Jonathan Edmondson, project manager and administrator for the School Box Program from the Herzog Foundation, joined us recently in The Teacher’s Lounge, the Curriculum Trak podcast, to tell us about the work that the Stanley M. Herzog Foundation is doing for the advancement of Christian education. The Herzog Foundation is a philanthropic organization based in Missouri with the mission to catalyze and accelerate the development of quality Christ-centered K-12 education, so that families and culture flourish.
I was first introduced to the Herzog Foundation just a few weeks ago. I happened to learn about it on the same day that I talked to a school who told me that they had had to turn away about 400 students this year. That could be a whole other school–400 students! At Curriculum Trak, it is always our hope and prayer that more people will catch the vision and start Christian schools to serve these students and families who are seeking a Christian alternative in our culture today. So, I was excited to hear about the Herzog Foundation and the work that they are doing. Through this conversation we hope to highlight ways for members of the Curriculum Trak community to participate in some way in the work that the Herzog Foundation is doing.
Michael Arnold: Welcome, Jonathan. Let’s start with an overview of your role at the Herzog Foundation. What do you do? What drew you to the Herzog Foundation?
Jonathan Edmonson: Absolutely. I was K-12 Christian educated in Olathe, Kansas, at Heritage Christian Academy and that was an amazing part of my upbringing. I absolutely loved my time in a Christian school and I think what my parents would say was more important was the spiritual formation that took place, really learning why I believed what I believed.
I went off to college, got an engineering degree, started working in software, and never really imagined I’d be working in the Christian education space. But the opportunity presented itself to be a part of the School Box Program, and after learning about this program and how it was connected to the Herzog Foundation, I was so excited to be a part of that. It involves using an online platform, which was part of my background, but I also was excited because of its mission of catalyzing Christian education and creating more capacity for Christian education in America, which is badly needed.
The Herzog Foundation: Using Money to Do Good Work
M.A.: The Herzog Foundation is a newer organization. You’re just in your second full year. The foundation started as a result of the passing of Stanley Herzog, who started your organization. Tell us about that part of your history.
J.E.: The Herzog Foundation was founded in December of 2020, a very unique time in our nation’s history. Stan Herzog started a railway construction business in St. Joseph, Missouri, and that’s where he’s well known by a lot of people through his business and his impact on the transportation area all across the country, but especially in the Kansas City area.
Stan truly had a heart for Christian education. He was a large supporter of St. Joseph Christian School in St. Joseph, Missouri. That’s where all his kids went. When he passed away in 2019, Stan left a huge part of his fortune to create the Herzog Foundation. He left very few instructions on what he wanted us to do with the money, but he gave a pretty simple directive: to advance Christian education. The first years of the Herzog Foundation have been spent finding out how we could best use the blessings we’ve been given to impact Christian education.
And as we’ve worked through what that could mean, our president, Darrell Jones, came up with these ideas: the training of current schools, the impacting of leaders, and the acceleration of new schools. That’s where we can really have an impact in the Christian education space.
M.A.: As I’ve learned a little bit more about the Herzog Foundation, it’s unique in that it’s set up to spend itself out, right? The clock is ticking. You need to spend all that money. You’re not just going to sit on it and try to be a think tank. You have to use that money to do good work.
J.E.: Part of Stan’s vision was that he saw organizations often tend to start off well as an organization, but their culture can shift, so he stipulated that he wanted his money to be spent in 20 years. He didn’t want people to hold onto it, to think too long. He wanted quick action to impact Christian education.
Now, what we have done is founded the Herzog Tomorrow Foundation which will live on past those 20 years and carry on some of the programs that we offer now. But the initial investment of Stan Herzog is something that is time bound.
M.A.: The timing of that is especially interesting. In this moment when there’s such an explosion in Christian education, so many parents and families are looking for alternatives to the local public, charter, or even private schools in their area, looking for schools that are more Christ-centered and more intentional about spiritual formation.
J.E.: We just feel like this is the exact time when Christian education is at a turning point. And that’s what we’re hoping to jump on and capitalize on, and that’s part of everything that we do. The School Box Program especially is our way of realizing that there needs to be more capacity in Christian education and that has to happen quickly.
