Mission/Vision/Values Retreat

About nine months into the process, we convened an evening retreat with the School Committee.

Its purpose was to finalize a new mission, vision, and set of values for the school district.  The involvement of the district or school’s governing body in visioning work will vary from one organization to the next, depending on history, social and political context, and the phase of change in which the organization is engaged.  In the case of Salem, the School Committee had previously drafted a mission and vision for the district, so we felt that it made sense for them to continue what they had begun.

Developing the Agenda

The School Committee retreat occurred after the Spanish-speaking version of the Citywide Conversation in January, but before the second Citywide Conversation in March, so that the input on mission and vision from those meetings could be shared with the School Committee. This also left us with enough time to synthesize the discussions at the retreat and draft a new mission and vision to share at the second Citywide Conversation in March.

We worked closely with the Superintendent and her Senior Management Team to develop the agenda for the retreat. We determined that it made sense for the superintendent to lead some parts of the meeting and for New Profit to lead others. While in the majority of other meetings we played a primarily facilitative role, in this case we felt that it made sense for a third party to lead some of the discussions, given our expertise in this realm.

Review of the Strategic Planning Process

  • Purpose: Provide context so that the School Committee understood where the retreat fit into the overall process and how the outcome would be integrated into the final strategic plan
  • Activity: The Superintendent shared a high-level overview of the strategic planning process, including the current status of the project and the remaining steps. The New Profit team then presented the principles of community-engaged strategic planning, and summarized key themes that emerged across stakeholder groups. as part of laying the foundation for discussions about the school district mission, vision, and values.

Developing the Vision Statement

  • Purpose: Allow for the creation of a new vision statement that truly reflects the feedback and input of community members while also honoring the School Committee's work on the initial draft and giving them the final say.
  • Activity: We shared the definition of a vision statement (an expression of our deepest aspirations for our future and for our children) as well as a few examples of strong vision statements:
    • To put a man on the moon in ten years -- JFK
    • To provide access to the world’s information in one click -- Google
    • All learners believe in their power to embrace learning, to excel, and to own their future -- Albemarle County Public Schools

At the Citywide Conversation, participants had been asked for feedback on the draft vision statement. Via this feedback, we learned that community members did not find the draft vision statement compelling. We shared this information with the School Committee so that they would better understand why a new vision statement was needed.

To jumpstart the conversation given real time constraints, we drafted three potential revised vision statements that were based on the input we received at the Citywide Conversations.  School Committee members then placed a dot sticker next to the vision statement they liked best, and we allowed some time for discussion. The Committee settled on an slight adaptation of one of the three visions proposed. 

Developing the Mission Statement

  • Purpose: Help the School Committee to clarify the core elements of their desired mission statement, leaving aside the wordsmithing that can often hamper progress.
  • Activity: Developing a mission statement is an essential part of the community defining for itself the purpose of education. To advance the conversation, School Committee members answered the following survey questions:
    • What do you think is the most important purpose of K-12 education? Please review the below statements of purpose and rank them to reflect their order of importance to you. The most important purpose of education is to:
      • Prepare students for successful careers
      • Prepare students for higher education
      • Prepare students to be thoughtful, engaged citizens
      • Prepare students to develop and learn to his/her fullest potential
    • How well do you feel that Salem Public Schools is doing fulfilling these statements of purpose? (1=poor job, 2=okay job, 3=good job, 4=great job, or “I don’t know”)
      • Preparing students for successful careers
      • Preparing students for higher education
      • Preparing students to be thoughtful, engaged citizens
      • Preparing students to develop and learn to his/her fullest potential

School Committee members were divided into small groups and given ~45 minutes to discuss the following:

  • What do you believe the non-negotiable elements of the mission are?
  • What is your rationale for choosing these elements as non-negotiables versus others? Why are they important?
  • What are the tradeoffs or other considerations you need to make as you decide what the key elements of the mission should be?
  • Based on the above, draft a mission statement with your group.
  • What questions do you have for the full Committee?

Each group assigned a notetaker who recorded participant’s answers on flip chart paper, and a reporter who shared a five-minute summary with the full group.  (After the meeting, the New Profit team drafted a mission statement that reflected the School Committee’s contributions, recognizing that reaching consensus “live” might pose a challenge.)

Core Values

  • Purpose: Obtain the School Committee's input on the core values of the district.
  • Activity: School districts often give short shrift to articulating their core values, assuming that there is no real benefit to doing so or that everyone is already in agreement.  Particularly when a strategic planning process represents a reset of the district’s priorities, the values must be in alignment with the plan.  Core values are critical because:
    • They express how an organization does its work. They are the ethical standards by which an organization measures itself and invite others to measure it.
    • They guide behavior and govern how people work together to carry out the vision and mission.

School Committee members briefly reviewed the existing values and discussed the following:

  • What do you like?
  • What is missing?

Each group again assigned a notetaker who recorded participants’ answers on flip chart paper, and a reporter who shared a summary with the full group. Following the retreat, the New Profit team reviewed the notes and drafted a revised set of values.for review.  

Following this retreat, the revised mission, vision, and values were shared back with the School Committee. They were then shared with the community at the March Citywide Conversation.