Late last term and during some of the school break I had the wonderful opportunity to go to the US. A short stop-over in LA to visit Disneyland and four days in San Francisco to see a baseball game, shop, see Hamilton and visit Alcatraz were definite highlights. But the purpose of the visit was to visit a Christian school in Iowa—and bring back what I learnt to ICS and the wider Christian education movement in Australia.
Ireton Christian School is a small school of around 80 students in western Iowa. It has existed for 100 years and has strong community support in the town of around 700 people. It is mostly a farming community, with many workers leaving the town to work in larger centres in the region.
The school is part of a local community of Christian schools in western Iowa, South Dakota and Nebraska that work in a similar way to Christian Education National in sharing and supporting one another.
They work on a very low budget. Local churches support the schools by paying per student attending the school. Parents also pay fees and there is significant fundraising.
‘Measuring the Mission’ is the name of the registration and accreditation process that Ireton Christian School participated in. It was conducted by a team of educators from Christian Schools International. I had the opportunity to join this team.
Prior to the visit, the school undertook a self-evaluation study. The school was asked to self-assess how well they were achieving against various standards and to identify goals for self-improvement based on the findings of their self-evaluation.
The purpose of the visit was to look at materials provided by the school in order to validate or challenge the self-evaluation. Different members of the accreditation team explored and reported on individual strands. We interviewed members of the staff, the board, students and parents.
Between interviews, members of the accreditation team convened to discuss the questions and responses and to identify emerging concerns and commendations. Over the two days of interviews, a consistent view of the school began to emerge regarding its strengths and weaknesses.
Once the interviews were completed, we gave feedback to the school, based on the self-study and information gathered through the interviews. The accreditation team then met with the Ireton school improvement team to discuss how the findings might lead to school goals to strengthen the school based upon the indicators. Finally, a recommendation for accreditation was given.
How might this benefit Illawarra Christian School?
It was a privilege to go and look at Ireton Christian School and be a part of the accreditation team. Ireton is a wonderful school that has faithfully served Christians in the town for 100 years. It was fantastic to share in the journey of this school. I particularly enjoyed seeing the many things in which the school has been involved as part of its commitment to Christ. It is also clear that the school will benefit from the growth that will come out of the review process.
Part of the purpose of my participation in this review was to see if a similar system could be set up among Christian Education National schools in Australia. Such a review process could see ‘critical friends’ come into our school with fresh eyes and feedback on how we could improve and what we could do better. In 2020, Illawarra Christian School will go through a registration and accreditation process with NSW Education Standards Authority, as we do every five years. This review is always a really helpful and positive experience for us, but it doesn’t come from a Christian perspective. Any new review that Christian Education National might undertake could sit alongside NESA’s process and focus on making sure we stay true to our vision as a Christian school.
The tool we used to carry out the review in Ireton was also really helpful now for me as a principal. It gives me tools to ask questions of our staff and our school board as we plan for the future and implement programs and curricula in our school.
I am grateful to our school Board and Christian Schools International for inviting me to be part of this process. I look forward to my involvement in developing a tool we can use in Australia that would help Christian schools around our nation (including us) continue to be faithful to our educational mission.