like before people who are qualified as both teachers and administrators. Why would a parent send their child to a school whose board, administration, and faculty are unconcerned about having qualified teachers and administrators? Be sure your teachers keep in touch with what's going on in the world of education. Visit other schools, not other Lutheran schools, but other local schools to see what's going on there. 
  8. Live up to your state's standards. The message is... we do everything they do but more. Be able to show it with comparison guides either on the website or as a document given to prospective parents. If you're going to compete with the local schools you want to be more than a Christian school, you want to be an excellent school academically. Tell people you provide everything the public school does and more! Your students get Christ in the classroom!
  9. Reach out to ALL the Christian congregations in the area. Lutheran schools can and should reach out to all Christians in their area and not just those in their denomination. It's very easy to use Google maps to find your school and then do a search for churches in that area. Just because they're a different denomination doesn't mean their members wouldn't appreciate a good Christian education for their children.
  10. EMBRACE CHANGE!!! There's only one thing that never changes and that's God's love. Realize there are things that need to change and stop finding reasons to keep doing what you've always done. There's a reason people make fun of the phrase "We've always done it that way." That's about pride. Don't become a school that closes simply because you refuse to embrace change or let go of your pride.

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