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Welcome Home
8/11/2014
Amazing…

Welcome home – And I mean that, both to long time GAC families and those of you who have just joined us. We’ve been getting ready for you, and there’s much to celebrate.

GAC begins school this week with a solid, managed enrollment growth, increasing to approximately 1,805 students, full in several grades. And how is the quality of our 300 new students collectively? Outstanding! Of great significance, is the high caliber and vigor of GAC’s new teachers. Here’s the updated new faculty list, if you’ve not seen it, or want a fresh look. (There are a couple of additions that are inspiring!)

I believe you will quickly find deep comfort and belonging in the GAC family. But will you find a sleepy and quiet little school? Not a chance. GAC prepares your children for the skills of 2025, not those of the past or even the present. That’s why innovation, collaboration, the nation’s best in digital learning, and rich experiential learning dominate our approaches. It’s certainly not “school as usual” in the GAC family.

Yet we remember our humble history. A rural Christian school, with a young Jesse Long, purchasing our current land with loans and promises 50 years ago—1964. From nothing, God made something amazing—GAC.  His school…is recognized across the nation as a model. And along the way, tens of thousands of children have been blessed. He used hundreds of sacrificial founders, teachers, donors, parents, and workers to create the GAC of today.  

So what’s your purpose, GAC parent? Is it to join those who went before us to transform this school again for your children, Atlanta, and in a real sense, the entire Kingdom of God?

A GAC dad wrote me the other night about a quote he noticed in the recently published GAC Olympian yearbook that sounds a lot like Jesus. Did you see it? “You have a purpose larger than your personal happiness.” Awesome, wouldn’t you agree? Along the way, we plan to build that into your GAC child’s outlook, his very being, her destiny for God. You’ll see it in curriculum, GAC service, missions, incredible chapels, teacher words and hearts…our very DNA.

It’s already an amazing year at GAC. Let’s make it even better for our children and those who follow us.


Advancing for Our Children's Sake: A Special Announcement for 2014-15
4/29/2014
There’s a problem in American education: It’s not improving.

A global education survey released in December 2013 finds that when it comes to math, reading and science, teens in the U.S. rank 36th in the world, and failed to make the top 20 nations in any field tested. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan calls it “the brutal truth." So are students in the U.S. less capable than they were ten or twenty years ago? No, Duncan says. "The problem is … students in many other nations...are advancing, instead of standing still."

Now that’s an indictment. Schools can’t stand still. And neither can great Christian learning at GAC. We plan to be part of the solution for the nation—and especially for GAC children and teachers.

Our commitment to advance superb teaching and teachers is a core theme of GAC’s Strategic Plan. The research says it repetitively—Phenomenal teachers make the difference. “Teacher quality more heavily influences differences in student performance than race or class.” (Nye, 2004).

Here at GAC, I’m pleased to tell you we are reorganizing our administrative teams in all our school levels, around the central themes of joyous school culture and faith, plus vividly improved teaching and learning. No standing still allowed!

So around those central themes, here are a few of the key leaders improving your children’s life and learning at GAC next year. I know these people—and I think you will be absolutely thrilled with what they are about to do.
  • Last year, Dr. Misty Overman was named Vice President of Learning Initiatives. That’s a great title, but with no less to do in her important role as Junior High Principal, it’s been challenging for her to make substantial progress for learning and teaching K through 12. Now all that changes. With the coming school year, Dr. Overman will take on full time her role as VP of Learning Initiatives. She does so with joy. Finally the time and resources will be in place to fully embrace the journey to teaching excellence at every level, from K to 12. That includes talent identification and recruitment, updated and continuous training, curriculum upgrades, evaluation, and reward for great teaching. And who better for this than Dr. Overman? None!

  • A new principal now enters GAC Junior High--Brian Dolinger. I first met Brian in Kigali, Rwanda. While in Kigali, Brian had led two different schools that are incredibly successful. He even helped to establish the International School of Kigali serving international families in the region. In his 4 years with GAC, Brian has served as Teacher and Junior High Dean of Students, this past year serving as our Senior High Freshmen Dean. He is currently in the dissertation stage in his doctorate at UGA. And an educator par excellence. Soon you will see why he is the right one to lead in advancing GAC Junior High to new learning heights—and a great maturing climate as well. Leading the Junior High with Mr. Dolinger are GAC veterans Mandy Richey as Academic Dean and Dana Davis as Dean of Students. GAC Junior High is positioned for a major advance immediately. You will love what you see, and what your children experience.

  • In Senior High, Scott Harsh continues in his dual roles of VP of Strategic Planning and Senior High Principal, and adds two new Senior High Student Deans: Mr. Charles Edwards and Dr. Caleb Panter. Mr. Edwards has been with GAC since 2010 and brought wisdom and maturity to everything he touches. He will continue to serve as Director of Diversity, and have impact in coaching. Dr. Panter joined us two years ago from university work where he guided leadership education. Since joining GAC he also has taken on the role of Summer Enrichment Program Director. Another seasoned veteran, Dr. Betty Morris continues as SH Dean of Academics.

  • For those in Early Childhood/Elementary, as I announced earlier, we are excited about new Principal Dr. Brad Schultz, joined by superb GAC teacher Rhonda Helms (Assistant Principal) and new to GAC Antwawn Sheats (Guidance Counselor). All three are well prepared, and missionally focused on advancing GAC Early Childhood/Elementary to new high records in learning and joyous times in the childhood years.

So, standing still? Not Greater Atlanta Christian, and certainly not in school year 2014-15. I think we all will consider this a turning point for learning—a leap forward that changes our students for the better.

Pray for these leaders. I’m already smiling about the progress we’ll see together.


GAC Elementary School Announces...
3/13/2014
You won't believe the adventures your elementary-age kids are going to experience next year. Take a minute to watch this short video. An exciting adventure awaits....


Winter Heroes
1/29/2014
I thank God that as best we know after research that the entire GAC community of kids, staff, faculty, and parents were in a safe place for the night. Even with that, it was a late night for a few before that “safe place” was found. We were tracking a number of students and staff through the afternoon and evening. I probably lived out Paul’s encouragement to “praying continually” over the last 24 hours more than in a very long time. I will try to remember to remain there....

You know this already—we would have done things differently if we could reclaim the last 36 hours. It’s not much comfort that we were not alone in that, but we appreciate, even in your difficulties and understandable concern, your kindness and positive spirit. That says much about the GAC family.

Though the snowstorm results are still with us, already some champions have emerged out of last night—courageous parents or staff who went more than the extra mile to rescue or help those in need in the GAC community. Selfless servants like:
  • GAC mom and bus driver Sarah Oats, who dropped her last riders around 9:30PM but couldn't make it to her house. She had to leave the bus and stay the night with her three kids at North Atlanta Church of Christ. (Thank you, North Atlanta for opening your doors to Sarah and kids!)

  • GAC dad and Campus Services Associate Director Jimmy Chupp who followed Sarah's bus in his Jeep and then, when he knew she was safe, turned around and headed 20 miles back, getting home in early hours of today.

  • Transportation Director and bus driver Beth Christian, who delivered her last GAC child safely as well, and then was stuck trying to get home. She finally made it back to her home at 3:55AM.

  • Junior High Principal Dr. Misty Overman who with parental support took home a JH student to stay with her own family when parents were stranded on I-285. (By the way, the parents are safe now!)

  • Elementary Parents like the Swartz’s who took home a GAC young lady whose dad couldn’t get out of downtown due to what we all saw on TV… or experienced personally.

  • Campus Services well know partners John Dobbs and Charles Butts, who stayed on campus all night. I understand they had a great Waffle House breakfast this morning. They are keeping an eye on the campus, ready for when everyone can return (not Thursday, mind you).

  • Families like John and Laura Ellard who went out in Tuesday night’s mess and rescued the Garner carpool, trapped near Spalding Drive, and took them after midnight to safety and warmth in their home.

  • Director of Finance Josh Thomason who manned GAC databases until the wee hours of the morning, linking a few stranded GAC families with nearby families who could get to them.

There are other Unsung Heroes too. Some we know and some we don’t know. Teachers who rescued other teachers when they couldn’t get home. Teachers texting students on their whereabouts and safety. Principals who stayed up half the night checking on their students. Bus drivers who braved much for our kids' sake. And no doubt many others…

Hebrews 11 talks about Heroes of the Faith, a litany of well and little known God-followers who gave their all for others. GAC has her Heroes of the Faith too. And a bunch of them showed up last night. Thank God for you. And thank God for the safety of the GAC family through a challenging day. Even though we have more Cyber School ahead tomorrow, enjoy it if at all possible near your family, and make a good memory or two if you can. God protect you all, and see you when it’s safe again (which is still TBD).

"Splash" vs. Substance: What Ultimately Matters?
1/23/2014
Tick...Tick...It's 2014. I've been pondering some lately on legacy. Not my own, of course - I'm much too young to think about that, aren't you? But the recent passing and the declining health of some early GAC servant-leaders, faculty and staff have reminded me about transience of our time here. I'm not bemoaning it all, mind you. It just prompts us to consider meaningful, lasting difference, and not chase, as Andy Warhol said "15 minutes of fame."


Greater Atlanta Christian gets her fair share of accolades, and then some. Much of it comes from awards, exceptional test scores at all school levels, admired college acceptances plus scholarships, etc. All that's fitting - and we shouldn't abandon them, nor ignore their value.

While "Splash" can be temporarily exhilarating, like a leap in the ocean, there's got to be more, much more.

Ultimately, awards don't last. Kids do. As children, then adults, and as eternal souls, we are forever. That's why "Substance" matters most. You see, your and my "legacy" is walking around the GAC campus every day. When awards fade, and trophies rust, we're building monuments that last in GAC students.

So while I like trophies...here's the trophy list I really love.

  • Kids committing their life to Christ - by scores this year, without pressure, and with a call from God.
  • Nearly 20 years of GAC mission trips, 24 destinations this year. Did you know GAC was among the first schools nationally to initiate mission trips? Why? To change the world, and to change our kids. It's still working.
  • The most unique, student-led, interactive, school chapel worship anywhere. There's nothing like it. I'm touched every time by what's happening that you can see...and can't see.
  • The power of kids learning scripture at home, and raising spiritual questions with mom and dad...sometimes stumpers that are good for everyone.
  • The Life Calling Program, now required of all GAC juniors.
  • The largest indoor "baptistery" I know in Freeman Aquatic Center. I love it when 20 kids are in there, walking a friend into life commitment together.
  • Junior High Spiritual Formation, designed by GAC teachers, is now a model adopted by other Christian schools across the nation and shared at national conferences. Faith That Works at the 8th grade level is just heart...and soul...changing.
  • Elementary Spiritual Service and Mentoring is emerging in every grade. Just two examples: GAC 3rd graders are working with web design to create audiobooks for nursing homes and hospice care patients. And, an Atlanta hospice organization is preparing to link GAC student-produced audiobooks to their national website. Take a look at what they are sharing.
  • And BuddyClass where "older" elementary classes adopt classes in our Early Childhood Village. The older students share books they have written, help their younger buddies with crafts, plus perform Bible skits. Students both young and "old" are made better by the relationships. And on the GAC campus? Those relationships continue for years.
So is there a national award for mission trips? For BuddyClass? How about a life-changing chapel state championship? Thanks, but not necessary. But our children's hearts for goodness and for their Father? Now that's a legacy. In your home and at GAC, let's continue that quest together in 2014.

 

"GAC Hat Trick" - for Your Children
9/18/2013
No, it’s not Spartan Soccer or Lacrosse season yet. Yet feats-in-threes seemed to jump out at me this week as GAC students and graduates continue to stand out nobly. Follow me down just one set of three. Weigh this—do you want portions of this three-some to shine in your child?

1) Let’s start with research…on Digital Education. Yes, GAC is considered an early adopter and leader with a thoroughly integrated student program. Research suggested this is what kids today…and adults tomorrow…needed. But—there have been holdouts. Do kids really benefit?

There’s good news: The more research done, the better the findings are for tech-integrated students. Research by SRI (a non-profit research group) and MIT point to right-guided digitally integrated learning, leading to significantly improved logic test results and increased interest in specific fields, including social sciences. MIT points out that students remember only 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, and 50% of what’s demonstrated. But what they do in digital learning environments, oh—there’s more than a little jump—90% is retained. Even at GAC we’re seeing it. Have you noticed in the past 4 years (when GAC initiated its thorough change) the rising AP scores? National norms linger in the 50’s, scores for the GAC student have surpassed 80%--and a very high percentage of GAC students participate, so it’s not just a tiny few.

Now that doesn’t happen just by putting a MacBook Air in the hands of GAC 6-12th students, or an iPad with Early Childhood and Elementary students. Equipment is just stuff. The learning happens because incredibly well trained GAC teachers walking down the new roads of best practices in learning are bringing it to life. GAC continues to take the training and integrating of great learning practices more seriously than ever, and it shows.

Most of all, in the world of tech fluency, GAC students are gaining that competitive advantage. We’re hearing it from our graduates all the time. Their skills in writing, research, organizing, and creating at college are outrunning their peers…and they are thankful. We are glad for our GAC “young adults” at colleges literally everywhere. We intend to stay on that cutting edge for your kids too.

Now all this digital world in the Christian family—is it damaging or helpful? I’ve heard emotional dialogues on this, often opinion based. However, new findings from Barna are finding surprising advantages. In nationwide research, parents are speaking to the significant benefits to their families, by a more than 2 to 1 ratio, in several arenas. Things to watch? Of course. Just as with bedtimes and car keys, our kids still need structure and supervision. But the gains for your children’s learning and in your family can be significant.

While I am very pleased our Early Childhood and Elementary students have that right-sized tool for their use, iPads, we remain absolutely sold on the value of the MacBook Air for GAC students in grades 6-12. The demands of superb secondary learning requires robust creativity, writing, and thinking tools that demand robust equipment that matches. The point? GAC tech is right sized and full powered from the Early Childhood Village to the class of 2014. And your child gains from that advantage.

2) Now How About Graduates Who Transform the World…(Your Child is Next) The array of GAC graduates who shine in universities and are influencing culture, thought, and professions keeps expanding. Literally every week I’m touched by amazing stories of alumni, whether Alan Blinder (’08) writing for the New York Times, or David Moore (’05) current Ph. D candidate at University of Pennsylvania, researching cosmological physics using radio telescopes in the Karoo Desert of South Africa and invited speaker at two astrophysicist conferences in the next year.

But this week I’m especially touched by the writing of Victoria Barker (’12) in the Georgia Political Review, as she critiques the speed with which the press and public condemned the new “version” of Miley Cyrus…yet had less to say about the equally responsible…or is it more responsible?…Robin Thicke’s part in the sorrow. Take a look, and see the ethics beneath her thoughtful analysis. More than just the article, when you know something of Victoria herself, pursuing International Affairs and Russian with a master’s degree in International Policy; her passionate research into human trafficking and human rights issues; you may say “that’s the kind of heart and mind I want within my child." I do too. Women like Victoria are already world changers. Let’s grow your children, using their best gifts, to be world changers as well. It’s important to us at GAC.

3) An Avalanche of Response: Finally, from learning technologies, to culture to the beautifully practical—a peak into a student body with a compassionate heart. Where else but…Dining at GAC? Now you know teens—they take their mealtimes seriously (and the praise from parents and from students of GAC Dining this year? Phenomenal!)

But a quick story from earlier this week: While GAC teens were focused on filling their plates, and considering seconds, one of our SAGE workers was transporting an incredibly high stack of dirty plates and dishes…tall…maybe too tall. Then the avalanche came…and went…everywhere. Well, that’s somebody else’s job, right?

Not right. Instantly, without a word, scores of GAC Senior High students got out of line, stood up from their own lunch-setting their own schedules and plates aside…and went to pick up, to help the frustrated and embarrassed SAGE employee. Hands were messy, but hearts were right – that’s what you want to see in your child. That servant spirit, that surrender for others, when it’s “someone else’s job”—that’s the beauty of teaching a student body something about a foot-washing savior…and calling them to be like Him.

Teaching? Oh, today the GAC student - your children - they are teaching us.

Hat Tricks come in threes. From [1] best-in-learning skills to [2] world changing adults to [3] servant-leaders. These are the kind of young men and women we are growing with you in your home. The future, their future, looks oh, so good.


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8/12/2013

Great Year...Great Students...Great Teaching -- That's GAC 2013-14


And we’re off and running! 

Whether your first year in the GAC family, or your 14th year, welcome.  And a special welcome to the almost 300 first-year GAC students joining us from 220 families.  I can feel the energy on campus just pulsating this week.  I Love it.

Do you already sense it?   That common cause we have together, that’s so much more than “school as usual”?  More times than I can count, parents have told me that there is a special feeling at GAC like none other…where excellence expands and God is honored; a place where all Christian Atlanta has a place; a school family that constantly asks questions about excellence in innovation for changing times; all so our children can experience joy now, and be incredibly well prepared for their future.  I hope you already have that special sense of GAC as well.

And your GAC students in 2013-14?  They are among the best in our history.  Now alum, please don’t take offense:  GAC Principals tell me the academic caliber and genuine goodness (though less measurable) match or surpass any GAC student body in our near 50-year history.

Then to that all-important component—Outstanding Teaching.  You know it first hand—the teachers, coaches, and directors who guide your children outshine any building or beautiful campus.  As a result of both considerable education within the current staff, plus outstanding new faculty, 2013-14 will be the finest year for GAC teacher quality—ever.  I’m proud of the strength and stability of our GAC faculty.  Vigorous veterans are keeping us strong.  Simultaneously, a rising tide of younger, superb faculty are taking GAC forward.  For example, approximately 41% of GAC’s faculty of 2013-14 have joined us in the last five years, with rich, previous experiences, and recent graduate studies.  Add that to GAC’s experienced team, and just the right mix emerges of continuity and innovation; experience and freshness.

Two years ago, GAC adopted its internally-designed Seven Core Qualities of Professional Excellence.  The Seven Core Qualities are now used as the central lens in the selection, training, and accountability for Greater Atlanta Christian faculty.  These are the defining attributes we expect in every veteran and every new GAC teacher.  You’ll see those qualities at the end of this blog post.  (By the way…these same attributes are expected of GAC staff as well.)

So add it up:  Great Community…Great Students…Great Teachers…Great New Programs (I’ll save that for a future blog)…and Great Plans Ahead (Oh, there’s another future blog.)  But there’s one more … Our Great Lord—because He owns this campus, this work, every child, and everything we do.  If we genuinely welcome His presence, He’ll shape us all for true greatness, don’t you agree?

May God bless every GAC child, teacher, parent, coach, staff, board member, and oh yes…every administrator…in 2013-14.
 

Dr. David Fincher

 

Seven Core Qualities of GAC Professional Excellence

  1. Christ-like Reflection of Faith: Mature reflection of Christ through faith commitment and as a daily role model of Christian values in my words and actions.
  2. Passion for Mission: Goal-oriented results to meet rigorous performance standards and promote the attainment of our mission and strategic plan.
  3. Ambassadorship: Proactively cultivate opportunities to serve the school community through positive communication and personal contact that inspires others in passion for our mission and support of the family atmosphere that characterizes GAC.
  4. Collaborative: Work in partnership with colleagues, promoting team efforts that contribute to campus life, plus support activities that promote campus community.
  5. Innovative: Utilize and embrace strategies, resources, and tools that elicit the creativity inherent in the age of connected learning.
  6. Exceptional Service: Professional excellence through diligence, organization, communication and consistency; giving best effort in every educational and support tasks.
  7. Pursuit of Professional Growth: Desire for personal, professional development by engaging in active, life-long learning; integration of current trends and body of knowledge in our content areas; share this knowledge with each other in order to develop a professional learning community.
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2/20/2013
A Season of Home Runs

Baseball Season!  Excitement of today and memories of the past.  I remember a few times hitting the ball right over the center field fence.  It didn't happen often in my youth/teen "career", but oh! When it did, all my hous of practice and my coach's training felt worth it.  There was a payoff for my team too.  We loved it when a teammate succeeded.

