By Jennifer Wohlleb
It might seem like a strange source from which to draw inspiration, but Fort Thomas Independent Schools officials took a page from the television show Survivor to help rewrite the district’s mission statement.
They started with a group of 30, which was voted down to 15 to go on to the next meeting and then to nine for the final meeting.
Photo: Fort Thomas Independent school board Chairwoman Karen Allen, left, and district Assistant Superintendent Ginger Webb, answer questions following their presentation at KSBA's annual conference.
Superintendent Gene Kirchner said he laughed when Assistant Superintendent Ginger Webb first brought the concept to him, but said it worked out surprisingly well.
“You can't accomplish a lot when you have a whole lot of people in the room," he said during his district's workshop presentation at KSBA's annual conference in February. “You can gather a lot of feedback and get started, but at some point you have to narrow the focus and it takes a smaller group of people to get you to that finished product."
The district decided to tackle both its mission and its vision when it hired Kirchner in March 2012.
“I was part of the original mission and vision statement, which had been done in 1999,” said school board Chairwoman Karen Allen. “As a district, we really hadn't touched it; it sat on a shelf, it wasn't a living document, and so we really needed to look at revisiting that, trying to make it real, trying to make it alive in our district.”
Kirchner said the original had been done internally with very little stakeholder input, especially the district's Vision 2020 initiative, which he said seemed completely unrelated to the mission statement.
“Obviously, any organization functions most effectively, most efficiently, when you have alignment of all your actions, your decisions, your goals, vision," he said. "I wanted to make sure that we had that, that we were laser focused and that anyone in the district could articulate what it is that we are trying to accomplish. I think there is a much better understanding of what we’re about and what we aspire to be as a result of it.”
The first step was a meeting with all district administrators.
“At the same time we had a board retreat and shared with them our ideas and what we wanted to do," said Webb. "So really, the first step was meeting with leadership to make sure we were on the same page.”
Step 2 was getting input from all stakeholders. This was when the original group of 30 was brought together.
“We had board members, parents, community members, teachers, administrators, and one of the best decisions we made was to include students in this process,” Webb said. “We had five students who were juniors or seniors and I think they contributed so much to this process; it was fantastic.
“At the end of that meeting ¬– they had been divided into six groups of five – they each had to pick three people to go on to the (third) meeting where we started to narrow the focus.”
While each group choose who would best represent the ideas they had discussed, Kirchner and Webb helped facilitate the process so representatives of each stakeholder group moved on to the next meeting.
“The process of selecting who went on was kind of interesting … there were (some) who really, really wanted to go on. So in each of those six groups, they had to discuss this and work this out, who carries our message forward to the next meeting,” Kirchner said.
At the third meeting, they were divided into three groups, each of which at the end of the discussion sent three people to the final meeting.
"We ended the process with nine people and us," Webb said, referring to herself and Kirchner. "Really, this was probably the most difficult part of the process; we took all of the work that we had done over those months as a group and really spent time wordsmithing it. We made sure every single word in the mission statement was exactly what we wanted it to be and taking the time to make sure every statement, every word in the vision statement said what we wanted them to say. And that's really hard, to get 11 people to agree on exactly the right word."
During the first meeting the groups looked at the existing mission statement and asked what it was missing. Webb said the following words and phrases popped up most often: continuous improvement, global community, good citizenship, lifelong learners, innovative, 21st century skills, critical/creative teaching, tradition.
She said in discussing vision, they kept asking themselves what their school district would look like if they really lived their vision.
Once the group finalized the mission and vision, Kirchner said they sent the members to talk with Fort Thomas' staff, board members and all of the original committee members for additional feedback. A few small tweaks resulted.
Once the mission and vision were finalized, school officials branded it across the district.
"We wanted to make sure that we got that message out there and communicated that message, and that we continuously communicate that message as clearly and effectively as possible," Kirchner said. "And you see it everywhere."
Since adopting the new mission and vision, the district used them to help set goals for the 2013-14 school year.
“We're trying to anchor our decision-making process and our actions back to our mission and vision,” Kirchner said.