The following questions have been asked in light of recent challenges between the board of trustees of Trinity Schools, Inc. and the board of governors of People of Praise, its founding organization.
Questions will be marked as “New” or “Updated” for 2-3 weeks.
Jon Balsbaugh, President
What is the relationship between the People of Praise and Trinity Schools?
The People of Praise is the “founding organization” of Trinity Schools. The schools were borne out of the People of Praise’s desire “to educate children in a true and integral Christian humanism” and “to be involved in all that is good in the culture of the world, knowing that science, art, and music are means of human refinement and that industry and commerce are means of human service.”
Trinity Schools continues to be a “work” of the People of Praise, but the People of Praise and Trinity Schools, Inc. are separate 501(c)(3) corporations with separate boards, bylaws, and other structural features.
In order to preserve the founding vision of the schools, members of the Board of Trustees of Trinity Schools as well as the president must be members of the People or Praise. Teachers do not need to be members of the People of Praise, though preference can be given to People of Praise members in hiring.
How exactly are Trinity Schools organized?
Trinity Schools operate as “one school at three campuses.” We understand the unity of the school as a matter of having one mission and vision, one pedagogy, one curriculum, and even one faculty. Each campus is a unique expression of our mission and vision, pedagogy, curriculum, and our faculty’s community of learners. There is considerable unity but also room for local differences.
Our Faculty Manual describes our organization this way:
Driven by our Mission
All the operations of Trinity Schools are driven by our common mission. The mission is that to which we are all ultimately accountable and answerable. Every organizational structure, administrative role, policy, or procedure of Trinity Schools should be answerable to the question, “Does this help advance the mission?”
Overseen by our Board
We are overseen by a board of trustees who are entrusted with assuring the financial security of the schools and assuring that the schools continue to operate in keeping with the mission of Trinity Schools. The board is not an operational board and is not normally involved in operational questions, employment matters, curriculum design, etc. This is the standard arrangement for independent schools associated with the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS).
Operated by the Office of the President
The overall operations of Trinity Schools are organized and executed by the president of Trinity Schools and his office. The president is the single employee hired by the board as the chief executive officer of the corporation.
Run by the Faculty
We have long described ourselves as a faculty-run school. There are several ways in which this is true, the most significant being the fact that there is no stand-alone administration at a local Trinity School campus. The head of school and associate head of school, the deans, local program coordinators, master teachers, and anyone else with an administrative role impacting the educational activities of a Trinity School are each a member of the faculty teaching at least half-time.
Supported by Staff and Administration
The operational and institutional advancement staff (those working in business and finance, admissions, development, messaging, and marketing, etc.) and those serving in administrative roles are understood as supporting the educational work of the school and protecting the community of learners.
Oriented by a Sense of Community
Finally, just as we are driven by our mission, so we are oriented by a sense of community. The faculty as the community of learners constitutes the heart of this community, but we also work to incorporate general principles of community in our understanding of the staff, parents, students, alumni, and friends of Trinity Schools.
What do the board of trustees, the president, heads of schools, and executive directors actually do?
Each of these plays a critical role in the execution of Trinity Schools’ mission and vision. The board of trustees and the president (who is also, ex officio, a non-voting member of the board) work at the corporate level to craft, oversee, and maintain the educational program and to secure the financial viability of the campuses. Local administration provide vital oversight and direction to the execution of this mission at a particular location.
The Board of Trustees
The board is charged with high-level oversight of the mission and financial security of Trinity Schools.
The board is responsible for governance, fiscal responsibility, risk management, and other overarching themes of long-term school guidance. They work together with the president on policies related to the execution of contracts, spending limits, compensation philosophy, employment contracts, enrollment philosophy, and other important guidelines. But they are not responsible for issues concerning the day-to-day operations of the school, including how the various offices within the school operate; decisions on admittance or financial aid; the development of job descriptions and handbooks; hiring, discipline, termination of employees; or the development of curriculum.
The distinction between the roles and responsibilities of the president and board of trustees are standard governing principles of ISACS, our accrediting agency, and typical for all independent schools.