Most of you know that feeling too, whether in soccer or dance, an instrument you played, football, or theater.  There's nothing like that thrill of seeing hard work and creativity bring something special to life.  It changes you-for the better.

At Greater Atlanta Christian, one of our amazing joys is coaching hundreds of students-and watching thousands of balls sail over the fence.  And from it?  They are gaining both the experience of success-and the direct outcomes of incredible work well done.  And they learn that God is right in the middle of their creativity, their growing skills, and their plans for the future.

Every now and the, it's good to stop and listen to the crack of bats.  What better time than now?  We're in the midst of re-enrollment and there are countless home runs at GAC already in 2013.  Uncommon.  Success beyond measure.  Change that lasts.  And the end results are GAC students from K through 12th grade who "win".  Not just ball games-although that's good too.  They also win in a GAC journey that shapes their purpose and expands the gifts God has placed in their hands.  That matters now...for a lifetime...and forever.

So stop for a moment...as we share a few recent GAC home runs that sailed over the fence.  And give thanks.
  • SH and JH missions engaged more than 300 students this year.  Traveling to more than 25 locations (domestic and international) students willingly give up their Thanksgiving, winter and spring breaks as well as a part of their summer serving others in the name of Christ.
  • The 2012-13 "All In" Annual Fund exceeded the goal and passed $1M for the first time.  Proceeds from this "home run" are already being put to use across campus from new pianos for music education at all levels, to AED units (now a total of 11 on the GAC campus), to funding the expansion of our campus bandwidth by 500% (now at 500MB).
  • Apple School of Distinction is a "Grand Slam" of a different perspective - GAC has now been "recognized for innovation, leadership and educational excellence" for three years in a row.
  • GAC students' SAT scores continue to exceed both state and national averages.  The average combinded GAC SAT score for this school year was 1731 compared to 1452 (Georgia) and 1498 (national) averages.
  • Our college counselors are always excited to share achievements of the next graduating class.  We can't possibly list all the "wins" here but a few early acceptances for members of the Class of 2013 include James Madison University, University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, Elon University, University of Georgia and Georgia Institute of Technology.  This is by no means a reflection of all college acceptances to date, but only an example as to where some of our graduates are headed.
  • Our K-12 faculty members gathered yesterday to learn the core elements of our Leadership Initiative Curriculum.  Tuesday's class was just the first step towards our goal to provide clear direction i unifying and equipping our faculty to begin living the same model our students are learning at various levels.
  • Currently 13 GAC faculty members are pursuing Masters to PhD advancements all for the benefit of GAC students.
  • The Scholastic Arts Awards All-State Exhibition recently selected works of the following GAC students - Soyoung Kim, Brittany Blanz, Katie Jones, Taylor Kim and Tiffany Liu.
  • Our GAC School of Music currently involves 25 faculty serving 255 students taking private lessons in voice and 13 different instruments.
  • The GAC School of Ballet, now settling in their new space in Bradford Center, hosts 135 students in 18 different dance classes taught by 5 instructors.  The GAC Dance Team recently received all Gold and High Gold awards at the HollywoodVibe Dance Competition.
  • Four 6th grade students earned the honor to compete in the All-State Chorus this month.
  • With near sellout audiences for four performances the student cast of "The Wiz" "eased on down the road" to be one of the all-time favorite GAC musicals.
  • National College Signing Day included GAC Spartan Football signees - Andrew Lewis, Peter Whiteneck, and Daniel Yoon with Lady Spartan Soccer signees Rachel Garcia, Kayla Puzas and Taylor Wagnon.
  • GAC dominates the Spring 2013 "Super Six" as five GAC student-athletes receive recognition - Rachel Garcia (Soccer), Max Gomas (Soccer), Kayla Puzas (Soccer), Maileka Slayton (Track & Field), and Taylor Wagnon (Soccer).
  • GAC Wrestling placed fifth in Class AA tournament this past weekend making it the third straight the Spartans finished in the top 10.
  • With our Spartans ranked #1 in Class AA and our Lady Spartans ranked #7, our fans are in for an exciting week of basketball as GAC hosted the 1st Round of GIRLS and the 1st and 2nd Round of Boys playoffs.

WIth this short list you can see GAC is hitting it out of the ballpark and we haven't even reached March yet!  The bases are loaded - run with us.

David




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1/16/2013
Why GAC Will Thrive (and Why GAC Needs You In the Midst of It)

It happened again this week, another school called.  Coming from two states away, this large Christian school has requested to bring their board and leaders for a two-day campus visit.  This school wants to observe us:  How we engage spiritual life, with special attention on our amazing student-directed chapels, and how we lead and govern the school with forward-thinking progress.  

This happens regularly.  Over 200 schools have visited in the last two years.  We are glad to help when we can. 

Why do they come?  Because something unique is underway here, something they don’t find elsewhere.  
  • GAC thrives because we hold joyfully to deep faith and ethics for our kids’ hearts, yet are regularly adopting the latest and best practices for today’s learners.
  • GAC succeeds because of a faculty that cares deeply about our students’ minds, and character—and they show it.  GAC blooms because of teachers, sponsors, coaches, and leaders who are honing their own skills with the best in graduate education, professional seminars/conferences—and implementing what they learn.
  • GAC flourishes because of an unmatched breadth and depth of award winning programs—so that every child can be guided to their places to shine.
  • GAC prospers because leadership (our terrific Principals and Deans) constantly asks “how can we accomplish something new and great for our kids?”—Not excusing why we can’t.
  • GAC thrives on a marvelous campus with vast resources available for kids and faculty—the tools are here, not coming someday.
In addition, Georgia and metro Atlanta need a school like GAC to thrive.
Thinking about educational issues only:
  • Among all 50 states, Georgia spends the highest percentage of its budget on education (46.6%), yet...
  • Georgia ranks 48th in the nation in SAT scores.
    • GAC’s SAT scores are among the highest in the state and nationally.
  • Georgia’s high school graduation rate is 46th in the nation.
    • GAC’s graduation rate is 100%.
  • Georgia is 39th (bottom third) for young people in college.
    • GAC’s Class of 2012 acceptance rate was 100%  -- 173 graduates were accepted to 170 different outstanding colleges and universities.

Still…we can’t thrive without you.  And thank you for your support!  The GAC parent community is vital – so helpful and strong in the way you encourage and support our collective work.  You mean so much to GAC’s mission.

So may I make another request…that’s in your children’s best interest too?  You have the power to help select your child’s friends and classmates.  Your words and actions go an incredibly long way in shaping the student body at GAC.

Here’s what I’m asking: GAC parents help us thrive by spreading the word about Greater Atlanta Christian School…on the ball field, and at the business meeting; in your Bible study group and in the neighborhood.  Help us by telling others about your child's success at school and about the care and attention your child has received in a one-on-one help session or in an “aha!” moment.  You are powerful influencers.  Use that influence to make GAC even better again.

Are you a guest, peeking in to see if GAC might be your school, matching your goals?    Forty-five years of growing strength and mature, vital life and faith—that’s something you could build on for your kids.  You too could be in the middle of shaping GAC to thrive for a new generation.  Pray about it, and take the next step.  You won’t regret it.

David 
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12/17/2012

Sorrow and Concern in a Season of Joy

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great Light.  

On those living in the land of deep darkness, 
a Light has dawned."  
Isaiah 9:2


These prophetic words have always lifted me at Christmas, the season when The Light was born.  But this weekend, my thoughts have stayed longer on Isaiah's other word...Darkness.  In a sense, we all know what darkness is.  We've each been there ourselves, in a place called Sin.  But rare is the community that has faced the depth of Friday's Darkness as happened in Newtown, Connecticut.  And we can't imagine their collective sorrow.

And this weekend's loss makes The Light--God in the Flesh--all the more vital.  What did John say?

"In him there was life, and that life was the Light of all people.
The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has 
not overpowered it." 
 John 1:4
  


We long for the Light at GAC, especially this Christmas.  Together, let's tell our children about Him, and pray for His presence on our campus and in our homes.  Gather as a family and pray for the families of Sandy Hook Elementary.

It is natural then to ask:
1) Are we safe?  That's always a valid question, but especially so in the wake of a tragedy.  Even as the news from Connecticut was unfolding Friday afternoon, I met with GAC Campus Services Assistant Director, Jimmy Chupp, who has direct supervision over campus security, from gates to security staff and protocols.  I've asked him and Administrative Vice President, Bill Burton, to conduct a fresh review of all GAC security.  Jimmy's shared the following this morning:

     "The safety and well-being of GAC students remains a high priority.  GAC made some 
     well-considered security changes in the past year about which many of you have commented
     positively.  This weekend, leaders in the GAC security team began a fresh review of some of 
     our safety plans and procedures.  This morning, at our request, Gwinnett County Police joined 
     us on campus for an external look at our facilities, gates/fences, and procedures. While the 
     GAC campus and protocols have many qualities that foster security, we should be quick
     to point out—no environment is fail proof.  Thank you for your care and support as we take
     appropriate steps ahead. We will keep you informed."

    
 If you have any questions about GAC security, feel free to contact Jimmy Chupp.


2) How do we help our children understand a tragedy like this? 
 GAC Director of Counseling, Donna Holladay, works with our GAC counselors, and has provided some information on talking with children.

     "As a former GAC first grade teacher, I need to hold a 6 year old today. Parents, teachers,
     administrators, and counselors everywhere are struggling to make our children feel safe
     wherever they are. We must find ways to help them manage their distress, whatever 
     their age, toddlers, adolescents and even young adults.

     Please be assured that we all have your children’s emotional well-being foremost in
     our minds today. The good news is that children and youth are usually resilient.
     With the right support and modeling from adults, they can adjust and thrive. 
     Just as you are doing at home, we will answer their questions honestly, stay
     attuned to their emotions, respond appropriately. And we will pray with them 
     to trust in God’s goodness even though evil thappens in this world.

     The links listed below may be enormously helpful to you with memorable factors for helping
     your child feel connected, cared about and loved."

  1. The SAMHSA website gives specific information for children and youth at different age groups.   
  2. A must -- www.themobsociety.com, a Christian site for raising a generation of boys to love the Lord, addresses How and What to Share with Your Children When Tragedy Strikes. 
  3. The most memorable advice of all is from The American Association of Christian Counselors, 'Six T’s for Helping Kids through Trauma', they are Togetherness, Touch and Tenderness, Talk, Truth, Triggers and Time.'

If you see needs with which GAC counseling can help, please contact Donna Holladay or your grade level counselor.

In closing, I'll share some additional insights and wisdom of professionals:

  • Acknowledge to your children that violence is indeed frightening;yet reassure them that this situation did not happen to them.
  • Let your children know that school shootings are rare.
  • Watch for changes in their behavior, and be ready to respond.
  • Be calm in talking about violence - avoid talking in your own times of grief, anxiety, and anger.
  • Be open, yet give them age appropriate responses.
  • Tell the truth, as much as is appropriate.
  • And pray with your children.

Christian writer Max Lucado who spoke on the GAC campus several years ago had meaningful thoughts this weekend on the tragedy of Sandy Hook entitled A Christmas Prayer -- may it be our prayer of hope as well.

Dr. David Fincher

Additional Resource:  
Click Here for Dr. Major Boglin's article "Comforting Children After a 'Collective Trauma'."  
Dr. Boglin is father of two current GAC students, and member of the GAC Board of Trustees, and serves as Minister of Family Life and Director of the Genesis Center for Christian Counseling at N. Atlanta Church.
-----

.....
10/26/2012
Of Sustenance, Substance, and Stepladders

Most of my blog posts are dedicated to just one topic - but not this time.  So I hope you will stay with me, as I hike through the three "S's" above.

First, Sustenance - something we all think about daily - Food. 
We're so thankful for our self-provided food service program at Greater Atlanta Christian.  Our staff is a terrific group of GAC parents and grandparents who work there day in and out - with love and care.  Plus it's clean and safe - check out the next restaurant you visit and see if their Health Department scores consistently range between 96 and 100.  And the GAC Cafeteria is obviously a place many of your children love - by what they consume and what they say.  And perhaps the greatest joy?  There's no one quite like Food Service Director, Carolyn Maddox, who has been linked to GAC since 1968 (that's not a misprint) as a GAC mother first, now GAC grandmother.  If you don't know Carolyn, you have been missing out.

Still, we shouldn't be complacent with the status quo.  It's appropriate to ask some significant questions such as...Can the GAC Dining Program foster a healthier lifestyle - yet be delicious?  Can we keep food costs under control that have been spiraling up, while improving the quality at the same time?  Can we offer more choices?  Can students "build" their own salad or sandwich?  Can we shorten long waiting lines?  Are we considering "green" issues of locally grown, on-campus gardens, and sustainable serving products?  How can we improve our own expertise, since our core competency is "education," not necessarily "dining programs?"  Can we adequately accommodate GAC students' allergies and food issues?  Are we appropriately attuned to ingredients?  Is food-quality and learning part of "educating the whole child?"

So at the core: How can we improve Value?  Family budgets?  Nutrition?  Choices?  Sustainability initiatives?  Education?  Health?  Student enjoyment?  Physical design?

A tall order, indeed!  We're working on all those questions.  A GAC Dining Program Committee chaired by Senior High Principal Scott Harsh has been asking these and many other questions in recent months - how can we shape the GAC Dining Program in superior ways?  Focus groups of students from Elementary through Senior High have been in the mix and parent groups soon will be.  If you have feedback or an idea, the Committee would be glad to hear from you.  Please share that issue or concept at DiningProgramCommittee@greateratlantachristian.org.

The vast majority of you, approximately 70%, are daily lunch buyers, and another sizable percentage of families are "partial" lunch buyers at GAC each day.  We will soon be sharing more of the Committee's findings and recommendations - all for the advancement of GAC kids' health and taste buds, improving your family's budget, and outstanding education  That's the goal in every endeavor, including healthy habits, isn't it?

Testing for Substances and GAC.  For several years now, some schools, including a few Christian schools around the nation, have been implementing mandatory random drug testing for secondary students.  Schools vary on the grade level when their programs start, from Junior High on up.  Though we have studied various programs for years, GAC has not taken this path.  Why?

First, a reality check -- Any school that says they have no students experimenting with illegal, prescription, over-the-counter or other substances is either naive, or less than straightforward.  Wherever you have kids, including Christian kids, there are some things happening that break your heart.

Thus far, through several years of investigation, we are less than convinced random drug testing is best for the GAC family.  We thought you might be interested in a few of the reasons why.  Perhaps foremost, if our goal is prevention, we've not seen effectiveness in a testing program in many schools.  No doubt some are doing it well, and it leads to some measure of prevention.  Yet some who've investigated respond quietly - there's minimal prevention impact in most testing.  "Getting by" the test has become easy for many with various ways to fake results.  Tests come in varying levels of sophistication, what substances they will and won't find, with varying degrees of certainty, and with the more comprehensive tests costing in the hundreds of dollars.  A school can require a lower level test, but often with matching lower level outcomes.  A "passed test" can give a school or a family a false sense of security - that all is well when it's not.  Some medical professionals have concluded that testing simply moves students who might be concerned about being caught to the more common "drug of choice" for teens - alcohol - which in turn leads to America's most common youth risk and reckless behavior.

Instead, GAC's outlook has been to make strikes through focus on the internal issues that lead to these behaviors.  That means we have dedicated significant resources in funding and personnel to Christian-focused drug education, best practices in prevention, rehabilitation for those at risk, and counseling/guidance for secondary students.  This approach is supported by:

  • A new integrated drug prevention program for every grade in Senior High
  • Spring semester training in 8th grade in age appropriate ways 
  • Increased resources in counseling with Mr. Adam Paa in prevention and intervention
  • A conscious effort to build trust between student and school, as well as parent and school.  That has resulted in several students self-identifying struggles with drugs or alcohol.  And when students self-identify with honesty, that has led to support and partnership with students and parents, getting the help they need, rather than struggling in silence.
  • When patters and behaviors indicate it, GAC already implements drug testing with an individual student in partnership with the student's parents: Testing at a higher level that can more accurately determine the issues that may exist.  However, the testing is specific to the child, rather than random for all.  In every case, clear expectations are in place, and appropriate mission-focused discipline when needed.
  • One of the outcomes of this "internal" instead of "external" approach has been a considerable growth in Peer Accountability - students calling each other to wholeness and restoration.  We've seen that demonstrated increasingly - the right kind of "peer pressure."

We are grateful for a wonderful gift from an anonymous foundation to fund the expanded GAC program over the next three years.  The enriched GAC program allows our counselors, administrators, and families to work on the internal issues.  And it's those internal issues that shape those external behaviors.  That's where the heart of the matter is.

It's always a learning experience.  And we will continue to explore best paths for our kids in a risky age.  We know you care about that too.

And Stepladders - the Final "S."  I love it, and I think you'll agree, when GAC faculty and leaders progress in their professional growth.  Last week, Tim Vick, Director of Athletics and Senior High Bible teacher, successfully defended his dissertation at the University of Alabama.  Next time you see him, say hello to "Dr. Vick."  I was away and missed the surprise "GAC Doctors Gathering," but the 10 "members" of the GAC faculty held a little ceremony for the new inductee.  They understood firsthand - it was quite a marathon of growth for each of them, and they appreciated their new partner.

You may not know it, but graduate school funding is one of the ways the GAC Foundation changes us for the better.  The Faculty Quality and Growth Endowment, one of six GAC endowments, funds graduate degree tuition for GAC faculty, including Masters, Specialists, and yes, Doctoral degrees.  That's not common among K-12 schools, but something we consider important.  When our teachers and leaders grow and improve, GAC students reap the benefits.  The GAC Foundation, including this endowment, were made possible by people who love the mission of GAC - and have committed sacrificially to our quality and growth.  And what a difference it makes.  Funds are still shy of what's needed to complete the job, however.  But God willing, others will see supporting marvelous Christian teachers in their growth as a way they can make GAC better too.

By the way, Dr. Vick isn't alone.  There are many others working on various graduate programs.  I'm also proud of these listed below who are aspiring for that terminal degree with GAC's approval and involvement.  Urge them on!  Their example of relentless improvement is contagious for our kids as well.

GAC Doctoral Program Leaders

  • DJ Bulls, Director - GAC Choirs and Bible Teacher - Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
  • Brad Denton, SH Honors & College Prep British Literature - Georgia State University
  • Brian Dolinger, JH Dean of Students - University of Georgia
  • Rhonda Hawkins, Early Childhood & Elementary Principal - Georgia State University
  • Brad Schultz, Early Childhood & Elementary Assistant Principal - Georgia Southern University
  • Wes York, Director - GAC Bands - University of Georgia

Yes, I know - an incredibly long blog.  Yet when it comes to our children, progress for their health, faith, character, and learning can't be accomplished in pithy sound bites.  Thanks for thinking with us.  And let's continue to ask the best Thinker among us, our Father, to point the way on every issue.

Dr. David Fincher

 

Nostalgia and Headway
10/11/2012
As a kid, I loved my grandparents’ small Kentucky farm, every part of it. The aromas of fried chicken—raised in the backyard—and apple pies from Mema’s kitchen were heaven. Milking a cow (I missed the pail more than I hit it) and plowing a field behind a mule were adventures city boys like me rarely experienced. I doubt I was very good at any of it. But Papa never let on, and patiently showed me how.

