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Mission Matters

A new mission statement gets to the heart of the Charles Wright experience

by Daphne Mackey, Trustee
Greg Bamford, Associate Head of School

Many of us can state what we value about Charles Wright: a sense of community. A commitment to academic challenge. A well-rounded liberal arts program. Exposure to arts, athletics, and experiential

Ask any Tarrier what makes CWA unique, and you’ll find an answer. The trick is pinning it down into one statement: What’s core? What’s unique? How can you describe why a school exists in a statement that is short, aspirational, and authentic? Last September, the Board of Trustees asked a task force to do just that. We co-chaired this group of Board and faculty members, the Mission Statement Task Force, and in May the Board approved the new mission statement that our group proposed.

Who was on the Mission Statement Task Force?

In addition to the co-chairs, the team comprised Trustees and parents Nancy Schauer, Jen Smith, Ian Toner, and Trevor Will ’93; Head of School Matt Culberson; and faculty members Patti
Crouch-Cook and Carie Ward.

Why did we need a new mission statement?

The rewrite was prompted by the NWAIS accreditation team who visited campus in 2016 and found that members of our community had different, and even conflicting, interpretations of the words “liberal arts” and “rigorous.” At our first meeting, we looked at examples of effective mission statements and evaluated our own. We decided that we needed a more concise mission statement that everyone could remember easily and use to guide decision making.

“Participating in the Mission Statement Task Force was some of the most thought-provoking professional development I’ve done. The committee did a fantastic job of conceiving and implementing a process that would allow ideas to unfold and build over time and included a breadth of perspectives from CWA’s past, present, and future.”

— Carie Ward, Lower School teacher and Mission Statement Task Force member

What was the process?

Surprisingly, our first task (and probably the most difficult) was to try not to come up with a mission statement until the very end of our work. We wanted to take the time to ask questions and explore the school’s unique identity deeply.

We spent December examining the school’s past. We discussed core values and ideas expressed in the school’s first promotional materials and letters that Ted Sanford had sent to parents during his tenure as Head of School from 1959 to 1969. We then convened a salon dinner with Ted Sanford, John Long ’64, and several alumni from the 1970s. Throughout the evening, they responded to different questions about their experiences and views of Charles Wright. We heard about the school’s commitment to character as well as academic skills, what it’s like to have “room to explore,” and the transformational power of strong teacher-student relationships.

“The process for the mission task force was exceptional. The committee, through a deliberate and thoughtful series of events, led our group to a common thread of themes,” said Trustee Jen Smith. “We learned from an intimate place the values upon which the school was founded, and we began to see those values emerge as a common theme throughout this six-month process, and it became clear what defined Charles Wright and what makes our school exceptional.”

In January, we turned our attention to the present with a “learning walk,” where task force members observed learning in action across the campus. Though we all felt like we knew the school well, we wanted to challenge ourselves to slow down and “see” CWA with fresh eyes.

As we moved through campus, we were impressed by the evidence of inspired learning posted everywhere and by the activity going on in each classroom. We noticed the joy in learning, the sense of comfort our students feel on our campus, and the active, engaging nature of learning both in and out of the classroom.

We also read the results of a parent and guardian survey about our identity.

Two prompts, in particular, were helpful to the task force:

1)  Tell us a “snapshot” of a moment that illustrates what you find special about CWA.

2) What is your hope for your child’s future? What would you like your child to be able to do when they graduate from CWA?

One word we kept hearing from parents and guardians was “confidence.” They hoped their children would leave with the confidence to succeed and move forward, especially given all the twists and turns that come with life after graduation. One parent phrased this hope in a way that particularly resonated with us: They shared a hope that their child would “navigate the future with confidence.” Some of the wonderful responses from parents and guardians tempted us to start composing draft mission statements right then and there.

But before we could start drafting our new mission, we still had the future to consider. What is the future of education? What is the future for which we are preparing our students? After all, next year’s preschool students will graduate from CWA in 2034.

We invited a range of experts in education to a final salon dinner in the beautiful and inspiring setting of TREE, an eco-friendly home furnishings store owned by CWA parents Nicole and Nigel Wakley. Greg asked these experts to be prepared to talk about how to equip students for an unknown future and the meaning of the words “liberal arts,” “rigorous,” and “success.” The dinner was fascinating, and included CWA alumnus Dr. David Hirschberg ’80, CWA parent and new Trustee Dr. Divya McMillin, and former CWA Trustee Dr. Gail Weyerhaeuser. Some of the themes that emerged included:

  • the importance of persistence
  • permission to fail safely
  • real-world work
  • learn by doing

After we reviewed our takeaways from each activity related to the past, present, and future, the task force had a lot to think about. Drawing connections between the school’s past, present, and future, we asked ourselves some direct questions:

  • What is our unique belief about education?
  • How is the method of learning unique?
  • What is the feeling that a CWA experience evokes?
  • What is the kind of future that we are making possible for graduates?

We posted responses, highlighted the ones we liked, and considered the themes that had emerged. Then (finally!) we started drafting mission statements in pairs. In our April meeting, we considered four draft statements and decided easily on one that captured all of the elements that we had heard over and over in our process.

We presented this statement and one other to the Board in April for their feedback, and then met an additional time in May to consider any changes. The Board unanimously approved our new mission statement:


To inspire active, joyful learning while nurturing and challenging our students to develop the character, creativity, and skills to successfully navigate the future with confidence.


Charles Wright Academy provides a rigorous and dynamic liberal arts education built on the principles of excellence and compassion. Within an inclusive and globally aware learning community, we foster self-reliance, integrity, social responsibility, and humor, inspiring our students to discover within themselves the courage to achieve their personal best in mind, body, and spirit.

“I am grateful that I can partner with such an amazing school in raising our daughters, and this mission statement speaks to us with the same values that we hope to instill in our home…The new mission statement is a concise, directional statement that will allow our educators and leaders of the school to implement strategies for guiding the students of Charles Wright throughout their time at the school,” said Trustee Jen Smith, “I could not be more excited for the children who have the chance to be a part of an organization with such vibrancy and so many opportunities to grow as an individual and prepare them for their lives outside of our walls.”

Alumnus and Trustee Trevor Will ’93 said, “After months of collaboration with a really fantastic team of people, I feel like we came up with something special, a concise mission statement that speaks to who we are and applies to every level of education at CWA. We’re excited to share it with school community.”

We would like to thank the following people who participated in our process: Ken ’77 and Kari Whitney, John Long ’64, Ted Sanford, Dr. David Hirschberg ’80, Dr. Divya McMillin, Dr. Gail Weyerhaeuser, Sue Belcher, Bonnie Lathram, Holly Bamford Hunt, Nicole Wakley, and Dr. Lynnette Claire. //

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