Would you post this letter on your website?
September 13, 2006
I am writing to the parents of ISM students about my concerns about our upcoming decisions and specifically, the upcoming election for the Board.
We have just weathered the worst crisis in school history. Therefore, it is natural that we want to get on with life as normal at school. In the aftermath, we want to preserve the shaky peace that was won at the high cost of disruption and alienation. We want to correct any problems in the bylaws and proxies. We want a just resolution for Mr. Toze.
As we were reminded last week in many emails, the school has some important immediate needs that the Board is involved in: accreditation, reforms of the bylaws, the question of the Board's overall role in governance itself, and the possible selection of a new superintendent (Mr. Toze's own intents are unknown at least to me). These are urgent.
In our urgency and perhaps in our desire to reduce our own former internal state of conflict, we are not communicating about issues. I respect anyone willing to donate their time to the Board, and I am grateful to the sustaining members of the school for stepping into the vacuum and recruiting candidates for the Board. But I am not receiving any information about what these candidates, or any others, would do about these pressing, urgent issues. Many of these will necessarily be tackled during what is qualified as an "interim" year, with the use of "interim" as if there were not a huge agenda. Where is the rigorous (but cordial) discussion "that occurs when strong minds meet", in the words of Mr. Toze? We are voting to decide the future of the school, but we are voting as if we were giving our proxies away to the sustaining members to decide these large, looming issues.
Here is a simple example of a problem. It is clear that the sustaining members considered the representation of different nationalities on the Board, and admirably so. Also, they chose Board candidates in their own image, all respectable corporate or institutional interests. Indeed, we need Board members who know about management and finance. However, I don't see anyone there who knows about education. It is possible there is someone, but again, we are being asked to vote blindly, based on trust, with no open flow of information.
Is knowledge of formal education important for at least some Board members? A few weeks ago in a morning meeting with Dr. Jahr, the man contracted to find ISM a new superintendent, an ISM parent asked Dr. Jahr if it would be possible to choose someone with a business management background as superintendent instead of an educator. Dr. Jahr politely dismissed that idea. He said for the superintendent position you need great managerial skills, but you absolutely need someone who knows education. The most important task of any school Board is to hire a superintendent to run the school. How will the Board assess a candidate's knowledge of education, if none of them have direct knowledge and experience in formal education? To whom would they delegate their most important task, that of evaluating a candidate for superintendent? Wouldn't it be useful to have more diversity in the fields represented by Board candidates, including that of education?
To preempt any counterargument that I am talking about micromanagement of education by the Board, let me add that as a former member of Educom I know that the school expects Board members to make informed decisions on technical, pedagogical subjects. Educom members will have to read hundreds of pages a month on specific aspects of education. A business paradigm is not the same. This is routine Board work, and regardless of the desire of any Board "to govern from an altitude of 50,000 feet", it is their job.
Despite the fact that we may be a bit shellshocked, we need more open, respectful discussion and exploration of issues facing the school. I recognize that we face an emergency, but especially in an emergency we need to think calmly and act intelligently, with the best information possible. Presumably by the end of this coming Monday evening we will have already determined a Board that will decide important issues for the future of the school. As parents, we may well choose the ten candidates nominated by the sustaining members, but at least it should be an informed decision. As of now, we are rushing to resolve a crisis with no more than a list of names of candidates and their professional positions.