Now that the decimation of public education is official policy in Washington, teachers can resist or use this as an unprecedented oppportunity to return to the solution that was abandoned in the early 20th century: the proven success record of schools developed and administered by women educators.
In spite of the profit motive that sparked the charter school movement by private corporations using public monies and posing as non-profits, a few women educators have been able to seize the opportunity to find funding for their vision of school today.
We will begin featuring such women educators and their schools so others can see how to finance and approach organizing professional autonomy once again in our field.
The first one we will examine was started by an educator and parent, Wanda Lee Kalsu, in 1947 as a preschool, “Little Folks”. Many schools stop there. However Wanda was not your typical preschool owner/educator. Wanda envisioned a partnership between her, the students, their parents and the community. Wanda foresaw a collaborative effort. She met regularly with parents to examine and plan each student’s development, including community learning and parental help. In this way bonds were forged that have lasted until today. Next year Wanda’s school, Oakhill, has expanded to 8th grade and will celebrate 70 years of operation.
First grade was added in 1972 and Second and Third grades in 1987. Such growth could have easily departed from Wanda’s model, yet this never happened. Her daughter worked with her to continue to focus on teacher professional authority and autonomy, a board that focused on sustainability and expansion, and a parental and civic community that was not an adjunct, but an integral part of the planning and activities on a regular basis.
Thus children of the first classes continued to attend Oakhill. Today it is the only non-faith independent school north of the river in the Kansas City, Missouri metropolitan area. As the community of Gladstone, where Oakhill is located, enbarked on a integrated planned model of community, Oakhill was there. Gladstone has developed its central area to feature a community center, park, office building, senior and single housing as well as family, administrative center for the school district, and other developments. Part of the planning of that development was an office building.
Today, Oakhill occupies one side of this structure and rents out extra office space not used. Few textbooks dominate. The park is across the street. The garden is used as part of both the instructional plan and as a source of food served in the cafeteria. While tuition of $11,000 for each of the 363 students does not cover the cost, fundraisers supply the rest. 60 teachers operate in curricular planning groups and implement their instructional plan. The grades are organize into Lower and Upper. A 10 member Leadership Team in areas of finance, technology, security, services, and building operations handles non-curricular concerns.
This integrated model of balanced and appropriately distributed power has shown that Wanda’s vision was correct and sustainable. Teachers handled their expertise, with input from parents, children and community. Parents and community handle the issues of support and sustainability. If questioned, administrators and board members direct the issue back to the teacher, upholding their authority and expertise.
A functional and holistic organic approach to education without enmeshment, codependency or hostility shows that teacher-led schools can thrive financially and professionally today. A community buy-in of a foundation of collaboration and respect with educators has allowed this school to survive, thrive, and educate.