Today is a great day. I am very happy to see a new Sudbury School developing in Houston.
There is so much more room in our local and national landscape for many more school alternatives, whatever philosophy it may be. I get excited to see alternatives like Sudbury receiving acceptance and gaining a following, it gives me hope.
I was part of a Sudbury school start up in 2001. It was a wonderful learning experience for me fifteen years ago, even though I took a different route. I still respect this model for its strengths: its simplicity, longevity and replicability.
I know now that starting a private school is the easy part, even though that is actually not so easy, and growing a private school into a healthy community is the hard part. And boy howdy, is it the hard part! This I am still learning about every day through my teaching and involvement at Great Oak School. Schools evolve over time and have recognizable stages of growth, just as a child’s development has stages. Recognizing what is normal for each stage has been helping me be more objective as I keep teaching.
Every school in every community needs sane, grounded, experienced, and compassionate adults who have a enough of a common vision and shared understanding of how to support children to be able to talk to one another and work together harmoniously through the challenges. These wise adults also need to know how to support parents and the task of parenting in general. How do we become those wise and trusted adults? I have certainly no definitive answers for this question, but someday I still hope to grow up and be one of those people.
The best advice I can give to Houston Sudbury, or to any young school and its founding team, is to keep working on yourselves as a human beings.Understand and keep working on your own character defects, and as new people come along and join your initiative, try to help those who come into it understand and accept that a school is a community endeavor. If you can do that, it will be a much healthier school where people all feel a sense of ownership and belonging.
The danger with many smaller schools is that of conflicting visions of key volunteers, faculty, or board members. This can be overcome with communication structures that use people’s strengths and build their trust in the organizational processes and integrity. There must be time and willingness to problem-solve. There must be regular attention given to establishing and re-establishing trust among the adults in a school community and transparency on the financial end is also very helpful.
Without trust, respect and integrity among a critical mass of the adults involved, what can a school offer to children but a relatively safe place for children to be for a portion of the day at best, perhaps, but nothing more. And that would be a huge loss of any school’s potential. Schools everywhere simply need mature and healthy adults if they expect to be able to inspire the young toward wholeness as they grow into their adulthood. May we all find a way to grow up in our responsibility and maturity on the outside and stay young, creative and supple on the inside.
Best of luck, Houston Sudbury School! You have at least one friend at Great Oak School.