Above: HCHS History Department
Houston Christian’s head of school and the board have approved departmental travels for each department to visit other independent schools throughout the country. Purpose: To learn what they do well and what makes them elite at what they do. It is exciting to see that we are continuing to move in an academic direction of distinction. I honestly believe we are on the brink of being one of the more notable schools. Although I am clearly biased here, I do believe the most important quality of academic greatness is having a dynamic faculty. Elite faculty members make a school better. And yes I do consider myself to be in an elite category. My students deserve that.
Here is what I had to say in the past about my own research and travels to other independent schools:
I have traveled to visit a number of independent (private) day and boarding schools in the New England states as part of a research and writing project (read more about my research here). I like the social and intellectual freedom given to both students and faculty at the most elite schools. Moreover, the focus of my visit was to gain an understanding of elite academic culture, the development of diversity over time, and their purpose toward educating elite students. Of course, those factors are only secondary. My writing will focus on the day to day impact elite schools have on African American students and how it compares to lower tier independent schools. There is a bigger goal for this work that I am not at liberty to address now; it is too early. Three years ago I wrote a paper entitled Teachers of Color and Independent Schools. Although I wanted to present this at the National Association of Independent School’s People of Color Conference, my abstract was accepted at a College Board regional forum. This project is a very distant continuation of that….A far more complex task as I look at race, independent schools, and elite and mass culture in America.
I asked a few leaders of elite schools what makes their institution different from that of others, here are a few sample responses:
* Unlike many private schools in America, we do not try to be like every other public and private school. Too many private schools are not really independent schools because they work too hard to attract students from public schools. Now, according to this response, when independent schools work to attract public school students, they usually try to conform with many state mandated legislation. Thus, in doing so, students are able to transfer or matriculate to a private school easier without credit issues. This is not the job of an independent school. Independent schools should focus on an elite education with a unique academic goal. I like the idea that many NAIS schools do not require teacher certification. Although I have one, I think they are silly. Elite schools are interested in content knowledge and the ability to communicate that knowledge to bright students. So, if you majored in history and did not certify to teach, there are a number of really good jobs out there.
*Diversity: Intellectual, religious, racial, and economic diversity of faculty and students make a school elite. Allowing ideas to flow in exchange without fear of suppression is crucial to the advancement of an academic community.
* Resources: I got a ton of information here. I am not going to address the endowment issue, but institutional wealth is clearly important.
* Tradition: Faculty and students must believe in the school and its purpose. If the faculty does not see the purpose and goals of a school, tradition will never be established nor will it last. Examples: Having an academic and social honor code should be the core of any school, but this is always the case at many elite schools.
* Empowering the Faculty: Elite schools should empower its faculty. One administrator told me that the key to school leadership is providing its faculty with a voice. I am amazed at the number of schools that have a faculty senate in place. This allows the faculty to have a stronger voice on matters such as program direction, facility issues, directional planning, earnings, etc. I suspect that many private schools operate under the superintendent mentality. The board tells the headmaster who tells the dean of faculty who then tells the faculty. This is the classic model of Taylorism: Chain of command hierarchy – not the democratic model found with a faculty senate.
* Students: The assistant headmaster at Houston’s St. John’s School is a friend and a person I respect greatly. He is thought to be one of the best leaders amongst independent schools. As an African American, Mark Reed and others told me that the key to being an elite school is found within the student population. I call it the 1200 mark. All elite schools have an SAT average of at least 1200, many such as St. John’s are over 1400.
Here are the schools we are hoping to visit:
Grades:PreK – 12
Student/Faculty Ratio: 7:1
Accreditations: NAIS,NY Assoc of Independent Schools,
Misc: 1/3 on tuition assistance grants, similar core values, Leadership, Oversees Travel
History Specific: 9th World, 10th US, 11th/12th electives including Psychology, Art, Euro, China, Rome, Global, Equal Rights, Holocaust
Student/Faculty Ratio: 7:1
Size: 595 / 401 Upper
Tuition: $29,750 includes lunch
AP: 21 courses, Top 5 schools for AP scores in Conn, 55% Seniors named AP scholars
Misc:29% Financial Assistance, 15% Diversity, Senior Thesis, Community Service req, Fine Arts program, communicate value of being at school, parents choose for global awareness
History Specific: 3 History credits,
Est: 231 years been around
Student/Faculty Ratio: 5:1, avg class 13
Size: 300 for day, 800 boarding
SAT/ACT: 684 reading, 700 math, 692 writing, 1384
AP: 30 AP classes
Misc: 37% students of color, Trimesters, 42% financial assistance, study abroad
History Specific: 4 History credits, qualification for certain courses
Student/Faculty Ratio: 10-15 in class
Misc: Oversees Travel, Community Service
History Specific: 9th/10th World, 11th US, 12th electives including psychology, constitutional law, Atlantic history, globalization, US foreign policy from 1799, Modern middle east, Latin America,
Stoneybrook– Spring Break during proposed travel dates
Student/Faculty Ratio: 8:1
Tuition: $21,000 (Day student)
AP: 30-40% AP Scholars (3 AP courses with 3 or better)
Accreditations:NAIS, NY Assoc of Independent Schools, NACAC, NASSP, TABS
Misc: Similar Christian leadership, Fine Arts Program
History Specific: 4 credits in History