The President of Trinity Schools
The primary responsibility of the president of Trinity School campus is to lead and care for the community of learners and execution of our educational mission as one school at three campuses.
The president of Trinity Schools is the chief administrative officer of Trinity Schools and is charged with the faithful implementation of the mission, educational philosophy, and pedagogy of Trinity Schools as approved by the trustees of Trinity Schools.
He or she directs the work of the local heads of school to guarantee the faithful operation of each Trinity School in keeping with this design; the work of the local executive directors in their task of filling and funding the school and managing the supporting operations of each campus; the work of the local program coordinators in ongoing curriculum development and training; and the work of any vice-presidents and other members of the president’s office.
Head of School
The primary responsibility of the head of school at a Trinity School campus is to lead and care for the community of learners and the execution of our educational mission.
The head of school is appointed as a member of the faculty by the president of Trinity Schools, who serves as his or her immediate work head.
The head of school receives a half-time time teaching load reduction. The associate head of school assists the head of school in the accomplishment of his or her particular duties and receives a quarter-time reduction. Also serving to accomplish the broad aims of the office are the dean of boys and the dean of girls, each of whom receives a quarter-time teaching reduction.
Together, these faculty roles constitute the office of the head of school. These positions are understood as faculty roles rather than administrative positions, in keeping with the founders’ desire that their school be protected from the educational establishment and its penchant to have administrators overseeing schools.
The Executive Director
The executive director is hired by the president of Trinity Schools, who serves as his or her immediate work head.
While the executive director works closely with the head of school, his or her role is fundamentally distinct. The educational mission of Trinity Schools is to establish a community of learners, and the first priority of the head of school is to care for the faculty as a community of learners so that this way of life can be understood and extended to the students. The executive director position was established in large part to remove what had become an increasingly difficult burden and distraction from the head of school – the very important but distinct task of filling and funding the school.
I’ve heard that Trinity School was recently “reorganized.” Is this the case?
Trinity School has long operated as “one school at three campuses” according to a commonly used organizational structure known as “matrix management.”
This means that some things have always been handled locally, others are handled corporately, and others are handled together. We expect unity not uniformity in the schools, and recognize the need for some local differences at each campus. However, at the time Jon came on as president, some of the properly corporate functions related to the mission and vision, pedagogy, and curriculum had been relatively inactive, and in some cases, the campuses had diverged substantially. Jon created a three- to five-year plan for assuring that we were truly “one school at three campuses.” This was an urgent need that had been identified and articulated by his predecessor, Kerry Koller, as well.
Part of this initiative was to restore campus-to-campus connections through all-faculty gatherings, gatherings of faculty-specific to a subject area, or gatherings of other smaller teams of faculty from each campus. Other initiatives included cross-campus updates and notes from the president, informal communication mechanisms, bi-weekly cross-campus meetings, and various operational or institutional advancement “summits.”
During his second year as president and with the support of the board of trustees, Jon began making some minor structural changes within this framework to accomplish the following aims:
- freeing the heads of schools from burdensome operational responsibilities to focus on creating a community of learners among the faculty and students, training teachers, and assuring that the educational mission of the schools is being executed;
- ensuring that each local campus and every faculty member had a voice in curriculum decisions and other matters;
- ensuring that the schools were adequately and appropriately staffed both locally and corporately to attend to operational concerns and matters of institutional advancement; and
- ensuring that, insofar as possible, faculty and staff have a widely known and universally embraced understanding of the school’s mission, vision, and operations.
Some of the organizational changes that have been made include:
- moving more authority and responsibility for business matters to local campuses by hiring an executive director to oversee operations and institutional advancement;
- appointing local program coordinators in each subject area so that each campus is represented in curricular decisions (replacing single program coordinators who may have only been present to one campus);
- creating formal job descriptions, organizational charts, human resources policies, corporate principles, principles for curriculum development, etc.;
- clarifying our budgeting process and giving more authority and responsibility to the local campuses; and
- establishing regular meetings between executive directors, heads of schools, and other leaders across the campuses.
