DSM: Re: LA-area startup?

Mon, 17 Apr 2000 11:43:31 EDT

Hi Ira and others,

This is Stuart Williams-Ley, a staff member at Cedarwood Sudbury School in
Santa Clara, CA, responding to Ira's questions about possibly starting an
LA-area Sudbury school.

>> * How do you find like-minded individuals efficiently, without
      spending a ton of money on outreach? Seems there is only a limited
      amount of networking and schmoozing you can do in the circles you

Six years ago I faced the same problem. I wrote a four-page summary of what I
wanted to do and sent copies to everyone I knew. I also put extremely
inexpensive (e.g. $5) ads in a couple of newsletters--Las Madres, which is a
local group for mothers of young children, and the Libertarian Party, of
which I am a somewhat active member. I subsequently sent everyone on my list
home-made postcards announcing two informational meetings, in October and
November 1994. Those attractived 20-25 people each. From among those we
attracted only four founders, including myself, but it was enough to begin
the startup process.

>> * Is this viable in an urban/suburban setting? In Massachusetts, you
      have acres and acres of land, a pond, woods, etc., which I bet was
      acquired fairly cheaply back in the '60s. In LA County, land is
      quite expensive, and probably impossible to obtain unless donated.
      Would rental of a large house do?>>

Real estate would indeed be a major hurdle for you. Among the twenty or so
Sudbury schools, sites include:
   Office space
   Modular building
   Former public school
   Churches (rented, and shared with the church)
   Custom-built building, built with volunteer labor
If you rent a house, a major concern is the Americans with Disabilities Act.
This law would require major renovations of most older houses, including
widening doorways and hallways and installing ramps. Two story houses would
require elevators and sprinklers. In some cities, building officials are
willing to overlook some of these requirements; my guess is that LA officials
would not.

If you did decide to proceed, have me forward to you an article written a few
years ago by Romey Pittman of the Fairhaven School, which is the best
description I've seen about the process of finding real estate.

>> * In the same vein, I would worry about the ramifications in an urban
      environment of allowing four-year-olds to roam at will. What
      happens when the police pick up a kid for truancy? Even if the
      parents agree that it's ok to wander around, I can imagine the bad
      press when people start screaming about irresponsibility and
      danger...and call to shut down the school. What strategies do you

Our School Meeting passed rules limiting "roaming at will" to people who are
at least seven years old.

 << * Finally, the essay about teachers letting go certainly struck a
      chord. Having taught in the public schools for years, I've always
      thought (a la John Gatto) that I was putting on a show, with too
      little involvement from the kids. And I could see the dangers of
      forcing new concepts on kids who weren't ready (from veganism to
      sustainability...and then being called an "ecofreak"). But it's
      nonetheless true, I think, that kids need to be aware that these
      ideas are out there, and that certain adults are well versed in a
      subject and available to help. And if an adult is passionate about
      that subject, it will come out anyway. At school, for instance,
      whether I'm supposed to be teaching history or government or
      English, I basically teach what I'm interested in at the moment,
      whether it's feminism, deep ecology, voluntary simplicity, or the
      benefits of a plant-based diet...none of which come under the
      heading of an approved class. So my question is, how much would I
      have to submerge myself...or would I? After all, kids want to find
      out about what's out there, and why people become activists, and
      they love to engage in debate as a way of understanding the world.>>

This is a question you'll have to answer for yourself. Read a book or two, or
more; listen to some audiotapes. You might also want to visit our school in
Santa Clara sometime to see what it's like. It's a big leap of faith to trust
children to make their own decisions. They will not share all your concerns,
though they will be interested in getting to know you as a person.
Take care,


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