The Herzog Tomorrow Foundation
M.A.: As we think about our audience here at The Teacher’s Lounge, most of the people we work with are in established schools. One of the things we want to explore is, what access would they have to the programs that you’re providing? At a very high level, the Herzog Foundation is kind of set up to spend itself out, while at the same time, the Herzog Tomorrow Foundation will be growing as a second rail alongside that. The Herzog Foundation is not open to donations and contributions. Is the Herzog Tomorrow Foundation open to volunteer work, contributions, and so forth?
J.E.: The Herzog Tomorrow Foundation right now is part of our ESA program in the state of Missouri, the Education Savings Account, and they are open for donations into that program. What I would say is that there are a few ways that established schools can get involved in the Herzog Foundation right now that really go along with some of the programs that we offer. There are a few lanes that we run in as a foundation. The first is our communications. What we’re trying to do is make sure people know what’s going on in public schools, or Stan would call them “government schools.”
We want people to be aware of some of the different issues that impact education. The Supreme Court cases that recently came down this last term are great examples of that. We have a few podcasts. One of them is Making the Leap, which is run by a the Stigall family, who recently made the decision to move one of their children from a public school into a private Christian school. They talk with some folks about what it means to make that leap. That’s a podcast for parents who are either considering this move or have recently jumped into the Christian education space.
We also have a podcast called The Daily Devotional for Christian educators and Christian parents, by Darrell Jones, our president. And finally, The Lion, at read thelion.com, is our online publication for any kind of news in Christian education.
The School Box: Getting New Schools Off the Ground
M.A.: All of these resources would be very useful for any Christian school.You can find them all at herzogfoundation.com. In addition to those resources, the bulk of your work is focused on getting new schools off the ground. Are you still in the early stages of helping launch schools right now?
J.E.: Absolutely. The School Box Program was launched in August of 2022 at an event in Loudoun County, Virginia, which I think sounds familiar for a lot of people. It’s a place where the School Choice Movement really gained a lot of traction and a lot of news coverage. Since our launch there, we’ve been inviting more and more schools onto the platform. To describe a little bit about what School Box is, we consider three Cs: Content, Coaching, and Community. School Box is an online platform that gives what we consider an accelerated bachelor’s degree in how to start a Christian school. It includes things that you would find on a learning platform like Kahn Academy, where you go through the various courses. There’s some articles, some videos, some reflections and surveys to go through. That’s the content of School Box., which was developed over the course of about a year in conjunction with some experts who have started and run multiple Christian schools, looking at all the different types from five-day week, to hybrid schools, to homeschool co-ops, to classical and traditional pedagogy. We really wanted it to be a broad resource for everyone.
Where it gets specific is in the coaching aspect. We provide mentors to schools that are going through the School Box Program who are running a school of the same type. That’s someone who’s a head of school, who’s walking alongside and making sure that folks know, How do I do this? How do I put everything together? How do I take what I’m learning in School Box and apply it to my school?
Then we’re also providing community. We have online forums for folks who are also starting Christian schools, and we’re giving people the opportunity to foster connections and know that they’re not alone, because starting a school can be absolutely terrifying.There are a lot of things going on in people’s minds, and we want to make sure that we’re connecting people to others who are doing the very same thing.
So that’s the 50,000-foot view of what School Box is. I’m more than happy to help anyone get started or answer any questions. You can find School Box at HFSchoolBox.com or anyone can reach out to me at email@example.com.
When to Reach Out to the Herzog Foundation
M.A.: I think it’s just a matter of time before pastors start thinking they’ve got to do more than just Sunday school classes and Bible studies and small groups. Is there a minimum set of criteria to meet before someone can reach out to you? Are there things that they need to pull together before the Herzog Foundation will come alongside and help?
J.E.: That’s a great question and the simple answer is no. School Box is a free resource. We’re making it available to everyone, and we want people who are interested in exploring what it would mean to start a school to sign up. We will walk you through the different types of schools. We’ve heard stories of pastors who have started a two-day-a-week hybrid school and just seen it explode because there are so many people who are interested in using that. It costs them very little money. They already have the classrooms and the facilities.They just hire the teachers and go. So there are so many different ways that people can start schools, and we want to provide resources for everyone.
