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David Kirkpatrick


The Circle School

by David W. Kirkpatrick,
Senior Education Fellow, US Freedom Foundation
 

In 1968 the Sudbury Valley School was established in Framingham, Massachusetts where it continues to this day. Unusual in its operation and literally unique when it opened, the school has served as a model for dozens of schools in the United States and even a few worldwide. Schools are free to make adaptations of the original but two constants are: 1. that students control their own movement and activity while in school and, 2. school government is a democratic one in which all students and staff participate and have an individual vote in the establishment of the rules under which the school operates.

One such school is The Circle School in suburban Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, established in 1984 as a Sudbury School. It has subsequently made some changes from that format, and now refers to itself as an example of "integral education," but it still adheres to the two principles listed above. Three of the original four founders are still on staff today, 26 years later. Enrolling 60-85 students, 4 to 18 years old, from preschool through high school, the school is licensed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education and its staff is fully certified.

The following is largely compiled from school publications and information.

Board of Trustees. This was established just last year because of complexities caused by the prior use of the Assembly, a governing body of 200 that included students, staff, and parents. The Board is limited in its powers, its main purpose being to preserve the school's fundamental principles and long-term viability and to facilitate succession from the school's founding generation to new leadership over the next decade or so.

School Meeting. Having no principal or headmaster, the School Meeting acts as the school's executive director, managing day-to-day operation of the school, delegating routine functions to elected clerks and committees The Meeting includes all students and staff, while parents are eligible to serve on committees created and managed by the it. The School Meeting maintains the Lawbook — adopting , amending, and repealing laws. Primarily through its Judicial Committee, the School Meeting also enforces those laws. The elected clerks have specific functions, such as Admissions, Alumni, Attendance, Building Maintenance, Grounds and Registrar.

Corporations are independent special interest groups which administer certain space, equipment, and activities at school; operating with their own bylaws, directors, and budget, under contract with the School Meeting and open to all members.

A Judicial Committee processes complaints alleging violations of School Meeting laws. A Lawbook is the official collection of current laws of the School Meeting. "All members—students and staff—are held accountable for following laws. Any member may propose to add, remove, or change laws at any time.

On the other hand The Circle School has distinctive features, some of which are required by state law.

For example, the School does not currently practice open campus, freedom to come and go from school premises during the school day. Regulation of non-public schools by Pennsylvania government—among the most restrictive in the nation—factors into this decision.

Second, the School offers an optional degree program: a Pennsylvania high school diploma, complying with government-dictated high school curriculum. In most states, non-public schools determine their own curriculum, a freedom not permitted in Pennsylvania.

In a more generous vein, Pennsylvania law requires public school districts to provide free transportation to resident students attending nonpublic schools within a specified distance of the public district's boundaries. Currently students from a dozen public districts are entitled to free bus service to The Circle School.

Currently the School also offers "Children's Morning Out," a free service for 3-5 year-olds from 9-11:30 a.m. Tuesday mornings. It also welcomes visitors. (210 Oakleigh Ave, Harrisburg , PA 17111, 717-564-6700) For those of you for which it might be convenient, the School has an free Open House scheduled for Wednesday, June 16, 2010. Doors open at 6:45. The program includes videos, slides, and a panel discussion. Refreshments and childcare included.

For more information about Sudbury schools, including links to Sudbury schools nationwide and worldwide, visit The Circle Schools' website (www.CircleSchool.org). A print version of "Thinking About the Circle School: An Introduction To Integral Education," is for sale by the school. A free PDF version is online.


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