by David Creswell Superintendent of Ventura Unified School District
Whenever people learn I am a school superintendent, they want to tell me about their school experience. Some tell me about their favorite teacher, others tell me about a class or program that changed their lives in a meaningful way.
Ventura Unified School District recently completed a brand strategy effort that, we hope, will create for our students many positive memories of their school years that set them up for successful lives and careers.
“For the future of every student” is our ambitious promise at VUSD. It means that we will strive to create a path to future success for every student, no matter what their abilities, gifts or challenges might be.
Some asked why in the face of all the challenges that educators experience did we choose to spend time and money on a brand strategy. “Why do you need a new logo?” someone asked.
This effort was about so much more than a logo (although I love the new logo.) After I was hired by our board of trustees, one of their priorities was re-branding the district. They understood that the brand is what you stand for. It is, according to Michellene DeBonis of Zeste – the company that we hired – “what people say about you when you are not around.”
Zeste took on an in-depth study of our stakeholders over several months and learned that our district’s brand was unclear. That we had pockets of excellence and great potential. But we were inconsistent in our communication and direction.
So inconsistent were we that many of our “customers” did not know that we are a district of choice: that a student and their parents can consider what school in our district they wish to attend. You examine the strengths of each school and choose the one that’s the best fit for you. We had parents who did not know this. It was not clear on our website.
But we were competing with schools whose brand promised so much more.
Our trustees and administration understand the schools are competitive. We have private and parochial schools in Ventura. Charter schools. Many students are home-schooled. We know that we compete favorably with these alternatives and want our community to know it. We want to have adequate resources to do the job. We want these students and their parents to choose us because we have an exemplary school that is right for them.
It’s a cliché, but it’s accurate to say that “one size does not fit all” in education. So here is the focus of our brand promise for each student:
- rigorous and relevant academics that challenge each student;
- a safe, healthy, and positive learning environment in every school;
- engaging settings that stimulate curiosity and empower students to have a voice in their learning;
- real world experiences and connections in and out of the classroom to cultivate creativity, critical thinking, and an appreciation for the world in which we live, and,
- consistent, enthusiastic and unwavering encouragement of each and every child—so they can discover who they want to become and be academically, personally, and socially.
Just think about how much that differs from your own education. This is a profound shift in how we educate. If we do this correctly, we set students up for a career and a life in which they can think critically, explore and adapt to new ideas and not be stopped by the challenges they will face in life.
I am confident that with the help of our excellent teachers and professional staff, we will live up to this promise. Some future superintendent will hear a former VUSD student say, “Those were the schools that got me to where I am today.”