Papa and Mema had little use for “modern conveniences.” One old black and white TV was finally allowed, but not much appreciated. Mema washed clothes on a scrub board, and their only outside communication was a “party line phone”—on which I’d secretly listen to neighbors’ conversations. Their homestead, their church family, and their community was their world.

How beautiful their world was! Yet, would I want to live there now? Except for missing their love—definitely not. While I warmly remember that past, the “good old days” had serious limitations too.

When I think of issues our children today face, I’m reminded of the contrast between what once was thought important, and the skills our kids need for their future. In my mind, and I hope yours, GAC must be teaching what they will need, not what once was needed. Want an example? It’s been a long while since I milked a cow. Our kids need skills that matter in 2020.

So what are the pressing issues we are working on at GAC in learning? Here’s just a few:
  • Learning skills universities and professions expect in 2020. Schools change slowly, and students end up with skills no longer in demand. Within GAC, growth has been substantial—in right directions. From BOOST in Elementary to developing apps in Junior High math and science, GAC students are creating and thinking in teams like never before. Writing and creativity matter more than ever before. Already this fall, I’ve heard multiple times how alum of 2012 feel ahead of their university peers in areas. I love that.  (Want to see where they are in college?)
  • Preparing for ministry in a “Post Christian America.” Now you may not like that phrase, but I want to get your attention. When many of us were children, the question was what “brand” of Christian our friends and neighbors were. That was probably a bad question—even so, it’s no longer the question. It’s clear today that while Christianity is growing in the world’s Southern Hemisphere, active faith in the U.S. is in decline. That makes our job for our GAC kids all the more important. How are we preparing them? Ask 25 students in the Leadership Foundations class about their experience with 13,000 Christian leaders at the Catalyst Conference for two days of learning in October. Probe students who will experience one of GAC's mission trips, and those that go year after year about the lasting effect on their plans for life. Listen in on a Chapel Practicum class (Junior High or Senior High) and their serious planning about guiding their fellow students in worship. Better yet, come sit in on a GAC Chapel and see worship in action. Ask College Counselors like GAC's Bev Dowdy about the depth of faith* she sees in our seniors as they prepare to graduate. I think God is raising a faithful generation among today’s GAC student body, ready for their very different times.
  • Global Mindset/Christian Heart. Once upon a time, “Western Civilization” dominated not only history studies, but pretty much everything. But the world is tiny now. Your child is as likely to work with colleagues in Asia or Africa as in Atlanta. As author and analyst Thomas Friedman, said recently, “Since (I wrote) The World Is Flat in 2005, the world has only gotten, well, flatter.” The Global Economy and opportunity are growing, and GAC education must as well. That’s why access to foreign languages like Mandarin Chinese is vital. And a curriculum that focuses on global connections in missions, classes, and Christian sister schools are part of the GAC life. They must be.
  • Inclusion of friends, ministry, and learning. I love GAC’s diversity. Years ago, GAC took seriously a vision “to reflect all of Christian Atlanta.” That concept remains vital to who we are and will be. Face it—there are simpler paths. It’s easier to be monolithic in ethnicity, socio-economics, or national heritage. But God has not called us to “easy.” We must think more clearly about inclusion of all individuals in every area of learning and leadership. Our students benefit the most from working and growing together. Let’s find ways to expand that partnership even further—for their benefit, and to reflect the body of Christ.
  • Digital Advances—beyond even our current advancements. Most of you know GAC is already a leader in the best of tools and learning skills in a digital age. Recognition of GAC has been national, from awards to visits to our campus by over 200 schools, including international schools. That’s fine, but we are not sitting back. Faculty and groups are already working on the next levels of change and creation within GAC programs. Betas for new GAC programs are in development—now. Stay tuned…
Have you noticed? Greater Atlanta Christian never sits still. Our leaders and faculty remember the past with joy, and maybe a touch of nostalgia. But our energies are aimed forward—Headway for our children’s sake. What was it Jesus said? “I have come that you might have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) That full life is experienced when we stride forward.

Run with us. 
David

* "In the past two years among our seniors, there is expressed a remarkable spirit of humility, service, and awe for the spiritual. The Spirit of Christ seems to be moving on campus through a number of vessels. There may well be a correlation between the student spiritual leadership in the Chapel Practicum class, the increasing participation in GAC Mission Experiences, and the broad spectrum of Small Group Leadership at school Retreats." - Bev Dowdy, GAC College Counselor
.....
8/14/2012
Welcome!  Plus...Election Year Opportunity

First, GAC families, welcome back and welcome home!  It's been a joy to see you at the events of the last few weeks, and the new energies alive on campus.  I'm so impressed with our new students and families - and one could argue the best new "class" of Teachers, Teaching Assistants, Staff and Coaches in GAC history.

New families - which includes all 300+ of our new GAC students - a special welcome to you.  My hope is that you will find much more than "school" in the life and spirit of Greater Atlanta Christian.  Hardly a week passes that families don't share with me or others about not only the powerful good GAC has done for their children - but for their entire family.  That is what we hope for you as well, new parent.  And we hope you won't feel "new" for long...  You belong.

I hope you'll also find that we are never complacent, satisfied with the status quo.  Progress is a constant for Greater Atlanta Christian, with a steady stream of program improvements for our kids.  So together, all of us, let's look forward to meaningful growth, challenges that energize us, and much purpose and joy ahead.

Election Year Drama!  In the surrounding world, it's campaign time.  I've always smiled at how the Summer Olympics and the U.S. Presidential Election are in the same four-year cycle, two very different contests!  They may trade front-page headlines for a while in the summer, but when the Olympic flame goes out, until early November - it's all campaign.

No surprise: politics has its nasty side.  Some elections in American history have been more contentious and mean-spirited than others.  I think most of us would agree the last few elections have been tense and ugly at times.  Everybody gets a share of the blame for that - from candidates to parties to press...to us at home?  At GAC?

I think we'd agree that adults on both sides of the election behave badly.  If adults are guilty, what do you expect of 8, 12 or 16 year olds?  So our question for the moment is about our kids and their learning in the 2012 election year.  Let's face it: Every step of the way, whether we intend to or not, we're teaching our children about how to approach an election, about how we select the candidates we prefer.  Now is the right time to weigh all that, before things get heated in the weeks ahead.

Here at GAC, we won't skip the value of the election year for teaching, just to avoid conflict.  It's too great an opportunity for learning.  However, we will approach it using several key principles:

1. We will use words and ideas to gain understanding of issues and positions, but not with shrillness, shouts, racial undertones, or antics.  Name calling is not learning.

2. We will encourage students to consider the character of the political candidates, but not engage in character assassination of them, or their supporters.

3. While we care deeply about faith, we will not declare for God who His official candidate is.

4. We will teach GAC students the empowerment of voting, as well as their current and future role in civic leadership.

5. We will teach the value of opposing views; we won't permit slash-and-burn attacks on fellow students' views, in the classroom, online, or at the dinner table.

6. Finally, we grownups (GAC faculty/staff and parents) will model these practices, no matter how deeply we feel about the election.

As believers in Christ, we have both a gift and a responsibility that our early Christian family in the Roman Empire didn't have - we have a say.  Let's use that say in a manner that honors God, and respects even those with whom we strongly disagree.  That's teaching too.



.....
3/21/2012
Value Up!
Progress Again for GAC Students in 2012

A couple of years ago, a GAC alum of the late-90’s came by to see me. She’d been off in another state starting her career, getting a graduate degree, and was now back interviewing in metro Atlanta. It was a bit funny—she stuck her head in the door, gave me an odd look, and said, “The value of my GAC diploma went up while I was away!” She then went on to tell me that in her job interviews, potential bosses were more intrigued by her GAC high school degree than her graduate degree from a recognized university (that shall be nameless here). On top of that, she’d not seen the campus since her graduation. I think her word was “Astounded”.

As you’d expect, I liked that—all of it. In different ways, that story has been repeated in the lives of GAC graduates many times—both the career open doors, and the surprise at their alma mater’s progress. It’s great to be in a community where the value of what we are doing continues to multiply.

While I’m glad a late ‘90s grad could see great headway, past progress is not enough. Built into the GAC culture and DNA is a commitment to constant advancement and next-step improvements. We’re a bit obsessive about it all, actually, and I like to think our students win because of it.

So today I did a quick list for myself of progress this year, and then a new list on progress coming for August 2012. See what you think:

Progress in 2011-12:
Mid-year transition to new Macbook Airs in November for grades 6-12; Amazing college admissions for the class of 2012; Launch of Arrowsmith learning; Mission trips across the globe; Complete renovation of Hank Prickett Track and Spartan Gymnasium; New Spartan Baseball Stadium; Beautifully redesigned Clifton Jones Theater; Campus expansion with the acquisition of GACS 1500 – to name a few.

Project 21 is now fully funded for implementation in 2012-13! That means this August, 400 iPads will enter the Early Childhood Village and Elementary programs (K3-5th grade; and specifically one iPad per child at the age appropriate grades of 3rd-5th). While the tools will be great, even more important is the research, planning, and teacher preparation that has been underway for sometime. Doing this well, based on best practices and age-readiness for young students has been at the heart of Project 21.

The “funded” part matters as well. It’s great to dream dreams, but it’s even better when support from our community of family and friends help to make the dreams come to life. Thanks to those of you who gave, and made this happen.

And beyond that, 2012-13 is another “value up” year:
My short list: Mandarin Chinese will be added to the Junior and Senior High curriculum; The Marching Spartans have recently been selected to play at the 2013 Outback Bowl Parade & Halftime Show in Tampa, Florida; Outstanding new expert coaches in several GAC sports (you will see that list soon). More projects and initiatives are coming—stay tuned.

And what’s the greatest “value up”? Let me tell you about one in particular. This Monday in chapel I watched our 6th grade boys share what they’d created in their Bible class this semester—The Young Man’s Resolution. We’re grateful for teachers like John Connel who guided them—but John was quick to say it was their work, their vision. I listened with emotion as 14 of them each read a line of what they’d resolved to do in life. Then all 6th grade boys stood together, adopting the resolution. I thought to myself—now that’s the “value up” that we long for most. May God bless and protect that army of 6th grade boys—and all our boys and girls too.


.....
1/11/2012
The "Race to the Middle", and What We Can Do About It

In this blog, sometimes I share with you about Greater Atlanta Christian school life, missions, philosophy, spiritual development, next step plans, and the joy of the journey. Most of those are fun and full of hope.

But not today's topic. It's all about learning, and a generation at risk. You see, there's a growing uneasiness nationally about education. There should be. And the research is telling us why it's deadly serious for our children.

Collectively, American Education is in decline, especially when compared to other nations. That decline is not slight. Late last year, the World Economic Forum dropped the U.S. to 26th rank among nations in education - far worse in math and science at 48th place. A 2011 finding by the Organization for Economic Co-operation & Development (OECD) ranked American learning as barely "average" out of 34 developed nations. These studies are not anti-American propaganda. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan described them as "the brutal truth". Global investor Rupert Murdock now compares U.S. education quality to a third world country (October, 2011). American author Fareed Zakaria suggests that "while we have been sleeping, the rest of the world has been upgrading its (education) skills." (November, 2011). Our home state of Georgia doesn't fare well in bringing up the national averages. There are various measures of state educational quality, but let's just say Georgia rarely makes it out of the bottom third.



Why such decay? Debates abound. Some blame the teacher pool - statistics indicate nearly half of whom are from the bottom third of their college classes. Others fault the layers of bureaucracies - from federal to state to local - that stifle excellence and block innovation. Still others believe rising social agendas, testing mandates, and political program one-upmanship, from "No Child Left Behind" to "Race to the Top", are squeezing the purpose out of schools and educators - leaving a generation of students unprepared to compete globally, a lap behind in a race that they can't yet comprehend.

So how does America turn the tide? That makes for another good debate with conflicting answers. A few contend the solution is to dedicate more money to federal and state education - yet the evidence doesn't support that. The U.S. spends the second most per student in the world, with deteriorating results (OECD, 2011). Others argue for choice - let parents choose schools instead of being forced by residency. When there is competition, they say, quality will come to the education marketplace. Perhaps so, if reasoned plans are implemented - but that takes time, in plodding bureaucratic systems. Lots of time.

But the problem for 2012 parents is - there is no time. Our children today can't wait for a decade's research, symposiums, statutes and educational fads. We can't afford to waste their precious few learning years, hoping for an answer that's not there yet.

Greater Atlanta Christian School's Resolve:
While we can't solve the nation's or state's education problems, there is one learning world we can constantly upgrade - right here at GAC. Free of virtually all federal and state education limitations, clear in mission, and with a robust foundation already in place, GAC has the ability to address issues of program, academic rigor, and 21st Century skills unlike many schools. And this is our pledge - we will tackle the issues of learning with vigor and resolve.

There are ways you can already see that. Let me share a couple.
One of the areas where America falls short is teacher quality and attention to growth
  • In contrast to the national pattern of teachers from the bottom quartile of their classes, GAC teachers largely come from the top quartile of their college graduating classes.
  • Continuing education matters, not just undergraduate work. By policy, Greater Atlanta Christian requires all faculty to acquire a minimum of a master's degree.
  • GAC dedicates considerable resources to advancing our faculty. A unique GAC program provides funding to our teachers pursuing Masters, Specialists, and Doctorates. We believe a prepared, updated teacher is better for every GAC student. By the way, congratulate our three December faculty graduates: Linda Byrd, Lisa Wolaver, and Shelley Woodward. Also congratulations to Junior High Assistant Principal Brian Dolinger, who was accepted last fall to the University of Georgia doctoral program. Congratulations also to now Doctoral Candidate Status: Elementary Assistant Principals Matt Sills and Brad Schultz; Athletic Director Tim Vick and Senior High Faculty member Brad Denton.
  • Thanks to gifts and support, GAC has an endowment aimed only at Faculty Quality and Growth. All proceeds go to professional growth, conferences, workshops - skill and knowledge building for our GAC teachers - that affects every GAC child.
  • Our commitment to attract only the best, brightest, and faith-filled is accelerating. With every new opening, we ask fresh questions about who will catapult the Greater Atlanta Christian program to new heights. And they are coming.

Linda Byrd
Educational Specialist Degree
University of Georgia
Brian Dolinger
Current Doctoral Student
University of Georgia
Lisa Wolaver
Masters of Special Education Degree
Valdosta State University
Brad Schultz
Current Doctoral Candidate
Georgia Southern University
Shelley Woodward
Educational Specialist Degree
University of Georgia
Matt Sills
Current Doctoral Candidate
Georgia Southern University


Brad Denton
Current Doctoral Candidate
Georgia State University



Tim Vick
Current Doctoral Candidate
University of Alabama


Quality can often be measured in part by the outcomes,
and I'm talking about much more than a test (though they too are strong).  Let's consider college admissions. Increasingly for the past decade, the best universities in America seek out and welcome Greater Atlanta Christian graduates. Already, early admissions for the Class of 2012 speak volumes. Here's a short list: Harvard, MIT, Cal Tech, Georgetown (2), John Hopkins, Stanford, Cornell, Baylor, NYU, Northwestern, UGA, GA Tech, Emory, Duke, as well as great Christian universities like Samford, Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, and more. Quiet word is the GAC Class of 2012 will shine even brighter as spring unfolds.

But GAC has dilemmas as well. The measures of quality of 2000 or 2010 are absolutely inadequate. Today global competition has ramped up considerably. Comparing ourselves favorably with "American education standards" doesn't work any longer. Quality has to be redefined for our children to thrive in a very different world with different skills. I know you hear us talk about "21st Century Skills", but it's far more than a buzz-phrase. For their sakes, those skills must be in their tool bag. So we are busy upgrading the definition of excellence at GAC again. Yesterday's definition won't work in 2020.

Thomas Friedman, author of the paradigm-changing The World is Flat (2006), has a new book out - and the title tells you something: That Used to Be Us (2011). It's a good read, with some hope, but much that says over the last two decades, America's lost her edge in the world. Here's the point - we are determined to give our children the edge they need to be the leaders, learners, shapers and servants of the King in the coming decades. Jesus wasn't the "race-to-the-middle teacher". He was the "Master Teacher". Regardless of their life and ministry, that sense of mastery is our goal and plan for every GAC graduate.

Let's pick up the pace together.

David
.....
10/11/2011
"As Others See Us..."

Our GAC children already live in a tiny world where faith, economics, and culture are increasingly intertwined across borders.  We believe strongly their learning at GAC should prepare them thoroughly for those expanding global relationships and skills.  Three of GAC's ten planks in our Strategic Plan "Remarkable Steps Ahead" relate to global ipact and global relations within learning and Christ.

That's why the recent day-long visit of 60 students from The Lincoln House School, a South Korean Christian High School, was such a pleasure - and such a learning experience.  Our students (K3-8th) saw and heard outstanding teen performers and musicians share their arts and skills in a way that opened their eyes to a new world, and God's work 11,000 kilometers away.

What I found fascinating as I visited with these energized kids was how they saw us, and what surprised them about Greater Atlanta Christian (and they've visited several schools).  Want to see their list of GAC Surprises?
- They were amazed that our school day ends at 3pm...Their school day ends about 10pm, six days a week.
- They loved our technology, and that so many of our textbooks were on Macs.
- They enjoyed worshipping in Senior High Chapel immensely.
- Lunch!  So many choices!  So much American food!
- They liked seeing the Bible verses around campus.
- They wanted to know all about our sports programs and after school activities ("What do GAC students do with so much 'time on their hands', since classes don't last until 10pm?")
- They loved that GAC students could start here at 3 years old and could then graduate high school all on the same campus.
- They were shocked at how "large" the GAC campus was.

Sometimes we are so caught in the moment that we can't see ourselves very well.  Through the eyes of teenagers from another continent, maybe we see ourselves a little better.

Our prayer:  Help us, Father, to see ourselves with Your eyes, and by our coming paths, make you smile.

And by the way...
In early September, you received a packet in the mail from the school about Beginnings, the campaign for the first phase of GAC's Strategic Plan "Remarkable Steps Ahead."  If in the busy-ness of the start of the school year, Magazine Sale, fall sports, etc. it was put aside, here's my request: Pull that out once again.  If you've misplaced it, you can review and participate with an online pledge to Beginnings or contact Laura Ellard in the Development Office.

Many of you, your fellow parents, staff, and the GAC Board broadly participated in shaping that plan.  We believe in it, and think it's God's next expectations for Greater Atlanta Christian School.  And we need your backing.  I'm asking you to support Beginnings with your own charitable giving, and now as the fiscal year end is approaching is a good time for you to be weighing - "what is expected of me in light of my blessings to take Greater Atlanta Christian to a new level of ministry and excellence?"  We need you "in" either with a gift or a pledge (payable now of by end of 2012).  You won't regret it, and the families of 2012 and beyond will thank you.


David


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9/14/2011
Isolation or Collaboration?

I've visited two high tech firms in recent months.  Both were kind to me, yet both felt more like armed fortresses than welcome centers.  As I entered each firm I signed forms about what I would never reveal, surrendered my phone, and promised not to take notes.

In the technology industry, I understand why.  Ideas are capital, and the future of companies hinge on protection of proprietary creations.  You don't give away what sets you apart.

But for Greater Atlanta Christian and our children?  It's almost 180 degrees the opposite direction, both in our connections with other schools, and in the GAC learning design for your kids.  Here's how.

Open to Grow...and Grow Others:  I sometimes kid that our best ideas are "stolen", but there's a little truth to it.  GAC leaders and faculty are voracious consumers of the best in new ideas and researched-based findings about what learning should be.  Frankly, many of the educational models of 1980 or even 2000 will not help our children thrive in the 21st century.  Nostalgia sometimes drives schools backwards - to the detriment of the students.  But GAC leaders and faculty are in graduate school, in conferences, in field studies from Atlanta to Canada seeking out better ways that lead to student collaboration, creativity, innovation, and critical thinking - all for their benefit.

