Sunday, September 28, 2008

Brave New World

CSI has elected a new board. This is the third board elected by parents, faculty, and staff. The first board was elected by the charter committee.

Charter schools, like new nations, require great leadership, and the nature of that leadership is different at each stage.

Stage 1 is the inception, the revolution. A group of people, in our case parents and educators, decide they want a better place for their children to learn. They decide that this better way is so good, they want to share it with all children. They want to help improve not just the education of their own children, but all public education.

Once the idea is defined, it has to be nurtured into a plan. Someone must write the charter, which will describe the brilliant idea in a way that can be implemented and evaluated. The charter also includes the boring business part of education that most people in public schools don't have to think about. Buildings, food for children, insurance, access, funding.

The leaders have to sell this great idea to the Department of Education, to the local school district, and to parents who will be willing to send their kids to this new place.

And so a great charter school needs leaders who are visionary, charismatic, business-minded, persuasive, and trustworthy.

Stage 2: the first few years.

The school is new, but it is a school. Some new ideas will shine, others will fail. Because it is a charter school, ideas can be easily monitored, evaluated, and adjusted (within the bounds of the charter). Students & their parents will come. Some will love it. Some will hate it. New people will come and they will need to be acclimated. Teachers will have to learn a new way of teaching, an new way of thinking of themselves as teachers. They will have to see themselves as active decision makers in the class and in the school and not as employees who follow rules and fill out forms. (They will still have to follow rules and fill out forms, this isn't Utopia.) The teachers are leaders in a charter school.

The Leader, who is the principal or lead teacher or director, has to wear a lot of hats. She is the educational leader & curriculum leader as in any public school. She is also a business manager, a marketer, a personnel director, a lobbyist, and many many more things.

The Board of Directors is adjusting to governance over management. They have hired a manager, and it is to be hoped, she is managing. The board has to anticipate situations & set goals in order to determine what policies should be established. Policies are guidelines that help you deal with difficult situations. They are like the rules of death and a funeral --- it's already there so you can know what to do without thinking about it at a time when it's hard to think. This job is tedious, not nearly as much fun as building the actual school. Even though there are other policy manuals to crib from, it's still like reinventing a very boring wheel.

The Board leaders move out of the spotlight, but are still extremely important. They are watchdogs, cheerleaders, visionaries, business leaders, marketers, fundraisers, and policy makers. They make sure that the charter is followed, that finances are sound, that the future is solid, and most importantly: that children are learning.

I think that board members are acrobats balancing on a line of over-involvement in the management of the school by interfering with the manager, and under-involvement by trusting the manager too much and not overseeing the business of the school. Others don't agree.

Stage 2, the first few years of the school's operation, is a time of testing boundaries, trying on roles and figuring out what works and what doesn't work. The leaders need to be flexible, resolved, and ego-less. This is not an easy time.

Stage 3, which I believe Carolina School for Inquiry is entering, is more settled, although not stagnant. I have not been there yet, but I am hoping it is a time where we can concentrate on sharing our strength with other public schools. I'd like for us to show the state that an inquiry curriculum, an atmosphere of respect, & nurturing of family involvement can benefit all children. The children, the teachers, and the families at CSI are special, but they are not different. I'd like to spread the word.

So I see the board leadership continuing to oversee the sound fiscal policies & strong curriculum, while branching out into marketing & fundraising, so that we can let others know the good things that are happening at CSI. Stable, but not stagnant.

Since the beginning, CSI has had great leaders with the skills needed at each stage. The visionaries and the business minded have come forward. Some are still here and some have moved on. Everyone has left CSI a little stronger, a little wiser, and a little better. And for that and all of the great people who have converged in this time and space, I am grateful.

1 comment:

Lydia said...

You always impress me with the incredible things that you do and have in your future plans. I don't think I was ever anything like that in my life. Take care of yourself.