First of all, my school, San Pasqual Academy (SPA), does not have a mission statement Approximately four years ago, I remember participating in a discussion during a school staff meeting about the need for a mission statement, but no one has ever followed through on the conversation. Also, our campus, which is a residential school for foster youth run as a collaboration between multiple partner agencies, does not have a mission statement.
My school district, San Diego County Office of Education’s Juvenile Court and Community Schools (SDCOE JCCS), does have a mission statement, but it was created under previous leadership and is currently just embedded at the bottom of district newsletters. The mission statement is as follows:
JCCS educators are committed to high expectations, social justice, and equality for all students. They value diversity and strive to eradicate institutionalized racism and discrimination in all forms. Their priority is to raise achievement of all students while eliminating the achievement gap between students of color and white students. They accomplish this through the delivery of culturally and linguistically responsive standards-driven instruction, courageous and advocacy-oriented leadership, and relevant professional development. All JCCS community members stand personally committed and professionally accountable for the achievement of this mission.
At last week’s district-wide school year kickoff celebration, it was not even mentioned. Additionally, we do not refer to this statement or its contents during campus professional development. It is in need of an update in order to reflect the work that is currently taking place.
In order to best support our students through focused collaboration, work is needed on three vision/mission statements. There should be one for the entire campus, one for the school, and an updated one for the school district. At SPA, the founders and representatives from all partner agencies should come together to create one statement of vision for the entire campus. After this is created, each partner agency should create a mission statement that clearly states how their organization can support the vision. In order to prepare to draft a mission statement that aligns with both the district and campus vision statements, it would be best if this happened after SDCOE JCCS updated its mission statement.
Before my school can even begin to connect our school’s mission to our stakeholders, we need to first understand our role in relation to the goals of our primary partners--New Alternatives, Incorporated and San Diego Health and Human Services.
As previously stated, SPA is a residential campus. Our students’ “parents” are actually multiple “invested adults” from various agencies, such as houseparents, clinicians, county social workers, and student advocates. Over the past two years, frustration about a lack of communication between the “school side” (SDCOE JCCS) and the “residential side” (New Alternatives, Inc.) has been expressed.
Our classrooms are located squarely the middle of campus and staff often walk through our corridors during school but very few walk into the classrooms. (Conversely, the student/houseparent houses are located within a few hundred feet of our classrooms but very few teachers walk into the houses.) The houseparents recently attempted to form a Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) but backed off due to a lack of support by the school administration. A few have also offered to volunteer in our classrooms, but this has not yet been implemented. Unfortunately, residential staff primarily enter classrooms to intervene during student behavior indents.
An easy step to begin to help the two “sides” work as one group of adults who are educating and raising the youth in our care would be to simply focus on welcoming the houseparents and lead staff into the academic settings of our campus.
If I was a School Leader
If I was in an official leadership position at SPA, I would work to bring many of the traditional parent-teacher communication structures that are in place in many traditional schools to our campus. For example, I would support the formation of the PTO, create a system to support classroom volunteers, bring back parent-teacher conferences, start a weekly newsletter, build a webpage, share a calendar, and use social media to share learning and participation opportunities. Additionally, I would work with the district, teachers, and PTO to host workshop nights for all invested adults, including houseparents and lead staff, focused on topics such as Common Core State Standards, digital citizenship, Google Apps for Education (GAFE), and our learning management system, Haiku. In addition to welcoming the invested adults into the learning environment, I would empower my teachers to feel comfortable making home visits (we could even roleplay if necessary!), nudge them to socialize with campus adults during extracurricular activities, and simply make an effort to learn at least the names of the adults and the house number of each student.
Instead of continuing the practice of making suggesting to my principal of ways to help the residential staff feel more connected to our classrooms and even offering to host campus workshops, I recently decided that I am going to instead focus my efforts on doing a better job of modeling the practices I would like to see implemented schoolwide. I want to increase face-to-face interactions with houseparents and lead staff through actions such as home visits. Also, I want to continue to use technology to share the learning taking place in my classroom through a public classroom webpage, social media, apps, and even simple texts. Later in the year, I may host a technology workshop night focused on Haiku and GAFE. However, I am going to limit myself to just working with my students’ invested adults to avoid the feelings of frustration and disappointment that often result from pitching my big ideas to my principal. Even though this is not my ideal plan, I understand that creating a warm welcoming environment has the potential to spread to make my school a more welcoming place.
My Commitments to Make SPA a More Welcoming Place