We want to be open for folks who are exploring. School Box gives a really great picture about what it takes to start a school. As you get closer to your launch, that’s when we’d bring across the mentor. At that point there would be a few other requirements. We’d be looking for you to have more of an established plan and timeframe. It’s also really important that if you’re starting something that’s going to be something like a hybrid or a five-day-a-week model, you should have a team. We want them to have support from other people.
We’re seeing all across the country that, even in communities where there are Christian schools, those schools are at capacity. There are waiting lists. And we are finding that a lot of people who are starting schools have been in education for years. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a story start with, I’ve been in public education or I’ve been an educator for 20, 30, 40 years. I could manage a classroom of third graders like it’s nothing, but I need some help starting a school. How do I fundraise? How do I do a market assessment? How do I hire people? How do I build a culture? How do I create a mission, vision, and value statement? That’s where we want School Box to come in and help people understand the steps and guide them through the basics. We have about 30 schools that are currently using School Box projecting to launch in August and we’re open for many more. We’ve been recruiting mentors like crazy and we have the capacity for more. We’re saying, Come on in, let’s do this together.
Established Schools and Boot Camps
M.A.: So, School Box is very helpful for people who want to launch a school. What about established schools? Are there resources there for schools who are maybe a little bit weak in a certain area. Can you help them out?
J.E.: Absolutely. We run what we call the Leadership Development Series, and that’s a series of boot camps. Boot camps are not for the faint of heart. The boot camps provide an intensive three or four day conference that goes through a topic. We recently just closed up a marketing and enrollment boot camp and we’ve heard amazing stories of people saying, Oh, I never thought about how my website should be affected. I never thought about search engine optimization. We really get into the weeds about how your school can improve.
The Leadership Development Series includes six different boot camps that are absolutely free. We say you just have to pay to get here, but once you’re here, it’s free. Here can mean Smithville, Missouri, at our brand new conference center, or it can mean we’re on the road coming somewhere near you. There are 50 different boot camps scheduled next year.
Our focus is not necessarily on things like contributing to people’s capital campaign for a new gym. Rather, we focus on things like:
- How can we sustainably operate in the long run?
- How do we market ourselves well?
- How do you deal with leadership change? That’s a huge thing because the average Christian school experiences a leadership change about on average every three years. How do you weather that?
- How do you work through that board and governance structure? How do the administration and the school board work together?
M.A.: What is the structure of a boot camp like?
J.E.: They range anywhere from two to four days, including some travel days, of course. We’ll put you up, and we’ll feed you some really good food.
Teacher of the Year Award
M.A.: You also do a program called The Teacher of the Year Award. Tell us a little bit about that.
J.E.: We see a lot of negative stories about Christian education coming from the mainstream media. What we wanted to do with The Teacher of the Year Award is highlight the best, highlight the great things coming out of Christian education.
This last year (our first year with this award) we awarded12 recipients. We flew them, their spouse, and their head of school to Washington DC. We had a big gala and we celebrated Christian education and the accomplishments of these men and women.
Nominations for this award open in January, so if you think that you have a teacher in your school that is just knocking it out of the park, we would love to have you nominate them for the Teacher of the Year award. We’re really excited about doing this year two and beyond. If you’re a head of school and you know a teacher who’s doing great work, you could get a free trip out of it if your teacher wins. So, I don’t see what’s wrong with that!
Any Christian school in the United States can nominate a teacher. We want to hear the story, and that’s really what it’s based on. It’s based on the stories and the commitment that these teachers have, and we want to honor that. We love hearing those stories.
M.A.: That’s great. You’ve got a lot of things going on: The Lion, podcasts, The School Box, the boot camps, the Teacher of the Year Award. I think these are all stellar programs to not only promote startup schools, but to strengthen existing schools as well. And all this is just since 2020 when you launched.
J.E.: We think that we’re off to a great start. We’re building the plane while we’re flying it, but we’re ready for more and we’re excited for what 2023 and beyond will hold.
M.A.: I should ask if anybody at your organization gets any sleep, but it sounds like you’re all passionate about extending and encouraging and equipping faith-based educators. And at Curriculum Trak, we’re excited about that as well, so thank you for joining us today. It’s been an honor to hear from you.
J.E.: Great. Thank you so much, Michael.