Wednesday, December 4, 2013

HA Graduates Excel in College

  “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”   – Derek Bok, former President of Harvard University

Let’s talk about the proverbial elephant in the room: HA is more expensive than our public and private school competitors in Dothan. Sure, we’re almost half the average cost ($22,700) of independent schools, nationally[1], and we are significantly less expensive than our peer schools in Montgomery[2], Birmingham[3], and Huntsville[4]. Still, I understand where we are – we’re not in Montgomery, Birmingham, or Huntsville; we’re in Dothan.  Moreover, I certainly understand that a Houston Academy education is a huge financial sacrifice for our families.

So, the question is: “Is it worth it?”

Speaking solely in terms of finance, I think we can predict some value with a Houston Academy education.  Over the last five years, our students have been awarded $16,874,012 in scholarships. That’s an average of $73,686 awarded per HA graduate.

However, as we all know, getting into college and getting a scholarship is one thing; keeping that scholarship and graduating from college is quite another. So, that begs the question of how our students actually perform once they get to college. Anecdotally, we always hear from our students how well prepared they are for college, but recently I received some hard data from Auburn University that should be very encouraging to our stakeholders.

Auburn sent us a report of how our graduates who attended Auburn have done through the spring semester of 2013.  What Auburn tells us is instructive. 

 To understand these statistics, we need to talk about what research tells us is a good predictor of college GPA.

Not to confuse you too much with statistics, but a common statistic in educational research is Pearson’s r. Pearson’s r is a correlation coefficient, which in layman’s terms, means that Pearson’s r measures the strength of a linear relationship.

Accordingly, as the value of r moves in either direction away from 0, the strength of the relationship gets stronger. Generally speaking (and there is certainly academic debate about this), an r-value of .40 or higher is considered to be a strong, positive relationship; an r-value of .30 or higher is considered to be a moderately positive relationship; and an r-value of .20 is considered to be a weak, positive relationship. Any r-value below .20 is of negligible strength.

In short, research I find to be fairly reliable (Richardson, Abraham, & Bond, 2012), indicates (not surprisingly) that two of the strongest predictors of college GPA are high school GPA (r = .40) and ACT/SAT score (r = .34). Academic self-efficacy is also a fairly strong predictor of college success, but that is a discussion for another time.[5]

In any case, the data that Auburn sent us tells us three things:
1.     Our students are doing MUCH better at Auburn than the general student population;
2.     Our students are doing better at Auburn than either their high school GPA or ACT would predict[6];
3.     The lower our students’ ACT/SAT scores and high school GPAs, the larger the difference between our students’ GPAs and other students at Auburn.

Without betraying any confidentiality, the table below illustrates that the cumulative GPA for HA graduates who are freshmen at Auburn is 3.76, while Auburn’s average freshman GPA was 3.05. That means that our HA graduates had GPAs that were .71 higher than the Auburn freshmen population, at-large. For our students who had an ACT score in the 28-36 range, the average, cumulative GPA was 3.91. For all other students the average GPA was 3.34 – a difference of .57. When comparing high school GPA to students’ GPA at Auburn, you can see that our graduates are earning a GPA at Auburn that is equal to or higher than the GPA they earned at HA.  That is NOT the case for other Auburn Freshmen.  On average, most Auburn freshmen are doing worse in college than they did in high school.  What was most interesting to me in this regard was that our students who had GPAs at HA between 2.50-2.99 had the largest, positive difference from their Auburn counterparts (almost a full GPA point!).

Certainly, HA graduates’ relatively higher college GPAs will make a big difference when it comes time to apply to medical school, law school, or graduate school. Likewise, a higher college GPA certainly can’t hurt when it comes time for our graduates to get a job in an increasingly global and competitive market.

Of course, any statistician will tell you that we should be careful about extrapolating results like this to all our graduates or even attributing causation. However, when combined with HA graduates’ stories of how well prepared they are for college, we can reasonable assert that our primary mission as a college preparatory institution is being met.  Moreover, the ACT data would seem to contradict the notion that there is no benefit to the rigorous education provided at HA and that “smart kids” at other public and private schools across the state will do just as well as HA graduates. The fact is, on average (and in every single individual case), HA students are performing better than their peers at one of the nation’s premiere “Doctoral/research universities."

As an HA parent, I would classify that as good news!