None of these changes have been radical. And although no administrative reorganization is without some tension, in general, the changes have had widespread support from faculty and staff.
Can I see the Trinity Schools’ bylaws? (NEW)
The bylaws of Trinity Schools, Inc. are available here.
What is the history of the governance structures between the People of Praise and Trinity Schools? (UPDATED)
Trinity School at Greenlawn was opened in 1981 and was initially operated directly by the leaders of the People of Praise community. Also in 1981, a new nonprofit corporation called the Center for Christian Studies (CCS) was created for broader purposes. On Aug. 31, 1985, the leaders of People of Praise, by then called the board of governors (BOG), transferred ownership of Trinity School to CCS. This included responsibility for the curriculum, educational philosophy, and the staffing of the school. POP continued to own the facilities. From 1985 until 2000, the composition of the CCS board was identical to the composition of the BOG. It was a separate corporation, but it was a controlled corporation rather than an independent corporation (there is nothing wrong with that).
By 2000, the CCS board had begun moving toward accreditation with the Independent Schools Association of the Central States (ISACS). The CCS board membership became distinct from the BOG, though some overlap in membership was always possible and was almost always the case. In June 2000, two members of the BOG were also on the CCS board. On December 7, 2000 the CCS board, then consisting of Paul DeCelles, Charlie Fraga, Kerry Koller, Kevin Ranaghan, Clem Walters, and Ralph Whittenburg, resolved that CCS supports the ISACS statement of Principles of Good Practice with respect to employment and admission of students and the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Principles of Good Practice. By the end of 2003, both the Greenlawn and River Ridge campuses were accredited by ISACS, CCS had changed its corporate name to “Trinity Schools, Inc.”, and it was no longer a controlled corporation but an independent corporation. In 2010, Trinity School at Meadow View was accredited by the Virginia Association of Independent Schools.
As an independent non-profit, only the Trinity Schools board acting as a whole has the authority to remove someone as a trustee. This is an important feature of our accreditation which requires the school to have “sufficient independence from other organizations or individuals so as to ensure its ability to fulfill its mission and to control its own destiny.”
The three schools are currently governed by one board, and led by the president. The unity and common purpose among the three locations are often expressed in the phrase “one school on three campuses.”
The independence of Trinity Schools as an organization also shields the People of Praise from liability that Trinity Schools might incur and vice versa.
Does Trinity Schools have any policies or procedures in place for conflict resolution or HR matters? (NEW)
We describes our conflict resolution policies in our Faculty Manual this way::
“Despite our best efforts, conflicts and disagreements will inevitably arise as they do in any community or organization. Our institutional principles should also guide us in resolving such conflicts or disagreements. The best way to resolve conflict is to do so directly with the person who is most immediately responsible. This is a matter of right speech. For instance, if one teacher is having students involved in an activity that is too loud for a second teacher to effectively manage his or her class, the second teacher should go to the first and ask if he or she would be willing to quiet down a bit or close the door. In most cases, with a spirit of charitable cooperation, direct communication should suffice. Sometimes such resolution isn’t possible. In that case, the matter should generally be brought to the attention of the person with the next level of authority in the situation, who can resolve the conflict. For instance, if a teacher believes he or she is receiving instruction from the dean of students that is at odds with the school’s approach to discipline and that teacher cannot resolve the matter with the dean, the teacher should take the matter to the head of school. After such appeals have been made, if someone is still not satisfied with the outcome, he or she can always go directly to the president of Trinity Schools with a concern.”
More serious matters are handled by a formal process for investigating and addressing issues of serious misconduct (“conduct that is illegal, immoral, violates adopted policies of the organization or could bring grave harm to the reputation of the school”).
Policies also exist for handling issues of sexual misconduct. In addition to internal procedures, Trinity School has also retained the firm Lathrop GPM to facilitate independent reporting and investigation of incidents of sexual misconduct or the abuse of a child.
