The Assembly, composed of parents, students, staff, and community members, sets major school policies, amends by-laws, sets annual tuition and makes general budget allocations. All decisions are made by majority vote. The Assembly elects a Board of Trustees each year, which serves as an advisory committee, evaluating the school's adherence to its philosophy and making broad-ranging recommendations as needed. The Assembly also elects officers, including a President who serves as the official "head" of the school.
Who runs the school on a daily basis? Who takes on the role of "principal"?
The Assembly does not make day-to-day decisions about how the School is run. Instead, the School Meeting gathers weekly to manage the ongoing internal affairs of the School. All students and staff members are full members of the School Meeting, with an equal vote in all decisions. Meetings are run by an elected Chairperson according to Robert's Rules of Order and recorded by a Secretary.
The School Meeting makes rules about the conduct of its members, elects staff annually, and creates committees and clerkships as needed to carry out its decisions. Admissions, Bookkeeping, Grounds Maintenance, Aesthetics, and Outreach are all examples of committees formed by the School Meeting
When a committee leader or an individual expert is needed, a "clerk" is elected. There is, for example, a clerk who deals with outside authorities - fire inspectors, insurance agents, county officials, and the like - as well as an Office Clerk, a Building Maintenance Clerk, and a Medical Supplies Clerk.
How are rules enforced?
One of the most important committees, the J.C. (Judicial Committee) is given responsibility for enforcing the rules the School Meeting has established. It is the only committee on which every member of the School Meeting will eventually serve (much like jury duty).
The J.C. receives written complaints of rule violations (Keisha left a mess in the Ali Room; Tyler tripped Erin), and hears from both the plaintiff and the defendant, calls witnesses and investigates as needed, then determines whether the defendant has indeed broken a school rule. If so, the J.C. determines an appropriate consequence (Keisha can't go in the Art Room for two days; Tyler must do a half-hour of community service work). The J.C. can refer serious incidents to the full School Meeting, where appeals can also be heard.
Not every dispute must go through the J.C. process. People may work through problems informally when they can. Formal mediation is also an option for resolving conflicts between individuals. Several school meeting members have been trained in conflict resolution and help to resolve conflicts between willing participants.
Does that mean that staff stand aside and do nothing in the face of real behavior problems?
With the exception of intervening to stop incidents where someone's physical safety is in danger, staff do not step in to solve problems or to punish rule infractions simply because they are adults. They too must use the democratic process to address issues that concern them. They are, however, employed in part, to be guardians of the school philosophy and the well being of the school community. Like all other members of the School Meeting, they use whatever wisdom and experience they might possess to influence others toward mutual respect, thoughtful action, and responsible conduct.
Who acquires and takes care of supplies and equipment?
Beyond the management of the school's rules, administration, and maintenance, the School Meeting can create "Corporations." Corporations are groups of School Meeting members interested in a particular pursuit, who want official recognition from the school in order to be able to raise money for equipment and supplies and to govern the use of certain kinds of equipment or spaces.
The Cooking Corporation runs the kitchen, so the Computer Corporation must follow Cooking Corporation procedures while baking pies as a fundraiser for a new CD Rom. The Art Corporation seeks School Meeting money for a kiln. The Sports Corporation decides that people using soccer balls must sign them in and out. New corporations can be created, and worn out ones dissolved in response to the changing needs of the school community. Not every group interested in a common pursuit needs to create a corporation. Classes or clubs, for example, can be formed without the School Meeting's recognition.
Who serves on all these committees, leads these corporations, and runs the School Meeting?
Anyone the School Meeting decides is qualified to do so. When a certain position is interesting to a student, there's a good chance she'll be elected to it, but everyone understands that the Admissions Clerk, the Outside Authorities Clerk, the Bookkeeping Clerk and a few other positions require a great deal of experience, specific knowledge, and credibility in the larger community. Those positions, along with positions no one else wants to hold, tend to go to staff members.
Does everyone attend School Meeting?
Any school meeting member who cares how the school is run and wants a say in decisions comes to School Meeting. (Members can't vote unless they are present.) Typically most of the staff, several older kids, and a smattering of youngsters are in attendance at any given meeting, but some issues draw a big crowd. Other issues spawn "special interest groups" which lobby for a good turnout in order to pass or reject a specific motion.
Discussion can be heated and every School Meeting member is entitled to the opportunity to try to convince others. Some have more influence than others perhaps because of their longevity at the school, their greater experience or knowledge, their passion, or sheer verbal prowess, but all have an equal vote and an equal opportunity to persevere and become more persuasive and articulate.
Why go to all the trouble of running the school democratically?
Since School Meeting members all have the option of full participation, they understand their obligation to uphold the rules and procedures of the school. Children and adults alike feel a sense of ownership and control over their own lives and over the school environment. At its worst, the democratic process can be dry, bureaucratic, or tension-filled. But at its best, the school's democracy achieves that subtle balance between individual rights and community responsibility - each making the other possible - and creates the environment of fairness, tolerance, and respect which each of us seeks and deserves.
The Democratic Structure of Fairhaven School is a publication of Fairhaven School Incorporated, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the Sudbury model of education in Maryland. For more information on the school call 301-249-8060, e-mail them at email@example.com, or check out their website at fairhavenschool.com. Fairhaven School welcomes racial, ethnic, and religious diversity and families of every composition.