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Rossier doctoral researcher Vance Nichols presents new leadership theory

Vance Nichols

Vance Nichols

USC Rossier doctoral candidate Vance Nichols introduced an organizational leadership theory on February 12 at the California Leadership Summit of the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), helping explain why private faith-based schools close.

Nichols began studying the phenomenon of Christian school closures while a master’s student from 2003 to 2006. His research revealed that failed leadership, not finances, was the chief reason that private evangelical schools close. Since 2006, Nichols—a two-time former head of school and currently chief academic officer of a private school system in Southern California—has continued studying Christian school closures, which have become even more widespread since the release of findings from his initial study. It is estimated that since the year 2000, over 100 private Christian schools in Southern California alone have closed their doors, most in areas categorized as being urban, said Nichols.

As a result of his ongoing research, including pre-dissertation and dissertation work at USC, Nichols has uncovered 33 “Danger Signs” that precede the closure of private, evangelical, Protestant Christian schools, including preschools and K-12 institutions. One of those danger signs, Nichols posits, appears to occur without exception at schools that close. He has coined this organizational pitfall “Repetitive Inaction Disorder Theory.”

“When the highest levels of leadership at Christian schools repeatedly fail to act to correct a problem, it becomes a pattern, an institutional way of life, putting the school at risk,” explained Nichols. “If that pattern isn’t stopped, it becomes an organizational dysfunction, then a disorder. Just like a severe illness, if treatment doesn’t happen immediately, the patient—in this case a private school system—will die.

“When leadership failed to act, especially at the school board level and at the pastoral level where schools were sponsored by churches, this became an insidious pattern of wait and see, wait and see, wait and see… until there was no longer a school at which to wait and see,” said Nichols. “The sad thing is that almost nine years after the preliminary findings were released and after numerous conference and university presentations, the problem still persists.”

Nichols, who has served in education for 32 years, is finalizing a manuscript, titled Schools At Risk: Why Christian Schools Close and What to Do About It. During his dissertation research at USC Rossier, Nichols plans to interview Christian leaders from around the country, collecting and analyzing data regarding the factors that are endangering the Christian school movement in the United States. His research is projected for completion in the spring of 2016.

Nichols, a Rossier Noodle Innovation Scholar, will be one of 18 students attending the April 2015 ASU+GSV Summit.