Back to the Future

Mission-VisionIt is said that you can never go back. Sometimes though it is necessary to do so in order to move forward.

For school leaders thinking about growth and expansion, it is important to go back and revisit the motivations, decisions, and hopes that spurred the founding of the school. As some member schools approach milestone anniversaries of 15 and 20 years, this can be an especially poignant undertaking. For board members, leaders, and faculty who were part of that founding, it rekindles the flame that may be waning due to the grueling demands of a fledgling and maturing organization. For those who have recently joined the board and staff composition, going back can be an education. The experiences and conversations of the founding story invite them to more fully engage in the mission and lead to overdue ‘Aha!’ moments.

This is the starting point in a careful and critical assessment of mission. Put simply, are we accomplishing what we set out to accomplish when the school was founded?   This question is answered in both sprints and marathons.

Academically, our schools assess both student growth and proficiency and see how well their students progress from entry grade to graduation. If we say that students who enter below grade level graduate at grade level or above, then academic measurements should support that claim. If we say that we instill in students the core values that prepare them for the next level of education, then student achievement (academic and otherwise) should back that narrative. Though these measurements may span three or more years, these are the sprints.

The marathon of our mission may span a decade or more. Many students compare the relationships in our schools to that of family and as a family we accompany students after graduation through our Graduate Support Program.   We are interested in how students are doing personally and professionally as maturing adults because there is a sincere joy to celebrate success and genuine concern to help if needed.   While there are many factors that impact a student’s life, the personal trajectories of our students can illuminate how well we are doing on our promise. If we say that our schools break the cycle of poverty through faith-based education, families should expect the cycle of poverty to be broken.

This past fall, I spoke with almost every school leader in the NativityMiguel Coalition about plans for expansion and whether they are at a point in which expansion will be propelled by assets that are primed or stalled by risks that are looming.

For some schools, honest assessment revealed that they are not accomplishing what they set out to accomplish when the school was founded. Even though the best intentions were there, several school leaders identified minor gaps and a few pinpointed more substantial shortfalls.   School leaders offered a crowd of reasons in hindsight: unexpected or poorly executed transitions in leadership, a school community that lacked urgency and became complacent with status quo, a lack of focus on priorities and too much attention on less important matters, etc. Whatever the reason, these school leaders understand that the first step to move forward is to get back on track.

For other schools, honest analysis revealed consistently high achievement, setting the scene for programmatic expansion or even growing to educate more students. In these schools, the assets significantly outweighed the risks.   In the next few weeks I will connect common threads from my conversations and take a closer look at the assets that play into that expansion such as strong demand, effective programs, a committed board, a talented core team, more viable financial health, valued partnerships, long-term facilities, key leadership and a culture of faith and excellence. Ready? On to the future.

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