For we are a community developed precisely to aid the family and our Church in the development of the young hearts, minds, and souls given us. Our statement of purpose, or mission statement, makes abundantly clear our intent as an organization:
In fidelity to the truths of our Holy Catholic Church, the goal of Saint Augustine Academy is to assist parents in their duty of fostering within their children growth in the theological, intellectual, and moral virtues.
We strive in every task to inculcate in our students the profound insight of Saint Augustine: “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”
Existing for this purpose, and providing a sound education based upon the classical liberal arts, has made us successful beyond our original dreams. We stick to our plan, we stick to the basics, and we all do our part.
The families support the school, as the wisdom of the Church demands—if the family does not support the school, you end up with a “house divided” and the child suffers. Humbly we welcome the children into our classrooms and humbly we trust our parents to bring them to us daily.
The board that governs the school leads with great wisdom and discretion. They take seriously their role to provide financially for the school by giving or getting what the school needs to operate and to approach living-wage salaries for the faculty and staff—social justice starts at home! The fruit of this effort is high faculty retention rate. The fruit of high faculty retention is consistency and excellence in the program and the development of a community of learners, which fosters a spirit and love of learning among the whole body of the school.
The other successful element of our board is their exercise of authority as the policy-setting body. While the first few years of a school’s existence take much hands-on action, the ultimate goal is to hire a staff and faculty who run the school and enact the board policy. I know it is difficult at times for the board not to insert their personal will. But restraint in doing so, allowing their collective wisdom to guide while the headmaster runs the school, is a recipe for success and happiness for everyone—board, faculty, staff, students, and families. When we all subject ourselves to the appropriate governing model, the school runs smoothly, long-term.
The faculty, in our case, is a true community of learners—I am tempted to pull out the word family here. It is really a close-knit group of educators who have come to know and love each other, despite wildly diverse personalities, teaching styles, and talents. They love in Christian charity and respect each others’ talents from God. It has taken some time to build this faculty, but it is worth every penny and effort. The headmaster needs to be the one who can coalesce these men and women into a body of friends and professional educators. The headmaster is another faculty member at our school and teaches one or two classes annually. What helps guide the ship always is a sense of purpose ever-tempered by charity and joy. Our teachers know that our aim is to give the students an excellent education, providing them the tools of grammar, logic, and rhetoric, while at the same time achieving two ends: developing a work ethic and retaining joy and wonder in education.
Finally, the students need to be mentioned. We maintain a small school so we can provide a family-style element to our education. From a political philosophy perspective, stepping out of the home and into the world should be done in a reasonable manner that echoes the values of the home while maturity grows. Hence, our school is by design small and has a much wider span of grades on campus. Nothing like a fourth-grader’s big and wondering eyes to make a high school student act like the responsible leader he can be! This design of the school, and the admissions process which takes into account academics and character, as well as the “chemistry” of a class, gives us a good chance at a smooth running school. It also is the best possibility for enrolling and retaining a student body that is fertile land for producing the crops we are called to. The esprit d’ corps of the school, while not perfect, is blessedly un-rebellious and docile to learning.
Contributed by Michael Van Hecke, M.Ed.
Headmaster, St. Augustine Academy
President, Institute for Catholic Liberal Education