I Imagine you, gentle reader, would expect me to write about the news of the school having received a charter as a public school instead of moaning over some lost Camembert. Not to worry: I used the title as a metaphor, and I will be discussing the charter or, rather, our adjustment to it.
About the cheese: Spencer Johnson and Ken Blanchard published a book with the same title as this blog in 1998. In this allegorical tale, mice and men live in a maze with what seemed to be an endless supply of cheese. The mice discovered it was dwindling and found another stash, while the humans—Hem and Haw—became fearful. Haw tries to talk Hem into looking elsewhere but Hem is too fearful. Haw decides to strike out on his own, but before he leaves writes, “If You Do Not Change, You Can Become Extinct” on the wall. Well, I won’t ruin the book for you….
Somebody moved the cheese Hem and Haw expected always to be there for them. An assumption like this—about cheese, health, economics, or schools—is irrational. Humans like predictability because it makes for easier planning. After the sun goes down it will be dark for a variable but predictable amount of time, after which it will become daylight again. But while hurricanes come in a predictable season they alone decide when and we often don’t know until the last minute where—or if—they make landfall. Lest I paint too dark a picture of the unknown: we also can’t predict when we will fall in love. The unknown can be frightening because we don’t know what it will be. We can’t count on it.
We can take steps to minimize the degree of displacement during a period of unknown, just as people who live on the coast have storm shutters and hurricane insurance. The Board of Directors, administration, and faculty have been planning for months to do just that.
The changes for which the MSC community is planning—hopefully more like falling in love than being slammed by a hurricane—are fairly important. The shift from private to public school causes several important changes. It eliminates tuition for students age 5 and older and imposes a 31 August deadline to join the Elementary program. Admission will be governed by lottery instead of parents’ financial resources. The duration of the school year increases from 165 days to 180 days. We will take different standardized tests. The tricks to managing the unknowns in this list are to read the information available on the web site and bulletins from the school. We discover a new unknown almost every time we develop a solution for the current unknown, so please stay tuned.
Changing from a traditional New England-agrarian calendar (starting after the harvest and ending before planting) to a quarter system that stretches across the year with three-week-long breaks (or intersessions) requires faculty and parents to make a major transition as well. I have discussed the new calendar with a number of parents who seem ready to roll with the new arrangement, but I still think vigilance is the order of the day.
Some years ago my wife and I moved abroad. We quickly realized we were making mistakes because we had made some basic assumptions that were—in the backdrop of France—completely mistaken. Some cheese was stinky but oh-so-delicious (I’m salivating as I write over a Mont d’Or). Years later we moved to India and many thinks were new and exciting. But by then we had made a pact that, whenever we thought we understood what we were observing, we would use extra caution because we were very likely wrong. Tip-toeing rather than running through the novel event or idea, we were able to manage the experience.
A policy like that should do us well as we move to the new charter school. We need to tiptoe when appropriate. We need forbearance with each other and the system. I expect I will need to re-read that last sentence occasionally as I deal with the state bureaucracy. I will almost certainly make mistakes and need you, gentle reader, to have patience with me as well. Now that I think of it, practicing this skill might be a great example for our children as well.