It's a two-way street.  Unlike the tech firms with proprietary protection, GAC is a constant focal point of study by others.  Just since the beginning of this school year we have already been the site visit for six schools and one university.  School boards and educational leaders from Georgia, Texas, California (2), and Tennessee have studied our curriculum, our innovative programs, our governance, our facilities, the spiritual life on campus, and what one called "a culture, a vibrancy that is hard to grasp, unless you visit."  Each time, they go home with some of Greater Atlanta Christian's "capital".  And we are glad for it.  We've also been blessed by others.  It's our joy to see other children benefit from what GAC has to offer.

Those visits will ramp up in 2011-12.  In the months ahead, we will host a number of school gatherings.  Others are increasingly calling upon GAC in this way.  Visits during the year will be capped off next summer with iSummit 2012, a gathering of an expected 500+ educators from private and Christian schools as members of The Coalition of Lighthouse Schools, some of the leading innovative schools in the nation.

The best part is...GAC children and teachers win through all this collaboration.  This constant give and take of partnership stirs new ideas and inventiveness again on the GAC campus.  Whether it's technology, missions, spiritual retreats, or cross-disciplinary learning, our faculty and leaders are constantly asking "Why not?" and "What if?"  I love those questions.  And when you hear mind-expanding questions from your kids, I hope you love them too.  That creative, analytical mind is just what we want to see growing in them.

I think Our Father is pleased about that too.  He's pretty big on us working together.

David

...
8/18/2011
On a Clear Day

You know how it happens: We start with a pledge to ourselves to keep our eyes on the “big picture”, keep our priorities right before God, and not get lost in the maze of agendas and deadlines.

Then daily life intrudes…and our pledges lapse.

At times, most of us fight bouts of tunnel vision and busyness, and sometimes that makes it hard to see much further than…Friday. Thankfully, God knows we have children to raise, jobs to do well, and ministries to fulfill. Yet now and then, it’s good for us all to stop and see more clearly what’s underway.

Today is one of those clear days. So let’s climb a few feet up, and see what’s underway for our GAC family, our ministry and our children. I think you’ll agree there’s reason for hope!

By the Numbers: Statistics can only go so far. But sometimes they can give us a little insight. Here’s some you might find interesting about GAC 2011-12:

· Total GAC enrollment is up and strong, yet without massive change – it is less than 1% larger than last year. New applicants to GAC were up as well, 16% higher than in 2010. Yet the floodgates were not opened, as 21% more applicants were guided to other schools. (Please note: This is not a point of exclusivity or pride, but just the reality that GAC works hard to bring in students and families that are mission-appropriate.) The Early Childhood Village and Senior High grew the most, with GAC’s largest Senior High in history now walking the campus each day.

· Classes, learning models, and Jesus-focused experiences are expanding this year. Our principals are initiating 11 new GAC programs this fall, ranging from BOOST, Arrowsmith (no, not the band), and Rosetta Stone to Christian Leadership. Every new program is changing groups of GAC students—or the entire GACS student body for the better.

· Campus improvements expanded noticeably this summer, quadruple the number of projects undertaken in 2010. These are blessings from God, and the result of early financial support from some of you. And the winners are…our GAC children from the youngest to oldest.

· Teacher Professional Growth was substantial in summer of 2011. Over 95% of GAC faculty expanded their skills in conferences, graduate school, professional growth workshops and new areas of certification. That means new insights, new skills, and new benefits for GAC students.

· GAC spiritual retreats intentionally planned for the beginning of the school year for our 8th through 12th grades, were the most highly attended in GAC history, with over 800 total students involved in focused time away from the regular class schedule to find new depth and commitment in Him—together.

And beyond the numbers? We’ve had an encouraging start to the school year…

· Starting with the first day of preplanning – when all our faculty and non-instructional staff spent time in prayer on behalf of our students.

· And the Student Spiritual Retreats were in a word—Incredible. When a student commits his life to Jesus, or goes to a new deeper level of faith, there’s no measuring that. There’s a fire building in the student body that’s from beyond this world.

· There’s a GAC spirit of learning focus that many of you have already noticed this year. Increased expectations, renewed vigor and rigor, and engagement. Now that’s when learning thrives.

· The caliber of new faculty to GAC is a highpoint. Each of our new faculty - from Early Childhood through Senior High - come with a wealth of experience adding immeasurable depth to all our programs.

· Parent volunteer participation is exciting at every level. We’re finding families ready to be involved in making GAC better now and for the future.

It is a clear day for GAC, and I hope you like the view. We thank God for the signs of life, progress, and vitality surrounding our children and mission. Let’s keep watching and working for what He will do among us in 2011-12.

David


PS: Speaking of signs, several of you have mentioned the Beginnings signs around campus. These are progress points for GACS, blessings from God, funded by friends, parents, and grandparents of GACS. Beginnings is an 18-month campaign that is changing GAC for the better in ways that tuition can’t. Want to learn more?  Visit our Beginnings web page to take a look at what is underway on campus right now.
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3/24/2011
What Makes a Great School? “Process” or “Product”?

I love the musical “Fiddler on the Roof”, the story of a little Jewish community under an oppressive Czarist regime in 1905. The poor lead character, Tevye the milkman, tries to get along with everyone. Sometimes that’s hard. In one conversation with fellow townsmen, an argument develops. Tevye finds himself saying “He’s right!” after each debater makes his case. Fellow townsman Avram takes note:

Avram: "He's right, and he's right? They can't both be right."
Tevye: "You know... you are also right."

Occasionally I think Tevye had a point.

There’s been a debate for years in independent school and Christian school circles. I’m curious: Who do you think is right? Some argue that great schools are first and foremost about the process—a grand experience for every child, where they are loved, have great nurturing experiences, and learn along the way. The volume and quality of what is learned might vary greatly from child to child, but in sum, the students' self worth, the love they have felt, and their view of the world is the central story—and sets a course for their lives. That makes sense. Are they right?

Others contend that a great school’s first task is product—exiting that fully enabled graduate who has the complete package of knowledge, skills and abilities to succeed at the highest level he or she can. A sense of nurturing and care has to take a back seat to rigor, load and ability to achieve, even when under pressure. Guiding that child to the right school with superb college counseling is part of that important exit. Sounds good. Are they right?

And here’s the rub: Some researchers insist schools must choose. They can’t be both “process” and “product” schools. To be accomplished, the goals are largely mutually exclusive. What??

I believe the Greater Atlanta Christian School community lives out both visions—and we don’t have to choose. In fact, forced to a “choice”, children are shortchanged, one way or the other. And we won’t shortchange our children. There’s evidence within GACS that backs up that Process and Product combination. Here’s just a few vignettes that demonstrate it.

Thinking of Product with an Academic Emphasis - a few illustrations:
  • 100% College Bound population
  • One of the finest college counseling teams to be found. Graduates and parents share regularly what a significant strength GAC College Counseling (Lori Davis and Bev Dowdy) are for their students as they prepare, apply, and select their universities.
  • Breadth and depth of college acceptances: In the last 3 years, GACS students have been accepted to over 275 universities, with a national and international presence. Many schools are more regional in the placements…but not Greater Atlanta Christian graduates. In addition, GAC serves as springboard to the right school for the child—and that’s never the same. Whether it’s large public universities, Southern Ivy, Christian universities, military academies, or top Northeastern schools, GAC graduates are there—and thriving. GAC Class of 2011 College Acceptances (as of March 23, 2011)
  • IOWA composites for 2-5th Elementary grades and 6-8th Junior High grades at 99th and 97th percentile respectively (meaning GAC composite scores surpass all but 2 in 100 in Junior High, and all in Elementary.)
  • Over 50 Duke T.I.P. Scholars in GAC Junior High.
  • Teacher Preparation: There has been an intense focus on the expanding development of Greater Atlanta Christian teachers and hiring the best and brightest for the future. In the last 2 years, GAC has dedicated over $300,000 to professional development of her faculty, building 21st century skills. (Funded by the GACS Teacher Quality & Growth Endowment and your gifts to the GACS Annual Fund.)
  • New Teacher Selections: In the past five years outstanding younger teachers have joined Greater Atlanta Christian with undergrad and advanced degrees from Baylor, UGA, Vanderbilt, Emory, Georgia Tech (Ph.D.), William and Mary, Texas A&M, and Arizona State University.
  • Model School for Others: During the 2010-2011 school year, GACS hosted over 200 educational leaders from 10 states—a number from here in metro Atlanta—studying the best ideas of the GAC program for adoption in their own private and (occasionally) public schools.
  • Advanced Placement and Honors: Greater Atlanta Christian has 20 AP courses and 25 honors courses in Junior and Senior High. (The national average of AP courses offered per school is 6.)
  • Capable new student body: In test scores and grades, GAC Principals found the new students accepted for 2010-11 were collectively academically stronger than applicants in years past.

Considering the Processthe Development, Care, and Nurturing of each GAC student—here just a sample:

  • Small class ratios are maintained so the teacher and child can know one another well, and with the time for support and nurture.
  • Unfolding of the GACS Leadership Development: Programs like the recent "411 Event" and a new Senior High leadership class in August 2011.
  • Life and heart changing mission trips and retreats for Junior High and Senior High students: This year, 26 different mission trips are filled with students from 6-12th grade—and our children experience levels of need, poverty, hope and support that change them for a lifetime. The power of the fall retreats this year still echo across the campus as I write.
  • Service: The Student Ministry office builds a platform for students to develop the heart for lifelong service. Our goal is that they will never outgrow their roots in Christian service learned at GACS.
  • Student led small groups: Students encourage and mentor other students
  • All Pro Dads: a powerful Dad/child relationship program for Elementary. (GAC is among the first private or Christian schools to offer All Pro Dads in the nation.)
  • Incredible, impactful chapel: Much preparation goes into each chapel, with student and guest presenters, times for worship, times for individual change. Most important, God is invited into every event, asking the Holy Spirit to change us into Jesus’ image.
  • 71 Athletic teams and 53 Academic/Arts team options: Involvement and commitment beyond the classroom in the GAC community shapes character, outlook, and teamwork in unparalleled ways.
  • Class trips—for learning and bonding—every grade from 5th to12th grade. There’s nothing like Rock Eagle (5th), Washington (7th), or Williamsburg (10th) to wake a child up to a world of learning—and opportunities to grow close to teachers and classmates.

Bottom line: Product and Process are both right. The process (and joy) of schooling, and the product of great schools both matter. Ah, you shouldn’t have to choose. Our children need both, and God designed them for both. We should do no less.


David

.....
1/19/2011
GAC Previews for 2011

After a truncated start to the new year...welcome back (again)!  The last time Atlanta schools were out for a week due to winter weather like this dates back to the 70's.  While it's been fun, I personally hope it's that long again.  Still, the memories of last week's snow for many of us were very good.

Ah, but it's back to the purpose of learning, of faith, of dreaming again for our kids, and for a better GAC in 2011.  Now it's time to put legs on those dreams.  There's so much to share, so I post four "mini-blogs" in the next few lines, to keep you abreast, share a heads-up, and invite your dreams as well.

Online GAC Last Week?  Yes, in a sense it's already happened.  While we were all snowed in, Julia Osteen GAC's TILT (Technical Instructional Lead Teacher), conducted two professional workshops with GAC faculty online.  Seventeen GAC teachers "arrived" virtually, and spent hours together on two innovative projects on mobile learning and Prezi (no misspelling there.  Look it up if you're unsure).  Isn't that nice?  But get ready - we hope next time there's a multi-day interruption, many GAC students will be arriving virtually as well.  Nothing substitutes long term for one-on-one contact, but in the future, there's no reason to be frozen out by weather or other events.  And the future is now.

Heads Up, GAC Parent: TV (and the Internet) Still Need Your Screening.  While we could mention a score of current shows aimed at pre-teens and teens that show anything but "good judgement", one debuted Monday night (1/17), Skins, which comes with its own interactive website you don't want your kids to visit.  The Parents Television Council labels it potentially the most dangerous program ever for teens.  Oh, you'll see comments about the 10PM time or that it's aimed at an older audience.  But look closely at how and to whom it's marketed.  The point, GAC parents: Let's remember there is a battle for the moral and ethical minds of our children.  Premises of many shows and websites undermine and damage some of the core beliefs of the GACS community, and the kind of young men and women we want our children to be when they grow up.  If you've acquiesced a bit lately, time to step up again.  Other have their sites on your kids' beliefs and values.  Tune in and take charge.  That's what makes you ultimately a loving parent.

GAC Dreams Ahead:  I love that GAC is never complacent with the status quo!  There's always a questions about what programs could be better, innovation that will improve instruction, opportunities that will advance GAC and our kids again.  It's exhilirating!  For the past several months, plans have been advancing based on your 2008 and 2009 feedback and faculty/administrative guidance about the next steps and the Remarkable Steps Ahead Strategic Plan for Greater Atlanta Christian. If you think GAC took mighty steps to Higher Ground in the last decade, then get ready for a new and exciting ride for the twenty-teens: all purpose-filled, all God-honoring, all for raising our children to the best in learning and programs imaginable. There’s too much to share here, but as funds are available, on the horizon are:  

- 21st Century Learning models for K-5th grade (including an immense, age-appropriate Digital Learning Environment)
- Christian Leadership Training, from Elementary through Senior High
- Expansion of GAC's already-superb Band and Orchestra programs with equipment, facilities, instruments and more
- Newly renovated Early Childhood Village
- Major renovations to PE Gymnasium, Clifton Jones Theater, and Bradford Gym exterior

By the way, we're not talking "someday".  Watch for these changes for your children in 2011 and 2012.  I hope you'll be part of it, and dream with us.

Help Shape Your Child's Classroom for 2011-12:  I'm pleased to tell you GAC applicants are up notably for 2011-12.  That's encouraging, as Atlanta and some schools have struggled through the recent economic difficulties.  Still, you are needed as an "Admissions Officer" for GAC, and I think you'd want to be as well.  Why?  It's clear that the vast majority of our families find their way to GAC because of you...(word of mouth).  Your good words, your encouragement, your inviting a friend to come with you to the campus.  Thank you - and we need you to do that again.

It's not only good for GAC, but good for your children as well.  Would you like to have a hand in picking their classmates?  Children and families with spiritual commitment?  Moms serious about excellence in education?  Dads committed to high moral principles for their children and who realize their first job right now is parenting?

Then speak up for GAC this week.  Tell some friends, or better yet, bring a friend to visit the GAC Admissions leaders, and make GAC - and your child's peers - even stronger by your voice.  Although inquiring visitors are welcome on campus at any time, please remember to promote our next Open House which is scheduled Sunday, February 13 at 3:00pm.

That's enough!  Blessings on your family in 2011.  God has a plan for us together.

David


  
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11/16/2010

Thankful

You know the glass half-full/half-empty metaphor. Neither fits me well, since my “cup runs over” without pause. Everywhere I turn, there are reasons for this fullness. I hope you see some of them too.

I’m writing this while flying back from a national Digital Learning Conference (DLE) in Texas where I spoke to a thousand attendees on Greater Atlanta Christian’s DLE. The questions were many from those supporting public and private schools. “How can we get where you are?” “How can we engage our students in ways GAC has?” were common questions. Many asked to visit so they could adopt some or all of the GAC model. Is “thankful” enough?

I watched our Senior High students in chapel the other day…students gathering around the worship leaders in song, in prayer, hands raised. I thought of the scores making first confessions or a more full commitment to Jesus with their lives. I remember the sights of those nearly 60 baptized this fall at GACS or at the retreats. Newborn children in Jesus. Blessed?

I just spent time with administrators of other schools bemoaning their lack of parent interest in involvement, and the resulting loss to their student body. Volunteers were present, but not robust. Parents are just too busy. Then I thought of LACE and Frog Hollow; Patrons of the Arts and their highly successful first Artist Extravaganza; Spartan Booster Club's never ending quest for great Spartan athletics. I could see the hundreds of parent volunteers in the GAC Elementary, Village, Junior High and Senior High. Grateful?

I’ve watched our teachers give herculean effort in 2010, innovating with 21st century learning methods; Christian coaches build successful teams—and more successful young men and women; Principals, Deans, and Assistant Principals building a climate and outlook for kids on how to live in an “others-focused” community. In some ways, this may be the best school year in GAC history—and that’s approaching 50 years. Reasons for Joy?

In two weeks, I will be in Kigali, Rwanda, working with individuals and officials there to help build a sister school to GACS, with the same goals and dreams for future African Christian leaders. It’s a long term project, perhaps 20 years to maturity, but it must get started. The vision? Our kids and African kids knowing each other for decades ahead…for missions, projects, professions and more. Pretty important in the tiny world in which they will live.

I could go on to GAC missions, initiatives for advances in Village/Elementary, and more. But you get the picture - Our cup really does run over in the GACS family. 

If you would like to join us this Thursday morning for our annual All School Thanksgiving praise and worship time with your children, we welcome you to Long Forum at 9 am...let's thank our Father for His abundant blessings.

In addition to our school blessings, I’m praying for blessings on your family as well in the weeks of thankfulness and joy that fall between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

David

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10/14/2010
Time Marches On…So Will GAC

The school year is already one-quarter complete? How did that happen?

Perhaps you’re not surprised, but it strikes me again how important it is–for our children’s sake—to “make the most of every chance you get” as Paul would say (Ephesians 5). I’ll write you about once per month to share with you some of what we’re thinking and working on at Greater Atlanta Christian. Because you care what’s happening here, we want to keep you attuned to the next level dreams of GAC.

Speaking of Communication: One of our goals is to make sure you are in-the-know about life, trends, issues and initiatives within GACS and sometimes beyond. We believe when your family and GAC are on the same page, your kids constantly thrive—and win. We follow a monthly communication schedule that typically includes:
* GAC Happenings - sent two times each month (e-newsletter sent your way to keep you informed.)
* Conversations with David - my monthly blog
* Notes from the Principal - monthly e-letter from each GAC principal to their specific parent community

Of course, there will be other important communications from time to time, plus your easy connection to the website with school calendars, news, studywiz, and classroom updates on your children. Is there something you want to know about and you think others might as well? Make a suggestion to our Community Relations Director Jill Morris. We’d welcome your insights.

Checking GACS’ Educational and Spiritual Pulse: Certainly there’s no perfection this side of heaven, but this has been an incredible year thus far in both arenas.
  • Educationally, the Digital Learning Environment (DLE) has exploded with engagement and power. Far more than just the addition of a 2-to-1 initiative (Mac and iTouch), the DLE was more than two years in the making, including deep philosophical reflection on the nature of education for the 21st century, plus massive professional development for faculty over a two-year period. The results thus far have been so encouraging. Learning methods are in transition; authentic learning (pursuing “real” projects instead of traditional rote models) is on the rise; organizational readiness—as students better organize their work and thinking with new digital tools—all are present. One key difference I see at every turn is engagement. Students are creating, collaborating, and absorbed in the work of learning—and are being changed for the better. “Classes involve much more group work: designing projects together, class discussions, research assignments, etc.”, shared senior, Laura Jackson. While not everything has gone perfectly, it has had far fewer hiccups than we anticipated. And we’ve just begun.
Over 80 visitors from other schools across the nation will be visiting Greater Atlanta Christian on Nov 9 to witness our DLE initiative in full spectrum, borrowing ideas to take home and change their schools. We’re glad to be part of progress for children in other places.
  • And spiritually? The year has been…astounding. Now remember—these are kids, imperfect, still in blossom. Yet check with faculty. We’ve seen a fire, a faith, a passion, almost unparalleled in GACS history. Students have made first time commitments to Christ, found deeper transformation, made decisions to be baptized into him by the scores. Now that is what life is about, isn’t it? No doubt there will be disappointments—“all have sinned”, didn’t Paul say? But God’s Spirit is moving, and we will do all we can to prepare young hearts for His call.

