On Visions and Strategic Plans

For Alumni Horae and SPS Today

“Without a vision, the people will perish.”

To which I would add, without a plan, the vision will fade.  Compelling visions excite us and invite us to action.  The biblical injunction quoted above concerning vision has gained popularity with business, government, educational, and religious institutions in recent years.  St. Paul’s School is no exception.  The founder and first Rector of the School had a vision informed by the apostle Paul and the patron saint of scholars and students, St. Jerome.  That vision was translated into the early curriculum, grounds, and buildings that now comprise or define Millville.  I am acutely aware of this fact as I pen these words, sitting on a rock at the edge of Lower School Pond with a view of Ohrstrom Library and St. Paul’s Chapel.

I also am cognizant of the fact that visions and the process of receiving and articulating a vision requires ongoing reflection.  Such a process began a year ago when I asked you to help identify the strengths, problems, and issues that confront the School at this time.  In addition through a survey that was sent last spring, I asked you to provide your thoughts regarding what the mission statement and vision should be.  Having articulated our Mission Statement in an earlier article, I now ask for your help in providing a perspective for the future.  To that end I invite your consideration of some thoughts on visions in general, and in particular, as we consider a vision for St. Paul’s School.

While it is true that without a plan the vision fades, it is equally true that without a vision, the plan for an institution will lack inspiration and focus beyond the immediate.  The leader of any institution as visionary is responsible to an inherited past, a clear focus on the present, and a glimpse of the future, guided by both hope and possibilities.  The visionary, however, does this important work informed by the community.  While paying attention to historical realities, present conditions, and future challenges, the visionary also is called to be open to inspiration, intuition, and imagination.  Visions are received, not produced.  Visions that inspire and move us are not the result of an applied formula but rather what some term “divine spark” or “the human spirit.”

How can these perspectives be implemented in developing a focused vision through our ongoing process of consultation, collaboration, and consensus-building?  The hard work of faculty, students, staff, and various committees of the Trustees was received and acted on at our April Trustees meeting.  The Trustees reviewed a 155-page program evaluation, prepared by the faculty, of the academic divisions and our athletic and residential life programs.  In addition, a master planner—the firm of Butler, Rogers, and Baskin—was selected by the Trustees.  Their work will allow us to look at the implications of our academic and residential programs for facility development in the future.  The firm of Morts and Lundy was selected to help us find ways of funding academic and residential programs and facilities and, most importantly, the recruitment, training, and retaining of gifted faculty and staff.  They also will aid us in locating funds for our commitment to “need blind” student admissions and scholarships for middle-income families.  In short, important decisions were made at the Trustees meeting which will enable a clear vision for the present and clarification for the future.

While one approach to strategic planning follows a sequential or linear model, in which the mission statement is examined in light of program, then facility needs, followed by fund-raising plans, it was decided that a convergence approach would be more appropriate for St. Paul’s School.  Important work has already been done; and now is the time for a coordinated approach.  As such, a committee of the faculty will be working this summer and next fall to produce a final program review and evaluation which will be presented to the various constituencies of the School by the end of next year.  Our master planner—working with faculty, staff, and students, as well as the Grounds and Building Committee of the Trustees—will develop a master plan for consideration by the Trustees at the end of this calendar year. Throughout the course of this work, the Morts and Lundy firm will be aiding the School in translating people, plant, and program needs into dollars.  It is anticipated that a good bit of this work also will be completed by the end of the calendar year.  While an ambitious schedule, it is felt that such a strategic plan is needed before the School makes important decisions as to program, new or renovated facilities, and the support and training of faculty.

A convergence of these various components of a strategic plan will be guided by a vision statement that will be shared with you and others through the Horae and SPS Today. Over the course of this past spring break, in attempting to be responsible to the past, I read a number of books regarding educational and curriculum reform and, perhaps most important, reread August Heckscher’s definitive work, St. Paul’s, the Life of a New England School, along with James McLachlan’s study, American Boarding Schools:  A Historical Study.  Taking the longer historical view, I have immersed myself for the past few weeks in the epistles of St. Jerome and the writings of St. Paul to recover something of the thinking of the early leadership of the School as to the substance of their vision.  I am in the process of interpreting these components, coupled with our recently adopted Mission Statement, into a focused vision.

As in the past, I shall look for your thoughts and ideas and response to the work that is being done as outlined above.  In the midst of this important work, I am reminded of the words of St. John Chrysostom, “What greater work is there than training the mind and forming the habits of the young?”

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