Every school leader walks around their campus. Like many of you, I’ve done that for the past 19 years as the head of school at Prestonwood Christian Academy near Dallas, Texas. This summer I found myself doing it again, except this time my stroll was around the ACSI headquarters in Colorado Springs. As I went inside and approached the president’s office, my pace slowed, and then stopped. I stood in awe. The window view of the beautiful landscape of Pikes Peak was certainly captivating, but that’s not what occupied my heart and mind.
I had entered the office of ACSI Founder Dr. Paul Kienel. There was a sense of admiration that flooded my thoughts—along with a deep feeling of responsibility to sustain and advance what Dr. Kienel had founded over 41 years ago. Standing on the shoulders of this mighty servant-leader and those who followed him brought me to my knees. I made a vow to honor Dr. Kienel’s God-given vision for ACSI.
Please join me on this walk around the ACSI campus as we celebrate the past, honestly assess today, and envision the future. Walk with me as we dare to pray and aspire to strengthen Christian education and Christian educators worldwide.
A Renewed Commitment to Excellence
ACSI’s mission statement reads:
ACSI exists to strengthen Christian schools and equip Christian educators worldwide as they prepare students academically and inspire them to become devoted followers of Jesus Christ.
Thus, our commitment honors the supposition that faith is not separated from learning but rather integrated intentionally, resulting in a distinctive learning ecosystem. The often overused and under-delivered term excellence elevates to our transcendent cause framed with an eternal perspective. Scholarship and learning become an integral component to the maturation process known as discipleship. Becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ, the ultimate objective of the Great Commission (Matthew 26:28-30), is the prize for which we strive.
Can we move past the old argument that intellectual pursuits are naturally separated from the development of the Christian faith? Yes, the skeletons of once-premier faith-based educational institutions can be found throughout the country and world. Yet there are many others who have chosen to separate the sacred from the secular. This dualistic design has surfaced even in modern Christian schools, often with the unfortunate by-product of scholastic and/or spiritual mediocrity. ACSI refuses to choose one of the pathways from this faulty model, and fully believes that authentic devotion to the Christian faith and academic excellence are mutually reinforcing.
The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians best illustrates our view on the origin of excellence and its direct connection with faith in Jesus Christ. In the third chapter and 23rd verse, he states: Whatever you do, do it heartily as unto the Lord rather than man. We understand that the catalyst to pursue excellence in education is the deep commitment and reverence to please and honor God. There are not two forms of excellence, but rather an ethos that is cultivated throughout an individual school—or an entire association. Excellence is something strived for in all pursuits. Indeed, it is then that Paul’s statement “Whatever you do…” becomes real and natural. There is no room for mediocrity, compromise, or excuses. Working hard in one thing but not another dishonors what God said to us through the Apostle Paul, and it breeds a compartmentalized approach to our efforts. In other words, the “whatever” turns into “whenever we choose to.” We are eager to chart this renewed commitment with our member schools, Christian educators, other associations, and with any group whose goal is to disciple the hearts and minds of current and future generations.
The process of examining every area of our association is well underway. ACSI’s board of directors and leadership team are in the final stages of a robust strategic planning process and will be adopting the plan in the next two months. We recognize that a plan developed by people will be inferior to God’s agenda. So, our intrinsic desire to strive for a culture of excellence will be connected to our sincere reverence for God. It is a mindset, an attitude, a commitment to our members and stakeholders.
The result of our work will be to adopt what our strategic planning consultant, Dr. Alan Pue, calls strategic anchors, initiatives, and retreats. Anchors are the missional things that ACSI needs to keep doing, but that should be constantly reviewed and refreshed. Initiatives are things that will “move the needle” in helping us better fulfill our mission. Retreats are things that no longer fit the primary mission of ACSI.
I will travel the country and globe this fall and spring hosting small group gatherings with school heads to share these anchors, initiatives, and retreats. Other key ACSI leaders will join me in laying out specific plans that reflect ACSI’s renewed commitment to excellence.
- Lynn Swaner, Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer, will share results from our recent and groundbreaking Flourishing School Culture Initiative (FSCI). The compelling data from nearly 16,000 Christian school leaders, teachers, staff, students, board members, parents, and alumni will inform future professional development, leadership, and resource training. Our vision is that all educators and schools pursue a path of individual and institutional flourishing. (In addition to her role at ACSI, Dr. Swaner was recently appointed a Senior Fellow at Cardus, a leading think tank for Christian education).
- David Balik, Vice President, USA, has brought energy, vision, and an eye for member care to our stakeholders. He will highlight the success of a new field directors program, which multiplies our “boots on the ground” by increasing the number of schools visited and served.
- Mike Epp, Vice President, Global, understands that our member schools in the U.S. are asking for a stronger connection with our Global schools, and our Global schools are desiring a stronger network of like-minded leaders with which to collaborate. All our schools are truly blessed to be a part of the global movement of Christian education.
- Vernard Gant, ACSI’s Director of A.C.E. Student Services, has a message that is timely and that touches the very soul of our member schools. His compassion for children having access to a Kingdom education who are academically, culturally, and/or economically (A.C.E.) disenfranchised is permeating the hearts of our local, state, national, and international leaders. I believe the Lord has prepared him for “such a time as this” to inspire us to reach all of God’s children in our communities.
- ACSI’s Legal and Legislative department provides one of the most highly rated member services. Our Washington, D.C., staff have been busy advocating on your behalf as we continue to face challenges to our religious liberties. Tom Cathey, ACSI’s Chief of Staff, and other veteran legal representatives, will be reviewing the most pressing legal issues facing our schools.
I believe ACSI’s greatest days are ahead of us, and I look forward to serving alongside you as we advance Kingdom education worldwide. Let’s walk together as we advance Christ-centered, innovative, and transformative education to the world.
About the Author
Dr. Larry Taylor is in his 20th year as the head of school at Prestonwood Christian Academy (PCA) in Plano, Texas. On July 1, 2019, Dr. Taylor was named the new president of ACSI. Dr. Taylor co-launched a national training institute for schools, “Becoming a Kingdom School Institute,” and developed a training program for parents titled “Becoming a Kingdom Family.” Dr. Taylor authored the book Running with the Horses, which helps parents raise children to be servant-leaders for Christ and helps to build a family plan. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.