Friday, February 3, 2017

Collective Self-Governance in Whole Child Education

Whole Child Education cannot guarantee the thorough presence of Individual Self-Governance unless youngsters feel completely empowered to genuinely participate in the governance of the learning community within which their individual decisions unfold. Such assurance is found in Whole Child Education's Collective Self-Governance which brings learning community adults and students together in either direct or representative democratic structures to discuss and agree on community rules, regulations, policies, procedures, social control and, in some cases, on the execution of management responsibilities. Here discusses general school structures founded in Collective Self-Governance. (A source list from which this post, the post on Individual Self-Governance in Whole Child Education and the summary post, Self-Governance Within the Individual and the School as The Foundation of Whole Child Education, are based is included at the conclusion of this discussion.)

School organizations possess three interconnected governance functions: Institutional Oversight, Administration and Policy Formation. Oversight and Evaluation. Institutional Oversight cares for the full funding of the school and the effective coordination of Administration and Policy creating a coherent, unified and viable formal education organization.  Administration cares for the regulation of the school's formally constituted elements seeing to their efficient management.  Policy cares for the customs, practices, procedures, protocols, conduct necessary and appropriate to the fulfillment of a school's mission and sets the direction of the Administration to achieve policy aims. Whole Child Education's Collective Self-Governance fixes Institutional Oversight, Administration and Policy governance within the individual school community where both youth and adults share decision-making through direct or representative democratic structures.

Whole Child's Collective Self-Governance for Institutional Oversight sets a Board of Governors (or Trustees Board or Site Based Board) as a representative democracy structure to include the Principal, a representative number of staff, a representative number of parents/caregivers of enrolled students, student representatives in plurality, and notable members from the greater community where the school is located. The main responsibilities of the Board would be to regulate and approve budgets, secure full funding for the school, undertake long-term strategic planning, regulate school policies set by the school community, set and regulate management systems as well as the school's psychological development systems, hiring and dismissal of staff, secure, maintain and oversee school facilities, and assure compliance with federal, state and local law regarding formal education organizations.

Whole Child's Collective Self-Governance for Policy is through the direct democracy of the All School Meeting which is, as would be expected, composed of all staff and students in a school. The All School Meeting's prime duties are such as setting curricula, benchmarks for advancement in social, emotional and cognitive development as well as in satisfaction toward graduation, graduation criteria and what specifically satisfies graduation criteria, student admissions, dismissal and attendance policy to recommend to the Board for approval and implementation by Administration, recommendations to the Board on budget, learning material and facilities needs and priorities for approval and implementation by Administration, identification of expectant behaviors consistent and inconsistent with the norms of the school as well creating and overseeing the means by which inconsistent behaviors are resolved.

Administration is the exception to the cooperative governance of youth and adult as it remains a community adult prerogative, closed to direct community decision-making processes but nonetheless regulated by the policy instituted by the All School Meeting. Administration responsibilities center on planning, organizing and controlling such as office, business, records, recording, and information systems, human resource systems, facility systems, learning and psychological development systems.

Now, the ability to optimal establishment and operation of Whole Child's Collective Self-Governance as just outlined depends on the size of the school. Micro-Schools, enrollment of between fifty to seventy-five students within an ungraded, mixed age setting, tend very much toward optimal. On the other hand, low enrollment small schools of around one hundred fifty or so students within ungraded, mixed age settings and high enrollment small schools of up to four hundred students within ungraded, mixed age settings tend toward gradations of less optimal.

Indeed, the intimate nature of micro-schools creates close relationships among community members where the sense of ownership and individual and collective empowerment for decision-making would be well engrained and, thus, micro-schools provide the optimal setting for Collective Self-Governance. A school of such size can easily facilitate Policy governance in an All School Meeting where community adults and youngsters come together in regular meetings of the whole school to decide issues open for community action. Every person of the learning community can speak to the whole school persuading everyone in it to decide one way or another on issues before the institution. Each has a single vote on questions up for community decision. The entire community can readily decide policies on such as benchmarks of student progress, curriculum, assessment, assignments, graduation requirements and ceremonies, expectant behaviors consistent and inconsistent with the norms of the learning community as well as the means by which inconsistent behaviors are resolved, and more. In micro-schools, the representative democracy of a Board is nearer to the direct democracy of the All School Meeting as the Board discusses and resolves oversight concerns such as on budget, fund raising, enrollment, knowing full well the collective mind of the entire learning community. Further, at this school size the range of administrative responsibilities, remaining a collective community adult prerogative to discharge, becomes readily responsive to the direct guidance of the All School Meeting. Altogether, micro-schools unfold in both learning community students and adults the greatest sense of ownership of the school and what goes on within it producing optimal conditions for Collective Self-Governance.

However, the requirements for any learning community to be financially, socially, educationally and self-administratively viable need a critical mass of students which micro-schools marginally possess. Thus, while Whole Child Education strongly recommends micro-school construction, school viability could be argued to be of small schools with enrollment on the order of approximately one hundred fifty students for the lowest enrollment small schools to four hundred students, as maintained by the New York City Department of Education as its definition of a viable small school, for the highest enrollment settings.

Admittedly school community self-governance within a low enrollment small school has its challenges, but it is entirely possible. However, larger size small schools, especially at the highest end of the scale, complicate governance. Indeed, an All School Meeting of up to four hundred students plus all staff is too large of a body to maintain an attentive orderliness and too differentiated in self-determination and cooperative capacities, not to say in interest and attention spans, to unfold a thorough individual participation in the democratic formation on school policy issues, no less to cultivate the community ownership feeling in each and every member of the school community necessary for highly effective Collective Self-Governance.

Thus, high enrollment small schools while retaining the representative democracy Institutional Oversight of a Board and the collective community adult Administration prerogative, would. instead of a direct democracy All School Meeting, establish a representative democracy School Council. Indeed, what might be surrendered in the universality of felt ownership and shared decision-making moving from a direct democratic to a representative structure is compensated for in a more harmonious governance. Composed to a majority student representation and to include a plurality of staff representation and the Principal, the School Council would have the same policy governance responsibilities as an All School Meeting. Now, as long as student representation on both the School Council and the Board of Governors demonstrates to the student body that their collective sentiments find facilitation consistently during the school day and over time through their residency in the school and as long as the community justice system instituted, operated and evaluated by the Board and the Council demonstrates fairness, respect and the capacity to repair relations between and among members of the community, affection for decisions made in the name of community members not directly involved with governance should be assured.  

It ought to be noted at this point that early childhood ages have yet to unfold the inner, reflective voice required for Collective Self-Governance. Thus, student participation in school community governance for this bracket of youth would be unavailable. However, a school community governance structure of equal shared decision-making among all school community adults ought to be fully in place and cooperatively operating in exemplars of Whole Child Early Childhood settings, especially at the micro-school level. Institutional Oversight would remain in a representative democracy Board composed of the Principal, a representative number of parents/caregivers of enrolled students, a representative number of staff and notable members from the greater community where the school is located. But Policy and Administration functions would combine within a direct democracy School Based Council composed of the Principal, a representative number of parents/caregivers of enrolled students, and all staff.

In the end, the institutionalization of self-governance into the operation of school communities in the manner presented here has the best chance of providing youth and those working with youth in the school community the opportunity for continual and consistent healthy social, emotional and cognitive development, ultimately, setting the conditions for mental wellness, the First Principle of formal education, and schooling success for students and personal growth and work satisfaction for adult staff.


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