Re: Working for love.

sandra murphy (
Thu, 2 Apr 1998 22:05:25 -0600 (CST)

At 13:50 3/30/98 EST, you wrote:
>In a message dated 98-03-30 10:30:21 EST, you write:
><< I know you mentioned that The Highland School is "democratic but not
> inspired". I wonder if you would be willing to relate your experience with
> your school in terms of:
> *What is the guiding philosophy behind The Highland School?>>
>Highland shares an almost identical philosophy to SVS. We founded it in 1981
>before we had heard of SVS. I read an article about them in 1985, contacted
>them, and we have had a full, mutually respectful, and interesting
>relationship since. It has been fascinating that we came to just about the
>same place educationally from very different paths. In brief, Highland is run
>by the School Meeting, although the physical facilities are owned by a non-
>profit entity (The Highland School, Inc.) which is run by a board of
>directors. Students and staff make the rules, decide on consequences for
>infractures of rules, etc. The school believes that we are all responsible
>for our own learning and we learn best when we are free to make decisions
>about how we go about that learning. Students and staff interact with each
>other and with academic (and other) material jointly, with no imposition of
>one on the other (in either direction.)
><< *How did you make it fly in a sparsely populated rural area?>>
>Highland has mostly drawn from its local county (population 6,000 or so) and
>the equally small two or three counties around it. It has also accepted a few
>boarders who have either boarded with area families or in a mobile home at the
>school. The school has always been small (10-30 students.) The area of WV it
>is in has been home to a number of "back-to-the-landers", who formed the basis
>of the school's original population, though it draws more heavily on "natives"
><< *Anything else you have the time and inclination to share.>>
>I'd be happy to continue this discussion with you. I'm not sure what would be
>helpful for you to discuss, so I'm a bit at a loss to respond without some

Thanks for your response. We are up by Lake Superior in northern WI (or the
frozen tundra as we affectionately refer to it, although thanks to El Nino,
this year the perma frost - wasn't).

So far, our dream of an SVS model school is still very much in the learning,
reading, asking and information gathering stage, so I've been sort of
lurking on the list and thank you everyone for your thoughts and experiences.

We are the rural northwoods with a capital RUR. Our town, pop 350 if dogs
are counted, is one of many small towns within several large, sparsely
populated counties. The nearest cities are Duluth, MN / Superior, WI (about
100,000 combined) which are both 75 miles west, and within 50 miles to the
east are a small city of 7,000, and two towns of 2,000 each. We do have a
very diverse population up here: everyone from the second and third
generation folks, to old hippies, off-the-grid folks, yuppies, trappers,
mushers, members of the Red Cliff Chippewa community, artisans,
entrepreneurs, real estate developer wanna-be's, environmentalists, loggers,
paper plant workers, bank robbers in hiding (no kidding there have been
several), white supremacists, sailors, animal rightists, ad infinitum, with
many people falling into several groups, not necessarily predictably, either!

We think nothing of driving an hour for supplies or whatever; the bus ride
one way to the consolidated public school is about 45 minutes. I think there
is the potential for the right "mix" of people to start a school. We've had
a few discussions with neighbors about alternatives in education, so there
is good potential for a founders group. WI just initiated school choice
legislation, and we have a WONDERFUL homeschooling/private school law which
allows ample room for an SVS type learning environment.

Now to the sticky wicket: What do you think is the _minimum_ number of
students needed to provide both a diverse enough atmosphere and make a go of
it financially? What is the farthest commute your students make? How far
away do the boarders live? What is the "feel" at school in "John Gatto"
terms, i.e., is it a "network" or a "community"? What are the biggest
challenges facing a rural start-up group?

OK, I'll stop here. Thank you for your thoughts!