The following excerpt is part 1 of 2 and is taken from the fall 2016 newsletter of Faith Builders Educational Programs. Part 2 will be printed in the November newsletter. For the complete article with details of how the survey was conducted, see http://fbep.org/resources/newsletter-issue-121.
CHALLENGES AND GRATITUDE: A SURVEY OF CONSERVATIVE ANABAPTIST SCHOOLS
In order to understand the needs and opportunities facing conservative Anabaptist schools in a broader context, Faith Builders conducted a survey during the first half of 2016. One hundred fifty schools from conferences and fellowships often represented at Faith Builders’ events were invited to complete a four-page survey. Representatives of sixty-two schools completed the survey. These sixty-two responses, coming from various geographic regions and from large and small schools, confirmed that the conversations we have with teachers and principals represent the needs and opportunities of many schools.
The four needs and two areas of gratitude identified in this summary of our survey may offer guidance for school boards, school administrators, church leaders, parents, and others who care about the schools that train our children. While respondents identified other areas of need, the four primary needs in our schools are teachers, financial sustainability, exceptional learners, and church history curriculum.
By multiple measures, the challenge of finding and keeping qualified teachers is one of the primary needs of our schools. On the general question of challenges, 40% of respondents listed issues related to teachers as one of the challenges they face. The responses range from “finding qualified teachers” to “retaining staff long-term” to “poor teacher vetting and hiring.”
In addition, over 35% of respondents described challenges related to developing and supporting the teachers in the school. A teaching principal at a smaller school described the challenge of “balancing teacher workload with a quality learning experience.” A principal at a larger school highlighted the challenge of teacher burnout. From a school board perspective, finding teachers was the second most-frequently mentioned item that boards spend time discussing. Recruiting and keeping teachers continues to be one of the primary needs of conservative Anabaptist schools.
2) Financial Sustainability
A second primary need of these schools is the financial demand of operating a school. On the general question of challenges, nearly half of the respondents mentioned some dimension of the school in which finances presented a challenge. An administrator stated that they face the challenge of “setting an affordable tuition that also meets the operating budget.” Another respondent highlighted the challenge of “properly compensating staff.” Forty-eight percent of school boards surveyed indicated that finances and fundraising receive significant attention during meetings.
3) Exceptional Learners
Though student behavioral issues are not reported as a big problem, 26% of respondents listed issues such as motivation and behavior as a challenge they face in operating the school. This seems fairly typical and is not a large area of concern. The greatest need in relation to students comes in serving special needs students. Twenty-seven percent of respondents listed the challenge of special needs students in their classrooms. Respondents state that they need knowledge about how to help these students; they are also challenged to find the right staff to work with special needs students. Four respondents indicated that this issue demands a significant portion of school board discussions, with at least one aspect of this being financial: how do we pay for the additional staff or space needed to serve special needs learners? A veteran teacher and principal observed, “The elephant in the room is special needs students. Probably every school has students they don’t know what to do with.” School boards and teachers need resources to help them serve special needs students effectively.