Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Midwestern Christian Academy: We're a Good School and We're Getting Better

It is hard to believe that the school year is almost over.  I guess it depends on your perspective.  We might have a few eighth graders who thought they'd never get to this point.  For me, it went by quickly, the perspective of getting older, I guess. 

We've had a good year.  For a private, Christian school, there are some specific markers that we look at to tell us how we've done and what we need to improve and everything we see is encouraging. 

Re-enrollment
We exceeded our goal for re-enrollment for the fall 2019-20 school year.  We are far ahead of where registration was at this time last year and that is a good sign.  Families return if the educational needs of their students are being met.  As far as anyone around here knows, we had more students register in advance during the month of March than at any previous time in at least the recent history of the school. 

Staff Retention
One of the main signs of the health of an educational institution is the percentage of current teaching staff who opt to return for the next year.  This is an indicator of a very stable work environment.  We are losing two of our staff members after this year.  One is staying home to take care of a newborn, and the other is retiring from teaching.  Everyone else plans to return.  And that's a good thing, because from an academic perspective, MCA is an excellent school, so keeping its current teaching staff means it will continue to be an excellent school. 

Terra Nova Achievement Test Results
Most of our parents are going to be very pleased with the results their children earned on the Terra Nova Achievement Test which we took in April.  This is a nationally-based measure of "AYP" which stands for "Adequate Yearly Progress" and measures the academic growth of students from school year to school year. 

The Terra Nova is based on national standards.  It is a rigorous test.  Parents will get a report outlining their child's performance in their final report card.  Results are measured in two ways, so you will see two different performance charts showing your child's scores.  One measures the expected outcome of a year's worth of whatever subject is being tested, such as mathematics computation, general math or reading.  The other places students in a "percentile rank" indicating how well they did compared to the other students on their grade level nationally who took the same test. 

The mid-point of the percentile rank is 50.  So if a student got a percentile rank of 50, it does not mean they only got 50% of the questions right, it means they did better than 50% of the students who took the test, and worse than 50% of the students who took the test.  So anything above the 50th percentile would be considered a "good" score.  Looking at the class averages for each grade at MCA, the average percentile rank in mathematics, language arts and reading is between the 67th and 73rd percentile.  Science and social studies are above the 70th percentile.   

Parents, those are high scores.  The value we place on an achievement test like this is that it tells us where our instruction is meeting expectations and where we need to make improvements and adjustments to our curriculum objectives.  We expect our students to perform better than their counterparts in the public school system because we believe that the quality of our instruction, our smaller class sizes and our Christian distinctiveness all contribute to a better educational environment.  Our student scores are where we expect them to be and we will look at what this edition of the test tells us about where our curriculum and instruction needs to be improved and we will make those changes.

So if you were looking for a school that has excellent academics, you found it at MCA!

That's the good news about this year.  Now, here's where we're going in 2019-20.  

Increased Use of Technology in the Classroom
Through the generosity of donors and the hard work of our PTF, MCA has acquired enough sets of new chromebooks to equip at least two classrooms.  We will be adding use of technology objectives to the curriculum so that each class, from grade 3 to 8 will have regular assignments to complete using the chromebooks.  In addition to this, we are able to set up a computer lab upstairs in the main building for class or individual student use.  Chromebooks are excellent for school use because they can't have outside apps added to them.  They are secure in that it is difficult for students to access apps or websites they are not allowed to access.  We are already connected to Google Education for cloud storage so students can put their work away and retrieve it on their own laptop or tablet later.

Addition of STEM Objectives
STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.  There are specific projects which teach the application of these particular subjects to students, not just an emphasis in the classroom on more math or more science.  STEM applications involve students in specific projects using the knowledge they gain from the classroom in achieving a specific goal and they learn through the hands on experience.  

Take a look at this video for an example of what a good stem project using computers in the classroom looks like-

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgbxPp_6KPE

Middle School Mathematics
We are going to upgrade the textbooks for mathematics in grades 6-8 and change the course titles.  Grade 6 will be called "General Mathematics 6".  Grade 7 will be "Pre-Algebra 7".  Grade 8 will be "Algebra 1" and will meet the high school credit requirement for 9th grade mathematics.  Our students are already taking these courses at these grade levels, but changing the names makes it easy for their prospective high school counselor to know what they had here. 

Curriculum Alignment for High School
When your school ends at the 8th grade in a city like Chicago, where students have many options for high school, it is difficult to know how to align the curriculum.  Most of our students opt for high school programs that are accelerated above the level of the neighborhood high schools.  We have some students who go to the select programs in Chicago Public Schools, some who go to charter schools and some who go to one of the nearby Christian high schools. 

The academic rigor of the Christian high schools is the most challenging.  So we are looking at curriculum objectives required by schools like Chicago Hope Academy, Christian Liberty Academy, Walther Christian and Christian Heritage Academy.  These schools all have excellent academic programs and we are already in a relationship with them through our affiliation with ACSI. 

Spiritual Life
We will continue with our regular weekly chapel worship and involving every student in a Bible class every day.  We would like to have more opportunities for students to have a hands on experience that will help deepen their Christian experience.  We will have a "Day of Serving" for students in grades 5 through 8 two times each school year, once in the fall and once in the spring.  Projects will be located which will enable students to serve others during the school day.  We will be looking to help local churches with specific ministry projects. 

Building Touch-Up
There are still a few projects around the building left from last summer's construction that need to be finished.  The building will look a lot nicer when students return in the fall.  The stairs are the biggest project, some door facings, molding, painting the lockers, and improving some lighting.  We may have some use for parents who want to volunteer some time this summer. 

You Made an Excellent Choice!  
Midwestern Christian Academy is a great school.  You made an excellent choice when you decided this would be the place where your children go to school.  We provide an education that aims to connect the skills and knowledge students learn in class to their Christian faith, helping them to develop and build a Christian worldview.  The cost of an education is well over $12,000 a year in the public school system, and most private schools average between $11,000 and $13,000 a year, with some exclusive schools being even higher than that.  We are blessed here.  I hope that you take advantage of the opportunity to enroll your child at MCA for the 2019-20 school term.