The first couple weeks of this school year, I walked around campus in bare feet. One day last week, I spent a few minutes at the school’s acoustic piano, practicing a Rachmaninoff nocturne I’ve been working on.
These are not reasons I moved back to Denver this past summer, and they’re not why I’ve devoted the past 16 years of my life to Sudbury schooling. But they might help explain why it’s so important to me to have a Sudbury school as a professional home base.
As you may know if you’ve been following this blog, I gave up full-time Sudbury staffing 15 months ago in order to devote myself more fully to CASE, my Sudbury nonprofit. One of the key things driving me then was my perception that full-time staff have too much to attend to in operating and growing Sudbury schools, that a support organization is sorely needed to fill in some of the gaps, enhancing our public profile and facilitating collaboration.
This assumption was borne out by later experience, as I neglected this sort of Sudbury development work in favor of doing a passing job at my day-to-day responsibilities. Thus, starting last school year, I transitioned from full- to part-time staffing, using the remainder of my working hours to lay a foundation for CASE in its mission of promoting the visibility and viability of this cutting-edge model.
Yet I never wanted to be part of a support nonprofit at some significant remove from those organizations it supports. Therefore, I made sure that the CASE board consists of people with extensive Sudbury experience, and as President, I’m fortunate to keep my hand in the game, to stay intimately acquainted with the realities—the needs and challenges, the joys and promise—of Sudbury schools.
What’s more, it’s just too much fun to be part of a Sudbury community. As a staff member, I have a primary responsibility to support the students in their self-directed learning, as well as help grow the school. That is, it’s not about being barefoot and making music. And yet, one of the things I’ve always enjoyed about Sudbury staffing is the amount of discretion I have to decide what I should be doing at any given moment. Augmenting that is the fact that a good portion of my job involves modeling effective adulthood: just being myself and sharing my unique way of forging an authentic, responsible, creative path in the world.
Sudbury schools are deeply humane places for students and staff alike. Everyone’s input is valued, as is their good judgment in deciding what they ought to do when. While my committee memberships and other responsibilities entail meetings, assignments, and deadlines, the democratic structure and ethos of responsibility and respect mean I am trusted to do my job. There are no bosses in Sudbury schools, no principals or arbitrary authority: instead, we function as teams of competent individuals, solving problems and nurturing our community as we see fit, according to procedures we establish and amend as needed.
It’s been quite a process, adjusting from full-time to part-time, from being at the center of nearly everything at my school to having a more peripheral role. And yet the transition has been surprisingly quick and smooth, as I trust my colleagues and know that they likewise value my more-limited contributions. I retain the sense that I’m part of something remarkable, even stunning, an educational venture as cutting-edge as it is compatible with human nature and the demands of life in this Information Age.
More than once, I’ve heard of students who went off campus during the day saying, when it was time to return, that they had to go “home,” not “back to school.” Even though my two days per week at Alpine Valley School don’t, for now, pay me a living wage, I am quite well compensated with a sense of belonging and purpose, a realization that I am making a difference. This is my home base, and I enjoy true community here—and that is a rare blessing indeed.