Summary of the April 18 Spring Association Meeting
More than 60 years ago, a small group of Christians had a vision for an educational institution that would partner with Christian families to promote schooling to the glory of God. Though much has changed about our culture, our community, and our school, the mission of Westminster of empowering, preparing, and inspiring students to be ambassadors for Christ has not. Our strategic plan and priorities point to this mission. At the Spring Association Meeting, Westminster Board of Trustee’s Chair Philip Floyd and Head of School Scott Jones shared updates regarding Westminster’s strategic plan, steps the Board and school administration are taking to meet our goals, and our vision for the future. For the members of our community who were not able to attend, below is a summary of the information that we shared.
It is important to understand the role of the Westminster Board of Trustees (BOT) in school governance. The BOT is responsible for the financial health of the school, strategic planning, long range planning, hiring and evaluating the head of school, and ensuring that school policies are executed in harmony with the school charter and bylaws. The Board also has a fiduciary duty to ensure that decisions support our mission and promote Christian education in our community. The BOT does not manage day-to-day school operations, hire, fire, or manage teachers, staff, and administrators, handle academic and disciplinary decisions, and/or make admission decisions.
Several years ago, as part of our strategic planning, the BOT recognized the need for a Christian school for children with language-based learning differences and charged Mr. Jones with developing this school. I am happy to report that Westbridge Academy is expected to open in August 2024. Brenda Pedrayes will serve as the school director. She and other administrators have spent the past two years visiting similar schools, meeting with consultants, and securing a location for the school. We have found an ideal location in an unincorporated Miami-Dade County church facility. We are awaiting approval from the county to modify this facility's use to include children ages 3-12 and then to successfully negotiate a lease.
As part of our long-range plan, Westminster has also purchased the five-acre parcel adjacent to our property which was owned by Christ Congregational Church. This long-term strategic land acquisition, similar to the earlier acquisition of the corner lot on Ludlam/SW 152 St. are opportunities for which the school has waited generations. Westminster had the distinct advantage of being able to meet the church’s desire to continue church use, which will be phased out over time, under a sale-leaseback arrangement. Similarly, the Sunrise School, which leases spaces from the church, will complete its lease term. Operational use of the site beyond the expiration of these leases is being studied. The purchase will be funded through low interest bonds, a portion of which will be paid for by the lessees. Future operational planning is underway, and we do not envision increasing the intensity of use on the site beyond its grandfathered zoning.
The BOT also carries the responsibility for all major fundraising efforts for capital improvements. As such, we have approved and roughly designed a New Athletic Complex. Having completed a capital campaign feasibility study last year, we are currently working with the advancement office to develop an 18-month fundraising campaign. The campaign’s silent phase will begin shortly. We have committed $11 million to the project, which may increase based on fundraising success. The new athletic complex would involve renovated and new spaces on the north side of campus and further improvement to the fields on the south side. We will continue to improve our learning spaces and physical plant. The renovation of the former auditorium is underway. Our strategic plan calls for further improvements to our learning spaces in middle and high school, and the BOT is committed to prioritizing these areas after the athletic project.
We continue to be financially healthy, though Westminster has experienced rising costs and inflation like most of you. Despite climbing costs, Westminster has held tuition increases to modest levels. We can continue to expect tuition to increase, though our tuition remains well below that of our peer schools. Our tuition increases primarily support increasing faculty salaries to keep the highest level of talent and to remain competitive when attracting and hiring new faculty and staff.
Several years ago, the BOT renewed its commitment to use a portion of annual revenue to create a strong reserve account separate from our operating account for emergency or catastrophe use. We have also been committed to continue growing our endowment. Endowments offer a source of stability for institutions, are critical to the financial health of schools, and are essential to support our institution as we work to offer high-quality, affordable, accessible education.
As per our strategic plan, Westminster has sought to examine the ways we demonstrate our commitment to our core value of excellence. Administrators have had numerous conversations with their teams about defining excellence, celebrating excellence, and setting goals that are consistent with excellence. Employee performance is being evaluated using definitions and metrics of excellence defined last year. Similarly, as part of our strategic plan, we have begun defining innovation for our community, and we have been trying new things with the goal of school improvement. This will be an ongoing challenge as we take an honest look at our embedded practices.
