Going for the Gold: CLEF Medallion Program Development

Aug 8th, 2019 | Category: Columns
By Samantha Lazich and Don Hendricks

Chicagoland Lutheran Educational Foundation (CLEF) and Concordia University Chicago (CUC) have a long history of collaboration based on their common faith and similar missions. The entity that has grown into the CLEF of today is deeply rooted in service to the Lutheran schools in the city of Chicago and continues to thrive through growing initiatives. In keeping with its mission, CLEF remains dedicated to efforts to empower urban Lutheran schools to deliver innovative, high-quality, Christian values-based education in safe, supportive environments. As a partner in this endeavor, CUC continues its historic commitment to Lutheran schools generally, and to increasing the viability and visibility of the schools supported by CLEF. This partnership has grown out of a common mission and a shared vision for urban Lutheran schools. Aiming to drive their mission even further, the Board of Directors of CLEF made the decision to engage in an intensive strategic-planning process. As a result of this process, five initiatives were born, subsequently launching new efforts to empower the Lutheran schools in Chicago. Two initiatives (1) Improve the quality of Lutheran Education in Chicago and (2) Foster leadership and professional development in the Chicago Lutheran schools resulted in the development of the Pathways to Excellence program. Funded by a generous donor, CLEF created the Pathways to Excellence program as the venue to address both initiatives. This program seeking to improve the quality of Lutheran education is the largest investment in the history of the foundation. As a result, the CLEF-CUC partnership has designed and delivered professional programming for Lutheran principals and teachers in Chicago.

The Pathways to Excellence program has focused efforts on the professional leadership skills of school leaders for principals, and on teaching and learning for teachers. The Board of Directors of CLEF respects the strong correlation between the success of a school and the strength of the leadership and instruction at the school level (Marzano et al, 2005). As part of Pathways to Excellence, programming was designed specifically to support the development of urban Lutheran school leaders and teachers.

Strengthening personal and professional leadership skills and creating strategic plans were at the cornerstone of this work. Great emphasis was placed on the creation of the strategic plan (Bryson, 1988). Communication to stakeholders, action steps for implementation, and continued revisions of respective plans furthered the work in the program. In these efforts, the logical next step in supporting schools to grow and improve, was the creation of the CLEF Medallion program.

The Medallion Program

CLEF and CUC joined forces along with select school principals and consultants from the private and public sector to launch The Medallion Program. A clear vision of quality and innovative Lutheran education was born through this endeavor. Historically, Lutheran schools excel in and are strong models of Christian education. As such, it was important to CLEF to build on this strength and provide a roadmap to support schools in achieving academic excellence as well. Revising outdated perspectives as to the capacity in which these schools could achieve academic excellence was a driving principle of the Medallion program. Essentially, schools should not have to lose one in order to gain the other. Yet, there must be a clear understanding that an achievement of this nature is a rather complex task. Keeping Christian values and teaching while providing academic excellence is at the heart of the Medallion program.

The Medallion Program articulates levels of excellence for the Lutheran schools in the city of Chicago. Levels of excellence are organized by criteria on a continuum in which schools can advance. The continuum provides a roadmap for schools as they strive toward recognition as distinguished hubs of Christian education, academic excellence, and innovation. In addition to providing this clearly-articulated vision, the program has the capacity to assist schools and CLEF in identifying gaps on the roadmap leading to excellence. This leads schools and CLEF in prioritizing and closing those gaps.

Through the Medallion Program, schools can easily identify strengths, as well as areas in need of greater and focused attention. It also provides CLEF a better understanding of how to support the schools they serve. In addition, the continuum provides an opportunity to review school progress over time. Insights such as common strengths or weaknesses across all Lutheran schools in Chicago will provide CLEF key information to support the development of programming for school leaders, teachers and board members as well as the funding for school needs. Building on and continuing the efforts to grow and improve the Lutheran schools, the Medallion Program allows both the schools and CLEF to make targeted choices in utilizing the support and resources of the foundation.

Program Development

As inspired by CLEF’s vision, the goal of the Medallion Program is to have a formalized, clearly-articulated definition of academic excellence in a Christian environment. The program will also serve as a tool to measure sustainability and success of CLEF schools. Based on the work and outcomes of the Pathways to Excellence Program for principals and teachers, the Medallion Program integrates principles of excellence with subject-matter experts and complementary systems of school assessments.

