They reviewed the core values of Nordstrom and Walt Disney. They debated commas and parallel sentence structure. And they turned to the Declaration of Independence and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech as examples of the lofty idealism they were seeking.
When yesterday's three-hour strategizing work session was over, the Carroll County Board of Education had a rough draft of core values, a completed mission statement, a heavily edited vision statement and more than a dozen easel-sized sheets of notes on suggested goals for the 27,500-student school system.
Board members and the facilitator from the Maryland Association of Boards of Education who worked with the five-member panel yesterday said that once their work is complete, the new documents will be more than a set of papers on an office shelf or abstract words on a poster.
"We have 2,700 employees, and each undoubtedly has a slightly different interpretation as to what our job as a school system is," said board member C. Scott Stone. "But it's important, as a team, to have some focus. This process - and the discussion of those different interpretations - gives us that focus."
Board members will be conscious of the new vision, values and goals as they make decisions that guide the system, Stone said. The superintendent will keep them in mind as he makes recommendations to the board. The new focus will trickle down to affect the actions of individual employees, from a classroom teacher or a principal to the supervisor of physical education.
"This will become part of every agenda," said Kathryn "Kitty" Blumsack, director of board development with the association. "The board will get continual updates on the progress toward these goals, and this will direct staff work."
For three hours, the board worked toward establishing timeless and guiding principles for the school system.
They reached for descriptive and inspiring language to describe their vision of what the school system should be - much like the language King used in describing the American society he hoped his children would experience.
They agreed on a brief statement that summarizes the mission of the school system.
Also, they labored over a long list of goals and outcomes that they hope to meet by 2005, from becoming one of the top three performing school systems in Maryland to ensuring that all graduates will meet University of Maryland entrance requirements.
Blumsack kept the group to a tight schedule, enforcing strict time limits on discussion of each item. A rule disallowing "wordsmithing," however, was repeatedly broken, as the few dozen educators gathered in the board's meeting room tinkered with proposed language.
Peggy Altoff, supervisor for social studies, asked the board to consider using "assure" in its mission statement rather than "ensure" - a word she said is associated with a nutritional drink for the elderly.
Steven Johnson, supervisor of English and modern and classical languages, earned the nickname "Comma King" for his requests to alter punctuation.
The session cost the school system $450 - about one-fifth the amount Blumsack said she recently charged a group in Michigan for a day of consultation.