And how is GACS’ Economic Pulse? It’s beating strongly. While every nonprofit including Christian schools has felt the economy’s impact, GAC has fared well, including this year. Enrollment remains good—even stronger in secondary levels, with some decreases in our youngest grades. With the help of the GAC Annual Fund—where parent and friend gifts makes such a difference—GAC will again have not only a balanced budget, but will continue to take on great new initiatives, not someday, but right now. We recently checked with other metro-Atlanta private and Christian schools and found GAC in a healthy position - in enrollment, finances, and program again. Our future has every reason to shine.

New Early Childhood Village Advancements: Our youngest Spartans are about to have some powerful new advances—and I’m glad to give you a peek.
  • First there are significant new digital initiatives with the learning tools that will engage, motivate, and operate in a learning world that’s in concert with the 21st century. In the next few weeks, the following will be making their debut in the Village:
  • 20 Apple iPads—loaded with wonderful, just-right apps that challenge and engage K4, K5, and K6
  • K6 will have the latest in interactive projection—a “smart board” that is far more versatile and the latest generation in learning
  • GAC’s first Smart Table—the first multi-touch, multi-user table in early education, designed to encourage collaboration, consensus building and problem solving for the young learner.
In addition, the Village is about to have some interesting and exciting “small town” improvements—some artistic and lighting upgrades that will bless our students and improve an already joyous building in which to live and learn. Watch for it—most of these changes will be in place in weeks, not months.

And a New Village Program for 2011-12  K3: Until about 2003, Greater Atlanta Christian was the proud home of GAC K3. We still have a number of 7th graders and above who were part of the GAC campus right from K3. But space pressure caused us to close it for a few years, always with the recognition that K3 would be back when possible. In the next few days, you will see an announcement about the re-birth of K3 for next school year, a special encouraging, loving-and-learning “home” for little ones right in the comforting care of the Early Childhood Village. More on the program, teacher ratios, and goals will be announced next week. We’re pleased to see it coming back. If you or someone you know might be interested ... Get ready for a visit with Admissions about the best in K3 in a Christian school that can be found.

David
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8/10/2010
No Strangers…Clear Direction…Rich History…Bright Future

Welcome home – Whether you’re a long time Greater Atlanta Christian veteran, or are in your first week, we want both your children and you to feel that sense of belonging and at-home in the GAC family. We are clearly in this together. And with that…some challenges for you.

First, join in and don’t be strangers! You may be surprised how much GAC can change not only your children for the better, but you as well. Find your places of ministry in the Greater Atlanta Christian family. Whether as classroom volunteers, Moms or Dads Bible Studies, sponsors, carpool volunteers, participants in PTO, LACE, Academic Booster Club, Patrons of the Arts, Spartan Booster Club… you are needed, and you will be blessed by your connection.

Second, let’s be clear and together on our mission. You’ll see the GAC mission plastered around campus and in our communications—and it’s not meant to be just a sweet sentiment. It’s intentional, directional, and life-fulfilling for us. Raising our children like Jesus is the heart of our work. And when you strive to “look” like the Master Teacher, amazing other results follow including:
Excellence in every learning program, every sport, every arts program—every area;
Care for kids that’s personal, profound and lasting;
Character that’s deep and even mysterious—because it’s origins are from God;
Innovation to meet students right where they are—and take them to leadership in a new century;

Third, a school with the history, beauty, and purpose of Greater Atlanta Christian doesn’t happen out of nothing.
God has used nearly 50 years of Christian men and women to shape something truly unique. I don’t know if there is a “typical” Christian school, but if so, Greater Atlanta Christian is definitely not it. We owe a great debt to early dreamers. Make a point to learn a little about that history as the year rolls by. It will make you all the more grateful for what God is doing for your children this year—and for you.

Finally, play your role in shaping Greater Atlanta Christian’s bright future. Remember those leaders of GAC history I mentioned just above? Who do you suppose God has in mind now to make a mighty difference? It’s your turn now. He has put within your hands the responsibility to carry Greater Atlanta Christian on to greater things for your kids and future generations. So don’t be content with the status quo. Ask the right questions. Call us up to Remarkable Steps Ahead. Be willing to give, to support, to work so that years from now your dreams are seen written all over the purpose and life of GACS.

I love the apostle Paul’s quote of what many believe was a Christian song from his time--“Awake O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Eph 5: 14) It’s time to awake, rise, and have the Light shine on us and through us. Our kids are watching…and ready.

It’s about to get exciting at Greater Atlanta Christian School. See you soon.
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6/17/2010
Summer Greetings—The Pause that Refreshes

GAC families, I hope you are loving your summer! Enjoy, relax, and keep your kids growing (and reading!) Here on campus, it’s a bit slower—but then again, not really. GAC summer camps of all kinds are riding high. Construction is underway on Young Learners’ Hall, an addition to the Early Childhood Village. And Spartan Stadium’s new synthetic turf conversion is going strong. Many GAC teachers come together next week for professional sessions, and several will attend the Apple Summit later in the summer.

I believe our programs and faculty will be outstanding as you come “home” in August. God can use this year powerfully to change us all for the better. I hope you will pray with that in mind. He will listen—and we will feel the results.

Moral High Ground: Apple is Trying and So is GAC

Recently, Apple and Steve Jobs have been taken to task by some for “censorship” on applications for the iPod Touch and iPhone. It seems Apple has adopted a policy against being a provider of pornography. If you want porn, Jobs says, get another device. I’m sure there are some good business reasons why they are doing that as well, but it makes me all the more glad that Greater Atlanta Christian has adopted the iPod Touch as our mobile device for 6-12 graders next year.

Most of you know GAC’s commitment to security and high moral values for our children. That’s why cloud technologies and high firewalls are in place, and it’s also why we will continue to teach our children about ethical digital citizenship—and hope you will be at home as well. But let’s be clear—just as when you were a kid there were ways around your parents’ moral expectations, there will be today in a digital world too. So let’s do two things:
· Let’s build those protective walls as securely as reasonable.
· Just as importantly…No, even more so…Let’s live out Deuteronomy 6 as parents and teachers
5“Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that's in you, love him with all you've got! 6Write these commandments that I've given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. 7Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night.” (The Message)

Looking for a Few Great Families:

We are blessed with good enrollment for this fall, but there’s room for a few more students from good families at GAC. If you know a great family that should be at GAC or is moving to town, it’s not too late to speak to them about your special place at GAC. Contact Admissions Director Linda Clovis (770-243-2274), and she’d be glad to visit with them about possibilities, even for August. Your word and your recommendation go a very long way.

Summer’s a joy. Have a grand one.
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5/12/2010
Anticipation….

I hear of schools that sleepily “wind down” to a close. I’m also hearing of schools with sorrow and morale challenges as programs and positions are eliminated, classroom sizes grow, while students pay the largest price. Frankly, neither “wind down” nor program damage are in Greater Atlanta Christian’s repertoire, for now or next year! So before you put on your summer sandals, and definitely before your kids close their books, there are some big things brewing.

For example, this past weekend our Girls Track Team finished as Runners-up at the state track meet. Monday afternoon our Lady Spartan Golf Team won their second state championship title in four years. Then Monday evening, our Spring Band Concert welcomed some very special guests. Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson (former Director of Bands at Georgia Tech and 1996 Olympic Band Director) was the guest director of an ensemble of parents who joined the Spartan Symphonic Band members on stage to play a special medley delighting the audience after a remarkable evening of student talent from 5th grade through Senior High. All five Spartan Bands have made powerful strides receiving “Superior” ratings at competitions this year.
And still to come …:
· iCoffees for parents of rising 6th-12th graders to learn more about
   Greater Atlanta Christian’s Digital Learning Initiative (iLearn).
· Tonight (Wednesday, May 12 at 7:30pm) our Lady Spartan Soccer team
  
will host the Walker School in the state semi-final playoff game. Walker
   has traded #1 ranking back and forth with our Lady Spartans all season. It
   should be an exciting night.
· Spartan Spectacular performances on Thursday and Friday night (May 13
   & 14 at 7:00pm) highlighting a growing and talented chorus led by newly
   announced GAC Director for 2010-11 Terry Davis.
· And finishing out this week, the GAC Chorus Festival on Saturday (May 15
    at 7:00pm) an evening in Long Forum showcasing all GAC choruses
    (Promises–Elementary Chorus; Amici–Junior High Chorus; A Cappella
   Senior High Chorus) and the GAC Alumni Chorus of 150 alumni chorus
   members returning to campus to perform under direction of John Clovis–
   what a special evening.
· Did I even mention final exams?

Ah, but anticipation is not just about finishing this school year. Some of our best growth occurs when GAC faculty and staff make strides—and summer 2010 will be a leap forward. Several are in graduate school this summer. Another 75%+ of our faculty will be involved in professional growth seminars on topics ranging from Digital Learning to Advanced Placement instruction to Faith-Building Curriculum. Phonics and Reading training are on in the plans for several teachers, as well as Gifted Education strategies for others. When GAC faculty grow, we all grow.

By the way, a stellar cadre of new faculty will soon be joining us. Watch for an update soon on the incredible cast that will be joining us in shaping our kids and the GACS mission.

Finally, there’s anticipation about what may be the most incredible year of all for Greater Atlanta Christian—2010-2011. The excitement is palpable! Here’s a short list of the steps of progress coming:
· Young Learners’ Hall: The new nearly 3,000 sq. foot addition to the
   Village, designed to help our youngest Spartans better conquer reading and
   learning challenges, allowing them to leap months and years ahead.
· Spartan Stadium field will be completely replaced with synthetic turf: Safer,
   environmentally responsible, and requiring virtually no maintenance yet
   benefitting and blessing football, both boys and girls lacrosse, and field
   events for a decade ahead.
· New internal digital signs on campus, spelling out daily the key campus
  events from athletics to speakers and concerts, to big events. (Hats off to the
  Spartan Booster Club and LACE for each funding one of these
  two signs you’ll soon be seeing daily.)
· The Digital Learning Environment (DLE) launch—as we implement
   2-to-1 Macs and iPod Touches for every student in grades 6-12 in August. 
   (I sometimes call this the largest “building” in Greater Atlanta Christian
   history—although it’s a virtual building.)

In an era when schools, teachers, and kids are taking a beating due to budget cuts that damage classrooms, programs, and kids, I’m thankful we can anticipate another exceptional, and perhaps one of the most progressive years in GACS history. God has been so good to us. Thank you for your confidence. And may God protect you and your family over the summer.

The best is yet to come…
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4/22/2010
Announcing a Presidential Visit, a Monumental Opportunity

I’ll write a bit differently than I typically do in my blogs, because what is about to happen on the Greater Atlanta Christian campus is significant, even monumental.

I’m pleased and humbled to announce that His Excellency President Paul Kagame of the Republic of Rwanda will visit Greater Atlanta Christian School next Wednesday, April 28th, from approximately 11:00 to 1:15. President Kagame is making Greater Atlanta Christian one of four U.S. stops before returning to Kigali, Rwanda.

President Paul Kagame has been recognized by many organizations as one of Africa—and the world’s—foremost leaders. Among just a few of his many honors are:
· Honorary Doctorate; Oklahoma Christian University, 2006
· Andrew Young Medal for Capitalism and Social Progress; Georgia State University, 2005
· International Peace Medal; Saddleback Church, 2009
· Honorary Doctorate of Law; University of Glasgow, 2007
· Hands Off Cain Award for ending the death penalty in Rwanda, 2007
· African Gender Award; Dakar, Senegal for his role in promoting equality, 2007
· Children's Champion Award; US Fund for UNICEF, 2009

The visit to GAC has multiple purposes, but one central theme guides his steps. President Kagame has led his nation from horrors of the ethnic genocide of 1994 into the light of day with his Vision 2020, a far reaching roadmap for Rwanda’s healing, recovery, economic and ethical emergence—and a dream for excellent, value-enriched education.

And that’s where Greater Atlanta Christian School comes in. President Kagame insists that roadmaps without an educated and ethical citizenry will make little headway. In particular, Rwanda and Africa’s future leaders need the best in learning and moral underpinnings to bring the full vision to life. So the President’s visit centers on exploring what a stellar school can be—using GACS, a wholeheartedly Christian school, as a model—plus discovering possibilities for partnerships in reshaping education in Kigali, and in broader spectrum for all Rwanda, particularly for students who will eventually lead in business, law, professions and government. He will tour various parts of the GACS Junior High and Senior High (the focus of his visit), then hold a private luncheon with various governmental, business and non-profit leaders in Long Forum.

For Greater Atlanta Christian and our students, there’s long term opportunity. You know one of our core themes has been how the world is now both “flat” and “tiny”. Some of you already conduct business globally. Count on it—many, perhaps most of your children will work globally, plus be involved in causes throughout the world. Part of Greater Atlanta Christian’s Remarkable Steps Ahead Strategic Plan is building and connecting long term relationships between our students and their peers internationally. We see a day when GACS students—and later graduates—have life long relationships with colleagues globally whether business or Christian missions, and Rwanda is emerging as a key part of that plan.
We foresee…
· Connections of GAC Elementary students with digital pen pals;
· Junior High students working on common international projects, though 8,000 miles apart;
· Selected Senior High students involved in weeks of study together in Kigali with outstanding students there—then back in Atlanta together for additional weeks of learning—and resulting lifelong partnerships.

There’s also the immediate opportunity—few students get to see the head of state of another nation. We want every Greater Atlanta Christian student to remember the day they welcomed the President of Rwanda to their school. This is one of those monumental moments they may be remembering 50 years from now.

Parents, you too are invited to participate in the welcome. Weather permitting, we will ALL greet His Excellency at the Campus Green right in the heart of the campus. Watch for a short message early next week on particular steps and parking. But if you can do so, you are welcome to join in the greeting and welcome, as GACS pursues her mission for our children, for their world, and for our Father.

Welcome to the future.

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3/17/2010
When Cutbacks Hurt Kids

Lately, Georgia headlines shout it—“Major Cutbacks in County Schools”; “Class Sizes to Increase Again”; “Furloughs Affect Teachers and Students”; “Some Programs Reduced, Others Closed”; “Students Now to Feel Budget Cuts”. I wish these were just sensational headlines. Many experts say the economic crisis has finally caught up with publically funded schools making this year schooling’s hardest time in memory, with no end in sight. Some private schools are feeling the crisis as well, digging into reserves to survive, and curtailing programs. I’ve had two contacts in two days from friends who lead other schools (Christian and secular), asking advice on how to help their schools find their footing…or how to close with honor.

It hurts. Good teachers, schools, and most of all, kids will pay the price—not just for a year, but for years to come. Our children are only 5, 10, or 15 years old once, and if we miss those years of taking them to the best in learning, that time won’t be coming back.

So what about Greater Atlanta Christian? Are we affected? Will our GAC kids pay the price too? These are natural, understandable questions, when our children are at stake. I’m thankful for the answers I can share with you.

Like every non-profit, Greater Atlanta Christian has felt the economy, because many of you have felt the same recession. The school stretched this year to substantially increase financial aid, particularly for long time GAC families. (That same level of support will continue in 2010-11.) Re-enrollment for next year is good, similar to last year, but applicants are moderately less than in recent years (yet still stronger than 4 to 5 years ago). GAC endowment fell sharply for a time. Total giving (Capital campaign pledges + GAC Annual Fund) is moderately down. Sobering times. But that’s about it for bad news, and frankly, that’s incredibly encouraging.

In contrast, there is good news at GAC, and it is very, very good. Here’s a sample of what I mean:

· GAC plans no program cuts—in fact, just the opposite. A number of new programs are coming for
      our students in 2010-11. From Lego Robotics (Elementary), Robotics (Junior High), DLE (Mac/iTouch learning
      initiative), wrestling expansion, specific new courses… Next year will be GAC’s richest, deepest year of
      programs in our history.

· Class sizes will not rise. They will be the same or slightly smaller. That’s a promise.

· GAC teachers are not facing salary cuts, nor furloughs— on the contrary, there is even a small raise on
      the horizon. No cuts to class days for students either. Learning’s too important to throw days away for
      budget reasons, if it can be avoided.

· Giving (Annual Fund support by you) is….UP! The goal for this year is $1 million. GAC parents and friends
      have stepped up in these Hard Times with the highest participation rate in GAC history—and surpassed the
      goal by reaching $1.7 million, a new record. All goes to advance and improve GAC existing and new
      programs.

· GAC’s finances are solid. Balanced budget. Strong reserves in place, but not expected to be needed.
      The GAC Foundation (endowment) has rebounded to 96% of its peak in 2007, funding campus care,
       Christian speakers and performers, and teacher learning and growth. Many scriptures speak to finance,
     and Greater Atlanta Christian seeks to honor God with His principles of stewardship.

· GAC teachers will advance in their own skills next year, the most in GAC history. More time and funds are
     being dedicated to teacher advancement and education
and selection of a new generation of
      stellar teachers.

· Most important—GAC’s Mission (…like Jesus, in wisdom, stature, and in favor with God and man) remains the
      first and last word in everything we do. Brilliant kids and stellar programs alone are not enough. They never
      have been for me, for my fellow GACS administrators, nor for our faculty. Our goal is Christ to
     be more the King of the GAC campus in 2010-2011 than ever before.
More than mere words—
      but our heart, soul, and mission as we raise your children to be the ethical leaders of the new century.

It’s time for priorities. When life is over, our toys and assets will be dust. Our successful careers will impress no one. But when we go to meet God, we leave only a few eternal jewels in this world. Shine them now, while you can.
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2/11/2010

(Feb 14, 2010 - Update: I’ve received much positive response to this blog—thank you! A couple of you asked if something had occurred that led me to write “Easy?”. Really, not at all. Periodically, I just think it’s good to share with you background that shapes GAC decisions. Perhaps they will make more sense that way. David)

Easy? Shaping the Vibrant GAC Student and Parent Body


Do you remember the Staples’ “Easy Button”? A clever commercial perhaps, but I’ve yet to find any goal worth pursuing that’s easy. Goals require planning, prioritizing and prayer. As GAC leaders consider our mission, we give massive time and attention to prayerfully select the GAC student and parent body with care. Perhaps you’ve wondered what principles guide us? Here are some key pillars:

· For our mission to thrive, GAC and a child need to be a great pair. God has a grand purpose for every one of His children. Yet Greater Atlanta Christian’s agenda and approach are not right for every child. Our Christian focus, academic, college preparatory dynamics, student behavior expectations, and levels of work and service are out of sync with many. And that’s OK. So, we work hard to make sure we have a “fit”. And if we don’t, we try to honor a family by guiding them to schools that may be better for them.

· “Filling seats” is not a priority. Children and families are. Too often private and Christian schools frantically search for students—sometimes any students—in order to stay in existence. That’s not the case at GAC. Of course, we’re attuned to enrollment, yet our goals are not about a given number, but students and families who love our climate, learning program, and community. So we won’t lower expectations to fill a seat. Our mission’s too important for that.

I’m particularly thankful because both the GAC Boards prepared years before the current global economic mess—as much as humans can prepare—to insure our work stayed purposeful and focused. That preparation has buffered GAC from the quagmires and crises many schools and nonprofits have felt. And as a result, our students and families are the winners.

By the way, applications for 2010-11 are not record setting, but good and rapidly growing. In several grades they are surpassing previous years’ applicant rates notably. Of course, we welcome strong families, and you and your children are our best advertisement. Spread the word.

