The CACE Effect: Lessons from Deer Creek

Deer Creek’s story was similar to so many Christian schools’ in metropolitan areas around the country.  The school was started by a church 25 years ago. There was a lot of excitement and passion. The school grew…quickly.  Then, at about the 18 year mark, populations shifted, and the church moved. Enrollment declined. The budget was squeezed. Teachers took pay cuts. Extracurriculars were eliminated. The prevailing parking lot conversation was “Is Deer Creek going to be open in the Fall?” That is when the Board of Directors at Deer Creek asked CACE to come alongside us to help guide us through the challenging and rewarding process of school transformation.

CACE gave us the knowledge, network and encouragement to ask the questions we needed to ask of ourselves, and the practical tools to move us in a healthier direction. CACE didn’t simply come in and talk. They listened first, respected our past, and challenged us towards the future.  We evaluated Board Governance, School Leadership, Spiritual Formation, Curriculum and Instruction, Budget Development, Fundraising and Marketing. In other words, everything. This wasn’t done in a vacuum. It was done in relationship with the CACE Fellows and the other schools of the Score group.

At the end of the day, the mission to provide a Christ-centered education to any family who desired this for their child remained the same at Deer Creek. We simply needed someone to help us consider the essentials and the encouragement to make the difficult decisions to adapt to a new historical and cultural context. Three years since our relationship with CACE began:

  • Enrollment is up 21%
  • Hired a Head of School to lead us in our mission
  • Extracurriculars are back
  • Established two years of Mission-driven budgets
  • Moved to Relationship-based fundraising: Increased 200%
  • Established Strategic Plan
  • Clear and focused Marketing
  • Revitalized Board Governance

We are thankful for all of the above, but I think the best evidence of the overall shift in the culture of the school was summed up by a teacher when she said; “I haven’t heard one parent ask if we are opening our doors next year.”  We are a healthier school for our students, families, teachers, community and the Kingdom, and CACE has been an essential partner in our transformation.  Thank you, CACE!

If you’d like to support the mission of Deer Creek as we partner with families to help children grow in Academics, Faith, and Character for Kingdom service in the South Chicago region, please click here.

2 comments

  1. Heather De Boer says:

    So good to read! Curious what relationship based fundraising is? As a parent and former Christian school teacher – any way to increase income for the school is wonderful. Please share!

    • Steve Blom says:

      Great question, Heather! This was a pivotal concept for us at Deer Creek. Historically, we had relied on a combination of high-input/high-output events (think auction or gala) or sales of particular products (think candy or magazines). These are not bad in and of themselves, and if they’re working for you then, by all means, keep it up. For us, we began to experience high-input/low-output. To make up for the lower income we added more fund raisers, which added more work for families. It was a drain on our culture. We made the decision to evaluate all 13 of our fund raisers based on time/energy, how they effected the culture of the school, and the income they brought in. In the end, we did away with all but one of them. In their place, we committed to making our mission known, understanding the value we were providing to the community, and telling the Deer Creek story to individuals within our personal networks who were either connected to Deer Creek already, or committed to the mission of Christian education. The connection is based on trust, clear planning and transparency with financial partners. We have been moved by the donors who have not only given to Deer Creek, but the meaningful relationships of encouragement, insight and support that have developed through the intentional time spent with each other. In the first year, we had one donor replace the entire net income of the twelve fundraisers we eliminated. The movement towards relationship-based fundraising has had a dramatic positive impact on the overall culture of Deer Creek.

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