Tuesday, January 12, 2010

RISD and the Vision Thing

This week, the school board for the Richardson school district (RISD) announced a new Vision Statement for the district. I know what you're thinking. Motherhood and apple pie. Ho hum, right? Maybe not this time.

After the jump, what the changes might tell us about what's to be expected from the new superintendent the RISD is searching for.

Last summer, RISD Superintendent David Simmons left the district abruptly. Although contractual obligations prevented both parties from publicly discussing the reasons, a difference in vision and philosophy was mentioned. According to a story by Jeffrey Weiss in The Dallas Morning News Richardson blog, school board President Kim Quirk explained:

"'The board is ready to move beyond what the legislature measures for success,' [school board President Kim] Quirk said. Which means: For the board, the TAKS isn't nearly enough. Members want to see improvements in SAT scores and numbers of National Merit scholars, Quirk said. They want to see greater participation in the vocational classes. And they think that a different superintendent can get them there."

The school board has been interviewing candidates for superintendent lately and expect to name a replacement for Simmons in the coming weeks. Isn't it reasonable to have anticipated that the new Vision Statement the district was working on would be designed to more clearly set expectations for the new superintendent? So, to better understand what differences to expect in the new superintendent, it may be rewarding to study the differences there are between the old and new vision statements. First, the old:

Vision & Goals

Vision Statement
To educate each student in an academically excellent, individually responsive, innovative and inclusive learning community

We Believe That
All students must be challenged.
High performance requires high expectations.
Innovative educators and dynamic curriculum are essential for student achievement.
Diversity strengthens RISD.
The spirit of community is central to RISD.
Continuous improvement yields excellence.
A supportive, safe and secure environment is essential to learning.
Trust and respect form the cornerstone of the RISD culture.
Public education is vital to a democratic society.

We will expect our students to achieve personal academic success.
We will recruit, develop and retain a high-performing and diverse staff.
We will develop individual and civic responsibility.
We will ensure a safe and inclusive environment.
We will foster a high degree of school and community engagement and trust.
We will be fiscally responsible, efficient and effective in all operations.

Unlock Potential, Provide Opportunities and Enable Dreams

The old vision called for academic excellence, but that's a broad goal. There's no assertion that the legislative measures of success are inadequate or call for achievements beyond those. The words TAKS, SAT, college preparation, vocational or trade schooling don't appear anywhere in the vision. Given the old Vision Statement alone, a superintendent could be forgiven if he focused on what the state was measuring. Let's see if the new Vision Statement is more specific about higher expectations.

According to a blog post by Jeffrey Weiss in The Dallas Morning News Richardson blog, the new Vision Statement approved by the school board at its January 11 meeting is:

Vision: RISD - Where all students learn, grow and succeed.
Mission: To serve and prepare all students for their global future.
Values: Integrity, inspiration, inclusiveness, innovation.
RISD Focus: Students are the primary focus of RISD. And staff is the primary focus of administration.

2020 Vision Goals:
Students are highly engaged in their educational life.
Profound curriculum is the foundation for learning.
RISD has high performing, student focused teachers.
RISD ensures excellence in operations.

In the new Vision Statement there's still no way to decide whether to emphasize TAKS or SAT, at risk kids or talented and gifted kids, college preparatory classes or vocational/trade classes. Perhaps the statement that "all" students should learn, grow and succeed implies that it's all of the above. But the old Vision Statement called for educating "each" student. Unless there's a distinction between "each" and "all" that I'm not aware of, I don't see how the new Vision Statement provides any more guidance than did the old.

In a story by Jeffrey Weiss in The Dallas Morning News, trustee Karen Ellis is quoted as saying, "When our new superintendent comes on board, this is the framework they will step into. They will flesh it out. Words will be defined." Words will be defined? I don't think that's exactly what she intended there. Regardless, the implication seems to be that the school board isn't using the exercise of drafting a new Vision Statement to clarify any ambiguities in the old Vision Statement that might have contributed to the disconnect between board and superintendent. Given the results of the exercise, it's puzzling why the school board felt a new Vision Statement was even necessary. The school board missed an opportunity to define a vision specific enough for the new superintendent, the administrative staff, teachers, parents and students to all know the direction the school board wants to see the district move.

And so, for amateur Kremlinologists intently watching the old red schoolhouse on Greenville Avenue for clues about what to expect from the new RISD superintendent, the new Vision Statement provides little insight.

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