· Our GAC children and teens will be capable, but definitely not photocopies of one another. We recognize that children/teens’ capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses differ, and we will guide their growth accordingly. But just one “type” of child? Not GAC. One direction of heart and action for God? Absolutely. Our grads exit to Ivy Leagues and U.S. Military Academies, to medical schools, arts and SEC schools, to Christian colleges and universities abroad. We’re grateful to be a potent springboard for them all.

· GAC is a family school, and when we can, we will keep families together. If you’re a parent of more than one child, you’ve noticed that your children are different. (Is that an understatement at your house?) We’ve worked hard to build a program that keeps siblings together within the GAC family, if we can do it well.

An indicator of that commitment is the GAC Academic Support Program (AS), one of the nation’s finest within a superior college preparatory environment. We say little about it, since we don’t recruit for it. Although its name has changed, AS has been part of GAC since the early 1980s. It’s been a model for other schools to visit, trying to capture some of the practices GAC has implemented. Since most AS students have grown up at GAC, these are our students, and we are committed to them. Most have mild learning challenges, and would not qualify for assistance in the public school special education program. We are the best choice for them.

And here’s just a fact of life: Every school has students with learning challenges. Schools that say otherwise are either naïve or less than straightforward. The difference is GAC has systematically built programs, training, and support for children with learning needs, but has not shortchanged other students in the process.

· We’ll care for each child, but when there’s a conflict, the good of the collective student body must be supreme. We realize—some needs are beyond our ability. When a child needs more than we can provide, or when behavior is negatively impacting others, then it’s time to guide a family elsewhere. That child or teen is still of great value to God and to us—but our other students’ best interests take priority.

· Reflecting all of Christian Atlanta is a unique strength for GAC. Some of you’ve heard me say we’ve no interest in being “elitist” as a school family, nor one-dimensional in ethnicity or economics. The body of Christ doesn’t work that way. Many of you have told me that was part of what drew you to GACS. We’re far from perfect, but I’m so pleased with the GAC of today.

No doubt - differences in a family demand greater work and effort. But then—we don’t believe in the “Easy Button”. Growth in God and maturity requires heart, effort and training, and is worth it for our kids.

GAC principals and admissions officers review each child with love and care. And it takes wisdom far beyond our own! While God promised no “Easy Button”, He promised He would provide the wisdom (James 1), and His wisdom is why GAC thrives today.
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1/12/2010
A Special Announcement…And a Special Decade Coming

At times this blog has some widely varied purposes, ranging from in-the-moment progress to long range issues. Today’s blog has both, so bear with me through some good news.

Greater Atlanta Christian School - Elementary and Early Childhood Leadership:

I think by now most of you know that GAC’s Elementary Principal, Norma Miller has determined to retire with the close of the 2009-2010 school year. I could speak to a number of mighty changes she has created, but two might give you just a glimpse into her impact: I seriously doubt Greater Atlanta Christian would have been named a National School of Excellence (1999) or an All Kinds of Minds School of Distinction (2009) without the guiding hand of Norma Miller. By the way, Norma and I have known and been planning for this for some time. More on Norma another day.

A New Leader…and A Reorganization: God has blessed Greater Atlanta Christian with dynamic, Godly, and significant leaders, sought after by other schools and organizations regularly. I’m thankful that great ones stay and dream with us through the years. And with that, I’m proud to share with you that our own Rhonda Hawkins takes on a new role for GACS: Principal of the entire Lower School—that’s both the Early Childhood Village and Elementary.

Mrs. Hawkins’ credentials speak volumes about her preparation:
- BS degree - Elementary Education & Reading;
- MS degree - Counseling;
- Ed. Specialist degree - Early Childhood & Leadership;
- GAC Teacher of the Year;
- 18 years at GAC, including 7 years as Elementary Assistant Principal;
…And that’s just a glimpse!

But credentials only go so far…and then the person takes over. Those of you who know Rhonda can speak with me about the wisdom, love, the gentle, yet affirming leadership she has created both in the Village and in the Academic Support Program at Greater Atlanta Christian School. She’s brilliant, humble, never complacent—and always dreaming and creating a better GACS. That spirit of care will bless the GAC Elementary program greatly in 2010-11 and the years ahead.

And yes, you read correctly: Principal of the GAC Lower School, which will be K4 through 5th grade. Plus she feels passionate about keeping her hat as Director of GAC Academic Support.

There’s great blessing to all of GAC in this bringing together of the Village and Elementary as the GAC Lower School.
- Creating a seamless curriculum — with intentional linkages between K5, K6, and 1st grade—is of great importance, and this unification advances that greatly.
- Sharing of resources, both human and material, is upgraded with this change.
- Faculty training and professional growth take a step forward in this model as well.
From the student point-of-view, every child wins.

There will be outstanding additional support for both the Village and Elementary as well. Beginning in August there will be two full time Assistant Principals joining Rhonda -- one with a Kindergarten through 2nd Grade focus, and one with a 3rd through 5th Grade concentration. So GAC children, families, and Rhonda get more support, more resources, not less.

I know you will join with me in both honoring Norma Miller for her phenomenal leadership through the years, and affirming Rhonda Hawkins in the role she is about to assume for GAC. Take a moment now and give God thanks for Norma—and offer a prayer for His guidance of Rhonda. These are the best blessings you can give them.

A New Decade…And New Focus for GACS:

The 2000’s have been absolutely incredible years for Greater Atlanta Christian. Even with the economic challenges of late 2007 forward, GAC has advanced year after year, thanks to you and our supporters, who believe so much in our work for children and families.

You may recall we recently asked you to participate in an online survey regarding the next steps of progress for our school family—part of our initiative for our Steps Ahead Strategic Planning. The data is in, and it’s both encouraging and intriguing for the future. I’ll be sending all GAC families via regular postal mail a White Paper on the findings in the next two weeks, but here’s just a couple of highlights that struck me as significant:
· Collectively, there was astonishing consensus about next GAC priorities. In fact, parents, faculty, and board members selected the exact same top five priorities out of 14 possibilities. That says something significant about unity of purpose in our school family.
· The element of spiritual development of GAC students is a considerable driving force among parents, faculty, and our board.
· All three groups also voiced strong support of the possible initiatives for Greater Atlanta Christian from 2010 through 2017.

You’ll be able to review more of the findings and future plans for GAC in that White Paper soon. In the meantime, God’s blessings on your family in 2010 in the ways that matter most.
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11/19/2009
Not School as Usual…(Thankfulness at GAC)

Let me tell you—bringing together 2300 GAC students and staff, plus a good number of parents, is no small feat! When ages range from 4 to 18, and when hundreds of adults join in as well, it’s challenging to consider—how do you reach them all? How do you help them all grow together?


That’s Thanksgiving Chapel at GAC. It’s one of the days each year I treasure most—seeing our entire student body gather in one place for one purpose. And this year was particularly unique, our first in the fabulous Long Forum. Even the youngest Spartans had real seats!

But far more than the facility was special. From Christian drama messages to Thanksgiving songs of worship; from thankfulness videos to scriptures shared by our Elementary students; from the band’s inspirational music to how well the student body listened to me share a personal thanksgiving story—I was stirred. Looking out at those young faces and considering the beauty of their sincere hearts, I thought, “This is it! This is what our lives are about! This generation is why we work so hard to reach them with the Good News, provide Great Learning and inspire Giving Hearts. This is why Christian teachers care and moms and dads sacrifice to be part of this family!” To say I was moved doesn’t begin to cover it.


The root of “thankful” is “think”. While our lives at Greater Atlanta Christian and at home can be incredibly busy, and though we’re excited about what’s coming next, there comes a time to stop...and think…and thank. The Greater Atlanta Christian family thanks God for you and your children. Our purpose is helping GAC students align themselves with the plan God has for each one of them. We look forward to grand steps ahead in 2010…for their sake…for His sake.


May God protect and bless your family this Thanksgiving and in the special weeks ahead.
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10/29/2009
ANNOUNCING ... iLearn AT GAC!


Parents, the news is dramatic. And the news is good. Learning at Greater Atlanta Christian has been enhanced, and is about to take a mighty leap forward.


You know that Greater Atlanta Christian has been working continuously to shape a complete Digital Learning Environment (DLE) for our 6-12 students for nearly three years. After extensive research and deep consideration of the important implications for our children, we are pleased to announce the next step. In fall 2010, each GAC 6-12 student will receive a MacBook loaded with school provided software. The companion tool in the new DLE will be an iPod Touch.


You’ve heard us say before that it’s not about the tools, but the tools are a means to creativity and access. And Greater Atlanta Christian is about to become one of the nation’s leading Digital Learning Environments at the pre-college level. A world where students adopt an analytical environment with peers and teammates learning with them…with project-based learning…using creative tools with 24/7 support. Plus it will be a world where they learn the ethics of responsible digital citizenship – essential to Christians in a new era.


We are so excited about this new frontier for our children and believe that our GAC students will be leading in dramatic new ways. And they will be the winners. GAC continues to prepare for this initiative with infrastructure, staff training, and support for families that will be superb.

For Village and Elementary parents, advancement has not left our younger scholars behind either. While carrying Macs and iPod Touches may not be age appropriate for a 2nd grader, coming innovations will abound for our rising GAC stars, from Robotics for 2-5th grade to iPod Touch labs, to a radically altered 21st century Media Center. The right tools at the right age.


Of course, a vital initiative like this has costs, but we believe deeply the value substantially outweighs the increase you’ll see in tuition. In order for you to know, we’ve worked on that early. Historically, tuition is determined and announced in late January. This year, we’re pleased to share that with you now for your planning. I think you’ll find that while our program is making substantial improvements, our tuition once again is one of the best values you will find among Atlanta’s excellent schools. As always, GAC’s mission for your family, shaping the total child, and creating a world of vital faith and ethics for our children, remain among the most unique in the nation. Now, that value just improved again. Click here for information about 2010-2011 Tuition.


Finally, please JOIN US next Thursday, November 5th at 9:00am in Long Forum, to hear the future of education when John Couch comes to GAC. John Couch is Apple’s Vice President of Education and is responsible for driving Apple’s philosophy and strategy in the education market. He has over thirty years experience as a computer scientist, executive, and advocate for technology in education. Mr. Couch rarely speaks in K12 schools, but then GACS is indeed a rare school. He wants to join us in celebration—plus paint a vivid picture of what is unfolding on the GACS campus.

Come see. Come celebrate. iLearn has arrived for your GAC children.
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10/13/2009
"SO MANY ISSUES…SO LITTLE TIME!"


I typically try to convey one core message in my blogs to you. But sometimes, there’s so much to share, I have to hit more than one topic. This is one of those blogs. So with apologies in advance for moving through four topics too rapidly—here we go.

The Best Excuse A Parent Ever Had: If you are a next year 6th-12th grade parent, here is one more reminder to NOT make any purchasing decisions on PCs, Macs, or mobile devices. Greater Atlanta Christian is very close to announcement day after nearly two years of research, reviews, and tests, plus student and parent feedback. In the meantime, you’ve got the perfect excuse to delay new technology for your kids to match what GAC is expecting. And here’s the exciting part—in less than two weeks, everyone will know! Stay tuned for the exciting news.

Helping Great Families be at GAC--Plus a Tax Credit for You: Georgia is in its second year as one of a handful of states that allows tax payers to make a donation to aid families who want to attend a school like GAC, AND get a full tax credit for it on their Georgia taxes. Remember—a tax credit reduces your taxes by the full amount. So you can do great good, and have a say in where the dollars go that you would spend on taxes anyway! The cap for families is $2500, and for C-corporations—75% of the company’s Georgia taxes. This year 22 great children are at GAC because of you. These are children who are a blessing to our mission and very capable in every way.

Here’s my request—if you pay Georgia taxes, participate! I’ve already done it two years now, so jump in there with me. It costs you literally nothing but the few minutes to complete the steps. Add up your $2500 with scores of others and…great good is done. Of course, read the fine print and follow the steps to do it right. But it’s time to take that next step:

• Ready to get a form?

• Need more information

• Questions? Katherine White 

Expanding excellence in GAC: I love watching quality expand in the GAC world. Last week, I visited with four classes of alumni at Homecoming (a joint ’78-’79 reunion, ’89, and ’99), and invariably they were taken back by the progress of their alma mater. And not just in campus improvements, but the substantive program changes that shine today and hold promise for tomorrow. If you’re ever in doubt about the quality of the program, I’d like to take you in a time machine back a decade for a glimpse at the transformation. Then I’d ask you to look at the outcomes of our students—their Iowa tests, college admissions and matriculations, and the grand programs that are in place and are emerging in the coming years. GAC grads are telling us—they are excelling like never before and are prepared in powerful ways. Christian schools sometimes fall short in the dual search for superb program and life-changing faith. Greater Atlanta Christian has the opportunity to demonstrate daily that the two visions are in full concert. And that’s unique. Tell someone about it.

A Cup of Innocence? Jason Mraz is one cool musician. Some of his songs have hit it big, while he plays well the part of a laid-back postmodern artist.


But in one of his lesser known tracks, “Love for a Child”, Mraz reveals a less laid-back little boy inside. He’s a boy/teen hurt by a family too busy for him, allowing him access to experiences he didn’t need—just growing up way too fast, pretty much by himself. The choral refrain haunts me:

What about taking this empty cup and filling it up

With a little bit more of innocence? I haven't had enough.

It's probably because when you're young

It's okay to be easily ignored…

I’d like to believe it was all about love for a child.


Too often I see kids growing up too fast, ignored just enough that they are left to interpret the world on their own, without a context of unconditional love…faith…ethics…and values. And almost invariably they pay for it both as kids and later.


So GAC parents, how is your child’s cup of innocence? Are you filling it up? Or is the world around filling your child with experiences and “insights” that will jade her outlook or damage his dreams? Your first job is guiding your child. And you only get one shot to get it right. If you err on one side or the other, err for the cup of innocence.
...
9/9/2009
“WHAT DREAMS MAY COME…”


Poor Hamlet. For nearly five hundred years, he has been torn concerning what he should do next. In his famous soliloquy, he wonders about action or inaction, living or dying, dreaming or just not thinking at all. His “to be or not to be” questions are a bit understandable when Shakespeare tells his entire story.

Too often I’ve seen organizations frozen in their own soliloquy. They don’t say it as well as Hamlet, but their actions—and indecisiveness—seem like an encore for our old friend from Globe Theater. Confused Vision…Uncertain Dreams…Ambiguous Paths. As the Cheshire Cat told Alice, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will do.” Sadly, too many schools follow the cat’s advice.

In contrast, I’m grateful for the first visionaries of Greater Atlanta Christian. In the early 1960s, Atlantans began planning a clear road for us today. It wasn’t the typical picture of Christian education of that era. Absent were the segregation academy mindsets and a “summer camp” mentality, too common in mid-twentieth century Christian schools. Instead, there emerged a nationally recognized school that would honor God, and call His children to excellence.


Over time, those ideas have matured and expanded. Since the late 1990’s, GAC has experienced dramatic advancement in both the quality of program and the campus. All results of Strategic Planning in 1998-99. And now…It’s underway again!


In the next few weeks, you’ll be asked to participate in the next phase of Strategic Planning; to consider what Greater Atlanta Christian should accomplish next. For example: How can this school step up again in program, in ministry, and in shaping students for a very different era? What programs need advancing? What about Faith Development for your kids in a post-Christian America? Global leadership? Technical advancement? Arts expansion? Athletics? Facilities?


So watch for requests for your input. We need to hear from you. From your responses and that of our faculty, staff and board, strategic planning will give breath to new GAC dreams for children and teens of the mid-21st century.

You can count on this: these new visions will call us to new levels of achievement, well beyond the commonplace. Yet it is clear to me—God has unfolding purposes for Greater Atlanta Christian. A fire is burning within us to pursue His coming purposes with all our might.


There’s no time for bleak soliloquies at GAC. It’s about to get fun!
...
8/11/2009
WELCOME HOME


I love it when all the children, teens, and parents finally come ‘home’, back to GAC.  Last Thursday’s spartan2gether day gave us just a taste of the joy and purpose that’s unfolding for this school year. While our new Campus Green was a wonderful venue for our end-of-summer reunion, it was also the basis for the new traffic routes on campus. First day of school traffic is often challenging and especially so this year; still, safety is worth it, and you supported that in word and action every step of the way. Thank you.

Traffic of a Different Kind: While the GAC physical roads are working well, on Monday our virtual traffic was badly jammed, and may be for a couple of days yet. I am so sorry!


First, we should have been better prepared that our website would be predictably inundated with hits last night. The resulting slowdown caused major difficulty for a number of you with syllabi to read. It’s not a good excuse, but we had planned to have the web hugely expanded by two weeks ago, quadrupling the speed of last year. Slowdowns outside of GAC (problems of a provider) delayed that implementation to Friday of this week. Still, it’s our fault. We could have insisted it be in place by July 1. And with it not in place, we should have adjusted expectations for our students and of our students accordingly.


So please forgive us. Principals and teachers are adjusting any deadlines on required online readings until web speed multiplies. Normally, our web gets lots of praise – and hopefully you’ll be a fan again by this time next week.

New Families: A grand welcome to you! I hope you’ll soon discover why GACS life is far from school-as-usual. There’s a fire, a passion, and a vision of what God has planned for our children that drives our every step. We will do our best to guide your children both for now, and with 10, 20, and 100 years in mind. That outlook will affect how we treat you too, GAC parents.


I won’t wear you out with blogs. Just a time or two a month when I’ll share outlooks and issues that I hope you’ll find pertinent to Greater Atlanta Christian’s family mission, plus keep you in-the-know. Topics will be:

• GAC—Planning for 2015: What’s Next?

• Discipline at GAC and at Home

• Involved Parents — GAC Needs You

• GAC in Rwanda?

• A Cup of Innocence for Your Children


And more of course. But today, two very short messages:

Tweeting God for GAC: Yes, I’m on Twitter and if you’d like to know what I had for dinner, just check. But perhaps of more interest, there are a growing number of tweet sites where you can have prayers posted close to relics or holy sites. Click Here 


I love technology, but tweeting aside, here’s my request of you: Our most powerful tool in reaching our children is the invitation to the Father to be in the center of our work at Greater Atlanta Christian every hour.


I’m serious about this — pray. Pray for GAC teachers, for your children’s friends, and for the GAC mission to be fulfilled in their lives. Greater Atlanta Christian has much that is great going on — but God is greater. If we believe that as a school family, let’s ask like it. Every day. Then watch what happens!

GAC and Financial Aid: No surprise to you that the economy has taken its toll on many. Greater Atlanta Christian has felt the turbulence, but has done well compared to most, with strong enrollment and terrific support. For that we are grateful. We have always had financial aid (FA) to insure great GAC families have a place in our world. Last fall, we doubled our funding in that area, recognizing that the economic times required it.


Still, confusion sometimes develops about FA, so let me just share a few principles under which we operate. These might help you better inform someone if you hear something to the contrary.

Regarding Financial Aid, Greater Atlanta Christian:


   1. Offers only needs-based financial aid. No “scholarships” for athletics, theater, debate,

       etc. exist.
Now with close to 100% of GAC students involved in athletics, academic teams

       or arts, it should be no surprise that some students receiving FA are singers, soccer players,

       runners, and cellists. But scholarships for skills? Zero.


       If someone tells you differently, they are wrong. They may just be misinformed, or perhaps

       it’s an opportunity to fuss (“Private schools like GAC scholarship their best athletes.”) or

       even a result of mislaid parental pride. (“You know, my child is here on scholarship.”) In any

       case, not true.


   2. Treats all FA confidentially. Respect for families and their children is paramount. No

       teachers have access to the information and even principals have incredibly limited access,

       and do not participate in FA decision-making. While GAC teachers and principals are

       honorable people, we want to treat and value every child without regard to finance. God

       doesn’t measure anyone in that manner, and we won’t either.


