Sartell school board removes excellence from mission statement

The war on merit is alive and well in Sartell, Minnesota as the local school board there recently removed the word “excellence” from their mission statement. The move came after a summer of meetings and work sessions where school board members sat in a room contemplating their navels as they rewrote the district’s mission statement and strategic plan. Final approval of the new strategic plan including the revised mission statement came on September 19, 2022.

The new statement represents a familiar shift in focus from inputs to outputs. Where the previous statement read, “excellence is the expected outcome for all learners,” the new language speaks of offering students support so they can excel “according to their unique abilities, interests and aspirations.”

Old Sartell mission statement:

Inspire the entire community to develop well-rounded citizens capable of becoming successful and contributing members of society by providing outstanding instruction in a caring and supportive environment where excellence is the expected outcome for all learners.

New Sartell mission statement:

The Mission of the Sartell-St. Stephen School District is to develop well-rounded citizens capable of becoming successful and contributing members of society by providing outstanding instruction in a welcoming environment where every student is given the support needed to excel according to their unique abilities, interests, and aspirations.

The old mission had expectations. Academic excellence would be the outcome. Students would learn things, in a manner that could be measured.

The new mission talks about unique interests and aspirations. In other words, don’t judge these students based on academic norms that we can compare to other students in the state, country, or world. They are unique! The have interests in things other than math and reading. And they have hopes and dreams that no one should crush with your high expectations for learning.

As they discussed the change, several board members mentioned that fact that the mission statement had not been updated in ten years. The implication is that it was old or out of date, not up to today’s standards. But a quick look at test scores shows Sartell might want to stick with the old.

In 2018, 76.5% of students were proficient in math and 73.6% were proficient in reading, well above the state average. Today, those numbers have fallen to 61.2% and 65.5% respectively. The focus on academic excellence and more importantly the focus on outcomes certainly contributed to those results.

Words have meaning. Weakening the mission statement during a time of declining test scores is misguided.

End notes:

Sartell has not replaced the new mission statement on the About Us page of the district website. Nor have they painted over the statement on the wall in their board room as it still reads: “Where excellence is the expected outcome for all students.”

When the school board conducted their public forum at the beginning of the September 19 meeting, they awkwardly covered up the camera with what looks like someone’s crocheted scarf so the public can’t see the speakers. They left the audio on so viewers of the livestream can at least hear the testimony. Bizarre.  

Sartell is following the footsteps of Mankato Public Schools which changed their mission statement last year from “Assure learning excellence and readiness for a changing world” to this equity-laced word salad:

Mankato Area Public Schools (MAPS) is committed to working together equitably, with families and communities so that each learner has the knowledge and skills to be successful and contributing citizens in a diverse global society.