The development of the Medallion program is a collaborative and reflective process. Over the course of two years, the Medallion team, representative of CLEF, CUC, private and public sector consultants, subject-matter experts and Lutheran school principals, came together to begin the process. It was important to the team to explore similar existing programs. Many of the schools work in compliance with guidelines set by the Illinois State Board of Education and other accrediting bodies.

Information related to school effectiveness was gathered. The current needs of individual schools was compiled. The team administered a survey to current school leaders. Finally, the team reached out to various subject-matter experts and studied successful models of private-school education outside of the Chicago area. This collection of information was used to launch the design of the Medallion Program.

The Medallion Program is designed to provide schools with critical data and a roadmap to track a school’s progress in the following four categories utilized to define a high-quality, energized and innovative Christian School: (1) School Leadership and Sustainability (2) Student Learning and Academic Excellence (3) School Environment and Wellbeing and (4) School Culture. Each of the four categories has specific criteria that the school can use to assess its overall performance and level of excellence in the category. Levels of performance are then rated as: (1) Unsatisfactory (2) Satisfactory (3) Thriving and (4) Distinguished.

The criteria in each category are arranged in a rubric, which is designed to allow each school to identify its position on the continuum of excellence. The Medallion Program is designed to support principals and school leaders to address school challenges and advance along the continuum of excellence toward the “Distinguished” level. Additionally, CLEF is provided with feedback on individual schools and communities to address professional development and other resource needs. The entire process was constructed within the partnership between CLEF and the CUC Center for Literacy and with a focus on strategies to best utilize resources.

Categories of Excellence

The category of School Leadership and Sustainability focuses on criteria related to school leadership and school-board matters. Specific criteria related to this category include School Board Culture and Climate, Board Policy and Evaluation, Board Engagement and Retention, Board Structure and Succession, School Leader and Board Communication, Board Fiduciary Responsibility, Faculty and Non-Teaching-Staff Evaluations and Principal Evaluation.

Factors related to school boards are also explored in this category. A highlight of this section is the comprehensive look at school-board structure, and the governance and involvement of a board. As such, a distinguished board might exhibit high levels of engagement, meet or exceed viable goals, and establish and fulfill committee-membership responsibilities. Successes in this category are likely to remove common issues facing school boards, so that low member turnover or long-term fulfillment of board positions are likely results. Factors related to school leadership are also addressed in this first category of excellence. Highlighted is the role of personnel evaluation for school leaders, teachers and support staff. Moving through the continuum in this area brings the typical evaluation process used in schools to a more collaborative learning process with goal setting and ample opportunities for feedback related to the growth of school professionals.

The second category of The Medallion Program is related to Student Learning and Academic Excellence. This category is marked by criteria related to teaching and learning. Included are Curriculum, Instruction, Assessment, Innovation, and Student Engagement. Due to the density of these criteria, each one is broken down further, to not only fully capture these crucial components related to student learning and academic excellence, but to also provide a roadmap to bring schools to a 21st-century vision of teaching and learning. Curriculum is further distinguished between written and applied curriculum. Written curriculum ensures schools have clearly defined learning goals per grade level and subject, and are standards based in vertical and horizontal alignment among classrooms and grade levels. Applied curriculum examines whether students’ individual curricular needs are met at appropriate levels, and collectively supported through the instructional leaders within the school. The Innovation component of the Student Learning and Academic Excellence category echoes CLEF’s desire and commitment to support schools in achieving a 21st-century approach to teaching and learning. These criteria move past traditional advancement programs in that they capture classroom practices aligned with authentic or real-world learning experiences.

School Environment and Wellbeing is the third category of The Medallion Program. This category addresses Building and Grounds, Inside School Appearance, Safety and Security Measures, Health/Life Safety, Physical Health/Nutrition Education, Counseling/Nursing Services, and Staff Wellness. Components related to safety and aesthetics of the school are mapped out to lead schools to the implementation of security measures, protocols and improvement plans to continue to keep the Lutheran schools in Chicago operating safely. In addition to the physical structure of the school, this program views the wellness of those inside the building as a critical component of the school environment. Through the Medallion Program, making a commitment to wellness would lead schools to implement programming, training opportunities for staff, and to provide resources to support the wellness of the school community.

