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Leading with a Mission
At the heart of each charter school is a well-conceived and powerful mission, a shared educational philosophy that guides decision-making at every level. The spirit of the mission appears in slogans on hall placards, banners, and T-shirts and resounds in chants, assemblies, and informal conversations. During site visits and interviews for this guide, parents, teachers, students, and board members easily articulated their school's mission, demonstrating the basic condition that they all begin on the same page.
In some schools, the mission is to prepare low-income, urban students for higher education, students, for example, who enroll with below-grade-level skills and aspire to be the first members of their families to attend college. Such a mission led Roxbury Prep to structure the school day so that every student takes two periods of reading and two of math. Awareness of the school's daunting challenges drives a highly rigorous academic program. Other schools may develop a mission focusing on the needs of the whole child. The Community of Peace Academy, for example, strives to "educate the whole person, mind, body and will for peace, justice, freedom, compassion, wholeness and fullness of life." This means helping students grow not just academically, but emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Founders of the School of Arts and Sciences spent a year researching and designing a school grounded in developmental theory and dedicated to learning by doing. Their mission, centering on the belief that kids are naturally curious, seeks to foster students' self-directed learning, with a strong emphasis on the arts.
Visits to classrooms in these charter schools found students engaged, on task, and learning. A strong, clearly articulated purpose focuses the work, creates a pervasive positive spirit, and promotes consistent expectations from class to class. Teachers are deeply aware that they are creating change, both for their students and also within the larger public school system. At a mission-driven school, it is easier to focus on what will enable students to reach the school's goals and objectives. A clear vision also makes it obvious when teachers are not in sync with the school program and empowers administrators and governing boards to hold the staff accountable. Above all else, the mission serves to inspire and motivate the teachers, parents, and students to make the necessary effort to assure that their school will thrive.