In a comment to my most recent post, someone wrote:
I’m having problems with the idea of CASE because it would seem to compete with individual schools who do their own recruiting, esp. through having satisfied customers. I would listen more to a teacher (and/or a student) from a particular school than I would from someone who spoke about Sudbury schools in general.
This comment made me realize that I haven’t yet said nearly enough about the Center for Advancing Sudbury Education to make my aims clear. I appreciate the opportunity to go into somewhat greater detail and continue this conversation.
Competing with schools is the last thing I want to do with CASE: instead, it should support and complement the efforts of individual schools. CASE’s mission on the external front is to raise awareness of the Sudbury model: this movement is nearly 50 years old, yet frustratingly few even know it exists. What I envision CASE doing is reaching out to people who might be (or might know someone who’d be) interested in enrolling at a Sudbury school, then inspiring them to contact one. At that point, the local PR and admissions staff can do the real work of explaining why their particular school would be great for that particular family.
Thus, one key goal is to increase the number of inquiries made to Sudbury schools. CASE has an internally oriented mission as well, to facilitate collaboration among Sudbury schools and fill in gaps wherever desired and feasible. Among projects currently in the works is a dynamic, evolving best practices wiki where Sudbury school staff could gather their ideas on and experience with the various aspects of starting and growing a school. This wiki will also feature a file-sharing component and act as a complement to the existing Google group for Sudbury staff.
Speaking of Google groups, I’m proposing the creation of an additional one for all those associated with Sudbury schools: students, parents, and alumni, as well as staff. My experience at a number of these schools is that the difficulties of being on the educational cutting edge are compounded by the small size of many school communities. I would like all of us to feel more a part of a large and active movement, one in which people all around the world understand what we’re going through. At Alpine Valley School I’ve seen the benefits of dialogue among the various stakeholders, as well as periodic visits by people from other Sudbury schools, and I’d like to extend those opportunities to a broader audience. I want all of us to feel plugged in to a vibrant, supportive community.
This is just a taste of what CASE could do. Other possibilities, should they prove practical, include supporting Sudbury conferences and underwriting student and staff exchanges. Gathering helpful resources (e.g., online articles), providing writing and other administrative services, reaching out to influential people (Hello, Oprah!), facilitating research validating the Sudbury model…wherever there is something helpful that isn’t currently being done, CASE could lend a hand. As I said in my previous post on this subject, I believe there is a great need for an organization like CASE, and that it can both support and raise the profile of the movement without infringing on the autonomy of individual schools.
That is to say, we can do a better job of supporting each other, and CASE can help. And I say “we” deliberately: CASE is a grass-roots organization in the sense that it was created, and is staffed, by people at existing Sudbury schools. CASE’s structure is such that its board is controlled by people appointed by individual schools. So the idea that CASE is something apart from teachers or students at particular schools is a misimpression. On the contrary, CASE is informed by the day-to-day realities of life in the Sudbury trenches.
As for hearing the stories of “satisfied customers” from individual schools, I agree that this represents our most effective marketing tool. Our alumni in particular are the proverbial proof in the pudding, and I hope that CASE can help bring their experiences to new and larger audiences. Their success and happiness are compelling in a way no theoretical argument could match.
Fundamentally, then, I envision the Center for Advancing Sudbury Education as a valuable complement to existing efforts. A catalyst for collaboration, a facilitator and a clearinghouse driven by the needs of schools and startups, CASE will play a critical role in drawing new people to Sudbury and supporting them for the long haul.