The day after meeting Professor Matsko, our group had the opportunity to meet with the director of UChicago Charter Schools, Mr. Shayne Evans. In contrast to past meetings where discussion revolved around what we should expect to accomplish several years down the road, we instead talked about what our group needed to get done during the summer.
Shayne placed much importance on solidifying our mission statement – what defines us, and more importantly, what sets us apart from other schools. Our mission statement should comprise of two parts:
1) A succinct and broader statement that represents who we are in a nutshell
2) A much more extensive statement that describes the structure of our school and curriculum in detail
If there are issues with our program in the future (as there are sure to be), we need to be able to look at our statement as the guideline by which we make any decisions.
In addition, Mr. Evans also explained the importance of being distinguishable. Many schools try to do everything, and end up spreading themselves too thin. It is more effective to first become great at a few aspects in education, and then develop weaker areas as the school continues to develop. “Be strong at 2 or 3 things, good at 4 or 5, and work on improving everything else”.
That’s something that I hadn’t really considered when we first began constructing our school vision. With all of us bringing different perspectives to the table, I imagined that we would create some sort of conglomerated super-curriculum. Unfortunately, it’s not so simple. Especially as the charter school scene has become increasingly competitive, being “generically great” isn’t sufficient. Even if we were to create school with high marks across the board in all areas of education, we have to become distinguishable.
UChicago Charter School Woodlawn Campus (UCW), distinguishes itself from other schools through a focus on sending young historically underachieving African-American students to college. Starting in middle school, these students visit college campuses throughout the country. Banners of the most prestigious colleges in the nation are displayed in the hallways. Even the uniforms of these students are marked with the phrase “college-bound”. All of this is directed towards creating that environment, that attitude within students that they can go to college and succeed. ChiArts, the Chicago High School for the Arts, emphasis is on the visual and performing arts. They also have common core classes that other high schools have, but here the distinguishing feature is the emphasis on the arts.
What will people associate our school with?
To help us determine what that is and what our mission statement will be, every member of the Mosaic Educational Project will be making visits in the next two months to different schools around the nation, observing every aspect of how schools function. We will be talking with students, teachers, principals, policymakers, parents – anyone that is involved in the education of America’s youth.
Towards the end of our discussion, Mr. Evans told us that no matter what our statement and structure is, all of us have to commit to it 100 percent, even if it doesn’t match up exactly with everything we want in a school individually. 100 percent. Not 70, not 90, not almost 100. But 100 percent. We have to be able to market our vision to potential investors, parents, and to students. We have to convince teachers that our vision is one worth becoming a part of. If we can’t commit to our own mission, how do we convince others to trust us with their students?
For sure, it will be difficult, and I don’t know how far we will go. We have to be ready for the flame to go out over and over again, and still have the determination and creativity to rekindle that fire a different way every single time until we get it right. Considering how we have even gotten this far, and witnessing the energy and commitment that everyone has placed in this project up until now, I believe that this 100 percent mentality is in reachable territory.