Aware of morale issues among employees, families and students, plus declining enrollment several years ago, the two top leaders at Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis, Tennessee made a valuable discovery. . . .
“In a K-12 school like ours of more than 1,600 students from 1,000 families, served by 200 staff, you’re going to have a lot of different perspectives and opinions about how things should be run,” says Briarcrest President Mark Merrill. “We discovered, we were too close to the action and that the most accurate way to celebrate our real and perceived strengths and address our weaknesses was to get some feedback from, not only our families, but our staff as well. We selected a proven staff engagement survey for Christian organizations that would give everyone the assurance of anonymity and the freedom to give us honest, objective feedback. Did they ever. The eye-opening data, packaged in a thorough report, helped set in motion a fresh turnaround. . . .
“Instead of over-reacting to the negatives, we knew we had to listen and look for ways to say ‘yes,’ to people,” says Merrill. Adds Headmaster Steve Simpson, “You can’t run a school as a pure democracy, but you can do everything possible to welcome feedback (suggestion boxes in every department) and then invite each division to present its own questions and concerns to a quarterly employee council meeting. The same goes for parents: Invite, listen, remain open, thank and then strive, together, to serve students in the same knowledge, honor, truth, wisdom, excellence and integrity as we serve Christ.” Simpson and Merrill have seen an increasing level of “buy in” from the school’s “moral owners,” a large percentage of families and all staff committed to the Briarcrest’s mission and core values.
Last June, teachers responded heartily to help launch a new reading program, a sure sign of growing trust and responsiveness to school administration. And students are smiling over a new-and-improved food service. “Intentional listening, thoughtful evaluation, common sense and responsive action are paying off,” says Merrill. “It’s all part of an effective feedback loop that’s really working well.
One of Briacrest’s best-kept secrets (but not for long) is senior Austin Nichols, one of ESPN’s top-ranked high school basketball players in the country. Nichols turned down scholarships from five top Division I schools to play for the University of Memphis next fall.