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Bold exercise in common grace

"Bold exercise in common grace" Continued...

Issue: "Stealth care," Sept. 16, 2006

That look proved pretty disruptive for April Butler. It meant leaving her native North Carolina and moving to Michigan. It meant taking on not just winter weather, but a whole new culture in a region where the anguish of the ailing auto industry was exacting its toll on tens of thousands of families. It meant learning the tools, and helping develop new ones, for relating to the parents in those families-keeping in mind that every last one of them was at Walton Academy by choice. If the families weren't happy with her product, they could leave.

But keep in mind that April Butler's boss is a man focused on forming friendships wherever he can. That's why every NHA school has a "parents room," a place where they are invited to meet, volunteer (there are numerous parent committees), or simply relax. It's why every NHA family gets a weekly newsletter from the school. It's why every NHA parent has instant online access to a child's academic progress via NHA's AtSchool website.

Huizenga isn't afraid to tell you that not every NHA school is yet performing the way it should. "Quality is critical," he says, "and so we're slowing down our growth a little for a year or two so we can make sure we're living up to the promises we made to these families." Only two new NHA schools were set to open their doors this fall. That brings the total to 53.

Huizenga grew up in explicitly Christian schools-and supports them personally. "Christian education is for both now and eternity," he says bluntly. "The best our schools can do is for this lifetime." So the NHA gambit is a bold exercise in common grace.

But it is also a thoughtful exercise. The NHA educational philosophy knows it can't get involved in explicitly religious expression. Teachers know what they can say and can't say. A 1998 lawsuit against NHA, supported by the ACLU, went overboard trying to silence NHA teachers. But the suit fizzled in court. "That cost us $150,000," Huizenga says, smiling. "It may be the best $150,000 we ever spent."

So in the student assembly during a recent visit to Walton Academy here in Pontiac, the "moral word" of the month may have sounded "religious" to some. "What's our word for today?" principal Butler yelled into the microphone. "SELF-CONTROL," roared 654 students. The next month the word might be "justice"; later still, it might be "fortitude."

"It's hard for folks to object when we call these the classic Greek virtues, which they are," says Huizenga.

NHA teachers earn slightly less, on average, than what their counterparts in Michigan public schools get. And in one sense, they may work harder to get even that. In another sense, their working conditions are immeasurably better-if for no other reason than that they are working with families who very much want what the schools are offering. NHA facilities tend to be new, spacious, bright, clean, well-equipped, and in good repair.

But mostly, NHA offers teachers a context of accountability. "We expect them to be accountable to us," says Huizenga, "but especially to the students' parents and family. If educational reform is going to happen in this country, it has to happen from the parents' perspective. And then we as a school also have to be accountable to those teachers, to give them everything they need to do their job well."

He made it sound like building lasting friendships with his employees was just as important to the boss as building them with customers.

More Back-to-School Coverage:

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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