The final category of the Medallion Program is School Culture. Included in this category are Principles, Values and Faith Formation, School-Community Engagement and a Culture of Continuous Improvement. Strong Christian principles and values are at the heart of the School Culture category. While each school may have a different set of principles or values, the Medallion program provides structure to ensure school communities are representative of the Christian faith, modeled internally within the school community, as well as in how members of the school community relate to individuals and organizations beyond the four walls of the school.

Levels of Excellence

All categories and subsequent criteria are evaluated as Unsatisfactory, Satisfactory, Thriving, or Distinguished. The intent of the Medallion Program is for each Lutheran School to evaluate itself and address criteria in relationship to the “Distinguished” category. This is done through the utilization of a self-assessment process followed by an improvement plan aiming to assist schools in understanding the goal of how to achieve excellence in all areas of school operations. The self-assessment process gives schools the chance to look at leadership skills and academic culture and assess themselves in order to develop a plan of improvement to move from “Satisfactory” to “Thriving” to “Distinguished.” Furthermore, the mechanism to move schools toward achieving Medallion status is CLEF’s Pathways to Excellence program, which provides the schools the necessary expertise and resources to allow schools to attain the Medallion status.

It is important to CLEF to support school leaders, teachers and students in achieving excellence. Through Pathways-to-Excellence professional-development sessions, school leaders became familiar with the Medallion rubric. Subject-matter experts in each of the four categories provided and presented information related to each respective content area. Principals then had the opportunity to ask questions and provide the Medallion team with feedback. This furthered CLEF’s commitment to keeping a collaborative and reflective process in place.

Once principals had a greater sense of the criteria for each category, they were asked to complete a self-study survey. Individual principals evaluated the current status of their schools using a self-assessment tool for each of the four categories. Additionally, to ensure the accurate assessment of the Medallion criteria, each school requested that a school survey be completed by parents, staff, and community members regarding perceptions of success in the school. The survey addressed stakeholders’ points of view on what is important, what the school is doing well, and what the school needs to address. Results were compiled for individual schools and on a network-wide basis for CLEF. The results of the survey were presented to the individual Lutheran School Boards to be analyzed and discussed to inform a plan of action to address the issues that need improvement. The role of CLEF in supporting this process will be to provide any needed resources to the schools to address the issues identified for improvement.

Moving Forward in Excellence

Collaboration between CLEF staff, CUC representatives, and individual CLEF schools will continue as the Medallion program team rolls out the application and evaluation process. Efforts to ensure that school boards and leaders are well informed will continue. CLEF views the voice of all stakeholders as an integral part of the development process. The roll-out of the Medallion program is evidence of the strong community supporting efforts to revitalize Lutheran schools as distinguished hubs of academic excellence and innovation. With pride, the CLEF Medallion program will recognize outstanding work in educating the children in Chicago

The Medallion Program exemplifies CLEF’s commitment to empowering urban Lutheran schools to deliver innovative, high-quality, Christian values-based education in safe, supportive environments. With this roadmap to excellence clearly defined and organized, the Lutheran schools in the city of Chicago, along with their partner CLEF, now have the mechanisms in place to continue the path to excellence. As a longtime partner, CUC will continue to share the university’s expertise and capacity to support CLEF, and the schools they serve to reach new levels of excellence and innovation while remaining outstanding providers of Lutheran education and values. LEJ

References

Bryson, J.M. (1988). Strategic planning for public and non-profit organizations: A guide to strengthening and sustaining organizational achievement. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

Marzano, R.J., Waters, T. & McNulty, B.A (2005). School leadership that works: From research to results. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).

Dr. Samantha Lazich is a faculty member in College of Graduate Studies at Concordia University Chicago (CUC). She serves as the partnership liaison between CUC university partners Chicagoland Lutheran Educational Foundation (CLEF) and Concordia University Chicago.

Dr. A. Donald Hendricks, Associate Professor of Leadership, College of Graduate Studies, Concordia University Chicago. Dr. Hendricks has spent 32 years in school administration. He is currently working with several Lutheran schools in the Chicagoland area and partners with CLEF on a number of projects.