Executive coaching and assistance is available to the president, heads of schools, and executive directors. This coaching is designed both to assist them personally and to help them foster collegiality, openness, and respect on their teams.
Trinity School also retains an outside “ombudsperson” to help any employees who may need assistance in determining how to resolve their conflict.
Did Trinity Schools recently change its educational philosophy based on a book called The Risk of Education?
In 2018, the entire Trinity School faculty did read and discuss together The Risk of Education by Luigi Giussani. The book was first published in Italian in 1995 and has recently become increasingly used in serious Christian and classical school conversations. Kerry Koller (president emeritus), Jon Balsbaugh (president), and Bridget Donohue (then assistant to the president for teacher training) all read the book and believed its message was something the whole faculty should seriously consider together. The board of trustees of Trinity School also read and discussed significant portions of the book, and there were no objections to its content, especially in the context of our purposes for reading it together.
However, Trinity School does not root its educational philosophy in any particular book or subscribe to any specific educational philosophy other than our own. That educational philosophy is rooted in the founding vision of the People of Praise, expressed as a specific desire in the Spirit and Purpose:
“[W]e wish to educate children in a true and integral Christian humanism. To this end we establish schools, as well as provide retreats and seminars for youth. We want to be involved in all that is good in the culture of the world, knowing that science, art, and music are means of human refinement and that industry and commerce are means of human service. This implies a certain unique cultural development in the People of Praise which we wish to transmit to our children—Christian concepts of freedom and the ascendancy of the spirit in mankind.”
In the context of this founding vision for education and our stated mission, our particular curriculum, pedagogy, and educational philosophy are the products of what Kerry Koller called a “forty-year conversation.” At several points in that conversation, important books have come along that helped us answer questions we wanted to answer or raised new ideas for us to consider.
Recently, we assembled a list of influential books in the history of Trinity Schools. Those books include:
Adler, Mortimer: The Paideia Proposal, The Paideia Program
Giussani, Luigi: The Risk of Education
Holmer, Paul: The Grammar of Faith
Kirk, Russell: “On the Moral Imagination”
MacIntyre, Alasdair: After Virtue, Three Rival Versions of Moral Inquiry
Maritain, Jacques: Integral Humanism, Education at the Crossroads
O’Connor, Flannery: Mystery and Manners
Pieper, Josef: Leisure, the Basis of Culture
Polanyi, Michael: Personal Knowledge
Vatican Council Gaudium et Spes
Vender, Helen: “The Ocean, the Bird, and the Scholar”
Whitehead, A.N.: The Aims of Education
Wright, N.T.: The New Testament and the People of God, Jesus and the Victory of God
None of these books standing alone represents the Trinity approach to education. Reading them did not constitute a shift in mission and vision. Nor do we end up subscribing to the overall philosophy, sociology, politics, or religious views of any writer when we read one of his or her books. Reading Jacques Maritain did not commit us to the potential socio-political implications of his specific vision of integralism. Reading N.T. Wright did not commit us to all of his theological conclusions. Alfred North Whitehead was not a professing Christian, but we benefited from some of his reflections on the aims of education. Trinity School has long held to Augustine’s principle that “…every good and true Christian should understand that, wherever he may find truth, it is his Lord’s.”
Rather than representing an entirely new direction for Trinity Schools, reading each of these texts contributed a new piece to our common understanding, common conversation, and common language. Concepts like “human awakening,” the “habitual vision of greatness,” “moral imagination,” and “critical realism” are part of a Trinity School education because we have read and discussed these books and adopted some of their principles as our own.
In the case of The Risk of Education, our annotated list of these books describes its role this way:
“Discussing The Risk of Education was one of the major components of our 2018 All Faculty Summit. We drew upon [Giussani’s] work to help us clarify the relationship between passing on a tradition to students and respecting their freedom to accept, reject, or adapt to that tradition. It is a critical text in helping us navigate between the dangers of indoctrination and the dangers of inappropriate neutrality with respect to the divine revelation and the truths we hold in common as a part of our own tradition.”
