A few days ago I had the opportunity to welcome 9 school leaders from Associated Christian Schools of Australia. They are on a learning journey to gather information from schools across the United States regarding all four areas of School Growth Re-Design: Governance, Administration, Operations, and Curriculum.
We started the day North of Atlanta in Norcross by visiting Wesleyan School, where Zack Young is the Head of School. In the first hour the group learned about the history of this school, and the generous people who helped create their beautiful campus. Strong vision and leadership built the momentum to move from a collection of trailers to one of the most attractive campuses in greater Atlanta and in the whole country. Mr. Young is particularly adept at sustaining a well-aligned faculty and building donor engagement.
The next stop was Mount Pisgah Christian School, where we toured the Patriot Athletic Campus and then the preparatory and elementary campuses. We talked about Pisgah's strategies to building hands-on learning opportunities like the American History Museum, the Culinary Lab, and the minimesters for high school students.
Lessons from Australia
From our conversation I learned that the Australian Christian schools represented operate very similarly to charter schools in the US. Funding is provided on a per pupil basis from the government. Employment selectivity is permitted, enabling them to hire faculty and staff that are in agreement with the mission, worldview, and strategies of the school. Student enrollment discrimination, however, is not permitted, requiring these privately operated schools to admit students as capacity allows, regardless of intellectual ability, behavior, or past performance. A family that perceives that a school is applying selective admission standards can file suit in the discrimination court.
The Australian system of funding private education does allow Christian schools to teach a broader diversity of students, rather than focusing on the higher income families that are typically served by American Christian schools.
Efficiently and effectively educating special needs students is one of the biggest challenges facing these school leaders. Such people-intensive services require professionals with the requisite expertise, which equates to a difficult economic scenario. These administrators are exploring how technology-based solutions can expand the capacity to serve special needs students while also lowering the cost per student.
Just as in the US, non-profit is a government tax designation--it's NOT a goal. School boards and administrators must find new ways to create higher margins for net contribution per student. The Australian administrators were keenly interested in how American schools raise money and charge tuition, recognizing that their business model may be changing.
(As a side note, I also learned that offering a man a drinking straw may have unintended implications for Australians. Fortunately my guests were warmly understanding when I asked the waitress to bring straws for the table...)
Australia has also issued national curriculum standards (similar to the Common Core in the US), but broad adoption has been slow. Some private school leaders are concerned about how the national curriculum might eventually be used to coerce Christian schools to teach material that is contrary to their mission and guidelines. Alignment between standardized testing and the curriculum is also an issue.
Hopefully I will have the chance to reciprocate this visit by traveling to Australia in the near future. Schools around the globe are seeking better ways to operate, and the School Growth Re-Design Model is geographically independent.
If you had the opportunity to speak with school leaders from Australia, what is the main question you would want to ask?