Mission Critical

Governing is a magazine, and a Web site, and newsletters and conferences and books. What's the point of all this stuff? To inform, to entertain, ...
by | October 3, 2007

Governing is a magazine, and a Web site, and newsletters and conferences and books.

What's the point of all this stuff? To inform, to entertain, to help state and local officials do their jobs better and to make money.

In short, it's not easy to explain what we do in short. That's why I sympathize when government agencies write mission statements that leave something, or everything, to be desired.

The problem seems to be universal, but especially bad for school systems, as I first noticed when I came across the rambling mission statement of the Kansas City, Missouri School District:

The KCMSD, working in partnership with parents and the community, will produce students who have the knowledge, skills and abilities to develop the necessary attitude to become life-long learners with capacity for leadership and service. Students enrolled in the KCMSD will be productive and responsible citizens capable of successfully competing in a changing global society.

As I looked for more mission statements, I realized that brevity is rare, but cliches about "a global society" are common. Take Cleveland:

The Cleveland Metropolitan School District will strive for nothing less than a school district of premier status that will be emulated for its best practices in the areas of academics, buildings and facilities, customer service, safety and security, and student services purposefully designed to produce graduates prepared to assume leadership roles as students in colleges and universities, as professionals in their chosen careers and as citizens in a global society.

Bureaucratic buzzwords are popular. Albuquerque:

Albuquerque Public Schools is committed to increase student achievement through a standards based learning environment supported by a system of continuous improvement.

And Baltimore:

To accelerate student progress through effective implementation of the Master Plan, focusing on quality instruction, managing systems efficiently, and sustaining a culture of excellence.

Immodesty is treated as a virtue in Mesa, Arizona:

As one of America's outstanding school districts, our primary mission is to provide opportunities for students to learn as they prepare for life in an informational age. Students have access to comprehensive educational programs in which they are taught to become productive and successful. Basic skills and the ability to acquire knowledge are emphasized. Students are encouraged to develop a respect for themselves and others, and to become responsible citizens fully capable of exercising their right to self-determination in a free society.

And Huntsville, Alabama:

The mission of Huntsville City Schools, the Nation's premier educational system in one of the world's most technologically advanced communities, is to guarantee that every student will graduate with the capacity to compete successfully and contribute responsibly in a global technological society through an educational process characterized by effective instruction, individualized learning, superior academic and personal achievement, and safe and orderly centers of excellence, in partnership with families and the community.

My opinion is that mission statements needn't say anything more than what you want to do (in fact, they needn't exist, but that's probably asking too much). Omaha gets it right:

The mission of the Omaha Public Schools is to provide educational opportunities which enable all students to achieve their highest potential.

You can leave how you're going to do it and how you're going to measure it to the vision statement, statement of values, statement of goals, annual report and strategic plan.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman | Former Staff Writer | mailbox@governing.com