Last week I had the opportunity to visit North Lawndale College Prep, a charter high school on Chicago's west side, and meet administrators and teachers dedicated to making a difference in a neighborhood that's often described (like many around the country) as "under-resourced" and "economically-disadvantaged". 14 years ago they created a VISION for themselves and their students, to create an environment where all students graduate high school and go on to graduate college.
The Vision is communicated to everyone and repeated often. The staff has high expectations for each student and a support system that ensures that those high expectations are met. Included in the Vision are four Core Values that are simply stated, clearly understood and constantly reinforced and rewarded:
- Be Respectful - of yourself and others
- Be Responsible - be on-time and in-attendance
- Be Prepared - ready to learn
- Be Peaceful - resolve conflict without violence
Each year 1,000 applications are received for 250 freshman openings, chosen by lottery. This means that the Vision and Values must be constantly communicated and repeated often - repetition reinforces learning.
The results are amazing. There are no metal detectors. There are two security people for the entire school. The student-to-teacher ratio is 14:1 and 78% of the freshman class graduate (compared to 56% for all Chicago Public Schools) and 82% of graduates go on to college. And once in college, a support system keeps students focused on the prize. 70% graduate college.
Think about your organization. Do you have a compelling vision and is it shared by all? Does everyone see it clearly and do they all row in the same direction? Are your challenges any more daunting than those faced by North Lawndale College Prep?
Create a vision that matters, have a few rules, repeat them often and walk the talk.