Letter from the Taos Waldorf School Board President

There have been a great deal of changes in the governing structure of the Taos Waldorf School over the last six months, and one of the major goals of the newly reorganized and re-energized Board of Trustees is that the entire governance of the school take place as transparently as possible. Since we, the parent body, essentially are the school, there is no reason that everything that takes place shouldn’t be knowable by all. And we really are the school. There’s no entity “over there” with which we are interacting as parents, like there is in a public school with its governance by the school board and the state. Instead, we, the TWS parents and teachers, volunteer to constitute the board, the parent council, and the school committees.

The well-being of Taos Waldorf school is attended to by three distinct but overlapping groups: The Board of Trustees, the College of Teachers, and the Parent Council.

The Board of Trustees primarily looks after the financial aspects of the school’s functioning. The College of Teachers is really the heart and soul of the school, and they make decisions regarding the pedagogy, school policy, and all of the factors that relate to the success of our children’s education. The Parent Council works to support the other two entities, and to serve as a sort of central nervous system, fostering communication between the parent body and all of the various parts of the school’s being.

You probably all already know the parent reps for your children’s classes, and it is these wonderful and dedicated folks whom you can turn to with any questions that you might have about any aspect of the school’s functioning. The parent reps are really the engine that keeps the school running. Without the parent reps, we wouldn’t have anyone to organize our events, to support the daily needs of our teachers, and to spread the word about the various requirements, happenings, and developments that arise throughout the school year.

This year, we are very fortunate to have co-chairs for the parent Council, Emily Cohen and Paymaneh Gfarri. Emily graciously served as the chair of the parent Council last year, and of course she was one of the authors, founders, and primary motivators behind the push to provide public Waldorf education to our community through the Taos Mountain Charter School initiative (more on that later!). Paymaneh has been involved in the school for many years and has served Taos Waldorf school in various capacities, including as a long time parent rep, and she’s also a former board member.

This year, the Board of Trustees also has a new makeup:

Andy Salamone – president
Sarah Beasley – vice president.
Jesus Hernandez – treasurer
Sandy Nelson – secretary (and former president)
Craig Simmons – facility and grounds chair
Elizabeth Hendricks – at-large member and Waldorf grandmother
Silke Markowski – leadership chair and advancement chair

The Board of Trustees has several committees that help attend to some of the basic functioning of the school: The finance committee, the facilities committee, the tuition assistance committee, the leadership council, and the advancement committee, which tends to outreach, marketing, and fundraising. The members of these committees are volunteers from among the parent body and faculty, and our school simply could not function without the hard work that these folks put in week in and week out.

As the board and the finance committee (along with the coordinator and the bookkeeper) continue to comb over the documents that were left to us by the previous administration, we continue to modify the budget and balance sheets, and the overall picture changes daily, sometimes by a large degree. If you as a community member ever want details about the current state of the school’s finances, or if you have useful information or suggestions, please contact me, Jesus Hernandez (our treasurer), or any other board member at any time.

Tying together the College of Teachers, the Parent Council, and the Board of Trustees is Allison Bradley, our Coordinator. The position of a Coordinator represents a shift in the structure of the school’s administration from last year and from previous years. The Coordinator is hired and overseen by the Board of Trustees, and her purpose is to essentially do everything necessary to keep the school running on a day-to-day basis, and this is exactly what Allison does.

Allison not only works in the office, but she also is a non-voting board member, a member of various committees, plus she attends both the Parent Council meetings and meetings of the College of Teachers. She also is the co-founder of the Taos Mountain Charter School initiative. Without going into it in great detail, I would suggest that every time you see Allison you give her a great big thanks for everything that she’s doing for the school, because what she is doing is so far and above the call of duty, so beyond the boundaries of her job description, and so ultimately essential to the school’s well-being that we all owe her a humongous debt of gratitude.

Just like all private schools and most, if not all, charter schools, the Taos Waldorf School relies on fundraising as a significant part of its annual budget. Last year, the school raised over $88,000 through the efforts of the parent community, as well as through a few small grants and various donations. This year, we have slightly smaller fundraising needs, but since we have fewer students, meeting this all-important goal is still going to require the enthusiasm of the entire parent body. When your parent reps ask if you can volunteer to staff an event or work on a fundraising drive, I would beg you to remember that the money that we raise through fundraising goes directly into the pockets of your teachers.

Each year the teachers sign contracts with the school, understanding that the only way that the school can fulfill the contracts is through the fundraising efforts of the parents. This shows the tremendous amount of faith that the teachers have in the commitment of the parent body, and I trust that we will not let them down, as we do our very best to think creatively and work diligently towards raising the necessary funds to meet our obligations toward our beloved teachers.

Unlike at other private schools where there are foundations that supply money to make up for tuition reductions, here at the Taos Waldorf School, when we grant tuition assistance, the money that is granted as “assistance” is simply not collected, and we must make up for this deficit through fundraising.