What we gleaned from The Risk of Education was primarily a framework for thinking about our tradition and how to pass it on with little to no emphasis on the content of that tradition. There would certainly be nothing in our reading and discussion of the book that could be understood as adopting the spiritual principles of Luigi Giussani or the Communion and Liberation movement. (On the other hand, neither is there anything we are aware of that is objectionable in the movement or Fr. Giussani’s writings.)
The purpose of reading and discussing the book was to have a conversation as to whether or not the schools (in the context of the surrounding cultural change and its impact upon our students) were at risk of becoming “neutral schools” in Giussani’s terms, whose concern was only on teaching students “how to think” without presenting them with any overarching account of reality as truth.
Is there somewhere I can read more about The Risk of Education? (NEW)
Currently, the most prominent scholar writing on Luigi Giussani’s educational method is Margarita Mooney Suarez, the founder of the Scala foundation and associate professor at Princeton Theological Seminary. For her take on the value of Giussani for education, consider the following articles:
“Overcoming Flawed Educational Views of the Human Person,” October 17, 2019, in Church Life Journal: A Journal of the McGrath Institute for Church Life
“Tradition and Authority in Luigi Giussani’s Educational Method,” April 15, 2019, in Public Discourse: The Journal of the Witherspoon Institute
“Why Choose Mystery Over Ideology: Recovering the Role of Beauty in Education,” October 15, 2021, in Comment
To one already familiar with Trinity School’s emphasis upon “human awakening,” cultivating a “sense of wonder” and “depth of inquiry” in our students, and avoiding a “teach-test” mentality, the ideas will seem familiar. It is worth stating again what was said above: Trinity School does not root its educational philosophy in any particular book or subscribe to any specific educational philosophy other than our own. Nor did reading The Risk of Education represent a shift in our educational philosophy or pedagogy.
What is a “pedagogy of encounter?” I’ve heard that phrase used recently, but I have been around Trinity School for a long time and hadn’t heard it before. Is this a new thing?
Describing our pedagogy as a “pedagogy of encounter” is little more than a new way of talking about old ideas. In our Faculty Manual, we say:
“Aristotle writes that all philosophy begins in wonder. It is because we wonder about things, he says, that we begin to seek their causes. In the Republic, Socrates makes the case that we begin to think when we are presented with seeming contradictions. The contradictions make us wonder what must be the case. It is a sense of wondering, of curiosity, of awe, which energizes the mind and guides its inquiry.”
Teachers are further reminded in the Faculty Manual, “From the beginning of Trinity Schools, eliciting a sense of wonder in our students has been a primary goal.” Introducing the term “pedagogy of encounter” was a way to reinforce this primary goal and give faculty members new language for an old approach. There were two reasons for this. First of all, terms like “sense of wonder” and “depth of inquiry” can become stale and encrusted over time if one does not look at them from a fresh perspective. Secondly, as was noted when the phrase “pedagogy of encounter” was first used:
“As screen time has risen and childhood “play” has given way to more and more busy and structured lives, the need for direct encounter with reality cannot be overestimated. It would be worth thinking and talking among ourselves about how we can facilitate as many of these direct encounters with reality as possible.”
“Direct encounters with reality” might include observing animals, sketching or doing watercolors from life, looking for instances of erosion, doing physics experiments, etc. Practically speaking, the “pedagogy of encounter” is mostly a matter of how teachers construct their lesson plans. Teachers are encouraged to first provide students with a hands-on experience, intellectual puzzle, or problem to solve before giving them information about a topic. For instance, one way of teaching students how to draw a face would be to present them ahead of time with the standard dimensions of a human face and then ask them to draw a face according to those dimensions. Our “pedagogy of encounter” would encourage the teacher, instead, to have the students themselves try to figure out the dimensions of a human face first, asking questions such as, “Where are the eyes relative to the whole head? How far down are they? Half way? A third of the way? What about the eyebrows? Ears? How big are ears compared to the head?” Only after their own minds have been energized by these questions would the teacher present them with standard information. At that point, what the teacher provides are answers to questions the students themselves are actually asking.
