GUEST COLUMN:
Schools without principals
By Pamela Staley

       In Wisconsin and Minnesota, there are small community schools run by teachers and community members. What is missing is the principal. Yes, no principals. The teachers make all the decisions as a group.
       As a parent organizer, I was given the opportunity this month to see, first-hand, teacher cooperatives in Wisconsin because we have such a high number of male students who are dropping out of school in D-11.
       These co-op schools are effective and innovative, as small as 60 students. I saw four small community schools within one old building that the public schools no longer use.
       Teachers with autonomy, what a wonderful concept. The children in these schools know why they need an education, and they are pursuing it with renewed vigor. The older kids left the public schools because they were falling through the cracks. Some of these kids returned to school after quitting.
       The co-op preschools and elementaries have programs  to fill any deficiencies or advancement needs. The schools are Montessori, Lutheran, charters and other affiliations.
       The District 11 community has the laws, but it does not understand that there are other educational options. We are the taxpayers, and each one of us has a vote.  As we look at the third quarter report cards, we should ask ourselves: Do our children need help? Are the grades real?  Do our children know why they need a good education?
       Good business people know that to get quality and the best price you need competition. It is the same with schools. Most of our affluent community members go to private schools or have an extremely successful district. Do they have our best teachers? I think not. I think we have great teachers in D-11. I know that we have tired teachers. School volunteers are usually a small core group of parents, who are overworked along with most of our teachers.
       I know that there are teachers who would embrace a new style of governance. They could work with more of their own personality and expression.
       There is a misconception that a charter or voucher forces the taxpayers to dip further in to their pockets. It only affects the school district and where that money gets allocated. When it comes to private vouchers, it comes out of the donor’s pocket, not anyone else’s.
       We have a large number of high school boys in District 11 who are dropping or failing out of public school. These co-op schools target such children. By providing a better environment for these kids, we free up the classrooms where they were unproductive. It is a win-win solution to our future community members.
       Perhaps we Coloradans should take advantage of our educational choices and explore school options. I went to Wisconsin to see how illiteracy is being fought in a city that truly is on the cutting edge of effectively educating all students. I was wondering, how many teachers do we have who would like more autonomy?

Westsider Pamela Staley is a parent and long-time school volunteer. She provides after-school gardening programs in various Westside schools and is a member of the Long Range School Use Study (LRSUS) Task Force. She visited schools in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, this month along with other school volunteers and some members of the District 11 Board of Education.