My letter of resignation
Dear Peace Valley School Board of Trustees and members of the Peace Valley School community,
First, I’d like to thank all past and present board-members as well as the parents and students in our Peace Valley School community, for your support of this idea (indeed dream) of mine, and your continued leadership throughout the process of our nascent program. I would also like to thank those in our community who have donated time, money, and talent to help our students learn to navigate life and adolescence. I would like to thank Sanders Anderson and Be True design for helping us develop an identity as a school. Butterflies have been a constant in our journey, and it is fitting that our international trip this year, the final year of Peace Valley School as we have known it, included caring for and learning much about lepidoptera.
Beginning in May of 2015, we worked to build a non-profit micro-school on my farm that could incorporate researched-based educational methods specific to adolescents: young adults who need to learn life skills and grow socially and emotionally as global citizens who take care of each other and this precious planet. We were a great team. The skills of our first board were perfect for our objective to create something from nothing with no real recipe or algorithm, just our passion and personal investment. Both of which took a huge hit in early 2017 after we achieved our initial goal of becoming a non-profit in the midst of a huge social and political shift in our country and our state. Nevertheless, we opened our doors to the first Peace Valley class in September of 2017.
On the back of our van it says, “Be the Good, See the World, Follow your Path.” I’d like to talk about the wonderful work we’ve done as a school in terms of these goals.
Being the Good: We have done stewardship projects with Portland Parks, Homeward Bound Pets, at local farms, at a grade school in Costa Rica and at a wildlife preserve in Costa Rica. We worked to unload diapers for A Family Place. We work daily on our social emotional skills, mutual kindness and patience. We strive for responsibility. This culture transformed a school yard (gardening) argument about the current President of the United States into a self-assigned argument paper project and then what the students dubbed “The Country Project” where they designed their own nation dedicated to preserving and protecting the environment called “Natura.” We draw, read good books, and cook good food every day. We have supported each other through our individual struggles, including taking a mental health first aid course. We take care of our animals, our garden, and our workspace daily. And every day, when I drop the students off, they say “I love you!” when they say good bye to each other. We are “the good” every day.
Seeing the World: While many of our field trips have been service trips, they are also, true to our mission, integrated learning experiences. Whether it is working within a budget to plan and shop for the week’s groceries, gathering crustacean exoskeletons on the beach, or participating in an ROV challenge at OSU’s marine science center, we’ve learned all over this state and all over the world. We explored OMSI’s Tut exhibit, participated in a Doctors Without Borders refugee simulation, hiked glaciers in Canada, and most recently we studied symbiotic ecosystems in Costa Rica. We also budgeted and saved for a reward trip to a trampoline park, did the ropes courses at Tree-to-Tree, and ate at various restaurants practicing new cuisine and new social skills. We learned how to make quiche at Community Plate and how to make soap from a local artisan. This year, three of our students took a college class through OSU and saw what it will be like when they go out into the world of deadlines and testing. We just visited Megan’s farm to drop off our outlaw chickens and got a lesson in milking a goat.
For the end of the year, our students have two more wishes: For us to camp together in Eastern Oregon (we have a common love of hot springs we discovered on our travels to Canada and Costa Rica) and for our end of the year gathering to be at Oaks Park (one of our students has never ridden a roller coaster.) I believe that this shared, experiential learning we have curated is something we should all be proud of. Our lives have changed for the better in this sense over the past two years.
Following our Paths: The introduction of a modified version of scrum has been revolutionary to self-guided education. It gives students a chance to work together to determine what and when they will explore, separately and together. The freedom they feel in planning their day gives them a chance to practice independence, responsibility for their own educations, and time management. This, more than anything, is where PVS is truly a revolutionary and radical model for our area. It is the first erdkinder style middle and high school here in Yamhill County and in this environment, students have blossomed.