   3. Uses objective data, and careful review in FA decision-making. Individual family financial

       analysis is outsourced to a national firm that specializes in financial needs. The firm returns to

       our GAC Financial Aid Committee a detailed review on their findings. This also insures that

       any awards given are based on real need, not just hearsay or feelings.


   4. Finds that FA students and families are often among GAC’s best. We have found those

       who receive FA are deeply appreciative, hard working, and great contributors to the quality

       of the GAC family and mission.


I’m convicted that GAC’s financial aid program annually blesses scores of children, all of Atlanta, and will continue to bless God’s kingdom for decades to come.


I appreciate many donor friends of GAC who’ve supported this important program, especially in these economic times. You can also read about one way you can help and get full credit on your Georgia taxes. Click Here 


I hope the first day of school was the beginning of what will be a wonderful year for your family and our GAC family. We are blessed to partner with you as we raise this generation to grow like Jesus did, in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.


Welcome Home!

David

----------------
Do You Hear the Heartbeat?
5/13/2009
Reading the financial press lately reminds me more of the obituaries than the news. Based on some editorials I’ve read, you’d think there’s no pulse, and it’s time to call the family in.


Of course, we’ve all been affected by the last year’s economy, either personally, or friends and family we know well. But perhaps it’s time for a little good news. The Greater Atlanta Christian heartbeat is quite strong…and getting stronger. In addition, no couch potato plans are ahead. We are on the cusp of some of the more sweeping academic, faith development, and physical changes in GACS history….and much of it is coming your family’s way this fall. Join me for a little peak at what’s coming.


• Enrollment 09-10: GACS remains strong. While nationally some expect Christian and private schools to experience an average of 10% declines (gloomier reports suggest 15-20% declines), GAC looks very good for the fall. By design, we plan no numerical growth, and expect to be again in the 1900s for the fourth straight year. Yes, we’ve seen some changes we believe are economically driven, with some applicant decrease in some grades, yet that is balanced by notable growth in other grades. Overall, GACS is in an enviable position as we approach the fall. Thank you for believing in us. Still, if you know a great family that should have their children with us, contact Linda Clovis in Admissions. Our best referrals come from you, our families.


• Campus Redesign Launches: Don’t you love the Greater Atlanta Christian campus? It’s about to get significantly better, both in safety and aesthetics. For the last three years you’ve seen consistent upgrade of campus roadways and pedestrian walks, with the primary goals of making our 75 acre campus more pedestrian friendly, and campus traffic flow more smoothly. This summer will see four core changes that continue that progress. While all four are visually marked out in the attached graphic, here’s one that excites me the most—the coming of the Greater Atlanta Christian Green. Where kids and cars have mixed too much between the Smith Quad and the Student Family Center, a beautiful new campus lawn and walkway is coming, right in the heart of GAC. There’s still plenty of room for cars, more on the circle around campus rather than through the center. The downside - 60 tight days of work this summer—and if you visit in June and July, please enter GAC from Oakbrook Parkway. The upside - new levels of safety, beauty, traffic flow—and a new “front lawn” for the entire GACS family. Click Here to see for yourself.


• iCoffees Update: Thank you for coming! I appreciate so much the listening ear and the superb suggestions and questions that arose from our parent coffees in April/early May that focused on the various technology considerations for 6th-12th grade. The net result is major progress in the Greater Atlanta Christian 21st Century Learning Initiative. Watch this fall as 430 Apple Macs and 430 iPod Touches invade both the JH and SH faculty. It’s not just new “stuff”. It’s a new outlook, a new approach to problem solving, creativity, and collaboration—core skills for the decades ahead. In addition, 150 additional PC notebooks and PC labs join the GAC Village and Elementary schools. And this is simply Phase I. Starting school year 2010 comes Phase II, a laptop in the hands of all 6-12 grade students—and possibly their own iPod Touch or similar mobile device. Learning is about to take a serious leap forward. (Remember parents—here’s your excuse to postpone that new computer or mobile device purchase. August 2010 is sooner that you think.)


• Spiritual Transformation—Not Business as Usual: Junior High is about to unroll a fresh approach to active faith, turning Bible into “Home” on the GACS campus. Dr. Overman will tell you of it soon. And Senior High chapels have never been more exciting—student driven and spiritually challenging, they are calling us all to be servants in dramatic ways.


• The Learning Center Ramps Up Again: Thanks to new support from two foundations and friends, The Learning Center is expanding with more roles to support students with learning differences. The concept is in place, and GACS is already emerging as a model of integrating support for special needs in the midst of a broad-based, exceptional Christian school.

So do you feel the heartbeat? GACS is alive and well, and growing stronger. While we are grateful for our progress in difficult times, let’s watch the “pride of life”, as old apostle John called it. Instead, let’s remember together “to whom much is given, much is expected.” That’s us, GACS parents, colleagues, and friends. So let’s step up to God’s call.


David

-----------
Hi I'm a MAC ... or am I a PC?
3/31/2009
When those two personifications of Operating Systems appear on commercials, I’ve laughed, and then felt a bit uneasy. First the story lines are clever. Plus I’m cool, like the Apple guy (aren’t I?). Then the realization dawns again. I’m the PC guy. I’ve been one since the early days, and like it. I know most PC tricks, and can usually make my notebook sing and dance to my tune. I’m comfortable with the status quo. So why even consider anything else?


As each phase of our 21st Century Learning Initiative unfolds (see February 19th blog), it would be easy to default to platforms Greater Atlanta Christian has used for decades. Easy, but not necessarily best. And the more our leaders and faculty have dug into this, the more intriguing the Apple path has become.


Here are a few things that are beginning to shape our thinking:

When we consider aspects of 21st century leadership, the new literacy is less about enough information and more about creativity, innovation, collaboration, and integration of skills (see Whole New Mind, by Daniel Pink, 2007). As a creative platform, even many PC fans begrudgingly acknowledge Apple’s leadership. So if those are the skills that will matter in the coming years, what are the implications for Greater Atlanta Christian’s next learning platforms?

Online safety has never been more important. Apple has incredible safety features that surprised us.

We’ve begun to recognize GAC’s three-year plan to phase in one-to-one student/laptops has a problem. (A brief review of the initial plan: Year 1-Infrastructure and broadening some faculty involvement; Year 2-Laptops to all 6th and 11th graders only; Year 3-Laptops to all others in 7-12)  New insight reveals this gradual route in other settings has led to “haves” and “have-nots” sitting side-by-side in classes, teachers unsure as to whether to expect technical collaboration of some or all their students, and teachers who themselves are not immersed in the tools. So we’re rethinking that plan. Should all teachers have notebooks and be immersed immediately? Should all adopting students (grades 6-12) have notebooks simultaneously? Should we refine our 21st Century Learning Initiative timetable? It looks like it.

This is far more than just students working with laptops. The power of small mobile devices in concert with a laptop is leading to giant steps. For example, that iPod Touch with all the game applications also has over 3,000 education applications - from graphing calculators to foreign language translators. So is a notebook alone really the best path for 21st Century Learning?

If the Microsoft Office suite is the platform universities and the business world primarily use, where will Macs leave our kids? Here’s just one example: I’m writing this blog using MS Word on a MacBook Air. I’ve also got MS Excel open on another project. Microsoft figured out a while back that Macs could be their platform too. So perhaps our GACS kids might use the best of both worlds?

GAC doesn’t have to go entirely one platform or the other. For example, we are more long term committed to a Windows environment for K-5th grade, and for our offices, because we have thousands of resources, learning tools, and hundreds of PCs available to keep our Village and Elementary students thriving.

So there are huge decisions ahead, and we need your input. After Spring Break, there will be some GAC parent coffees about this next major step, both to update you and get your suggestions on aspects of the new vision ahead. Watch for a posting of these gatherings, and plan to learn and share.


One piece of advice: If you have GAC children who will be somewhere in grades 6-12 by fall 2010, and you’ve been thinking about getting them a computer or a new iPod, iPod Touch, or even a new graphing calculator, here’s your good excuse to wait: Current plans are every GACS 6-12th grade student will be carrying their new school-issued notebook by fall 2010 — and possibly that mobile device too. Access to many texts and powerful resources will all be there. So you can save a couple of dollars now by letting them use the old stuff one more year. You’ll both be glad you did.


The Greater Atlanta Christian ecosystem of learning, mission and life is transforming again for the better - this time with an enormous step that is so much more than just a laptop. We’ve said we were committed to excellence in Christian education. If we believe it, then it’s time to educate our children in a manner relevant to their century. So let’s do it!



David

___________
Post Textbooks
2/19/2009
Some of you know I occasionally like to put on my pseudo historian hat. So here’s a little historical parable with thanks to Clay Shirky ("Here Comes Everybody", 2008) for seeing the parallels.

It’s the early 1400s and a group of professional scribes make books possible, carefully hand copying them word by word. Scribes are the educated class. Their skills are vital and their function irreplaceable. They are the bulwark against educational loss.

But then comes 1436, and Gutenberg’s printing press with movable type changes everything. For the first time, a book can be printed faster than it can be read. All kinds of communications, careers and ways of sharing information and ideas morph radically and permanently — except for scribes. Scribes continue their meticulous work as if nothing is different, perhaps glad there are more books — that’s their mission, right? They remain confident that they are still the epitome of learning and their skills absolutely needed.

Over a half a century later, 1492, reality is sinking in, and the Abbot of Sponheim writes "De Laude Scriptorum" (In Praise of Scribes), an impassioned defense of the need for scribes. At core, his book shouted “the old order must be preserved at any cost”. So how would the Abbot get such a vital message out to the world? Not copied by scribes. It was set in movable type to get the word to hundreds and thousands quickly. And so, the Abbot’s medium confirmed the death of his message.

Do you see any analogies for 2009 and beyond? I think about it all the time. I am consistently asking what “scribal traditions” are schools—even more specifically — Greater Atlanta Christian sustaining that may be antiquated and need to die? What new mediums, new skills, and new definitions of “educated” do our children need for a world even more changed than pre and post Gutenberg? Are we still teaching "De Laude Scriptorum", and refuse to see it?

In 2000, Greater Atlanta Christian embraced a new strategic plan to be completed by 2010. The vast majority of that vision is now in place and our children are substantially better for it. But we are far from done. The Greater Atlanta Christian School community is again looking at our vision afresh, asking what substantive changes are needed. Tough, scribal-like questions. You will be invited in the near future to help us chart our way to an even stronger GAC, more appropriate than ever for the mid-21st century. (Yes, I said mid. Time to think ahead.)
And beautiful new realities are emerging. Just two examples:

 This week’s "21st Century Learning Fair" created by GACS faculty for GACS faculty brought in David Warlick ("Redefining Literacy 2.0", 2008) Our faculty is challenging its own presuppositions, and charting the new skills for our children in expanding ways. I see it in changes underway at every level.

 The Greater Atlanta Christian "21st Century Learning Initiative" is rolling forward to launch in fall 2010. It will be characterized by the adoption of laptop notebooks over two years by all students in Junior High and Senior High. But this is so much more than notebooks that I’m hesitant to even mention them. It’s about teaming, collaboration, creativity, end-of-traditional-textbook education….and more.

Don’t fret: the best of Greater Atlanta Christian will continue and thrive. The Lord remains King of our mission and school. Yet using the bracelet letters, let’s ask “What Would Jesus Do”—now? I believe The Master Teacher would use the media and teaching tools of the rising era, just as He did then. It’s time for GACS to do the same. We are well on our way, because our children must be prepared.


David
__________
Home At Last in the Long Forum
1/29/2009
In case you’ve been in seclusion for the past year, I’m glad to tell you the time has arrived—GAC’s Long Forum officially “opens” this Friday. I hope you will come! (Look below for the specifics.) Greater Atlanta Christian has some terrific facilities that serve our children well, yet we may be asking the most of Long Forum for a generation ahead.


I’m thrilled about it! It had an interesting birth as well. As the seed concept for Long Forum came to life in the early-mid 2000s, we searched the U.S. for an existing model that accomplished similar dreams—and found none. So we invented our own model. That vision emerged as one of several planks in the Higher Ground Campaign (yes, based on the old Christian hymn, setting our feet on God’s higher ground). The campaign was conducted largely in 2005-06, and we all owe a tremendous debt to supporters then and now who made this happen.


Back to the original model—we were looking for a single facility that could, well, do everything, and do it incredibly well. Our chapel was much too small. Our ability to host many guests for scores of great programs each year had long since past. (Just as an example: Last fall we had to downplay that the author of "The Shack", Paul Young, was speaking to GAC students—for fear that too many would come!) Our cafeteria needed expanding and aesthetic upgrades. Our audio/visual strength for student or guest concerts was puny. And our ability to tap the strengths of technology on a large scale basis needed a complete overhaul. And GAC athletics? With over 60 GAC athletic teams, there was always a good fight to watch between coaches over practice times and space.


SO, drawings began for a chapel-concert hall-hi-tech audio/video/film center-site for hospitality/major speakers/special events-arena (no bleachers, please)-new outdoor plazas for the GAC family-and areas to host smaller gatherings for 50 and 100 participants. Oh yes, it should seat as few as 500 and as many as 3500—all feeling “right for each purpose”. And feel intimate. And one more thing: a “green” building too.


A little confused? Wondering how one facility could accomplish all that? Welcome to the club. But today it’s here in Long Forum. We are asking much of this new GAC hub, and we believe it fits the bill incredibly well.


So, GAC family, here is my invitation to you. Make plans now to join us THIS FRIDAY at 9:45am for the dedication of Long Forum, in honor of the founder and Chancellor of GAC, Jesse Long and his wife Marilyn. Only one hour of your time, but what an hour it will be and you will be one of the first to have an opportunity to tour the facility. Also come to Saturday’s Homecoming as well (January 31st) to see it used as a completely different venue (Homecoming Court at 3:00pm and varsity basketball games at 4:00pm and 5:30pm.) No RSVP needed. Just come!


When you review the statistics below, I’ll bet you find something intriguing, from general construction to green initiatives. You’ll hear this Friday, but we can’t say it often enough. This is not our building. We know who the Owner is, and want to give Him honor and glory every step of the way. May the Long Forum remind our children and us again of God’s blessing…and our responsibility. To whom much is given, much is expected. Let’s act like it.


See you Friday! And for you data buffs, keep reading.


David

LONG FORUM - FAST FACTS

- 3000 cubic yards of concrete. That is enough concrete to pour a sidewalk 5’ wide for 9½ miles

- Over 180 tons of rebar in the building concrete, site work and masonry walls

- Over 250,000 bricks

- 104,388 concrete blocks

- Construction time: 13 months

- Involved over 650 on-site workers performing various construction tasks

- Total capacity per fire code: 4400

- Total seats available for speaker/concert: +/-3500

- Total seats available for sporting event: 2744

- The Grand Stairwell treads were made from the oak trees that once stood on the construction site; wood was air dried and kiln dried for nine months and allows the trees to continue to grace the GAC campus.

- The wood court is comprised of four layers-one layer of foam pad sandwiched by two layers of plywood and a free-floating, top layer wood court.

- Space can be configured as a 94 foot: 

   > Competition Basketball Court or two practice basketball courts

   > Competition Volleyball Court or two practice volleyball courts

SUSTAINABILITY

- Erosion & Sediment control plan

- Advanced Storm Water Filtration System

- Heat Islands Non-Roofing: Reflective paving (R>0.29) and pervious paving over entire site hardscape

- Heat Islands Roofing: Reflective roofing with lighter color at Metal and Flat Roofs

- Water Efficient Landscape: Reduced water requirements by 50% or recycle water; use of drip irrigation where possible

- Water Use Reduction: Reduced indoor water usage by 20%, use of low flow fixtures throughout building

- Water Use Reduction: Use of waterless urinals

- Third Party Commissioning Agent verified efficiency through all mechanical and electrical systems

- Facility does not contain any use CFC's or HCFC's

- Optimized Energy Performance: Included with lighting control-photo cell and motion/occupancy sensors

- Recycled trash and debris from jobsite - including metals, concrete, wood, and paper

- Materials Re-Use: Re-Use 5% of Construction Waste; Crush & Re-Use Concrete Waste for Back-fill, and cut, mill, & re-use of oak trees

- Recycled Content: Target 10% Post Consumer Recycled Materials - examples include; stadium seats and carpet

- Used Local/Regional Materials as much as possible to reduce long distance shipping

- Surpass IAQ (Indoor Air Quality) Performance

- Environmental Tobacco Smoke Control: No Smoking during or after occupancy inside or around the building

- Outdoor Air Delivery Monitoring: Monitor CO2 Levels in building

- Increase Ventilation: 30% Outside Air Usage

- IAQ plan: Covered ductwork, installed MERV filters to keep duct and equipment clean

- Low-Emitting Materials: Adhesives/Sealants/Paints/Carpet - all incorporated into the project

- Indoor Chemical & Pollutant Source Controls
AUDIO

- Tour Grade Audio;

- Digital Mixing Console;

- Basketball audio system and Concert system / user choice;

- Intelligible, clean, sound at every seat.
VIDEO

- The entire Video System is High Definition / 1080i;

- Four large video screens- two 13’x23’ rear projection; one center 22’x30’front projection, one half court 12’ front projection;

- IMAG System;

- 2 Studio Quality HD Camera’s and 3 remote control HD Pan Tilt Zoom Camera’s.

- The Broadcast Studio was designed with the student in mind. Instead of purchasing one “big” unit we purchased two smaller units, of most everything, so more students could get hands on experience.
LIGHTING & CONTROL SYSTEMS

- LED lighting system;

- Easy access truss system with Motor Hoists;

- Crestron Control System;

- Fully Automated System – One touch of a button a changes sound/ video/ lighting system from basketball game to Chapel service;

- System sends monitoring reports back to the integrator to resolve issue proactively (example: if a bulb in the projector is going out or system is overheating, the integrator and GACS will be notified before complete outage.

__________________
Strength in Challenging Times
1/14/2009
Three months have passed since my blog of 11/04/08 regarding our national financial difficulties. None of us are surprised that the economy remains the number one news story both in the media—and in the lives of many people we know and love. It’s also no revelation that the impact varies among us individually from massive to minimal.


So this Conversation is attuned to two issues: the health of Greater Atlanta Christian School today, and an encouragement to you, if you are experiencing some difficult financial times.


GACS: It’s only natural that I’m asked…as is virtually every business or non-profit leader…how is Greater Atlanta Christian doing? Has the school been impacted by the economy? Are you worried about enrollment, or funding for next year? Will the quality of our programs suffer and progress be halted for a while?


Of course we will be affected—it would be foolish, arrogant, or both, for any organization to pretend it would not be. Still, while I don’t have a crystal ball in my office, using the best measures available, I can sum it up this way: GACS is reasonably well positioned to thrive—note I said thrive, not survive—in 2009 and beyond.


Let me share some specifics.


• In applications, we are currently blessed with not the highest applicants in school history (2008 was the highest), but the 4th highest applicant rate in our 42 years for fall 2009. And applications continue to come in good numbers. Perspective helps. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Greater Atlanta Christian’s applicant pool didn’t approach the volume of this year, so we have reason for encouragement. Families are making it a budgeting priority to be at GACS, and to join you and your children.


• The GAC Foundation, home of the school endowment for long term needs, has sustained losses like every other investment, falling from a peak of $31 million in spring of 2008 to approximately $25 million at this writing. That is significant, yet we count our blessings. Perspective again helps. Most Christian and private schools have little or no endowment. Of those that do, the national average is a little over $10 million. For GACS, our endowment is still nearly quadruple its size of a decade ago.


• In addition, the GACS Board of Trustees dedicated much of the last decade to wisely building a reserve, a financial buffer, for difficult times. That was preached to private schools for years, and some schools have taken that advice while others did not. Your school did.


