Leading the mission: a challenge worth taking
  • Peggy Downs

Leading the mission: a challenge worth taking

Updated: Dec 17, 2019

Charter school mission statements are just for the charter, right? No one actually pays attention to them after the charter is approved...do they? Actually, the most successful charter schools put the mission and vision first in all decision-making. It drives the school's budget, hiring, curriculum, and expansion decisions. How do they do this? Does it truly make a difference?

Your mission statement should be visible in all your school communications and part of your training rituals for staff, parents, and board members.

Many charter schools post their mission statements in the school lobby, in classrooms, and on their website. Board members read the mission statement at the start of every board meeting, and staff members are trained in the meaning of the mission statement every August. Surprisingly, others do not. In a search of charter schools for the mission statements, many charter schools did not have the mission statements visible on the main page but they were buried in some sub-section, and others were impossible to find. Your mission statement should be on the main page, proudly displayed and easy to find.


Staff members may be unclear of the purpose and importance of the mission statement. Can your staff members describe, if not verbatim then at least in general terms, what your charter school mission is? It may be outdated and lofty, with terms that are not meaningful to your staff today. Can they sell the mission to parents when asked? Can you? Your mission statement should be visible in all your school communications and part of your training rituals for staff, parents, and board members.


Research has been conducted to look into whether mission statements actually have an impact on organization success, and the results have been mixed.

“One of the reasons might be that most of the companies create mission statement only because it’s fashionable to do so and little effort is made to actually communicate that mission to its stakeholders.”

Mission control

Is your mission statement guiding your daily decisions? Ask yourself the following questions to find out:

True or false

  • Our mission statement is clear and easy to understand.

  • Our understanding of our mission is essentially the same as it was when we opened our school.

  • All stakeholders can explain generally what our mission statement means.

  • Our curriculum, hiring practices, policies, and facilities clearly align with our mission.

  • Parents understand and support our policies and practices because they understand how they align with our mission.

  • Visitors and guests are able to discern major components of our mission from the way our school is organized and lead.

If you answered 'no' to any of these questions, it is time to take control of your mission.


Mission audit

Leading the mission means that everyone at your charter school deeply understands and embraces the mission of the school. Follow these steps to complete an audit of your school's implementation of your mission statement.

1. Review your mission statement, and break it down into key elements. For example, if your mission statement were similar to the one from Trilium Charter School, you would have seven key elements to measure:

  • Our mission is to create an academically rigorous (1), constructivist learning environment (2) that engages each student’s unique spirit (3) and intellect (4), develops creativity (5), critical thinking skills (6), and cultivates active citizens (7).

2. Look at each key element and determine how it is impacted by your:

  • Board training and meeting practices

  • Curriculum (textbooks, online resources, standards-alignment, content and skills mastery)

  • Communications (school-wide, classroom, website, print, etc.)

  • Community outreach

  • Facilities

  • Fundraising & donations

  • Hiring practices and employment policies

  • Instructional methods, including assessment, homework, and grading

  • Profession development, including on-boarding of new hires

  • Policies such as dress code, discipline, volunteering

  • Security

  • Technology resources

3. Sort the areas you find that need to be updated into several "buckets", such as:

  • policies (need board approval)

  • budget items (need money and approval)

  • training and communications (need time to make changes)

4. Determine timelines and priorities for the changes you identify.

5. Communicate your findings with key personnel and board members.

6. Make a plan and hold yourself accountable for meeting your goals.


You can take control of your school's mission. It is up to you to lead the way. The rest of your school community is counting on you!


The tools you need

If you need to write a charter school mission statement, there are many resources available today. Please click on the following links to see what may help you most.

Every charter school has a unique mission and vision. It is one of the most interesting and challenging features of this great movement. Make sure yours is working for you. As the leader of your school, it is up to you to lead the mission. Everyone else is watching.


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"Writing a grant can be a difficult process for a charter school leader. You have to really figure out what you want to fund, decide whether it’s worth creating a new program for and then figure out how to approach the grant itself. Peggy breaks it all down in this book that all charter leaders should have. It’s a goldmine of information that can really increase your chances of success."

Vanessa Besack

Education Advocate and former Charter School Director.



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Peggy Downs works with school leaders who want to leverage grants to dramatically increase funding, impact, and credibility for their schools. More info and a ton of free resources are waiting for you at:

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