We seek feedback from several sources such as students through leadership organizations and course evaluations, and we receive valuable feedback from parents through regular surveys. Several months ago, a third party conducted a Net Promoter Score survey with our parents. In addition to a score that can be benchmarked against other schools, the survey collects valuable comments and narrative feedback. We received more than 50 pages of comments.
The survey design and responses assign a score that can be measured against benchmarks. A score over 50 in the education sector is considered extremely high. The first year we used this survey tool our score was 69, one of the highest the consultant had ever seen among independent schools. Our most recent survey score was even higher at 71. Our parents are pleased with what we are doing, but they are all also very willing to help us identify ways we can do better. Below are five themes that emerged regarding what parents felt we were doing well, and five areas where there could be improvement or better communication.
Well-rounded experience. Focus on the whole child. Balance among academic, spiritual, social, and emotional aspects of growth and learning.
Sense of community, belonging, inclusivity, compassion, family. Healthy learning environment. Students want to be here.
Strong academics. Students are challenged intellectually and academically.
Committed and caring teachers. Teachers connect with students.
Commitment to Christian values, Christ-centered approach to everything, strong integration of faith and learning
Athletic facilities: We recognize this need, and this is being addressed.
Consistent enforcement of student dress code: We have begun to take steps toward more consistent enforcement and have modified policies and uniform choices for the next school year.
Nepotism and hiring of relatives: We have a nepotism policy in place that restricts hiring a relative where there is a reporting relationship. We also post open positions and solicit applications for several weeks before beginning the review process. When there is a relative who is a candidate, we apply additional scrutiny in the process. We do hire relatives, but when we do, it is because that person is the best candidate. We do not hesitate to discipline or dismiss a staff member who is related to someone else in our community when necessary. This tells us that we need to do better about being transparent about hiring decisions.
Math instruction and curriculum: We are studying the data further, including testing data, to evaluate how we will continue to improve our math program. We have hired a new staff member who will provide math leadership and coaching within our math departments on all three campuses.
Lunch Program: We have held multiple meetings with Sage chefs, regional managers, and the company owner. They are very willing to respond to our requests. We recently organized a student food committee where positive and negative feedback can be shared with the goal of improving satisfaction. We are also upgrading equipment, eliminating unpopular menu items, and trying new items that are suggested by our community and the student food committee.
This feedback will be integrated into our current self-study that is part of our reaccreditation process, and this will result in specific recommendations from our accreditation agency. All these recommendations become connected to action points in our improvement plan.
A few additional updates:
We have prioritized spiritual formation and have unified our efforts to bring about messaging alignment. This year we embraced a theme from Proverbs 30:5, which has been unpacked in many ways including devotionals, weekly messages pushed out to our community via social media, resources provided to parents, small group discussions at the secondary level, all aligning with weekly chapel.
Enrollment continues to be strong. We are at maximum overall school enrollment of 1280 for the third consecutive year. Because demand was higher than ever this year, we had larger wait pools and denied more applicants than ever.
Warrior Fund hit records again this year in terms of participation and dollars raised thanks to our generous community and exceeded our goal. The recent Elementary Boosterthon exceeded its goal of $100,000.
We are monitoring HB1, the recent bill passed to provide Educational Savings Accounts to many Florida students. Westminster has not accepted state scholarship money or other government-funded scholarships in the past. We are researching what this might mean for private schools. Westminster’s position has always been that it is unlikely that we would participate in government-funded programs; however, we are uncertain about this legislation and will continue to study it in the months to come.
We will continue to be a learning organization that considers emerging research, best practices, and better ways to achieve our mission of empowering learners, preparing hearts, inspiring lives to faithfully serve as ambassadors for Christ. Our commitment to Christian values and an education centered on God’s Word has and will not change. We have a sense of gratitude as we recognize that we benefit from the vision of the founders of our school and the many board members, faculty, parents who have come before us. Thank you for your commitment to Westminster Christian School.