At this time of year I refer to our School’s Mission frequently. It is a time of numerous parent evenings, when they meet the teacher. It is also a time of staff meetings. Today is our first Board meeting of the School year. On almost every one of these occasions the School’s Mission pollinates the conversation like a bumblebee.
At this first Board meeting of the School year, we set goals and discuss plans. We inevitably ask, “how are we going to measure this?” One of the realities of schools is that most of the things that can be measured are not very close to the heart of a student’s experience. We can measure budgets, we can meet admissions targets, we can exceed Annual Fund goals, we can count the university acceptances and scholarships won. We can point to an external validation like the College Board’s recognition of our School as the top AP School in Canada (out of 600) and in the top 60 in the world (out of 18,000). But almost all of these measures occur “at the edges”, so to speak, of the central activity of students and a school, which is to support students in achieving the great potential that is theirs. These measures that we resort to are helpful, as consequences, as desirable outcomes, or as indicators, but they are hard to connect with learning and teaching except in the crudest ways. The deeper analysis that is necessary as a next step is a matter of dialogue, observation and the judgement of those with skills and experience.
In the last conversation I had on this topic of measures, the theme turned to this reality: that in a school, the measure of success is how successfully the School fulfills its mission. In a good school, there will be coherence and congruence between the Mission, Vision, and Strategic Plan on the one hand, and the experience played out on a daily basis, on the other hand. The Strategic Plan will be assembled in thoughtful consultation with perceptive, dedicated individuals who bring their intelligence to bear on the priorities that will make the most difference to the success of the school, which means, in translation, the success of the students. The Mission and Vision will be about the daily life and the future life of the students, which is no simple notion. It is certainly not a product that one can sell more of than the next school. To “pursue the excellence in all of us”, as our Mission states, immediately poses myriad challenges that we aspire to. Many people would stop at the word “excellence”, and shrug their shoulders. Here at SMUS we believe in excellence, and we believe we know what it means for our students. We have thought about it deeply.
We do have measures, and we use them. Even the measures, though, are deployed in the service of our Mission, which I mention for very good reason at this time of year, and at other times of the year:
Our School seeks the excellence in all of us, with passion and compassion. We are a community shaped by the pursuit of truth and goodness, providing outstanding preparation for higher learning and for life.