Tyrone Olverson

Tyrone Olverson is superintendent of Finneytown Local School District in Ohio. He is a former curriculum director and principal in Licking Heights Local School District, also in Ohio.

A Man, a Can, and a Plan

In a conversation with professor and author Robert Eaker around the topic of creating a learning organization, he stated, “Organizations must first address four critical questions. These questions are mission, vision, values, and goals” (personal communication, June 6, 2010). He further explained what he meant after posing several questions related to each component:

  • Mission addresses the question of why—Why do we exist?
  • Vision addresses the question of what—What do we hope to become?
  • Values address the question of how—How must we behave?
  • Goals address the process—Which steps and when?

Dr. Eaker continued, “I would argue that it is impossible to develop a results orientation unless we are clear about the core of the enterprise (mission), about the kind of school we’re seeking to become (vision), and the attitudes, behaviors, and commitments we need to promote, protect, and defend (values). The quality of these building blocks (mission, vision, values, and goals) will be directly related to quality of leadership, collaboration, and staff development.”

Dr. Eaker went on to say, “Clarity of purpose should be the goal of any mission statement. Your ‘mission’ gives focus to this question, ‘Why does your school exist?’ Learning is the primary purpose of a school that functions as a professional learning community.” He elaborated that, if all staff members of my school believe all students can learn, they should be involved in addressing the following questions:

  1. What is it we expect our students to learn?
  2. How will we know when they have learned it?
  3. How will we respond when they do not learn?
  4. How will we respond when they already know it?
    (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, & Many, 2010)

Ladson-Billings (2009) supports Dr. Eaker and further explains question three by providing research behind the significance of individual teacher beliefs in closing the achievement gap:

One of the culturally relevant elements appears especially critical in closing the gap—the teacher believes all students can succeed. Emerging evidence suggests that in schools where teachers evidence a real belief in students’ abilities and are also able to communicate those beliefs in explicit ways, students do achieve better, and the gap (achievement) does close. Culturally relevant teachers understand that diversity requires new approaches to the teaching craft.

I know from past experience the power of PLCs at the K–8 level and in improving student attendance. The conversation with Dr. Eaker stemmed from me taking on the principalship of a rapidly changing high school that was transitioning from rural to urban. I questioned the impact on student learning if our high school became a PLC even after seeing an overwhelming mountain of evidence that this process is our best hope for sustained and substantive school improvement. Without a doubt, I too can attest to the power of PLCs at the secondary level. By implementing the PLC process, our high school made significant gains in closing the student achievement gap as measured by Advanced Placement (AP) scores, Ohio Graduation Test (OGT) results, and improved growth in attendance and graduation rates over the past three years.

DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Eaker, R., & Many, T. (2010). Learning by doing: A handbook for professional learning communities at work™. (2nd ed.). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
Ladson-Billings, G. (2009). The dreamkeepers: Successful teachers of African American children. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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