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Creating a Collaborative

Vision in Two Years  



As the new superintendent in Carroll County, Md., I inherited a relevant curriculum, a quality staff and a decade-old, 360-word vision statement that had not seen the light of day since it was approved as a board policy in 2001. It was clearly time for a change.

With the board’s enthusiastic agreement and the commitment of the school system’s Community Advisory Council to assist with the process, I set out to create both a new vision and a new mission statement by the end of my first year. Little did I know what dangers and disagreements lay ahead.

After 10 long months of research and debate, the advisory council chair (with full approval of the group) handed me a proposed new vision statement: “Carroll County Public Schools – Preparing Tomorrow’s Leaders.”

Two obstacles now stood between me and success. The first was how to inform my elected board of education members that I intended to move away from our traditional vision and mission statements without blindsiding them in a board meeting. (“Surprise! I am recommending approval of a radically different concept without your input.”)

The second concern was how to flesh out the advisory council’s work into a revised board policy that did not leave out the importance and contribution of each stakeholder.

Expressive Language
To address the first issue, I held an informal board work session in the fall to introduce the new concept.

The second dilemma was a little more challenging and required reflection. Developing a comprehensive board policy from three words seemed impossible. What had I gotten myself into?

I pored over the council’s work papers and considered the message the body was trying to convey about our school system. I also spoke with the council’s chair to gain more insight into its process and reviewed the school board’s current policy. The solution came to me as I connected the process to product.

Months of discussion moved the members of the Community Advisory Council from abstract concepts to concrete thoughts and expressive language. Their rationale for the new vision statement expressed strong beliefs about our school system and the importance of each stakeholder group. In a flash of inspiration, I retitled the recommended vision statement to “Core Statement” and then expanded and revised the Council’s rationale to create a series of core beliefs that covered all stakeholders.

The final product was a revised board policy that started with a core statement followed by the school board’s existing core values and ending with core beliefs. I then introduced the revised policy to the school board for public feedback and discussion.

Over the ensuing several months, we received many suggestions from our school community that would enhance the new policy in substance and format. I incorporated most of these suggestions into the finished document. That only left one problem. The board was divided on the exact phrasing of our new core statement. I went back to the Community Advisory Council, and with its blessing, I changed the recommended core statement to one suggested by our community: “Carroll County Public Schools — Building the Future.”

Final Approval
By December of my second year, I had a final proposal for a revised policy. The language describing the core beliefs of our school system was tight and inclusive and gave depth to the newly recommended core statement.

Like a pyramid, each section of the final board policy supports and defines the one above it. The core beliefs, representing the foundational roles and purpose of all stakeholders, give weight to the core values, which in turn characterize our moral center. Our new core statement sets forth our pinnacle of purpose.

In the end, the school board united behind our new policy, and the old, stale mission and vision concept was abandoned. However, we were not finished. We now needed a visual brand to represent our new core statement in public.

Visual Evidence
The idea for a new logo was floated at the same time as our desire to revise the public school mission and vision statements. However, the new logo had to be put on hold until the new core statement was approved.

Having unlimited access to student creativity, we held a student logo art contest to generate a graphic that would represent our new core statement. The contest lasted several months and yielded more than 70 pieces of student artwork.

In May, the school board approved a logo concept that portrays students reaching for the world to express our transition to a modern educational institution. Students’ success depends on our ability to provide a world-class education that allows them to compete globally. An internal graphic designer took the concept and created our new logo.

So after two years, we’re finished. Our new statement ties purpose and results in just three words, and our new board policy provides the needed depth and meaning. Readers can view our adopted core statement, values, beliefs policy and logo at www.carrollk12.org/about/vision.

Stephen Guthrie is superintendent of the Carroll County Public Schools in Westminster, Md. E-mail: shguthr@carrollk12.org


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