Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Letter Advising Against the Close of the LS Elementary School Student Council

Dear Board Colleagues,

I don't know if I'm the first parent to use the Board email this year, but it's always good to know that we can communicate, on occasion, by this email address.

I write today to express my surprise to learn that some of the traditional, democratic Elementary School student self-governance has been removed this year. Correct me if I'm wrong, but as far as I know, this policy change wasn't communicated or discussed with either the parents or the students previously. I only heard last week that the LS student governance was eliminated and, from what I was told, the children were informed when they personally asked about it -- not beforehand.

Actually, I cannot see the logic of eliminating a long-term, well-established student-managed institution within Lincoln. I have heard from the ES principal (with whom I have been in valuable communication about this change) that the Student Councils have been removed in a new effort to 'invite ALL students to step into leadership positions'. Of course, we all definitely want every child to actualize their leadership potential while at LS -- but I don't believe that necessitate closing the effective and valuable participatory student governance at Lincoln.

In fact, I think by removing or disenfranchising the elected/selected student representatives, possibly unintentionally, Lincoln is giving a message to the Elementary students that their collective voice is no longer desired or required within the internal management of the school. Simply by trying to encourage ALL students to find the leader w/in themselves doesn't replace hard-earned democratic institutions -- at any level of society.

As many of you know, Nepal has been struggling to give a democratic voice to its people. The past twenty+ years has been an impressive lesson in local governance, community organization, the risks of ideology, the fragility of democratic institutions and the need for people's participation. Nepalis have come to the conclusion that the answer is not to remove people's elected representation (even as both extremists from both right and left have tried...), but to strengthen and revitalize these essential institutions.

Similarly, we would wish all the individual LS parents to find the leader in themselves to assist LS, as well -- but the reality is that we have an elected Board to represent the parents. In this way, the LS Elementary, Middle and High School Student Councils are also democratic building blocks to future representation on elected adult institutions.

Such institutions are not, in and of themselves, as some have described, 'competitions' -- but the basis of building community cooperation, collaboration and cohesion. Therefore, the new Elementary School after-school activity, "Finding the Leader in Me" (FLM), cannot effectively replace the democratic structures of student representation. The 4-5 elementary students who have joined the innovative "FLM" will certainly benefit from this innovative activity, but they will not be able to serve as selected representatives for the +/- 100 students in the Elementary School.

In fact, by closing the democratically elected Student Councils, the LS Board and management may be mistakenly lessening opportunities to create and develop leadership among the Lincoln students.

Personally, as an ex-Board member and a parent who has seen two college-level children gain so much from LS over the years, I believe it would be wiser and more participatory to continue the well-established Student Council as a student leadership opportunity for at least a few more years, then jointly assess the value of this self-governance component of an LS eduction and structure.

For now, it seems that this major policy decision may have been made w/o much input by either the students or the parents. Possibly parents were informed earlier, but, honestly, I don't recall that message. Nor do I know the role of the Board in this policy decision.

I hope that this important issue can be discussed more openly among the Board and parents, possibly at the next Board meeting as I respect the new directions the Board and administration are taking LS, but don't believe that removing the respected, democratic student government strengthens those strategic directions.

Thanks for listening. my best, Keith

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