As I’m sure you know, parent participation is not an optional or auxiliary part of life at a Waldorf school, instead, the involvement of the parents in the day-to-day running of the school is part and parcel of Waldorf education. Not only is parent participation absolutely necessary for the survival of the school, but by visibly supporting and working hard to improve the quality of our school, we demonstrate to our children several very important things. On the one hand, we demonstrate the importance of Waldorf education to our children by working so hard to provide it to them. On the other hand, as we persevere, think creatively, and work together to overcome the challenges that inevitably arise, we model this approach to life for our children. We show them that when things are difficult or challenging we don’t simply turn away and find something easier, particularly when that for which we are fighting is something that is dear to our heart, and most certainly the Taos Waldorf school is dear to our hearts. One of the greatest gifts that we can give to our children is the opportunity to watch us succeed by applying diligence, perseverance, and loving attention.

I trust that by now you’re beginning to get the point of this letter: We need you to participate. If you have any type of skill, special talent, or hobby that you think might benefit the Taos Waldorf school in some way, please tell your parent rep! You never know how something that you do out of enjoyment or some random skill might end up benefitting the school, our children, and the community at large.

One thing that you can definitely do to help the school, and particularly its teachers, is to pay your tuition on time. We do not have a great stack of cash stashed away somewhere that we can draw upon when tuition doesn’t come in. We really need you to pay as soon as you get your bill, if it all possible. As you may know, this year one of the policies that the board instituted was to make sure that all families who enrolled in the 2012 – 2013 school year were completely up-to-date on any past due payments. This way, we were able to ensure that the members of our current parent body were a committed group, and we were able to start off the year with a clean slate.

That being said, as we continued to fine tune the tuition structure and organize some of the flotsam left over from previous years, we were a little bit late in getting the first few months’ billing out to you, and for this we apologize. By this point, you should have already received your bills for August, September, and October. The August bill was payable upon receipt, the September bill was due on 10th of September, and the October bill, as well as all of the rest of the bills for the remainder of the school year, will be due on the first of the month, and by this we mean that we wish the payments to be received prior to the due date. From now on, we will do our best to make sure that the bills get out by the 15th of the preceding month, but you always know that tuition is due on the first of each month, with the last payment for this school year being due on May 1st, 2013.

We understand that the rapid succession of billing for the first three months might be challenging, and so the school can grant some leeway in the timing of these payments. We also understand that these are challenging times, and we are able to be flexible, so if you anticipate that your tuition will be late for any of the first three months, just get in touch with our new and wonderful bookkeeper, Judith Cahill, at stemsandbranches@gmail.com

This year, we decided that we did not want to charge any families late fees if they were unable to pay their bill on time. Instead, we decided upon this policy: If a payment does not come in by the 5th of the month, the parents will get a friendly reminder call from a helpful board member, coordinator, or bookkeeper. Beginning with the bill due November 1st, if the 10th of the month comes and the bill has not been paid and you have not contacted the school to make special arrangements, we ask that you refrain from bringing your children to school until such time as the outstanding charges can be made current. The point here is that we will work with you when unforeseen circumstances arise, but we just need you to take the initiative to communicate and let the office know what’s going on.

As you probably know, the Taos Mountain Charter School initiative was begun last year with the intention of exploring the possibility of creating a new charter school on the site of the Taos Waldorf school. This school would be a public charter school, but the curriculum and policies would be deeply rooted in the traditions of Waldorf education.

This year, Emily Cohen and Allison Bradley have been working amazingly hard to move the Taos Mountain Charter School initiative forward. Alison’s husband, Scott, our esteemed orchestra teacher, donated his entire year’s salary so that we could hire an experienced consultant to help us with the process of moving towards the charter. On August 20, the first day of school, there was a public hearing here in Taos in front of an elected commission that would make a formal recommendation to the state as to whether or not this charter should be granted. For three days after that hearing, the commission received further information, updated budgets, and many letters of support from the community urging them grant this new charter. Since that point, no further public input was allowed, and our next step was a final decision which was scheduled to take place tomorrow, September 21st in Santa Fe.

Within the last few days, Emily and Allison received word from the commission that they were not going to recommend the approval of our charter at this point in time. There is a lengthy report connected with this recommendation, but the essence of it reflects that the state had questions about the Waldorf curriculum and how it might be properly measured against the state standards for education.

After the receipt of this news, an attorney who specializes in charter school issues in the state of New Mexico was consulted, and her strong recommendation was that we withdraw our application at this point, so that it does not get rejected, and that we apply anew in January. She noted that in her experience the second time is often the charm. Susan Olsen, the consultant who was hired to assist us with the application process, commented that the application that Emily and Allison prepared was the very best one that she had ever seen in her career. This excellent application is already being modified based on what we have learned, and everyone involved is optimistic about the way the second application will be received by the Department of Education.

In the meantime, we will continue to attend to the needs of our beloved Taos Waldorf School. We really are looking set up to have a fantastic year, and our sense of joy in the community seems to be constantly increasing. It’s important to remember that the charter school alternative is just one option that we have as a community. We are proving this year that we can continue and thrive as a private school. Many of you have stepped up to help out in so many ways, and if we all continue to contribute, we can create a truly wonderful experience for our children this year and in the future, no matter what form our school might take in that future.

Thank you all for giving so much to our sweet Waldorf community, and thank you for persevering through this very long letter. If you have any questions for me, you are welcome to email me at ajs3@me.com, or call me on my cell phone any time, at 831-295-1093.

Andy Salamone
President, Board of Trustees