Sheep Shearing and The 4 Way Test: Lessons from my Grandfather

When I was set to graduate from Duke University, my grandparents came in for a visit, and I had the chance to proudly show my thesis to my grandfather, Dr. Johannes Olsen (Poppa). He was a principal, a professor, and a lifetime overachiever. He was also one of my most significant heroes. That’s why, when he sat down and took my thesis apart line by line, I was devastated. He challenged every assertion and harped on each detail. He was not a man to let an opportunity to learn pass lightly, nor to leave a good idea alone when a better one may be found.

One of example of Poppa’s desire to improve came in the mid-1970s when he became the principal of a high school in rural Vermont. As he settled into the role, one issue kept popping up. Every couple of months, there were significant student absences. Like clockwork, students would miss up to two weeks of school. After a little asking, Poppa discovered that students were following the sheep-shearing schedule, not the school calendar. So, rather than fight the economic driver of the region, he set to work figuring out how to work with it. The result was one of the first “track-out” models of school scheduling. Not stopping there, Poppa - who had already completed his coursework for one Ed.D. at Columbia and was gearing up for another - began to research the effects of this new schedule on student learning. As you’ve likely guessed, it went up. It went so far up that he became an early apostle for the schedule – even testifying before Congress on its benefits to students.

Fast forward 40 years to the founding of The Oaks, and you’ll find that this novel approach to scheduling is one of our distinctives. Though we are not the first school to implement a year-round, track-out model (4 weeks in school, and 1 week out) for our schedule, we decided upon it because we believe that it is the best model for student learning. At The Oaks, we knew that we had the opportunity to create a school from a blank slate, and we wanted to be deliberate, informed, and intentional with that process. Policies and practices at The Oaks support current research as well as proven ideas in education. We are committed to frequent self-reflection and to evolving to meet the needs of our current generation of students.

Another lesson from Poppa was centered in Rotary International’s 4-Way Test. It is a simple, effective lens to be applied before any decisions are made, consisting of these four questions:

1. Is it the truth?

2. Is it fair to all concerned?

3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships?

4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

A committed Rotarian, who served as club President and District Governor, Poppa applied the test to daily life and encouraged his family to do the same. Indeed, as a school, we use a similar methodology, asking similar questions in regard to our curriculum, our school model, and our physical spaces; “Will this further the Kingdom? Is it research-based? Is it a benefit to our students, our faculty, and our families? Does it further the school and family partnership? Is it aligned with our mission and vision?” These questions and more are often the centerpieces of our discussions, deliberations, and our decisions. We are a school built for the glory of God, and are called as such to be excellent. We believe that our many distinctives, including our schedule and our habit of self-reflection, will allow us to achieve and sustain excellence in all we do.

At The Oaks we are striving to be a new model of school for a new generation of students, formed in research and reflection. We’re grateful for all the Lord has done to establish this school already, and we’d love for you to come and see The Oaks for yourself.

All the best,


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4921 Randolph Road

Charlotte, NC 28211


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The school does not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, color or national origin in the administration of its educational programs, admissions policies, financial aid policies, employment practices or other school-administered programs.