A couple of days early, but Happy New Year!

If you’re the administrator of a faith-based school, you actually have 3 “Happy New Year” events to prepare for and celebrate – the calendar, the start of your school’s faith tradition’s calendar (such as Advent or Rosh Hashanah), and the start of the new fiscal year for your school.  It’s quite appropriate too, especially when I tell administrators that their school is not a business or a ministry, but rather, a business, a ministry AND a school, each of those structures have their own “year” associated with them.

And, if you think about the SchoolAdvancement contention that “Three leads to four which leads to five,” to complete the system, there’s a fourth new year – the start of your school year, which may the same as or different from your school’s fiscal year.  There’s also a fifth new year that’s widely celebrated, and that new year is named for different animals.

This makes the start of the calendar year “The Half-Way Point” of your school year.  The realization of the need for systems thinking (ST) is one of three mindsets which need to be developed and implemented simultaneously (since there are always at least three forces at work in any situation) which contribute to an “Advancementality.” Those are stated on the home page of this site – Linear Thinking, Process Thinking and, of course, Systems Thinking.

The other two are, “Success Begets Success,” and “Rest at the Appropriate Time.”

Success Begets Success 

At the end of 2008, my wife and I met with the leader of our local high school band program.  We wanted to make a contribution to the organization, and wanted to know what was the most important thing that was lacking in the program so we could help support the outstanding commitment the school board and its administrators had provided to the arts, with a focus on instrumental music education.  At that time, and as we’re still seeing, school boards across the country were scaling back on the “extras” to “focus on the basics” and prepare for rigorous standardized testing (and we see how well that’s turned out).  We met on a Sunday night around our kitchen table.  At that meeting, an idea began to take shape, and a “next steps” plan of action with individual responsibilities was established.

This meeting embodied all three of the listed mindsets. We met on a Sunday night since it was convenient for all of us, rather than meeting only during business hours, and the meeting was during the mid-winter break when school wasn’t in session.  We wanted to make a contribution before the end of calendar year, and to wait until school was back in session would have made it very easy just to put the project off until the children returned to school.  If that would have happened, the program that emerged from that discussion may have never been started.  Why?  Because when you get back to school, you’re inundated with all those normal things that need to “get done” and emergencies that need to be handled rather than setting time aside to focus on possibilities.  That’s “Visioning,” and not enough schools are doing it today.  Our conversation centered around possibilities rather than pitfalls, as well as who was going to take responsibility for each of those “next steps.”

Today, the program is generating more funds year after year, even through the pandemic, assisting students with private music lesson subsidies and summer music camp scholarships.  The high school band has won local, state and national competitions, receiving high schools in music performance, and the carry-over benefits of discipline, teamwork, practice and excellence have a positive effect on their academics as well.  Last month, our signature event cleared over $12,000 in income.  That’s more than what our goal was for the first year of the program, and that contribution we made a decade ago to kick it off was just a fraction of that amount.  To know that after 12 years, one night’s event raised more than what it took us a year to get to at the start is a pretty amazing accomplishment…one that couldn’t be done without a lot of assistance from our volunteer committees, work throughout the year in the community, and seeing success after success rather than setback after setback.  Bottom line:  successes need to be celebrated and promoted to foster additional successes.  A “Help us because we’re struggling” message is WAY different from a “Help us to help others who are struggling” one.

Rest at the Appropriate Time

So what about “Rest?” After all, isn’t Sunday supposed to be a day of rest? Actually, “Observing the Sabbath” means to keep it as a special time. We saw this as a special time to do something good, allowing the “rest” of the week to be reserved for “rest” when it came to the Christmas break.

If you haven’t done so yet, take some time to rest before you return to school.  Since it’s full throttle when school resumes, you must take some time to re-energize, renew your creativity, and be able to once again take up the challenges that face you on a day-to-day basis.  And, as Thomas Merton once said, “There are times, then, when in order to keep ourselves in existence at all we simply have to sit back for a while and do nothing.”

As you already know, those challenges are going to become more and more difficult – such as:

* What do you tell parents when they say they’re afraid of what’s going to happen with the economy, so they’re disenrolling their children – even if they’re not currently affected by economic distress?

* What type of financial aid is your school going to need to offer parents in order to retain the students you have, and how do you really know what parents need? Are you prepared to include a financial aid line item in your budget (which means that parents paying the full cost of tuition are helping to provide financial assistance for others in your school)?

* How do you deal with board members who do not contribute to the school’s annual appeal, and what’s worse, may recommend programs to implement that actually are detrimental to the long-term health and well-being of the school?  Also, are you dealing with board members who believe it’s within their individual right as a board member for you enact what they feel is a good program, rather than work to support the vision your have for the school?

And here’s a new one – a trend that I’ve seen happening thanks to the mindset created in the marketplace over the past few years:  “You’re making too much money.”  Rather than parents saying that tuition is too high, and they need help to afford it, they’re looking at the aggregate amount that the school will make, and saying you need to offer them a better price.  It’s a corollary of the previous mindset of a parent who could afford $5 an hour for childcare, but couldn’t afford a $4,000 yearly tuition (since $4,000 a year is less than $5 an hour for the time a student is in school).

The first entry of the new year next week will speak to leadership and vision, since Advancement deals primarily with management relative to ways to reach that vision. Enjoy this short time to consider these 5 “R”s – rest, reconnect, reflect, refresh and re-evaluate.

Also, in the spirit of 5, may all of us be blessed with a safe, healthy, and peace-filled, joyful and prosperous 2024.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2006-2023