Michael McKenna on Mars Hill Academy

Michael McKenna is the headmaster of Mars Hill Academy in Mason, OH. Mars Hill has achieved the highest ranking on the CLT for the third consecutive year, and we invited Mr. McKenna to share some reflections on his school and its success on the CLT. 

CLT: Thanks so much for speaking with us today! As headmaster of Mars Hill Academy, could you share a bit about the goals of your school?

MM: Mars Hill’s vision for our students is straightforward yet ambitious: We aim to graduate young men and women who think and listen carefully, who reason persuasively and speak precisely, who are both socially graceful and spiritually gracious. We desire that they distinguish real religion from religion in form only, knowing and loving the Lord Jesus Christ. And all these we desire them to possess with humility and gratitude to God.

CLT: Your school prides itself on its core values. Could you discuss those with us?

Mars Hill Academy has six core values. First, We Possess the Four Loves. Our faculty and staff desire to embody:

1)  Love and commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ;
2)  Love for students;
3)  Love for our subjects; and
4)  Love for classical and Christian education.

Second, We Partner with Parents. True education encompasses both academic development and the formation of young women and men. Mars Hill Academy serves as a trusted caretaker, partnering with parents in raising children in the fear and admonition of the Lord.

Third, We are a Classical School. Rather than chasing the latest fad in educational instruction, we seek to employ the very best of time-tested and proven education methods in human history: the classical method. This method places an emphasis on the “lost tools of learning”—grammar, logic, and rhetoric.

Fourth, We are Distinctively and Genuinely Christian. Faith is taken seriously throughout all aspects of the education and formation of our students. Therefore, our faith should be lived out actively in the school community and our lives should be marked by a striving for personal holiness and God-honoring relationships. Issues of faith and practice are not confined to weekly chapel or a single religion class, but provide the foundation for all instruction.

Fifth, We Value Community. We earnestly share life together: praying for one another, discipling students, enjoying meals together, spurring one another on toward greater faith, serving alongside each other in furtherance of our vision for our school, cheering our sons and daughters on in athletic competition, and in immeasurably more ways. 

Finally, We are Independent. We value our institutional independence. It preserves Mars Hill’s freedom to form our students in a distinctively and genuinely Christian manner.

Education is not a subject, and it does not deal in subjects. It is instead the transfer of a way of life.

CLT: What does education mean to you?

MM: John Ruskin once said, “The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it.” In that light, the most important thing about an education is not what we get from it (degrees, credentials, job opportunities), but what we become by it. We desire that our students become godly, wise, and virtuous men and women who not only know right from wrong, but who know almost right from almost wrong. As G. K. Chesterton said, “The most important fact about the subject of education is that there is no such thing. Education … is instead the transfer of a way of life.” Education involves the transmission of a manner of thinking about the most important ideas.

Historically speaking, one distinguished the education that took place through the study of the Liberal Arts (Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric, Astronomy, Arithmetic, Music, and Geometry) from vocational training programs that taught a student a skill in order to be a productive member of society. Historically, a school like MHA (and most certainly universities and colleges) dealt in education, not in vocational training, which was best suited for apprenticeships and trade schools. The fact that most have abandoned a liberal education for a vocational one provides an even greater impetus for the existence of genuinely classical and Christian secondary schools and colleges.

CLT: What has been your experience with CLT?

MM: We have benefitted from our experience with CLT, and next year will be transitioning our entire upper school (7-12) to this testing platform. Over the past three years, MHA has been ranked the number one school in the nation on the CLT, so on the whole, I’d say our experience has been very good.

CLT: Your school has certainly distinguished itself here at CLT! What has contributed to this success, in your opinion?

MM: Trying to do the right thing in the right way day after day. There’s no secret sauce. I think everything goes back to mission and vision. The rest is fruit from that.

CLT: And how would you describe your students themselves?

MM: They’re regular kids. They come from families who are largely committed to our vision and mission (at least we work to make them so). Some of them work really hard, others need guidance in that regard; some learn what we teach them with alacrity, others need more prodding. Most go on to college, some choose to take gap years or go to technical school and right into the work world after that. Like any school, our student body is a blend.

CLT: Finally, do you have a book recommendation that has been impactful to you or your school?

MM: You Are What You Love, by James K. A. Smith.


If you enjoyed this piece, you might also be interested in our take on some of the identifying marks of a classic book, or this introduction to the principles behind our recently-revised Author Bank. And be sure not to miss out on our podcast on education and culture, Anchored.

Published on 30th June, 2022. Page image of A Young Man Introduced to the Seven Liberal Arts, fresco by Sandro Boticelli, ca. 1484.

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