School Startup: A Clear, Compelling Vision Is Critical to Success

A clear, compelling vision is essential for all schools, regardless of their developmental stage. However, at no stage is it more important than startup. The vision for a new school drives practically all decisions during startup and beyond. Schools will experience greater success with student learning, faculty and staff performance, and parental satisfaction when the school's vision is clear and compelling. A strong vision focuses attention on student learning, describes the school's educational philosophy, culture and values, and establishes the school's direction.

The school's vision statement is the foundation for the most important aspect of preparing to open a school – the selection of the faculty and staff. Teachers and leaders determine the quality of the school's services, student learning, parental satisfaction and more. Arguably, there are many types of excellent teachers and leaders. The trick is to have the right excellence on the bus. An excellent teacher for a traditional school that emphasizes rote learning will probably fare poorly in a progressive environment with an inquiry-based approach to teaching and learning. A well-developed vision and mission statement will drive faculty and staff recruitment and help avoid poor teacher-school matches. Every faculty and staff member getting on the bus to open the school must be completely devoted to the school's vision and mission.

Similarly, parents need to know the kind of experience they and their children will have in order to make an informed decision. A well-developed educational philosophy gives parents a good picture of academic and social expectations, values, and school culture. Parent satisfaction or lack thereof can make or break a school in the early years. It is imperative that parents truly understand the school's mission, values ​​and culture. Incongruity between expectations and reality can cause serious dissatisfaction among parents. Conversely, when parents' hopes and dreams for their children are aligned with their school's philosophy, mission and services, the results are positively powerful.

Schools are complex institutions. In the absence of a strong vision and mission, the educational program becomes fragmented, student learning suffers, faculty morale declines and parents are less satisfied. Without a clear notion of what is important, work can become unfocused and feel like drudgery. Without a clear sense of direction, planning and decision making about programs, curricula and instruction can be unwieldy. A clear, compelling vision helps everyone in the school community stay focused on the purpose of the school and the reasons for being part of the school community.