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Logos Help Schools
Define Missions


A chance question at the end of an informal meeting between two parents led to a unique project that rallied an entire school community. The result of that meeting was a design project that created a logo for Seattle's Beacon Hill Elementary School -- a logo that expresses the mission and spirit of the school, focuses classroom instruction, and unifies the community. Included: A look at the step-by-step process that led to new logos in two schools.

Parents Genevieve Tremblay and Sandi Everlove were about to start working together on a PTA project at Beacon Hill Elementary School. The two met one day at school, but neither could talk for long. Vowing to continue the conversation, Tremblay passed along her business card and asked for Everlove's card in return. But Everlove didn't have a business card. "I'm a teacher," she laughed. "Teachers don't get business cards."

Beacon Hill's new logo appears on its stationery, teachers' business cards, a pocket folder for student homework, T-shirts, and more!
Of all the professions in the world that could benefit from using a business card as a communication tool, Tremblay thought, it's teachers. "Teachers have so many reasons to share information," Tremblay told Education World. "Communication is critical in education, and such tools as a logo, business cards, and stationery can facilitate that communication -- within the school community and with the public."

"Teachers are under tremendous pressure to produce high quality results," added Celeste Tell, who with Tremblay co-founded Cultural Entrepreneurs, an innovation planning firm. "How could it be that teachers would not be supplied with that basic professional tool, a business card? What does that say about the way we view teachers?"


Tremblay and Tell saw an opportunity to work with Beacon Hill's staff and parents to facilitate the creation of a visual identity for the school. "We are process architects," Tremblay explained. "We design and implement processes that build community." The goal of Cultural Entrepreneur's School ID Program is "to introduce and implement a graphic identity development program that serves as a community-building catalyst and energizes students, teachers, and parents in a school community," she added.

At Beacon Hill, Cultural Entrepreneurs worked with the staff as they applied for a Sappi Papers: Ideas That Matter grant. Grant in hand, Cultural Entrepreneurs brought in Cyclone Design, an award-winning print design and branding firm, to work with parents, teachers, and students to create a vision -- and then to translate that vision into a logo. Cultural Entrepreneurs served as catalyst and cheerleader throughout an identity-creating process that involved research, visioning, strategic design, planning, and project management, Tremblay said.

Now, a year later, kids at Beacon Hill wear T-shirts, sweatshirts, and uniforms that incorporate the school's logo. Teachers have homework folders, stationery, and -- yes! -- business cards with the school logo on them.

"Having a visual identity means having an effective tool for communicating the vision, values, and culture of a community," explained Tremblay.

"The impact of the program is already enormous," said Beacon Hill principal Brian Lucas. "Students are proud to be part of the school, parents are enthusiastically involved, and teachers are highly invested."


Beacon Hill Elementary School serves a diverse Seattle community where Chinese, Spanish, and Vietnamese languages are as common as English. Asians comprise 50 percent of the student population; the balance of the population is Hispanic (19 percent), black (16 percent), white (13 percent), and Native American (2 percent). The staff at Beacon Hill is committed to a curriculum that reflects and builds on the ethnic and cultural richness of the neighborhood.

Branding in Baltimore

Mount Saint Joseph High School has a new image too! Greg DesRoches, president of Cornerstone Marketing Communications, led a recent effort to design a new logo and marketing materials for the private Baltimore high school.

"The values and ethics that Mount Saint Joseph stands for are magnets for the school," DesRoches told Education World. He sought to design a logo that would reflect those distinctions as well as the school's 125-year history of educating students of all faiths, ethnicities, and educational levels.

DesRoches chose to incorporate in his logo design an outline of the tower on MSJ's campus. "The tower is as distinctive as the mission of the school," said DesRoches. "Beyond being distinctive, it is fun. In the week before graduation, the school's seniors are allowed to go up in the tower to write their names in magic marker on a wall or to carve their names into the beams."

DesRoches combined that recognizable image with a "traditional, yet current" typeface and added a positioning statement that reflects the school's integrity and mission: "Education and Values to Last a Lifetime."

"Our goal was to come up with a logo that was smart and on target, something that would quickly be read as a unique identifier of the school," DesRoches added.

The idea of creating a logo for the school was one that excited principal Brian Lucas and his staff. The process dovetailed nicely with a transformation process that the Seattle School District is going through. "The project brought to fruition many of the district goals for recognizing teacher professionalism and increasing the perceived value of the schools," said Don Nielsen, president of the Seattle School Board.

Lucas led his staff through several brainstorming sessions designed to define the school's mission. "The brainstorming exercise resulted in a long list of slogans that captured the diversity, community spirit, and beauty of learning that are Beacon Hill," Lucas told Education World. Among the slogans generated by staff members to complete the statement "Beacon Hill is " were

  • a world of lifelong learners.
  • many paths to success.
  • no walls to learning.
  • open-minded children loving language.
  • learning to love learning.
Those and other defining phrases were then translated into Chinese, Vietnamese, and Spanish. Some would become part of the final logo design.


As staff members worked to define what makes Beacon Hill Elementary School special, Tremblay and the design team met with them to explain the process that would be taking place. Being sensitive to the diverse constituencies in this community -- not only the ethnic cultures of the school community but also the professional culture of education as it relates to the entrepreneurial culture of business -- would be essential to building understanding of the project's goals and gaining buy in on the part of all stakeholders.

Meanwhile, the Cyclone Design team immersed itself in learning about the school, its strengths and goals, and the community by interviewing staff and parents, touring the school, and participating in other activities. They took the collected information and translated it into potential design themes. An advisory team representing the various stakeholders -- students, parents, and school staff -- reviewed the designs. The advisers provided feedback, which the designers incorporated into three final designs.

To help the staff of Beacon Hill evaluate the three designs, the team developed a diagnostic tool that represented the interests of all stakeholders. "The design they chose was the most successful in representing the rich diversity of the school, modeling professionalism, communicating 'elementary education,' and representing a place of learning," Tremblay said. It incorporates handwriting charts that are a familiar fixture in many U.S. classrooms as well as some of the teachers' defining phrases printed in the languages of the community, including the English phrase "a world of learners."

The result is a logo that is as unique as the school and its community. "This is a community that lives its diversity," said Tremblay. "This project just fell in with the way they do everything, which is always an inclusive celebration of diversity and devotion to lifelong learners."


Beacon Hill's new logo has received enthusiastic response throughout the community. Parents and teachers love the T-shirts and sweatshirts. The shirts have become part of the school's uniform. The homework folders provide convenient pockets both for schoolwork to "leave at home" and schoolwork to "bring to school." Teachers love having professional looking business cards and stationery.

Genevieve Tremblay (Cultural Entrepreneurs) presents the new logo to the community. She translates the Chinese, Vietnamese, and Spanish expressions that are part of it. (Photo courtesy of Cultural Entrepreneurs)

The school's new logo also provides a solid foundation for future developments. "Now that the identity is firmly established, each project and initiative can serve to reinforce it," said Tremblay.

"The process of designing the logo created great energy," Beacon Hill principal Brian Lucas told Education World. Every Friday at the school is T-shirt Friday, a day when the entire staff wears their logo clothing.

"The most valuable part of the whole process were the great conversations we had about our school as we defined what we were," added Lucas. "Now we have a professional logo that really communicates what we are all about."

More About Mission Statements

Have you read this Education World article?

Mission Statements With Vision: Where Is Your School Going?
What is your school's mission? How can you make your mission statement more meaningful? Included: Tips for keeping the mission statement alive once it's written! relationship.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World®
Copyright © 2008 Education World

Originally published 2001
Links last updated 02/08/2008