Another example would be dissections in biology class. One way of doing a lab dissection would be to give students a lecture or diagram before they open up the species and tell them what to look for. The “pedagogy of encounter” would encourage teachers to consider having students open up the specimen first, then speculate on the function of the structures they encounter.
The “pedagogy of encounter” is not a stand-alone concept, a replacement for previous pedagogical commitments, or a new direction in our educational philosophy. In the new version of the Faculty Manual, it is nested with other long-held pedagogical practices in a way that makes sense of both old and new as well as the connections between them.
I have heard some conversations about a reexamination of the school’s “Christian identity.” Can you say more about that?
It is vital to Trinity Schools that we remain committed to our Christian mission to “prepare students to be of use to God in the wise care and governance of his creation and the building of his kingdom,” to our founders’ vision to “to educate children in a true and integral Christian humanism,” and our founders’ desire “to be involved in all that is good in the culture of the world, knowing that science, art, and music are means of human refinement and that industry and commerce are means of human service.”
But institutions that remain true to their mission must constantly ask, “Is our mission still being accomplished? Are we still producing the outcomes we say we desire?”
For a number of years now (including prior to the new administration), the leadership of the schools has been discussing Trinity School’s Christian mission, not primarily in terms of our own commitments or principles (which remain unchanged) but in terms of a surrounding culture that is increasingly in tension with and sometimes even hostile towards traditional Christianity. Our students face challenges in terms of their faith and Christian thought that were not faced by students even ten years ago. It is important that we understand the Christian education we provide our students in the context of the new social conditions in which they are receiving it. Many other Christian schools, colleges and universities, and even churches we are aware of are having the same conversation about their role in young people’s lives in this new context.
One outcome of these reflections was the 2018 revision of our statement on our “Culture of Learning and Culture of Christian Life.” We decided it was important that all members of the Trinity School community, including prospective faculty and parents, understand those things that are most central to our mission and vision, including our Christian commitments.
Trinity School’s mission is primarily educational not pastoral. However, the education we offer is robustly and distinctly Christian. It is therefore affected by everything that affects the Christian mission in the world today. We are continually asking ourselves how shifting cultural dynamics are impacting our students and how we should respond to those changes.
Do faculty and staff have to be Christians to work at Trinity Schools?
Our Faculty Agreement states:
“As a Christian educational institution, Trinity Schools, Inc. expects teachers to give good faith assent to the tenets of the Nicene Creed; to be committed Christians and to bear witness to this in their teaching and personal example; to continue as a member in good standing of a local church or parish; to be supportive of the Christian faith, of the People of Praise, and of the educational goals and objectives of Trinity Schools, Inc.; and to maintain good order and proper Christian behavior at all times among those students under his or her supervision through the observance of the disciplinary and behavioral codes outlined in the Faculty Manual and the Parent-Student Handbook.”
Since the creation of our “Culture of Learning and Culture of Christian Life” statement in 2018, prospective faculty who are interested in teaching at Trinity School must also indicate that they do not have any substantive disagreements with the statement.
I also heard that the terms for presidents and heads of schools were recently reduced from six years to one year. Why was this done?
Terms were not reduced but eliminated from our employment language where they existed.
The practice of having “terms of service” for the president and heads of schools was a relatively new one in Trinity’s history. Only the most recent head of school (Mr. Dennis Staffelbach at Trinity School at Greenlawn) was appointed with that understanding.
“Terms” were never a contractual arrangement. Because of this, this distinction between “terms” and “contracts” threatened to complicate the agreement between the school and heads or the president. Having “terms” would also be out of step with standard practice in private school education.
At the suggestion of the president, the board looked into the matter and agreed that the disadvantages of keeping non-contractual “terms” outweighed any apparent advantages. The discussion of terms vs. contracts was a matter that arose because the president’s term was coming to an end. This was a natural time to discuss the concept. It was not a matter of performance for the president or any particular head of school.
All faculty and administrative employment is now governed exclusively by the employee’s contract and the terms of the Faculty Agreement.