I propose that we start with a question:  who are we, and why are we here?  On  the  surface, the answer is easy.  We are the Board of Education, and  we  are  here to vote the voluntary school up or down.  I think a more nuanced response to  the  question might be useful in figuring out how we should vote on the  voluntary school.

 

            As the board of education, we are elected BY the community to act FOR the community  in  making  important  policy for our schools.  We  are  not,  as  Onnie reminded  us  last  week, professional educators.  We are  lawyers,  a  real  estate investor,  an investment advisor, a retired arts administrator, an executive  director of  an  educational non-profit, and a university dean.  None of us  is  employed  by New  Trier  or spends our days here.  Our main lives are elsewhere.  But all  of  us are  deeply  interested in public education and the place of schools in  making  our community what it is. 

 

            Parenthetically,  it  is  important to be said that that  every  member  of  this  board  has  been  doing  his or her level best to come  up  with  the  best  decision possible  on the voluntary school.  While I have disagreed with some of my  fellow board members on the voluntary school issue in the past, I have never doubted the good  faith  of  each and every one of them.  I thank my brothers  and  sisters  for their commitment to New Trier, and the hard work each has devoted to this topic.

 

            Back to the issue of who we are, and what that might say about our role  in the voluntary school decision.

 

            As  Board  Members  we could choose to make all decisions  for  New  Trier ourselves.   If  we  did  that  we would obviously  be  relying  solely  on  our  own expertise.   In that scenario Hank's role and that of the rest of the staff  would  be to  carry out our decisions.  The alternative  scenario would be for us  to  delegate many  or  most  decisions.  Obviously the latter option is the  alternative  we  have selected.  We  have  neither  the time nor the expertise to  make  all  the  required decisions ourselves.

 

            Having  decided  that Hank and his staff should make  many  decisions,  the question becomes the role they should play in THIS decision.  What should we  do with  Hank  and  the staff's opinion?  I don't mean the reports  here:   those  were their  best  efforts to describe what a voluntary school would be like.  I  mean  the staff's OPINIONS about whether a voluntary school would be a good idea.

 

            Again  we have alternatives:  we can ignore Hank's and the staff's  opinion; we  can  take  them into consideration in the same way we  treat  anybody  else's opinion; or we can give them special weight because they spend their professional lives  in the schools, thinking about these issues, and working with  the  students.   This  is  sometimes  referred  to as giving "deference"  to  those  who  have  more information and expertise.  I think we should give deference in this case.

 

            "Deference" in the context of this decision DOES NOT mean asking Hank  to make   it   for  us.   The  buck  stops  with  us,  not  Hank.   We   must   take   full  responsibility  to  the  public  for the decision we make.   But  "deference"  in  this context DOES MEAN explaining to the public why Hank and the staff are wrong in their  opinion  if  we vote in opposition to his recommendation.  We  can  not  hire experts  -  including the people who teach our children - and ask for  their  opinion and  then  override it without giving a reason satisfactory to  them  without  doing damage to the fabric and climate of the school. 

 

            I suggest our role tonight is to REPRESENT the people of this township,  not  to  become their educational experts.  Our job is to make good quality decisions  in the  name  of  the people after having asked the experts, including  Hank  and  his  staff,  for as much relevant information and advice as is possible.  We  have  done that as to the voluntary school, and we will act tonight.

 

            Two  years ago I said that I thought the voluntary school was  an  intriguing possibility.  The reports we have considered this winter and spring have taken  the bloom off the rose, but I still think the idea is intriguing.  I am clear that the  better choice  is  to remove the voluntary school from the table as an  enrollment  option, but  I do not do so joyfully.  I wish it could have worked.  Unfortunately  the  data show otherwise. 

 

            I  think  the process of thinking about whether we should have  a  voluntary school  has  been  good  for New Trier.  It has been  very  hard  work,  mostly  for people other than myself.  I am grateful for the effort of the staff, Hank, Onnie and Chuck  on  the  review  committee,  and all  others  who  made  the  presentations possible.   I thank Onnie, Mark, Phyllis, and David for encouraging us  to  consider the  possibility  of  having a voluntary school.  As a result we  have  learned  a  lot  about  ourselves.   In  fact, I think we have accomplished SOME  of  the  strategic  planning  we  haven't  quite  managed to do in its own  name  through  the  study  process  of  the  voluntary school.  So while I conclude we should  not  adopt  the voluntary  school,  I  think  the study of whether we  should  adopt  the  voluntary school has been worthwhile and will continue to pay dividends for New Trier in the future.

 

            Thank  you.