Freshman GPAs at Auburn University

Auburn Freshmen/Houston Academy Graduates
All Auburn Freshmen
ACT of 28-36
ACT of 24-27
ACT of 20-23

HS GPA of 3.5-4.0
HS GPA of 3.0-3.49
HS GPA of 2.5-2.99

[5] My dissertation dealt heavily with the concept of self-efficacy, which in this sense is, basically, the belief that one’s hard work pays tangible results in terms of grades.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Athletic Statement of Purpose

One of the verities of modern organizational theory is that every organization should be mission-driven.  Houston Academy's mission is:

Houston Academy is an independent college preparatory institution. Our mission is to prepare all our students for responsible participation in a global society by providing an excellent learning environment and opportunities to achieve their highest academy, social, and creative potential.

My letter on the web page briefly elucidates what our mission means to us. Nevertheless, the idea is that everything we do, from strategic planning, to teaching, to athletics, should point back to the mission. That is, anything we do should be consistent with the mission of the school. Or, as my former Head, Clay Lilienstern used to remind us, “Stick to the mission!”

However, it is also important, under the umbrella of the mission, to have statement of purposes for various facets of the school.  That is, we need to be clear what the goal and intent is for different aspects of the school. Relative to the academic mission of the school, we have formed a teacher-led Academic Council in both the Lower School and Upper School. We expect these two groups, in part, to forge goals, evaluate and frame teacher performance, and assess learning outcomes. Over time, I expect us to publicly clarify specific goals within our academic program.

Upon arriving at Houston Academy, I also called upon Jim Robbins (our Athletic Director) and his coaching staff to come up with a statement of purpose for our athletic department. Everyone agreed that this was needed, and we look at it as a first step towards clarifying policies and procedures.  So, I proudly present to you our finished product.

Admittedly, the group borrowed heavily from other examples of statements of purpose at other like-minded independent schools. Still, I believe this statement captures what we believe to be the purpose of our athletic program, and our statement is wholly consistent with our mission. Please take the time to peruse our statement, below.

As always, your feedback on this is welcome and encouraged. 

Houston Academy Athletics
Statement of Purpose and Intent

The HA Athletic programs exist to further advance the school’s Mission Statement in the lives of as many of its students as possible with specific emphasis on instilling “providing an excellent learning environment” and helping each student athlete to achieve his or her “highest…potential.” Athletics provides a living laboratory of learning where coaches consistently model and teach the principles of integrity, honesty, respect, responsibility, and excellence.  In addition to the educational purpose of HA athletics, the program has two other purposes:  to aid in the attraction of multi-talented students by promoting an awareness of overall school excellence in the community and to encourage the creation of “school spirit” by developing loyalty and a sense of identification with the school.

To live up to these purposes, the athletic experience at HA develops the whole person by emphasizing development of the student athlete’s body, mind, and spirit through emphasis on the following:              

  • Discipline - Placing team before self and future accomplishments ahead of current comforts.     
  • Vision - Helping the student athlete understand and embrace what can be accomplished with the combination of individual effort, teamwork, and a winning attitude.                                                                                                   
  • Passion – Unleashing each student athlete’s personal drive for excellence by creating a positive environment where working hard, both individually and together is fun.                                                                                  
  • Conscience – Conducting all elements of the athletic experience in an ethical and uplifting manner with emphasis on a) two-way respect between coaches and student athletes, and b) outstanding sportsmanship at all times. HA resolutely believes that violation of the Statement of Purpose and Intent in pursuit of more victories is unacceptable.

HA will provide resources to accomplish the above with focus in three areas:                                          
  • Coaches – Individuals who are experienced and knowledgeable in the sport, and who have a passion for the HA Athletic Statement of Purpose and Intent, will be chosen as coaches.  The school will ensure that ongoing training is available to enhance the coaches’ skills in all areas.  The Varsity coach will also be responsible for overseeing lower and middle school developmental programs for his/her sport.  The Athletic Director will complete formal evaluations at the end of each athletic season. These evaluations will measure how successfully the above principles were taught throughout the season.  Winning is one of the goals.  The ultimate measure of success is contained in this document.
  • Training Programs – Training programs will be made available to student athletes and encouraged/directed by the coaches within AHSAA guidelines.  This will include items such as strength training, summer camps, and other leagues or competitions.
  • Facilities and Equipment – HA will provide facilities and equipment at a level that will allow this statement of Purpose and Intent to be fulfilled.  This will require ongoing evaluation and continued investment.

