Last month, Colorado Charter School Institute (CSI) staff converged at Chatfield Farms for a two-day staff retreat. Staff members reside all over the state in the communities we serve, so we try to make the most of our limited in-person opportunities together.
One of the first work sessions of our retreat focused on recentering around our statutory mission:
22-30.5-505(3) The mission of the institute board shall be to foster high-quality public school choices offered through institute charter schools, including particularly schools that are focused on closing the achievement gap for at-risk students.
Dissecting Our Mission
Teams across multiple departments came together to discuss the words and phrases that stood out from our mission and how they align to our organizational values. The conversation was rich, as were the interpretations of the highest priorities of CSI, based on the mission language.
Foster: Several staff noted the importance of this word as opposed to potential alternatives. To “foster” means to encourage or promote. In our role as an authorizer, the CSI team seeks to encourage and promote educational options. However, we do not create the proposal for a charter school or turn that proposal into reality. It is our role to continually ensure that systems or practices aren’t discouraging or reducing opportunities for school choice.
High-quality: As a charter public school authorizer, it’s not enough to oversee our schools. We expect our schools to provide a high-quality educational option to their communities. “High-quality” can be defined in countless ways, and I would imagine each of our school models might define it slightly differently. However, most would agree that quality considers student educational outcomes, the extent to which the school is meeting its mission, and financial and organizational strength.
Choices: Not every child learns the same way. That’s why having a public education system that offers a rich variety of options is vital to the success of all students.
CSI focuses on the outputs—that is, the quantitative evaluation of academic, organizational, and financial school performance—providing schools the flexibility to focus on and make decisions about inputs like instructional strategies, educational programming, internal assessment system, facility selection, and staffing.
CSI’s focus on outcomes rather than processes allows us to be neutral on educational models and maintain a diverse portfolio of school models.
Closing the Achievement Gap: a key charge from the General Assembly in the creation of CSI was to not only offer options, but to offer high-quality options that effectively close the achievement gap.
CSI works alongside its schools to understand the extent to which schools are reflective of the communities in which they are located, how schools are performing compared to local options, and how effectively schools close the achievement gap for special populations.
To support our schools, CSI has invested in its School Programs team as they continue to develop and refine offerings and supports to meet schools where they are in achieving success with all students.
At-Risk Students: At our staff retreat, we also recentered on the statutory definition of “at-risk” students:
22-30.5-502. (1) “At-risk student” means a student:
(a) Who is eligible to receive free or reduced-cost lunch pursuant to the provisions of the federal “National School Lunch Act”, 42 U.S.C. sec. 1751 et seq.; or
(b) Who has performed at the proficiency level of “low” or “unsatisfactory” on a statewide assessment.
This was an interesting conversation in particular because the statutory definition was much narrower than staff expected, and staff felt strongly that our work should support all students, including those who might not be eligible for free or reduced-price lunch or those performing at the lowest proficiency levels.
How Our Mission Guides Our Work
In addition to dissecting the words and phrases that make up our mission, staff also had the opportunity to learn more about how our mission drives our organizational efforts.
It is our mission that is the basis of the Strategic Plan established by the CSI Board. The strategic plan guides the annual goals of our organization, and the annual goals of our organization in turn guide the development of goals at the team then individual staff levels.
Our mission also helps us to understand how best to prioritize limited resources and efforts.
Deepening our shared understanding of our mission and how it guides our work was a valuable way to start the school year. Further conversations are important to ensure CSI’s mission is top of mind as we continue to be a mission-aligned organization.