• GACS class sizes will not grow as is happening in public schools with recent state economic decisions, including growth to 30 students per classroom in grades 4th – 8th, and to 32 in 9th – 12th. (see AJC “Larger classes likely in Georgia schools” 1/7/2009) Contrast that to GACS average class sizes of 18-19 students in grades 6-12. Class size is not the only factor in student success—but it matters.


• Finally, our commitment to improving GACS in 2009 continues. We refuse to “hold our own”, because our children are only 5, 12, or 16 years old for one fleeting moment. Greater Atlanta Christian is moving ahead with its plans for improvements and new programs, including the 21st Century Learning Initiative – a new laptop initiative which will begin implementation by specific grade levels in the Junior High and Senior High in the fall semester of 2010; as well as curricular advancements in Science and film/video program expansions. Great speakers and artists are being lined up now for upcoming visits with our kids. Missions and service education is advancing again. More will be shared on these new advances another day.


I hope I have been clear. While we will be prudent in our use of funds, our mission and the advancement of our children are moving forward with faith and confidence. This generation of Greater Atlanta Christian children can’t wait until the economy is better to advance. We only have this time with them, so for their sake, we will not pause. We are blessed with the stability to make it happen.


GACS Families and Challenging Times: I appreciate so much the sacrifice I’ve seen by parents past and present to be part of our school life. Many GACS homes are two and three job families, working faithfully for your children’s sake.


We have an ideal, a goal for the coming year: It is our desire that finances not block any current, qualified students from being part of their GACS family next year. While we know we can’t solve every problem, if your family is having difficulty, we want to help if we can.


• One way that is evident—the school is making more than double the financial aid funds available to our qualifying families for the coming year. We remember our mission is only fulfilled in your children. Re-enrollment will begin in early February as every year, and we want your children planning on being back in the middle of GACS joy, learning and spiritual vitality. And if you are having difficulty, we are ready to assist in making that a reality. No, we are not magic, and realize there are limits to what we can do. But every effort will be made to work with you to complete our mission together.


• In addition, our commitment is evident in GACS tuition. If you’ve looked around, you know that while GACS leads in many areas and is considered first-rate, we’ve made no attempt to lead in tuition. We commit that you will continue to see the excellence you’ve known at GACS sustained and growing. At the same time, we plan to continue to control our budget, and march to a different drummer when it comes to value.


So as we enter 2009 with faith, confidence, and commitment, here’s what we ask of you, our partners in ministry for our children:


1. Pray with us. For the school to keep Christ king of our mission, to continue to progress for our children’s sake, and to keep our sights set on what matters most.


2. Talk with us. If you are having notable troubles, contact our Vice President for Finance, Randall Jackson by email or phone (770-243-2210), and tell him about your situation. If you are more comfortable initiating that conversation with your principal, then begin there.


3. Stand by us. If you’ve felt little impact with the recent difficulties, I hope you’ll consider a tax deductible gift to GACS for financial aid for a family that may be struggling or a gift for a GACS program to help that program continue to thrive and improve. Those who went before us here, did that for us. Now for some of us, this is our turn to make a difference. If you’d like to make a special contribution, contact me or Assistant Director of Development Katherine White by email or phone (770-243-2206).


4. Finally, continue to speak up for GACS with other families. Time and again, we’ve found that future GACS families seek us out because they first heard from you what a blessing the school is to your family. Please pass that word. Invite a friend to campus with you or introduce them to Director of Admissions Linda Clovis. You’ll be blessing their children and the school both by your good words.


In every time, God teaches us lessons we need, lessons that change us for the better. That’s true with you, our families, and our school family. Let’s listen for His voice and grow in Him together.


David

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Nairobi - (or Why Missions & Service Matter So Much)
12/3/2008
True Story: Last week I had an extended layover in Nairobi, Kenya. I was both tired and inspired after nearly a week in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. I’ll share more on that in a minute, but let’s just say I was thinking and praying about what God might do through GACS students and families to change both East Africa and Greater Atlanta Christian.


As I wandered down a corridor waiting for a flight—8,044 miles from Atlanta—I suddenly recognized faces. Out of the gate that I was waiting to enter, walked GAC students Rachel Huppertz with Jordan and Jules Foxworthy, along with their parents, Gregg and Jeff. They had just arrived as a family to serve through a Compassion International project in Kenya. I’m used to seeing them around campus, but in Nairobi??


After we parted ways, I couldn’t help but feel joy through the fatigue. I understood the power of what was about to happen in their lives, because it had just happened in mine. And I thought of two other airports full of Greater Atlanta Christian students, teachers, and parents—in Siberia and Cozumel—serving globally for Christ and others’ sake.


Occasionally, some see GACS missions and service as a pleasant “feature” of our school life, something like an extra class or a new sport. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Greater Atlanta Christian family has been involved in international missions for 12 years now, and many have been deeply affected. Not only do GAC students do God’s bidding when they serve all over the world including here in the states, they are transformed by it themselves.

There was a time when spiritual growth was seen as largely accomplished by information. Somehow, we thought - if we taught enough Bible facts, then children and adults would change. Yet Biblical stories, modern research, and our own experience teach us otherwise. GAC Trustee and local minister, Don McLaughlin, points to research that if you want to change a child forever, you can do it with information in 12 years. Or you can do by activation in less than three years.


For over a decade we have encouraged students to participate in acts of service that impact their hearts. Our Bible teachers still cherish the Bible and point to it as holding the answers for this life and beyond. Now we’re putting those “answers” to work. And while we shouldn’t send 2nd graders to Kigali, there are scores of ways they can serve close to home, and in spirit, across an ocean. Remember, GAC is about transformation, not just information.

My trip to Rwanda? “Inspiring” doesn’t begin to tell it. All of us remember the horror of the genocide there in 1994, and the pain of that time continues to affect that country and our thinking. With the support of Ken Shumard (father of GAC alumni and granddad of current GAC students) who loves GAC and world missions, I was honored to meet with Rwandan leaders in partnership for Christian education in Kigali. A vision is forming of a sister school to GACS, a secondary Christian school in Rwanda specifically designed to raise a generation of ethical, capable leaders. These future east African leaders would share experiences, communications, eventually classes, and two way personal learning experiences with GACS students. Together we see a century of fast friends across two continents, sharing and collaborating from Atlanta to Kigali for decades ahead, all because they knew—and served—one another and God’s purposes in their school days.


There’s more, but we’ll save that for another time. Keep this in mind—Thomas Friedman (The World is Flat; 2003) says that the time of a “small world” has passed. It is now tiny. Our call is to raise a generation that understands how a tiny world will affect their walk with Jesus. I’m seeing it personally these days at GACS. How about you?


David

...
Politics, Diversity and GAC
11/13/2008

First a personal confession: I’m a political junkie. There’s nothing I’ve loved more than this year’s ups and downs of candidates and issues. I began the year telling Greater Atlanta Christian faculty we had perhaps a once-in-a-generation opportunity to deal with issues—weighty, significant issues—and handle them thoughtfully with our students. And many, many of our children have blossomed through it.


Just one example: On election night, the GACS Advanced Placement Government class came to my house to watch election returns. (Inside story—my son Mr. Matt Fincher is their teacher. It was his party, and Beth and I just have a larger family room.) It was quite an event, with around 20 Obama, McCain, and even Barr fans cheering and crying as the results came in. In every case, the kids knew their views and could explain thoughtfully why they supported “their” candidate. Were they passionate and outspoken? Absolutely. Was there clash of ideas? Count on it. And that was exactly what pleased me most.


However, there’s a profound difference in the Founding Fathers’ vision of healthy “clash of ideas”, and just plain clash, when it deteriorates to the simplest levels of slander, character assassination, innuendo, or racial/gender slurs. Our children don’t know how to handle all this innately—it’s something we teach by word and personal example. So it is up to us at home and at GAC—to do just that.


So, with that as a context—several points:

• Words hurt. We can recite “sticks and stones” all day, but a child from 8 to 18 still can be wounded by shrill comments, or sweeping labels. Whether you are Democrat, Republican, Independent, or of White, Black, Hispanic, or Asian heritage, teach your kids right now about civility and respect, regardless of personal views. Get specific in your teaching. Tell them it’s wrong to label all of one party “stupid”, or to declare this person is a terrorist or that one an idiot. At Greater Atlanta Christian, we will teach your children these principles of respectful discourse. We will also view slander and slurs as matters of discipline and counsel. We expect the same at your home—and I think the vast majority of you believe the same.


• Of all places in my view, a Christian school like Greater Atlanta Christian has the best opportunity—and the greatest responsibility—to express the spirit of Jesus, especially when emotions run high. It’s easy to be nice when the stakes are small. How we handle the toughest

challenges tell far more about us.


• Greater Atlanta Christian is a diverse Christian school family. That’s not an accident. Thanks to God’s powerful hand and our feeble planning, GAC has the unique opportunity to not only look like the body of Christ, but behave like it too. Whether in ethnicity, socioeconomic realms, or political views, there’s room for you and your children in the GAC family. More than just room, that diversity is wanted. By the way, there’s an interesting parallel to scripture here. Few things caused more challenges—but led to more growth—than the cultural/racial mix of the body of Christ in the early church. Through the Spirit’s guidance, much of Paul’s writing and heart went into helping Christians both cope and see the beauty of God’s plan for all his people—together. So for us? Let’s step up to Paul’s call of Galatians 3:28.


• Don’t misread—Let’s not inadvertently quell good dialogue and healthy discussion among our kids. That’s what I heard in my family room from some of your children election night, and I grew from it. Instead, we have a grand opportunity to foster great questions—questions of policy, strategy, and Christian ethics. To skip all this would be a mistake. But let’s help our children discern the difference between substantive issues and simplistic sweeping labels. It’s easier to label than think—and we’re here to think.


• Our collective moral stance is vital. And the epitome of that moral stance is in Jesus’ two greatest commandments—Loving God and Loving Others. Loving others will be shown in our vocabulary, our planned and random acts of kindness, in listening to and growing in agape love for one another—especially when we differ. The two greatest commandments may even trump your or my political party affiliations, do you think?


The next few months could be among the most interesting of our lives, and everyday I’m praying for President-Elect Obama. But this week—at your house—have a serious chat with your kids about what the love of Christ means, when you agree with others and when you don’t. Talk about the differences in the body of Christ, back in Paul’s day and today—but that we are still one body. Tell your kids what you expect of them—even more than GACS expects. And then demonstrate it in your own words, your tone, and your prayers. Remember little mimics sometimes come to school. Make sure they are imitating the best in you.


David

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The Economy, You and GAC
11/4/2008

Conversations with David


GAC parents, I try to limit the length of most of my messages—because I know the more I write, the more likely you are to stop reading. Yet there are a number of issues I’d like to share with you that I think you need to know…progress, victories that matter, concerns, and steps we need to take together.


In the weeks ahead, I’ll send you short updates on a variety of GAC and school life topics—but not all today! Among the themes coming your way will be:


• Kids, Discipline, and GACS;

• Diversity, Politics, and Christian School Life;

• The New GACS Web—Transactional for You;

• GAC Excellence: The Next Level

• Dangers our Kids Face—from Us;

• Great Changes in GAC You Can…and Can’t See;

• Shaping the New Compassionate Generation.


While you’ll hear from your four GACS principals about happenings in each school division, it’s good to update you on new trends, successes, and concerns across the campus. As parents, we’re in this together, so let’s talk.

But today, just one topic.

The Economy, You, and GACS
There’s no need to rehash the headlines—we all know the financial stories of the last couple of months. I know some of you are experiencing the impact personally, such as job loss, and we are concerned for you. For others of us, the downturn is milder and is more “virtual loss” than real bread and butter issues — for example, the decline of a retirement fund that’s still decades away.

So how does the economic news affect us in our mission for your children together?


First –
you and GACS have a history. We are family. If you are experiencing difficulty, please talk to us. While we can’t solve every problem, perhaps we can help with plans that will assist you through not only the year, but into next year. Don’t misunderstand — GAC must pay her bills as well, nor have we ever been in the money “making” business. But if we can help you through a lean time, we will do our best. Talk to us – here’s how:


Please think through your current situation and put together a plan of what you think you can do. Send your plan in a memo or email to Randall Jackson, our VP of Finance. Randall will work with you and our finance committee to make every effort to help. You may contact him at 770-243-2210 or rjackson@greateratlantachristian.org. Remember we are family. If you should face hard times, let’s work on them together.

Second – if you’ve checked around, you know that Greater Atlanta Christian is an incredible value compared to many independent schools. That’s not an accident, but an intentional part of our planning. Long ago, we made a decision to shape tuition with the combined values of excellence and stewardship of your resources and the school’s. As a result, many believe GACS is unique in the breadth and depth of what she offers families, yet avoids setting tuitions based on what we could charge, or what other schools do. That principle continues into GACS’ future, and we believe both our families, and our heart for service, are the beneficiaries.

Now, how is Greater Atlanta Christian doing in the economic challenge?


Keep in mind we are in ministry first and operating as we believe with the best of non-profit practices. “Earnings” are not on our radar. Still, we are doing reasonably well overall. We began this school year with full enrollment—a match to our targeted enrollment for the past three years. As we’ve heard stories of some schools that have struggled in enrollment, we are so grateful to God and to you for choosing us. We’re living within our budget, with some belt tightening—but no mission cutting.


The GACS Foundation, the home of the GACS Endowment, has taken its blows, as has your 401K. But it is still quadruple its size of a decade ago, and is poised to sustain the school through this period. I’m grateful some donors gave to endow rather non-inspiring areas like Facility Care, and Sustaining Endowment. Others gave to endow Christian Life, bringing great speakers, writers, and artists to touch our children. And others had a heart for Financial Aid, making it possible for families with fewer financial resources to be part of GACS. We still believe in the American economy, and expect our Foundation to remain strong, with time thrive, and always support the mission of the school.


We are planning for the 2009-2010 school year now, and are absolutely committed to you being part of the GAC family. Our mission is our children—pure and simple. Without you and them, we are poorer in the ways that matter—and that isn’t financial. As we plan, we will be both dreamers about what can be — and frugal, watching out for your costs and places where we can trim without negative effect on GACS life for your children. God’s guidance to stewardship matters now more than ever.


So we continue to approach the future with confidence and trust. We have every reason for gratitude and belief that our work will be even better in the future. Still, you can help right now. How?


•    Speak up and speak well of Greater Atlanta Christian to your friends and family. For those you love and respect, tell them part of the GAC story, and why they should join us next year. Our best applicants come as a result of your comments, so help shape your fellow student and parent body of 2009-10.


•    In just the last few weeks, over 100 GAC families have further committed to GAC through the new Georgia law that allows you to receive a full tax credit for a gift to Georgia GOAL, supporting worthy families sending their children to GACS. (Note: A tax credit is different from a deduction, as every dollar is subtracted from your Georgia taxes.) I know you are generous, but this doesn’t even take a generous spirit, just a little time to complete a form. Click here to learn about it. Deadline by the state of Georgia to complete the form has been extended to November 14.


•    If your personal circumstances allow, consider a gift, large or small, to the GACS Annual Fund. In the hardest of times, God’s blessings are many. I hope you’ll give back, so His kingdom will continue to expand in this place. You can do this online too. Click here to learn how.

Unsettling times come and go. Let’s let this one build our faith and commitment to all that lasts — our Father, and His grand purpose for our children.


David

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Parent-to-Parent Promise Means You
9/28/2008
 (While this blog is mainly for Greater Atlanta Christian Junior and Senior High parents, Village and Elementary parents, don’t tune out. The principles here matter to you too.)

When in office, President Ronald Reagan was fond of quoting an old Russian proverb, ''Trust but verify.'' While Reagan used that phrase in the era of tense Soviet-U.S. relations, it has an important place in supervising our young teens, whether 13 or 18. And GAC parent, you can’t do it alone.

We’ve got some incredibly good teens at Greater Atlanta Christian, and you may have the absolute best child at GAC.  If so, congratulations!!  Still, our children need us to watch, insure, and verify.  Occasionally you may have an emotion-filled conversation with your daughter in which she cries out “you don’t trust me!”  When that happens, remember Reagan. Let your son know you do indeed trust him, but you don’t trust his age and the pressures and limited experiences that go with being a teen.

Speaking of Trust, there’s more than teens on the table.  How about fellow GAC parents?  While you might prefer personally supervising your child 24/7, you finally recognize your dependence on others.  So can you depend on one another, GAC parents? 

·        Can you count on “supervision” at someone else’s house matching yours?
·        Do you feel at ease calling a fellow GAC parent about an upcoming party at their house, because they know that

       goes with hosting a teen event?
·        Can you depend on a fellow parent to inform you about your child, even if the news is not good?

That’s where the GAC Parent to Parent Promise comes in.  Soon PTO will publish—yes print—all the names of GACS families who have said in writing “You can count on me”.  Fellow parents of yours have signed the 9-point promise.  Now it’s your turn.  Connect to the link below.  Read it.  Sign and mean it.  Then send your signed copy to the Junior or Senior High Office.

Do you want to see and print the Parent to Parent Promise now? 

What would be ideal? Absolutely every 6-12th grade GACS parent look themselves and their fellow parents in the eye, and say by this document “You can count on me without a doubt.”

The Promise to guide your children and others is among the most important roles God has given you. Take it seriously. Trust, verify, and join other GACS parents in taking the pledge.  


David



How Do You Measure a Terrific Beginning?
8/22/2008
I've just seen the powerful videos of the 8th Grade Retreat and now the Junior/Senior Retreat.  Even through the virtual photos and soundtrack, the energy is palpable.  And the style and message is aimed right at our Mosaic kids' outlook and heart.


I wonder sometimes about the word "Retreat".  But then I remember that Jesus sometimes withdrew from the crowds to clarify purpose with His Father.  It doesn't take long to see that the over 700 GAC students (8th-12th) who've participated in the past 10 days in "retreats" have some new clarity about who they are and to whom they belong.


Different age groups need different approaches. Packing up GACS Elementary kids for a multi-night retreat is probably not age-appropriate.  Yet with the same intensity, we want our young ones to "See His Face" too.  That's why GAC Elementary and Village introduce Jesus in Bible and Chapels shared "just right" for them.  Plus He shows up in virtually every curriculum.


In other blogs, I'll discuss GAC learning advances, trends, a new wave of quality improvements and terrific programs.  But for me, sometimes those important issues pale in comparison to the hearts we're shaping to last forever. 


Yes, a terrific beginning to fall 2008.  David


President Dr. David Fincher

“Like many of you, my story intertwines with the story of Greater Atlanta Christian Schools’. I remember as a young teen hearing discussion of this coming “great” school—and having my doubts.  My sister attended, and my father taught Bible in that “toddler” Christian school, but I was busy turning twenty with far more important things to accomplish.  Yet God has His own plan, and I found myself at age twenty-one teaching GACS 8th-12th graders in a sleepy rural county well out of Atlanta.  I’ve never regretted His plan,” Dr. David Fincher.

 Dr. David Fincher has been with Greater Atlanta Christian School since 1972, as Teacher, Principal, Vice President and President.  He received his master’s degree from Georgia State University and his doctorate from the University of Georgia. 

 Dr. Fincher is the President of Georgia Independent School Association and Chairman of the National Christian School Association.  He is active in the Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District (CID), and is Vice Chair of the Gwinnett Village Community Alliance, a revitalization effort in southwest Gwinnett County.  He serves on the Advisory Counsel for Good Samaritan Health Center.  Dr. Fincher has served as a chair for schools seeking accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and is past President of the Atlanta Area Association of Independent Schools.

 David and his wife are members of the Campus Church of Christ, where he is an elder.