HA strongly believes that success will be achieved when these principles are aggressively and consistently embraced and pursued.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Major Improvements in Communication

Dear HA Family:

Earlier this year, after I finished meeting with all of our HA teachers, I posted a blog in which I noted what our teachers thought were HA’s greatest strengths. Foremost among these strengths was our sense of family. As a part of the same conversation, the faculty shared with me the areas that most needed to be improved.  In short, our teachers consistently indicated that our most significant shortcoming was a lack of communication.

Since July, our leadership team has been working assiduously to remedy that shortage of communication to parents and staff. Today, we officially launch the Tandem Calendar as a major step towards keeping all our stakeholders informed. The directions for registration are linked here, but let me briefly outline what this amazing technology will do for the HA family.

The Tandem Calendar updates school events in real time. You can find our calendar linked at the top, right-hand side of the main page of our HA website. Just click on the “calendar,” and it will take you to a monthly view. You may then click on any given event to get driving directions, details, contact information, etc.

The most convenient feature of the Tandem Calendar is the notification feature. Parents may register and set up your account with Tandem to receive:  
  •  text message alerts,
  •  HA calendar updates on your personal calendar (Outlook, iCal, Google, etc.), 
  •  email alerts when ANYTHING is put on the calendar, and
  • any changes made to events that are already scheduled on the calendar.

In addition, you can choose which activities and events to track so that you will not receive information in which you are uninterested. So, for example, if you register to “track” JV baseball, and Coach Ryan wants to notify the parents that a game is cancelled, the calendar will automatically be changed.  If you are registered, you will be notified via email and/or text message that the game has been cancelled, and you will also be notified if and when the game is rescheduled. Your e-calendar will automatically change as well if it is also tied to Tandem.  For more information on the advantages of the online calendar, I encourage you to read the FAQ from the Tandem calendar website

I should emphasize to those of you who might have concerns about internet privacy that your information will not be used by anyone for marketing purposes, and the calendar does not link you to social media or internet search engines. Tandem calendar is only for your convenience.

Also, to keep everyone informed of the activities and accomplishments of our students at HA, we are now using social media and our web page in place of the traditional PTO weekly email. We are doing this for a number of reasons. Our first reason for this change is that Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter (@HARaiders) allow us to link articles and videos about our students that appear in the local media and on the world-wide web. Our second reason is that social media has a unique ability to reach EVERYONE who is interested in the happenings at HA; plus, it has the added bonus of being able to promote our school and students to the larger Wiregrass community (and beyond). The third reason for using social media is that email does not reach all of our stakeholders (former parents, alumni, grandparents, etc.), and email addresses change—sometimes, frequently. Furthermore, while email is a one-way conversation, social media allows a multi-directional conversation. Parents and students can comment, post pictures, promote events, and congratulate each other. You may have already noticed that we have posted videos, segments from local television news stories, and links to live streaming of our events. All of that would have been impossible with email, and much of the information parents received might not have been very timely. Finally, research that tells us that our younger parents do not even use email on a regular basis. One statistic I saw indicates that less than 40% of people ages 18-27 check email, daily. In fact, ask someone in that age demographic, and they will probably tell you that email is passé.[1]

Keep in mind, too, that you do not need to be a registered Facebook user to look at our Facebook page for updates on our students. Registering for Facebook does have the advantage of allowing you to receive instant messages and updates from Facebook on your smartphone, but you can click on the Facebook link on our webpage and find out what is going on at HA without being actively engaged in social media in any way, shape, or form.

Truly, though, the digital age is here. We can either embrace social media and teach our kids how to use it responsibly, or we can attempt to ignore it. I firmly believe, however, that we ignore social media at our own peril. Students need our guidance and support more than ever in this increasingly interconnected world. Moreover, as a college preparatory school, we need to prepare our students to use the social media outlets they will be expected to use in college and in the 21st century workforce.  

Our hope is that our HA family and the Wiregrass community can use the Tandem calendar, social media, my blog, our counselors’ blogs, our video streaming, PowerSchool, and our MacBook and iPad programs to keep informed and involved in Houston Academy. We also hope we can use our technology inside and outside the classroom to provide a truly global education. It is not enough for our program to be 1-to-1: we need it to be 1-to-world.

If you have any difficulties with the calendar, or if you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me ( or our technology staff of Melanie Woodcock ( ), Aaron Beeson ( ), and Joey Keener (