Tuesday, June 8, 2010

To my school's Board to Trustees

I came to this meeting at the cost of a babysitter to speak about the upcoming vote on the Governance Committee’s recommendation. I’ll sell something on eBay to get the babysitter to come back next Tuesday, but since I’ve paid for it, I don’t want to waste the chance to share the essence of some conversations I’ve been part of the last little while. I’ve been writing this during the meeting, so some of what follows has already been said by members of the Board, and it was wonderful to hear. That I’ve written this largely in the first person, then, does not mean that these thoughts are mine alone.

The Governance Committee, after some prodding, sat down with the individuals involved as potential members of its proposed interim leadership team, and they’re now seeking broader participation in the process. This is exciting news, and it is my hope that it represents an understanding of all the members of the Board about the importance of discussion in the community’s decision-making process.

I’ve been a member of this community for 8 years and I have seen that the process of soliciting the voice of our students, staff, parents and administration before a decision is made is time-consuming, and can lead to a messy brand of democracy. But for as long as I’ve been here, it has been part of the cultural fabric of the school for decision-makers to encourage those voices, to listen to them and act on the trends that come out of such dialog. One of the quiet complaints the staff in my presence in the last couple of years is that, in an effort to improve the efficiency and efficacy of decision-making, the longstanding attitude of collaboration is giving way to a hierarchical model that leaves the rank-and-file community to give voice only after the fact.

I’m excited that there has been some restoration of dialog to the decision-making process. In particular, the efforts of Jay and the many others who moderated the recent listening sessions have given the community a breath of fresh air. There are other examples, as well. I’m here to say thank you for taking the time to allow those voices to be heard, and to communicate to you that, however haphazard and boisterous such protocols may seem, they are not just the key to the best governance the Board can provide, but they serve as a comforting example for the community as a whole that the Board is truly acting on its general consensus, not simply seeking its approval for unilateral verdicts.

It is clearly understood by all of you on the Board that within this community there is a vast amount of collective wisdom and experience. Its members, together, hold a deep understanding of the unwritten rules, routines and values of this place. That we all do not all sit at these meetings should not be construed as a sign of either ignorance or indifference, and it should not lead to governance that ignores our insight. (My school) was founded on a principle of inclusion, including in its governance. We are unique in the way we have traditionally included everyone in the great conversations. It is, believe it or not, one of our strengths as an institution. When we voice our discontent, we are not complaining. We are not, as was written in the previously-discussed public minutes, simply giving the Board--problems. We are reminding you of what we recognize to be a fundamental tenet of the way (my school) should be governed. Please take the time to listen to us, not just as a group, but as individuals. And don’t just listen to us, use our voices to guide your decisions. Don’t rely on us to come to you. We’re busy doing all the little things for the school, and babysitters are expensive. Simply saying, “anyone can be part of a committee,” is not enough. Ways must be found to actively invite participation. Lao Tzu wrote once that leaders are best when people barely know they exist, when their work is done, their aims fulfilled, the people will say: we did it ourselves. This is what we, as a community, are hoping of you.

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