Strategic Vision

CAIS Strategic Vision Planning Process


Strategic Vision Process Interview with Head of School Jeff Bissell


Strategic Vision Process Part 4

If you spend any time in vinyl shops or have a fondness for classic progressive rock from the 70s, then the picture below should look comfortingly familiar; it’s the cover of Pink Floyd’s 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon. But the purpose of this message is not to talk about classic progressive rock music (though I’m happy to do that with anyone who’s interested when I’m off the clock). Rather, this iconic picture of light being refracted through a prism is an image that I have continuously recalled as I speak with parents and faculty about their aspirations and fears as we develop our next strategic vision for CAIS

Dark Side of the Moon, Bright Immersion Outcomes

Imagine that the single beam of light in the image is your child. The triangular prism through which the light passes represents immersion education. And the spectrum of colors in the refracted light on the right side of the diagram are the many and various outcomes of an education in which children are asked to “embrace Chinese.” What specifically do the colors in the refracted light represent? For context, I’d like to share an excerpt from our school’s philosophy statement on diversity, equity and inclusion:

心怀中华 Embrace Chinese

Immersion in a new language and culture requires humility, curiosity, empathy, connection, and a true appreciation of difference…. The attitudes and aptitudes that are cultivated through Chinese immersion at CAIS extend far beyond language and prepare students to engage respectfully with a diverse world.

Humility, curiosity, empathy, connection, appreciation for difference, respectful engagement with a diverse world; these are some of the observable outcomes of deep immersion in a world language and culture. Imagine each strand of refracted light representing one of these outcomes. Many of our CAIS parents and teachers are living examples of this process; if you were born outside of this country, as many of our parents were, then you came to the US and had to immerse in a second (or third, or fourth) language and culture. In addition to an understanding of and sensitivity to English language and American culture (whether NorCal, Midwest, East Coast or somewhere else), I would bet that you carry with you many of the attitudes and aptitudes listed above. Or perhaps it was your parents who came to this country, and as child you had a front row seat to the process of their own immersion process. To these attitudes and aptitudes, I would add the ability to take linguistic and cultural risks in unfamiliar situations with imperfect or incomplete semantic tools—meaning making and problem solving all day long every day, without much of a safety net. This requires a tremendous capacity for perseverance and resilience. So for me, the refracted light looks like this: red—empathy, orange—appreciation for difference, yellow—humility, green—perseverance…and so on. These are the colors of the true global citizen.

Twenty-first century schools place an appropriate amount of emphasis on social emotional learning (SEL) and on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). These are the skills and attitudes that will enable kids to use the solid academic learning at CAIS in prosocial ways (we want them to become superheroes, not supervillains). In the past, and perhaps even now, there has been a perception for Chinese immersion in general and CAIS in particular that the time required by language and cultural immersion is an obstacle to achieving the social, emotional, equity and inclusion outcomes of non immersion schools. Well, not only do I disagree with this, but I think that language and culture immersion (the prism) give us a unique mechanism for achieving SEL and DEI outcomes (refracted light beams) that our monolingual peer schools do not have. As a CAIS parent put it to me the other day, “with this kind of education it is impossible to see folks as ‘the other.’” I’m not sure if we are there yet, but we have the tools.      

In my conversations with parents, it is clear that they get this. In one way or another they convey what our DEI statement says, that “the attitudes and aptitudes that are cultivated through Chinese immersion at CAIS extend far beyond language and prepare students to engage respectfully with a diverse world.” I remember when I first arrived at CAIS in the summer of 2010, common questions I would hear were “how many Chinese characters will my child learn by eighth grade?” or “will my child be able to read a newspaper in Chinese?” These concerns remain important, but of equal importance is “how will Chinese immersion prepare our children for the world into which they will graduate?” The answers to this question are as varied and as brilliant as the color spectrum of refracted light.


CAIS Strategic Visioning Process

The Community Vision Advisory Team (listed to the right) is working in conjunction with the Board of Trustees, Administrative Council, and Head of School Jeff Bissell to shepherd the Strategic Visioning Process which involves the entire community. In addition CAIS has engaged the talents and experiences of educational consultant Bill Jackson, who is acting as thought partner for Dr. Bissell in helping to shape a process that is both inclusive and effective. Bill is an alumni parent (Claire CAIS ’14, UHS ’18, University of Chicago ’22), the founder of Great Schools in 1998, and now the driving force behind Raise Ready Kids. He will be helping CAIS to collect community input throughout the process and may be reached at Bill has helped CAIS think through and outline the process as follows:

What CAIS has accomplished in the past five years?

  • Impressive gains in literacy (English & Chinese)
  • Strengthened support for teachers
  • Improved facilities: renovations and space agreements at Oak with French American, refurbishments at Alice A. Carnes (Waller), and entirely new 888 Campus for middle school
  • More students traveling to and learning in China
  • More effective use of technology in teaching and learning
  • Better support for diverse learners
  • Growing focus on diversity, equity, inclusion

Where do we want to be in five years?

We’re not sure yet. The Strategic Vision process will answer this question. Yet, as we begin this process, we have three high-level ideas in mind:

  • We want to continue to evolve the CAIS brand of immersion education so that the world comes to see it not only as a great way to develop bilingual and bicultural young people, but also a powerful approach to helping children develop along all the dimensions we care about: academic, social, emotional, and as citizens of the world.
  • We want to deepen our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, and also strengthen students’ engagement with the world outside the school.
  • We want to to further develop our facilities so they can support our continuously-improving program.

Key questions as we begin our visioning and planning process

  1. What are the abiding, deeply-held values that inform how the CAIS community views education?
  2. In what ways are our graduates well-prepared for the future? How could they be better prepared?
  3. What are the strengths and weaknesses of CAIS today? What should we be doing more? What should be be doing less?
  4. What kind of change does the world need—change that CAIS is in a position to help bring about?

Fall ’18/Winter ’19 activities

  • Community conversations: The Head of School will meet with individuals and groups small and large to discuss the key questions
  • Surveys: Students, alumni, parents, and faculty will be surveyed
  • School visits: Administrators will visit schools that CAIS may be able to learn from
  • Core values research: A consultant will observe and describe our core values

How to get involved

  1. Respond to the surveys that come your way
  2. Share your ideas by talking with our strategic planning consultant Bill Jackson (send email to

The Vision Advisory Team, a small group of CAIS faculty, trustees, parents and alumni is being assembled to help guide the process.

Expected outcomes for the process

  • Refined vision/mission statement
  • New statement of core values
  • A new set of five-year goals and key strategies
  • Communications that express our strategic vision to the community and beyond

The new plan will be rolled out in early fall 2019.

As Head of School Jeff Bissell mentioned to prospective families at CAIS 101, when you look around at who is drawn to be part of this community, it is truly awe-inspiring. With these hearts and minds guiding the journey, the impressive accomplishments of the past 38 years feel like the booster rockets propelling Mission CAIS onward to greater heights even than previously imagined. Thank you for being on this ride together!