a CASE for collaboration

I suppose it’s long past time that Write Learning featured an explanation of CASE. After all, the recent rearranging of my life which led to this blog was itself driven by a desire to transform a mostly-dormant nonprofit into an active, thriving entity.

The Center for Advancing Sudbury Education emerged during a previous period of professional disorientation. In 2004, I stepped back from daily staffing at Alpine Valley School in part because a downturn in enrollment had forced us to cut two full-time-equivalent staff positions. At my ensuing desk job with the University of Colorado, I had plenty of time in which to ponder how an institution like AVS, with more than its share of extremely talented, hard-working supporters, had come to such a point.

The conclusions I drew then formed a key premise for what eventually became CASE. Ever since, I’ve been quite certain there’s too much to do in starting and growing a Sudbury school for staff to adequately address all the essentials. In terms of both daily operations and marketing or promotion, constant compromises and a relative neglect of important tasks are, sadly, all but inevitable.

However, a possible solution eventually presented itself: what if there were a small group of people who had both the time and experience to fill in some of these gaps, to help with both operational support and with promoting the model to the general public? What if there were one more voice promoting the visibility and viability of this innovative educational model, so that it might achieve a level of name recognition comparable to Montessori or Waldorf?

With this in mind, I talked to several colleagues, assembled various ideas and proposals, and incorporated CASE in 2005.

Yes, 2005. Nearly seven years ago. Yet I’m still working to get CASE off the ground.

There are a few reasons for this.

A good portion of the slow-going has to do with my original premise being validated: there’s simply too much for full-time staff to do for them to attend to all that needs done. After two years at that university job, I returned to daily staffing at Alpine Valley School; two years later, I was back to full-time hours. Unfortunately, this meant that my work for CASE was mostly confined to summers, which gave me time to regularly revise my initial plans, but not nearly enough to act on them.

A second limiting factor for CASE emerges from the dynamics of—for lack of a better term—the Sudbury movement. Just as each Sudbury school is a supportive community, Sudbury schools everywhere support each other through ongoing virtual communities,  as well as visits and workshops. Yet just as each Sudbury school respects its students’ autonomy, it cherishes its own freedom from external direction. To the extent that our schools comprise a community, it is a loose, informal one.

Thus, as much as we stand to benefit from it, the decentralized culture of this movement regards collaboration with a certain degree of apprehension. Some have voiced concerns that collaboration could lead to a central authority holding undue influence over individual schools.

Recognizing such potential risks, I nonetheless hold to my belief that the need for a gap-filling, movement-promoting organization is too great, the obstacles quite manageable. If Sudbury schools are to survive, grow, and attain prominence, we require more than intermittent encouragement and cooperation. An organization that supports schools without having authority over them—one that is, in fact, controlled and directed by schools—is imperative. To settle for anything less is to argue that raising our profile and achieving viability are beyond our capacity.

I don’t believe that. Nearly fifty years old, the Sudbury model deserves much wider name recognition. Schools that are on the cusp of survival could use a boost, and collaboration can be accomplished without infringing on anyone’s autonomy: I envision CASE as a catalyst and clearinghouse, not an association. Directed by veteran staff members and supervised by representatives from a handful of schools, it will stay in touch with the needs and concerns of Sudbury schools without assuming authority over them.

Now, as of this school year, I have taken a leap: I’m back to staffing a limited schedule,  committing the bulk of my time to CASE and living off savings while I improve the organization’s foundation and begin the search for funding. I’m talking with many of my Sudbury colleagues, and I started this blog to help me chart a course.

I’ll admit, there’s a lot I don’t yet know. For one thing, social networking and technology in general have evolved considerably in the seven years since I first conceived of CASE. Thus I wonder: What’s the best approach for generating buzz about CASE’s possibilities and priorities? On a more basic level, there’s the question of developing initial plans versus approaching donors and writing grants. In other words: How much should I have in place before pursuing funding, as opposed to raising seed money prior to taking on substantive projects?

In subsequent posts I hope to describe in greater detail my vision for the Center for Advancing Sudbury Education. Meanwhile, if any of you have ideas or questions, if you have connections or deep pockets or want to see this mission of mine go forward, I need your support. I invite you to join the conversation and help CASE make a real difference in the educational landscape.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “a CASE for collaboration

  1. Hey Bruce – I’m so glad to see this moving forward. I worked for a PR firm several years ago to help support myself while trying to keep the Asheville school (Katuah) afloat. I would be happy to help write a press kit and/or pitches when you get to that point. Just message me on fb.

  2. Much needed. Thank you for your leadership Bruce! Looking forward to future collaborations.

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