Debate Magazine

What Does Your School Stand For? (from the Archives)

By Stevemiranda

There’s a great non-profit in Seattle called Rainier Scholars. Its mission is to support 60 young students of color each year on a path through middle school and high school, and all the way through college to help them earn a degree. It’s a fantastic program, and the results are impressive.

One reason for its success, I suspect, is its crystal clear mission. In all aspects of their program, they talk about college. College college college. If you’re not interested in working hard and going to a top college, then this is not the program for you. There’s no mistaking that.

There is a lesson here. Every family in Rainier Scholars chooses that program because it believes in what the organization stands for. In this way, a match is created.

Think about your local public high school. What does it stand for? What is its mission? What does it believe in? What outcomes does it consistently deliver? Is there a match between what the school offers and what kids and families want?

Most likely, your answers to these questions are not inspiring. That’s because most big public high schools don’t stand for anything in particular. Their mission—maybe something like “academic achievement for all”—is typically too vague and too generalized to mean anything.

Finally, it’s unlikely that a match exists between the school and families because the school has never really figured out what it’s trying to accomplish. Many families have reduced their hopes to merely surviving the ordeal with a minimum amount of pain.

One of the best things we can do to help transform our schools is figure out—specifically—what they’re trying to accomplish. And that doesn’t mean all schools should have the same mission. In fact, each school should have its own unique mission.

Once that’s established, schools can go about the business of connecting with families that are a good fit for their particular mission. Either that, or they can continue declaring “academic achievement for all” and stumbling on the never-ending “reform” treadmill.

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