C.S. Lewis wrote in Abolition of Man that “the task of modern educators is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts.” In many ways, what CACE has done for Valley Christian Schools in Dublin, CA is precisely that. It would have been so easy for outside experts to come in to our school and chop down the entanglements and dead branches that they saw. But, if CACE did that, we would never learn to be resilient or innovative in solving pressing institutional problems. Instead, CACE fellows provided my team of leaders and me with encouragement, coaching, and catalytic ideas to solve problems. This is an example of irrigating the desert places of our school with leadership and insight.
Our story began at a CACE gathering in Orlando in January 2015. A discussion with the CACE fellows on strategic financial planning revealed to my predecessors some of our school’s shortcomings in business practices. When I assumed leadership of the school in July of 2015, I continued to assess the scope of our challenges. After extensive discussion with my CACE coach, I hired a financial policy and practice consultant with CACE’s generous financial contribution. This began a journey of critical financial analysis, honest conversations about our business model, and training of our board.
CACE has been helpful to Valley Christian in all four areas of their leadership coaching – governance, strategic financial planning, marketing & enrollment, and teaching. However, CACE’s instrumental help in this area of financial analysis and planning has had far-reaching impacts into many other areas of our school.
In the last 12 months, we have accomplished much. For example, our newly revised mission statement – to develop courageous, thoughtful, and creative young leaders through excellent interdisciplinary, holistic, and rigorous Christian education – is driving all of our conversations and discussions in the school. Our board is learning to grapple with a mission-driven approach to strategic financial planning, and as a school we are developing and implementing sound business practices, procedures, and policies. Educationally, we are developing a consistently engaging and meaningful chapel program, building a positive student culture, greatly improving communication, implementing an integrative information system, harnessing our highly engaged and effective faculty, and offering a wide range of extracurricular opportunities.
While we are in the jungle of many challenges, I believe we are taking steps to find our way out of the jungle with our hearts filled with hope, optimism, and smart ideas. Meanwhile, we know that we have friends at CACE who walk along side of us faithfully and prayerfully. Ultimately, CACE’s partnership with us through executive leadership coaching benefits all our faculty, staff, and students. Now, more than ever before, Valley Christian is poised to irrigate desert places of our students’ lives so that our students can flourish and be truly courageous, thoughtful, and creative leaders of tomorrow.
Dr. Michael Chen has been an educator for over 20 years in the San Francisco and Boston areas with experiences in urban education, international education, school leadership, cultural formation, and organizational development. His school leadership experience includes serving as the superintendent at a PK-12 school in CA, dean of faculty at a diverse school in Boston, and the founding director of Trinity Institute for Leadership and Social Justice, an integrative service learning and leadership development program for high school youth in Boston. Recently, he accepted the appointment of the head of school position at Alma Heights Christian School. For his doctoral work, Michael developed a system-theory of resilience to further understand human development in the context of war-affected widows in Nepal. In addition, he also provided consultative services to schools and organizations in South Korea, Nepal, and India in areas of leadership, monitoring and evaluation, and also managed a tuition-free school for widows and disadvantaged women in Kathmandu, Nepal. He served on the boards of Hope Initiatives in Nepal and Christian Coalition for Educational Innovation in the US. He was a recipient of 2012 US Presidential Scholar Teacher Recognition Award and has published several online articles and a book chapter on student leadership development. Lastly, he did his undergraduate studies in Physics and American Literature at UC Berkeley, masters work in international educational development, and doctorate in educational policy and leadership at Boston University.