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Something is Rotten in the Waldorf School at Moraine Farm

Parents aren’t paying for unilateral moves toward a “Waldorf-inspired” education.

August 11, 2018local, politics, education

The Waldorf School at Moraine Farm in Beverly, MA has recently changed their governance structure from consensus-based to more top-down management. While this is largely antithetical to Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy on how faculty decisions are managed within Waldorf school communities, [1] it is certainly the school’s prerogative to change governance.

“We must not lean back and rest securely on the orders of a headmaster; we must be a republic of teachers and kindle in ourselves the strength that will enable us to do what we have to do with full responsibility.” - Rudolf Steiner

These changes give the Executive Director and Faculty Administrator the ability to make unilateral decisions around staff without consulting the faculty, Board of Trustees, or other members of the community. This is a major departure from the past, where faculty decisions were arrived at through consensus. This was meant to be exercised as a “nuclear option,” but was utilized almost immediately to oust a preschool teacher. [2] [3]

To the administration, this teacher, who has been at the school for over two decades and was wholly adherent and committed to the Waldorf principles, represented an outmoded way of thinking which seems to have hindered the move from a nature-based Waldorf education to something they are calling “Waldorf-inspired.” [4] [5]

These changes appear strongly correlated to life-line funding from a donor named Suzanne Wright, via her family’s foundation. While the administration has stressed that this donor was not linked to the teacher’s departure, current and former faculty and staff have indicated that her funding was very much contingent upon changes in governance and ideology. [6]

Earlier, the Eurythmy [7] program was cut from the school, which the teacher led. This donor has also been reported to impact special education at the school by encouraging the elimination of the “Extra Lesson” teacher, which has roots in anthroposophy [8], a Waldorf tradition. This has the unfortunate side-effect of impacting special education. While the reasons for these changes are claimed to be rooted in financial concerns, it remains consistent that any Waldorf-specific ideologes are being targeted.

I work in technology and am surrounded by it every day. I chose Waldorf for preschool specifically because I wanted my child to have a fighting chance in a world consumed by technology she is too young to understand and navigate. I wanted a Waldorf education for our daughter — nothing more, nothing less.

If the administration can oust a teacher without following the procedures that are considered to be best practices within Waldorf school communities, and without any of the protections that a public school system might offer, what’s to stop them from making more unilateral moves in personnel and governance? [6] What’s to say that the recent exodus of long-standing staff and teachers isn’t the result of all of the changes listed above?

Consider me a very concerned parent. What would you do if this was your kids, and your school? In the end, we decided to withdraw our enrollment and accept the administration’s offer to refund the tuition. [9]

I have also decided to share the documents below.

This is not a unanimous course of action decided on by the entire group of nursery school parents. [10] [11] Some are supportive, while others want to move forward with their attendance of the school. I put the latter in two categories: People who believe strongly enough in the Waldorf system (and/or the Moraine Farm location), and those who would wear Waldorf like an accessory.

To the first group: I completely understand this. For some, it’s a dream to have their child attend the school, or to work for the school itself. To those parents, stay the course and continue improving the school from the inside. Just know that it might not be a Waldorf school anymore by the time everything is said and done.

To the second group: By going along with this, and doing or saying nothing, you are complicit in this.

The purpose of this disclosure is to ensure that no other family at this school has to make the emotional and gut-wrenching decision of having to leave like we did — our child’s favorite teacher was taken away, after we had signed a binding tuition agreement. I do not want to harm the school, or the faculty, or the board. I simply want the information released so that the community can galvanize around it, and lines of communication can be opened with the administration that lead to transparent, positive change.

References

  1. A chapter excerpt from Parnerships of Hope: Building Waldorf School Communities that describes, in detail, how such a school should be run
  2. A letter (shared privately, redacted upon request) written from a former board member to the administration imploring them to consider the gravity of the governance change, and to remind them that it was meant as a last resort.
  3. Meeting notes (shared privately, redacted upon request) from a meeting where the teacher confronted the administration about the reasons for her departure
  4. The Cape Ann Waldorf School (now rebranded The Waldorf School at Moraine Farm) strategic plan which expires in 2018, and contains explicit references to not being “Waldorf inspired”
  5. The most recent annual report which talks non-specifically about the governance and personnel changes
  6. Notes from a community meeting held with parents, administration, and board members
  7. The Wikipedia explaination of Eurythmy
  8. The Wikipedia explanation of anthroposophy
  9. The un-enrollment form presented to our family upon request
  10. A letter from the administration to parents in the community when the administrators found out about plans to go public with this information
  11. Another letter from the administration that was sent to every other parent in the school besides the nursery school parents
Mark Robert Henderson

This is the website of Mark Robert Henderson. He lives in Cape Ann, works in Cambridge, and plays with distributed apps and tech philosophy online.

Mark's social media presence is slowly and deliberately withering away, so the best way to reach him is via e-mail.

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