Mission Statements: Keep It Focused and Short -- or Not

By Mcgraw, Carol | The Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO), February 25, 2012 | Go to article overview

Mission Statements: Keep It Focused and Short -- or Not


Mcgraw, Carol, The Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO)


Eighth grader Tiana Dimas-Williams is poring over a list that includes these eight words and phrases: graduate, knowledge, attitudes, behaviors and contribute to the common good.

Tiana's understanding of common good, she says, means "building character in students so in the future the society can be better."

Many of the two dozen parents, teachers and school board members listening nod in agreement.

This volunteer group, the third to assemble, is laboriously critiquing a draft of a new mission statement for Harrison School District 2.

The old mission statement once was painted in bold letters on the wall and repeated at board meetings by specially chosen students after the pledge of allegiance. It's gone, obliterated by a fresh coat of burnt orange paint.

Still, School Board president Deborah Hendrix can recite it by heart.

"I think it's the first time in more than 20 years we painted this room, and that is the last time we updated the mission statement," Hendrix said.

A mission statement is more than a decorative touch.

"It's important for any organization to state what they are in business for and a school district is no different. It requires everyone to put some skin in the game," Hendrix said. The new mission statement will reflect D-2's emphasis on college and career readiness.

Many other districts are creating new statements or revising ancient ones long ignored. It's a reflection of how districts see themselves more like businesses. Companies and non-profits traditionally have been most likely to have such statements. (Coca Cola Company's mission, in part, is to "refresh the world.")

The website missionstatements.com, warns, "Any entity that attempts to operate without a mission statement runs the risk of wandering through the world without having the ability to verify that it is on its intended course."

School districts use mission statements for direction and inspiration, and also for such things as employment ads to give potential school administrators a clear idea of what the district expects. The statements are sometimes required when writing education grants.

There doesn't seem to be rules on creating mission statements or the companion "vision" statement. Sometimes they are one in the same and are part of more detailed goals.

In the aftermath of Columbine shootings, a state law requires school boards to address safety concerns in their missions. Some put it right into their main statements, but most relegate it to other guiding documents.

Douglas Brooks, a Miami University professor of education, on the website Hotchalk, says vision statements are the big picture and should be easy to remember and short enough for a business card. Mission statements tell how the vision will be carried out.

But many school districts concentrate on just one statement, short or long. Others put them together in a substantial document.

"There are two camps. Some think the statement should be concise, other believe it should be more detailed," said Brad Stauffer, associate executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards. Bottom line, he says, "They are guideposts." CASB can help districts forge such documents. And yes, CASB has a mission statement, which Stauffer keeps on the wall by his desk.

It was difficult to whittle goals down to a few short sentences, noted Karin Reynolds, deputy superintendent of Academy School District 20. "But it is one of my favorite things to do. We usually work with details, concentrating on operations, and this is a chance to think about the big picture."

D-20 started from scratch in creating new mission and belief statements a couple of years ago, with help from 25 parents, students and community members. …

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