“Let us learn on earth those things the knowledge of which continues in Heaven.”
-St. Jerome, Epistle 53
St. Paul’s School motto
Believing that education is lifelong and continues beyond the classroom, St. Paul’s School invites a diverse group of students and adults to create an extended family which respects and nurtures individual talent, personal freedom and responsibility, intellectual curiosity, and public service. Students are encouraged to seek the highest standards of scholastic, artistic, and physical achievement through an integrated curriculum.
As a Christian boarding school rooted in the Episcopal Church and affirming all faiths, St. Paul’s is committed to social responsibility, a respect for diversity, a passion for learning, the formation of character, the teaching of virtue, and spiritual growth. Such commitments are the hallmarks of our heritage; they illuminate our motto and guide our life together.
Shortly after my arrival last fall as the 11th Rector of St. Paul’s School, I was greeted with the news that we were about to undergo a reaccreditation, which is required of all schools by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. The faculty and the administration worked hard to prepare the required self-evaluation in anticipation of the visit by a site team.
The first question the visiting team asked us was, “Could we please see your mission statement; we could not find it in the materials that you sent to us.” A long and somewhat embarrassing silence ensued. Finally, a veteran faculty member spoke. “We do not have a formal mission statement for St. Paul’s School. We feel secure in knowing what our mission has been and continues to be.” Our visiting team, although gracious and polite, included in their evaluation of the School the strong recommendation that we develop a mission statement.
Last spring, in response to the visiting team’s recommendation and our own sense of the need for clarity with regard to our mission, I surveyed alumni, parents, students, faculty, and staff and asked two questions: What do you feel should be included in the vision statement for the School? What are the essential elements to be included in any mission statement for the School? I was pleased by the number of responses and the thoughtfulness that informed the comments and reflections. I hope that you see your thoughts reflected in the mission statement that we have been working on as a School for the better part of this term.
After receiving your comments and those of the various other constituencies of the School, I led the faculty in a writing exercise upon our return from summer vacation. The faculty was divided into nine groups, and each group was asked to write a mission statement for the School based on the information garnered from you, the staff, parents, and the students. The nine statements were then given to a faculty writing committee headed by Mr. George Carlisle. Mr. Carlisle and his committee produced a first draft which was then circulated to students, staff, faculty, and Trustees. This process has continued, and what you have before you is the seventh draft of the mission statement. My intent in involving as many persons as possible was to continue the process, begun last year—collaboration leading to consensus. My sense is that this has been accomplished.
A mission statement is an attempt within one or two paragraphs to provide a raison d’être for an institution—a clear statement of its identity, ideals, and goals given the values that inform it. It is not intended as an exhaustive document, outlining in detail any and all aspects of the institution, or in our case the School. Rather, it is a concise statement of identity, purpose, and values to reference our community and all activities of the School.
I shall not attempt an exhaustive explication of the St. Paul’s School mission statement, but simply note that it sets forth the values of lifelong scholarship, academic rigor, and an integrated education undergirded by certain ethical and religious commitments. Because St. Paul’s is committed to continuing as a boarding school, the drafters of the mission statement emphasized our role in loco parentis through the use of the extended family metaphor. In addition, the writers of the statement aimed at reinforcing the images that adorn the St. Paul’s coat of arms—sacrifice, service, and scholarship.
One of the benefits of having the various constituencies of the School participate in the development of the mission statement was the discussion that shaped the document itself. Not surprisingly, students wanted to ensure that there was a balance of personal freedom and responsibility represented in the statement. Faculty members were concerned that academic rigor and curiosity be foremost, but also that classroom learning be supplemented with the education that takes place in the dining rooms, on the playing fields, in student houses, and in the Chapel.
The theme of respect, which is guiding our life together this year, is also reflected in the statement. Also evident is our wrestling with what it means to be a religious boarding school grounded in a particular Christian tradition, that of the Episcopal Church, and, given that grounding, how it is that we are called to be open to all faith groups.
Questions of priority, emphasis, and those things that should be included and not included provided an opportunity for stimulating discussion on the part of the faculty, student body, and staff. The Trustees also participated in this exercise; they offered invaluable insight to the final draft, which they adopted at their most recent Trustee meeting.
The process also made clear that, in answer to the request of our accrediting agency, there was not universal agreement about the mission of St. Paul’s School. The process of developing a mission statement helped bring clarity, consensus, and commitment regarding the values and the aspirations for St. Paul’s School. In short, it was a meaningful and needed exercise for us as a School.
Now that we have a mission statement, I hope we will recognize that any mission statement is a document in process and always in need of revision. Such revision needs to reflect the changing nature of the finest preparations for college education and public service. While definitive, a mission statement needs to be an open-ended document, subject to revision, and it is in that spirit that I invite your comments and thoughts on this mission statement.
In the next two issues of the Horae and SPS Today, I will be referring to the mission statement as I offer a vision for St. Paul’s School based upon it and shaped by the challenges that are before us as an educational institution and as a religious boarding school. I will use both the mission statement and vision as essential elements of a strategy that I plan to present to the Trustees at our meeting this spring. Such a plan will guide us for the next several years in the areas of educational philosophy, curriculum development, faculty and staff deployment, and in securing the necessary resources—buildings, technology, and scholarship funds—to ensure that St. Paul’s is true to its mission and vision in the years ahead.
These brief ruminations represent the first of three articles that I will write between now and next fall. As in the past, I invite your comments and thoughts—by email, letter, or telephone—if there is anything you would like to make me aware of as we continue the important process of building consensus through collaboration and open communication. I thank you for your contributions over the past year and look forward to ongoing dialogue in the upcoming months.