What do you hold sacred about your children’s education? Of course, it varies from parent to parent. But are there commonalities regarding what parents hold in highest regard?
Throughout the 2018-2019 school year, based on my experience as an educator and parent, I’ll explore what I believe are critical overarching features of a quality educational experience.
I’ll cut a large swath across the educational landscape, in the exploration of what I think are the essential features of a quality education.
My initial article in this series focused on care and connection. Parents have to know their children are safe: physically and emotionally. This article focuses on the importance of Mission. At the very core, what does a school stand for? What is its essential idea(s)?
Ideally, the mission of your children’s school resonates clearly for you. “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing,” wrote Stephen Covey, an author and educator. Central to the value and virtue of mission statements is the notion of intentionality. Is there consistent and powerful evidence that a school expounds and acts on its core ideals?
Personal Mission Statements
Before you can be satisfied with the mission of your children’s school you must have a good sense of your own mission statement, especially how it is aligned with the organization’s mission statement. As Covey wrote, “Your mission statement becomes your constitution, the solid expression of your vision and values. It becomes the criterion by which you measure everything else in your life”...your compass, your lighthouse, your North Star.
It is my unequivocal recommendation that everyone have a compass that keeps them from wandering too far off their true path. Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl said it beautifully, “Everyone has their own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein they cannot be replaced, nor can their life be repeated, thus, everyone’s task is unique as their specific opportunity to implement it.”
My personal mission statement is assume goodness. Due to my personal life circumstances, especially a few key people who assumed goodness in me, this notion really resonates for me and thus impacts most everything else in my life.
As the Head of Currey Ingram Academy, my professional mission statement becomes a little more business-oriented. Thanks to the talents and generosity of so many people over the past 50 years, we have been blessed with a truly phenomenal educational environment, so I feel being a world class school for learning differences is my core notion as the school’s leader.
Schools and Missions
Despite being in my 24th year as an independent school educator, I am very much a product of and believer in a vibrant public education system. The ideals (i.e., mission) of public education are critical to the positive evolution of society. Fostering citizenship, social consciousness, educational excellence, career preparation, while at the same time ensuring equal access, must always be the purview of public education.
Private and independent schools will always have their niche in the education market. According to the Council for American Private School Education there are almost 35,000 private schools in the United States. These schools serve 5.7 million PK-12 students. They account for 25 percent of the nation’s schools and enroll 10 percent of all PK-12 students. These statistics have been consistent for over three decades.
Most mission ideals of public and private schools align: essentially all schools strive to advance citizenship, social consciousness and educational excellence. But there are fundamental mission differences that are game-changers for parents. By far the most influential in terms of numbers is faith. Seventy-eight percent of the 35,000 private schools noted above have some kind of religious affiliation. It hardly needs saying that a core belief of some families is that the educational experience must include some sort of formal religious connection.
There’s a much smaller segment of private schools that fall into the category of independent non-sectarian. Parents are attracted by the mission emphasis on “college preparation / rigor”; “individual attention” (often stemming from lower teacher / student ratios); and, “opportunities” (often there’s a greater array of arts and athletics activities). It should be noted, that many public schools and faith-based schools place overt mission emphasis on the ideals noted for independent non-sectarian schools.
With both my sons out of the K-12 system and in their college years, I look back with some satisfaction that they had a healthy variety of educational opportunities, including a very small K-2 public school in Canada, two different “prominent” college prep independent schools in the United States, and an excellent public high school here in Middle Tennessee.
There’s an even smaller segment of schools whose mission incorporates many of the mission ideals noted above but with a critically important focus on a specific type of student. For example, at Currey Ingram Academy our mission is to provide an exemplary K-12 day school program that empowers students with learning differences to achieve their fullest potential. Our lighthouse is to ensure we stay absolutely true to serving students with learning differences.
To the extent that people have choices regarding their educational options, happiness in the educational environment depends on your personal mission aligning with the school’s mission.
We are very fortunate in America to have what is likely the greatest array of public and private educational options in the history of the world. Moreover, after working in a variety of educational settings, it’s clear that Middle Tennessee is a very fertile educational environment for parents. We have great public schools, an array of private religious options, complemented by a host of independent non-sectarian choices, plus schools with very specialized missions, like Currey Ingram.
I welcome your feedback on this an any other Extra Credit article and if you have any questions about school missions, school choices or Currey Ingram specifically, please feel free contact me.
Dr. Jeffrey L. Mitchell is head of school at Currey Ingram Academy in Brentwood, Tennessee.