[Discuss-sudbury-model] Re: Erik's post about starting a school

From: <Stuartwwms_at_aol.com>
Date: Fri Apr 28 11:17:01 2006

Hi Erik,

This is Stuart Williams, a founder of Cedarwood Sudbury School in Santa
Clara, CA (but no longer a Sudbury school staffer), responding to your post about
starting a Sudbury school an hour's drive from Sudbury Valley School. While I
am proud of starting a school and have the highest respect for those who pull
it off (or even try), if I were in your position I would think twice about your
plan. I know the driving time to SVS seems daunting, but starting a Sudbury
school is daunting as well: I spent perhaps 3000 hours starting one, and others
in our founders group contributed maybe 500-1000 hours more. Let's not even
try to count the hours--mostly unpaid--spent keeping the school going once it

Furthermore, the school you found will simply not be as good as Sudbury
Valley School. The advantages of SVS over a small Sudbury school are numerous:

   --More choice of friends and activities.
   --Established school culture.
   --Experienced and highly qualified staff (the average staff tenure at
Sudbury Valley is maybe 20 years; at Cedarwood it averaged less than two).
   --A lower percentage of "desperadoes" in the student population.

Regarding my last point, parents and students have various reasons to be
attracted to the Sudbury model. One of them is desperation, because the child's
experience in conventional school is so terrible. While many students who are
enrolled out of desperation work out fine, a fairly high percentage do not. I
think many parents would view enrolling their children in a small startup
Sudbury school to be riskier proposition than enrolling them at SVS, and the ones
most likely to take the leap will be the most desperate. A small startup school
will allow most of these students to enroll, motivated by hope, idealism, lack
of bitter experience, and a need to increase enrollments; also, schools often
don't know what problems a student is bringing with them (and parents
typically don't say).

If I listed the problems some of our students had, you might suspect that I
founded an atypically dysfunctional school, or else conclude that small Sudbury
schools are a bad idea. I don't think either is true. I'll let people from
other Sudbury schools speak up to say that my comments about desperadoes aren't
true, but I personally saw them wreck several schools (in cooperation with
staff members who were too tolerant or out of touch).

As for whether small Sudbury schools are a good idea at all, I think they are
the best option for a variety of students. Cedarwood served many of these
students well. Generally, though, students left us after 1-3 years. They had many
reasons for leaving, some better than others. My guess is that students at
SVS stay there a lot longer than they did at Cedarwood, which I think is a good
measure for how good the schools are meeting their students' needs.

Take care,

Received on Fri Apr 28 2006 - 11:16:27 EDT

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