Fairhaven Sudbury Conference, June 2011

It began as a casual, inscrutable suggestion from Sudbury Valley School founder Mimsy Sadofsky at the end of the last Sudbury conference in Framingham, Massachusetts: “You guys should host the next conference.” Us? Was she kidding?

No, she wasn’t, and last month Fairhaven School hosted our first international Sudbury conference. After a year and a half of meetings, planning and preparation, we spent three glorious days with sixty-some colleagues and students from the following fifteen Sudbury schools:

  • Sudbury Valley School  (Framingham, MA)
  • Sunset Sudbury School  (Davie, FL)
  • The Circle School  (Harrisburg, PA)
  • Clearwater School   (Bothell, WA)
  • Clearview School   (Austin, TX)
  • Arts & Ideas Sudbury School  Baltimore, MD)
  • Tallgrass Sudbury School  (Riverside, IL)
  • Sego Lily School  (Salt Lake City, UT)
  • Trillium School  (Indianola, Washington)
  • Mountain Laurel Sudbury School (Berlin, CT)
  • Open Source Learning  (Kapaa, Hawaii)
  • Highland School  (Highland, WV)
  • Hudson Valley Sudbury School  (Kingston, NY)
  • Ting-Schule  (Berlin, Germany)

(For links to all of our sister schools, please go to http://www.fairhavenschool.com/links/other-sudbury-schools).

What an amazing,  committed group we were. Just to be in a room with so many educators who “get it” was worth the trouble. Who can place a value on shared experience and wisdom, on good old fellowship?

We spent the first day listening to invited guests present on topics related to the business of running a Sudbury school, including an education consultant, an attorney, Fairhaven’s Treasurer on tuition assistance, an education reporter, a marketing guru, and our own colleague Richard Morris on social media.

Conference participants presented topics on days two and three concerning the practical and philosophical questions that inform staffing Sudbury schools. Sample topics: “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road: Our Diploma Process” (Mark Bell, Sudbury Valley School ) ; “No Assembly Required: The Circle School’s Adventure in Governance” (Jim Reitmulder, The Circle School);  “Who Are Our Students? What Do They Pursue? What Do They Attain?”  (Stephanie  Sarantos, The Clearwater School).

Each topic provoked lively discussion, and conversations often spilled into the breaks and meals between sessions. Old relationships grew, and new connections took hold. Other highlights were social events: the crab feast (a little taste of Maryland!), the bonfire and drumming (typical Fairhaven School), the ultimate frisbee game (only one injury), and the contra dance.

As a staff, our exhaustion was more than offset by our inspiration, and we felt honored and grateful that so many colleagues made the conference so successful. We look forward to continuing to support all of our colleagues around the world in this, our shared commitment to young people’s freedom and responsibility. Would we do it again? Absolutely!

Watch this space for excerpts from my keynote address, titled “What We Don’t Know: Negative Capability and Sudbury Schools.”

Mark McCaig

Fairhaven School

Summer, 2011