Because of our small class size, the students are able to ask each other and me for help in a comfortable and family-like environment. They are free to struggle, they are free to fail, they are supported in their struggles, and encouraged to try and try again if and when they fail. Peace Valley School is a growth-mindset educational ecosystem. This year we have begun each day with a growth-mindset journal which allows for individual reflection on common concepts. This can tie the whole group together. We have some group seminars such as our Columbus et al. simulation, our Constitution seminar, and our current Anatomy and Physiology course which covers the basic parts and functions of our amazing bodies. We also have had artists visit to teach figure drawing, and singing, we have had the luck to learn hip-hop from Chehalem Valley Dance Academy and attend the first ever Firewriters Conference.
I am personally very proud of the mastery rubrics I have developed to make highly individualized progress reports possible that are also specific enough to make transition to a traditional school environment easier. The documentation of each person’s learning path has been a challenge, since like this school, I had to develop it specific to the needs of our mission and not some existing algorithm.
Usually letters of resignation are shorter than this and perhaps a bit more bitter than sweet. But I have loved this job and this school with all that I am. I am not resigning because the school didn’t work, I’m resigning because I can’t live a healthy and productive life while there is a school in my home that I run single-handedly. For this reason, I am likely not just resigning from Peace Valley School but may well retire from classroom teaching for a time. I would like to be able to go to the doctor, dentist, therapist, or auto-mechanic during the day and not have to wait until Winter break or Spring break to do so. I’d like to pick my daughter up from school in time to play at the park. I also need a job that can support my family while Nathan goes to law school.
On an even more personal note, which I think will resonate with not just teachers who read this letter, but also other professionals, my identity has too long been tied to teaching. I need to find out who I am when I am not taking care of the young people in my community. I need to explore my own learning path in that respect. I don’t want to feel obligated to teach because I can, that is a two-dimensional idea of a “calling” which as a social construct I find to be unhealthy and problematic the older I get. I am more than a teacher and I’d like to explore those parts of my identity. I also miss having coworkers and working together with others on a project. These last two years have been isolating. I very much enjoyed working with the board to build this wonderful school. It was fulfilling to work with you and succeed, but after the doors of PVS opened, I often wouldn’t talk to another teacher or board member for weeks at a time.
So, what does this mean for the non-profit organization that is Peace Valley School? Well, if you’d like to continue as a school, I’ll gladly help raise money, find a teacher, and find a farm for you to work out of. I would highly suggest expanding to at least two classrooms, on a farm where the teachers do not live, and waiting until you have a group of very dedicated teachers, parents, and volunteers. I also suggest considering a charter or endowment so that you can offer the school for free or very inexpensively. Finally, I suggest that the model be simply a middle school for grades 6-8. That is what is needed most in this community, and those are the grades of the students who truly thrived in this environment.
If Peace Valley School decides to dissolve the non-profit, I will help to sell off the assets, including the lease to the van, and will likely buy some at fair market value for my own home. I promise to any parents who read this letter, especially those who were planning on sending their child to Peace Valley School in future years, that should Peace Valley School dissolve, I will still be here. I have a lot of skills and knowledge regarding starting a school in this county and all that I know is yours. I will help any group of people whose mission coincides with Peace Valley School’s to form a board, acquire resources and curriculum, even charter a school. I will happily serve on such a board. I just won’t teach at that school, and I won’t do it by myself. Please feel free to reach out to me.
If Peace Valley school decides to remain, I’ll happily join the board and help it move to the next level, not on my farm, and not with me as lead teacher or Head of School. I will ask that those members of the board who joined out of love for or loyalty to me and not the idea of the school, take this opportunity to resign. Those who are willing to assist in either shutting down, putting to sleep, or moving the school, please remain on the board only if you are able. I have noticed over the past year especially that some of the initial board commitments, due to major life changes and gradual increase in overall busyness, have become too much for some members and they are therefore on the board in name only.
In closing, I’m sure you all know that I didn’t make this decision lightly. I am doing what is right for me and my family no matter how much it breaks my heart or challenges my deeply ingrained sense of identity and responsibility. I hope I can rely on you, the Peace Valley School community, to help me and the other founders of the school who put so much love and effort into building it send it where it needs to go. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for your love, support, and faith these last four years. I am resigning from Peace Valley School as Head of School and Lead Teacher effective at the completion of my 2018/19 contract.
Molly Lord-Garrettson, MT
Molly S. Lord-Garrettson, MT