Time to make changes in Madrone Trail governance

As a founding board member of the Madrone Trail Initiative and the Madrone Trail Public Charter School who put her heart and soul into the creation of our school, I will make the following admission: I wrote the bylaws!

Following the format gleaned from a huge tome entitled "Nonprofit bylaws" (or some such) from the library, I cut and pasted a set of guidelines we would follow in order to meet the requirement of a set of bylaws. It was my feeling that we should be a "membership" corporation and that the members would consist of the parents of the students at our dream school. The four other parents and one educator on our founding board all thought so, too.

Then we called our lawyer to go over all our documents. He advised us that we were jeopardizing all our hard work by potentially allowing ourselves to be voted off the governing board once the school opened. He further suggested that until the Waldorf culture and values were firmly established in every aspect of our school, we should not have a parent-elected board. His reasoning was that other parties who were not committed to the Waldorf pedagogy could "take over" our board and change the essential nature of the school to match their philosophy of what our charter school should be — through board governance and policy-making not in keeping with Waldorf best practices.

We all gasped, as this idea had never occurred to us. The thought of our years of planning and preparation being yanked out from under us was appalling. We agreed we would be a self-selected board for the initial years of our school until it was well established as a Waldorf charter school and then we would change the model to allow for elections.

We went round and round with the idea of faculty on the board. We finally decided that of course our faculty would have the ability to guide and advise us, and of course we would listen, value and utilize all their input. They were the heart of the school. We were there to enable and support them in implementing the Waldorf curriculum.

We decided to have two non-faculty Waldorf trained educators on the board to make sure we had a solid presence of Waldorf experts while avoiding the conflict-of-interest issues that can arise with employees of the school serving on the board. We now know that the recommended and most prevalent board structure of a Waldorf public charter school includes school faculty. We have done our research and understand that conflict of interest issues are dealt with by having clear policies — for example, faculty do not vote on issues related to the school director, faculty salaries, or personnel issues involving fellow faculty.

Unfortunately for our school, the very problem we hoped to prevent by choosing the original structure of the bylaws and governance has now occurred because of the original chosen structure. There is now no one on our board with meaningful Waldorf training or experience, and input from outside experts is not being sought, valued or heard. The primary stakeholders of the school — parents and faculty — have no empowered voice.

It is now time to make the changes we had planned to from the beginning, and for the same reason we chose the now ineffective model we started with: the need to ensure and preserve the Waldorf mission and vision of our charter school.

Lorraine McDonald, M.D., served on the board of the Madrone Trail Initiative for more than three years before the school opened and on the Madrone Trail Public Charter School board for the first year of its operation.


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