Brett McFadden: A new vision, mission and core values for our high schools
Early explorers often used the North Star as a point of navigational reference. This, along with other means, gave them a reference by which to plot and check their courses.
Like the early explorers, great organizations must also know and adhere to their “true norths” in order to fulfill their missions and goals. An organization’s focus and direction are often defined via a set of vision, mission and core values. This applies to both private and public organizations alike.
In this month’s column, I am excited to share the genesis and purpose of the new vision, mission and value statements of the Nevada Joint Union High School District. I will also share how those statements will influence the direction of our district in years to come.
First, some background. Last March, members of the district’s Board of Trustees began laying the groundwork for a new state-mandated Local Control Accountability Plan, required by the state every three years. As the district’s elected policy makers, it is the trustee’s job to set the direction and vision for district policies and programs.
The trustees took their responsibility seriously. They completed an analysis and assessment of the district. They engaged in a theming and prioritization process to identify key NJUHSD values. One of their meetings was facilitated by an expert in developing vision, mission and value statements. The Board arrived at consensus in December 2019, and adopted the district’s new vision, mission and value statements this past January (see sidebar).
Our new vision, mission and core values will guide the district for at least five years, overarching two three-year Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAP).
Those locally-intrinsic value statements provide the framework for the district’s newest LCAP. That’s the good news. Unfortunately, state bureaucrats have dictated the format for an LCAP, which is at best unwieldy. The template has not been popular with those charged with drafting plans, nor consumers trying to wade through the cumbersome design. Few people end up reading school district LCAPs; our district’s last plan was more than 100 pages!
It is therefore no surprise that in the past, many school districts developed LCAP documents and a distinctly separate strategic plan. Even in our district, we developed a full-blown LCAP, but also maintained a separate strategic plan. Unfortunately, the two were not entirely aligned with each other.
With input from our district and other education leaders throughout California, state officials revised the LCAP template. While further refinement is welcome, there are a few improvements this year, such as several summary sections at the beginning of the document. Those summaries will include financial reports showing where we’re spending tax dollars, how much per student and per classroom, etc. Readers who want to take a deeper dive can get into the fine details of plans in ensuing pages.
Most importantly, in our district, the LCAP and strategic plan will be one and the same.
Ours will be a working, living document that we will utilize to assess our strengths and weakness, and identify successes and areas in which we can improve. The state says the LCAP must be in place for three instructional years. Our district will examine and revise our LCAP/strategic plan on an annual basis. That said, our core vision, mission and value statements will remain steadfast.
Our district’s LCAP/strategic plan is currently in development, led by a 38-member advisory committee comprised of teachers, administrators, classified personnel, parents, students and community/business leaders.
I am committed to sharing the district’s vision, mission and value statements with the community as our district develops its strategic plan. Just this week, I provided presentations to the Grass Valley City Council and Nevada County Board of Supervisors. I will continue to introduce our vision, mission and values to other local government agencies and community organizations.
I will also encourage people to offer input. We have established an online survey where people can submit ideas and suggestions (see below for a link to the survey). We will also host community meetings, and district leaders will make themselves available to groups that want to talk strategic planning over a cup of coffee.
Going forward, the district will refer to our core values when we evaluate new ideas and proposed programs, and gauge our progress in all areas of education from curriculum to facilities. If a proposed project does not meet our vision, help us obtain our mission, and fit our values, then we’re not going to do it. Our vision, mission and values are our North Star, of sorts, which guide our decisions and plot our actions.
One thing school districts and other public agencies confront is “mission drift,” when they veer away from their core missions. Mission drift is an almost irresistible force. Our strategic plan will help our district stay the course.
The state mandates school districts adopt and submit their LCAPs to local county offices of education no later than June 30 each year. To meet that deadline, our district’s draft will be ready for public comment and review by trustees in late May. A public hearing at a Board of Trustees meeting will be held in early June, with final adoption scheduled the third week in June.
What is revolutionary about the process NJUHSD has embraced is we remain focused on our core values. Any school district can get lost in the latest shiny thing off the shelf. In some districts, the mindset is, “This worked over there, so let’s do it here.” I call that initiative overkill. After a while, the incessant implementation of new, radically different ideas simply wears people out. Some people decide to remain in their silos and await the next big change, because they know yet another change is just around the corner.
Our district is playing the long game. Our value statements will direct the work we will accomplish within our professional learning communities, our restorative practices and universal design for learning.
We will consistently seek input and buy-in, and at the same time, we will remain true to our vision, mission and values.
We encourage the community’s input. To participate in the district’s 2020-21 LCAP survey please go to our website at http://www.njuhsd.com.
Nevada Joint Union High School District Superintendent Brett W. McFadden writes a monthly column for The Union. He has more than 29 years of education leadership and policy experience statewide. Freelance writer Lorraine Jewett contributed to this column.
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