Columbia's private schools form network to help and support each other

Sunday, September 14, 2008 | 7:05 p.m. CDT; updated 12:43 p.m. CDT, Thursday, September 25, 2008

COLUMBIA  — As Columbia Public Schools adjust to a new year with an interim superintendent, Columbia private schools are coming together to form a new network of support and sharing among one another.

Karen Shyrock, director of communication at Columbia Independent School, organized the voluntary group. Shyrock had the idea to set up a network to be a resource tool for nonpublic educators in the Columbia area. The group met once this summer and talked about the benefits of getting together, including creating a greater awareness of schooling options, developing a platform for sharing ideas, improving media coverage and identifying resources available to all private schools.

Administrative representatives from five schools attended the first meeting: Columbia Independent School, Good Shepherd Lutheran School, Christian Fellowship School, Christian Chapel Academy and Heritage Academy. Columbia Catholic School and Stephens College Children's School showed interest but did not attend. Columbia home schools were also invited.

Columbia's private schools are the "little fish" compared to the big fish that are Columbia Public Schools, said Isaac Keene, chief administrator at Heritage Academy. He said the biggest challenge for nonpublic schools is name recognition.

Keene said the network will help schools get valuable feedback from others to make prudent decisions. For example, if a student with a history of discipline issues submits an application at one school, that school could call another school for advice and make a better informed admissions decision. With a cohesive group, the experience of one nonpublic educator can benefit another.

The group met for the second time Sept. 11 at Christian Fellowship School. The one-hour meeting began with an open discussion, then a tour of the school. The tour was intended to give other administrators a feel for the building, classes and organization.

"Walking around the building starts conversations because you think about something when you see it, things like hot lunch and fundraisers," Shyrock said. "The tour creates familiarity about the building and school atmosphere, every school has its own feel."

Other conversations centered around cooperation. Earlier in the year, schools met to share information about admissions such as materials that each school provides to families seeking to join.

Rick Mueller, administrator at Christian Fellowship School, suggested arranging armed-intruder training with Columbia police to the group. Over the summer, four representatives from his school attended a classroom safety training program at Fairview Elementary. The group has interest in setting up a similar session to evaluate and improve each private school's crisis management plan.

Once the network is more firmly established, the private school group hopes to plan for professional development by creating special programs and working with faculty to bring in speakers.

Coordinating communication with one another and community members is an essential focus for the group, Shyrock said.

One idea is to build a centralized Web site for all nonpublic schools in Columbia. The site would be a one-stop destination for parents. Additionally, the group would work together to provide information for community publications such as the Chamber of Commerce Web site and Columbia Visitors Guide. No official plans were set at the meeting.

The next step for the private school network is to continue communicating with members and other possible participants. The schools plan to meet again Nov. 13 at Christian Chapel Academy.


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