As the marketplace of education continues to address new challenges and methods of instruction, St. James is working to maintain the highest quality standards and instruction for our children. At a meeting on May 12, the administration shared some of the key points of the five-year Strategic Plan currently under development for the Church and School.

Educational Consultant Sheri Meyer shared some of her experience evaluating the education product and her perspectives about what is necessary as we move forward.

“One of your strengths is the commitment of the faculty,” Meyer said, “What they are already doing is way beyond what most schools can do in providing instruction designed to allow children to learn.”

She was speaking of the strong commitment to Inquiry Based Learning currently being used. Inquiry Based Learning allows children to engage information from their inherent curiosity and through guided inquiry discover new insights and knowledge. “Teachers can tell a first grader what they need to know, but they really aren’t engaged unless they can interact with the information themselves,” Meyer said.

After three months of meeting with St. James administration, faculty and parents, Meyer recommended to St. James that we commit fully to emphasizing Inquiry Based instruction wherever possible saying, “You guys are already doing it across all grade levels, and you’re doing it really well. This takes advantage of your small class size and uses it as a strength to reach every child the way they learn best.”

The biggest change to the pedagogy will be the insertion of three “project weeks” next year in November, February and April. Each week will be devoted to group inquiry based instruction focused on a single theme. In November the students will work cooperatively to explore the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

Using a set of rubrics developed by the faculty, the students will engage the topic through the disciplines of reading, writing, math, science and social studies. Resources will expand beyond the St. James walls to allow their inquiry to seek information from outside sources from firemen and architects to museums and primary documents. The faculty is already developing the project parameters for this fall.

In addition to the commitment to Inquiry Based Learning, St. James will add approximately 150 hours of instruction time next year by lengthening the school day. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday dismissal will move to 3:30 p.m. and Wednesday will feature a “block” period and dismiss at 4:00 p.m.

The block schedule allows for moving the daily schedule around to accommodate special events and projects like visiting plays and urban field education. The increase is necessary to be able to maintain the experiences necessary to educate the whole child without cutting into valuable instruction time.

This is all timed to coincide with the accreditation process scheduled for 2015-2016. Currently, St. James is accredited by National Lutheran Schools Accreditation. We will continue to fulfill their accreditation criteria but also work with the process by AdvancED, the largest accreditation agency in the U.S. AdvancED is a school community of over 32,000 schools in the U.S. and 70 countries around the world. This allows St. James students to easily transition to any school anyplace as they grow and move beyond St. James.

Other news shared the administration’s excitement in seeking strategic partnerships with Chicago based corporations and universities in support of our educational goals. By leveraging the resources of community partners we expect to add value to the current education while increasing our brand awareness in the community.

It is an exciting time to be at St. James as we continue to serve the needs of children and families with the love of Christ and support the development of student learning to be citizens of two kingdoms.

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