Two Views of a School Building

March 27, 2019 | Craig Doerksen


Building a new school has two distinct elements.  The first: defining the academic program, creating the policies, procedures, and administrative backbone to lead an effective, efficient school.  Here Waterloo leans heavily on educational and institutional ‘best practices’—from governance policies, financial practices, and research-based pedagogies and programs.  It is why we are using CESA standards and NBOA to ground our institutional and financial formation, The Buck InstituteELEducation, and SEARCH Institute to inform pedagogies, curriculum, and mentoring, and ISMresearch to inform our school schedule and other practices.  There’s a lot of wonky research there that, except for the practioner, is probably pretty boring stuff—as essential as it is.

And there is of course, the other half, the real work: The purpose of a school is people—helping students grow into their identity—the best version of themselves in the world, the person they were created to be, their ‘full’ selves. This is the “why” of Waterloo—to lead students to become whole people.  So even as we are building the program, we are also building a school community.  It starts with students, of course, and we are recruiting and enrolling our first group of amazing students and their parents (eduational pioneers!) to begin in the fall.   The real fun has been beginning to get to know one another, learning what students will need from us, and as important: what strengths and gifts they bring.  Our first classes of students are amazing kids and have a lot to give!

But who else is in a school community?  People have come to see ‘school’ as only the teachers, staff, students, and parents at a particular institution.  We at Waterloo want to expand that—we think we should expand that.

As culture has shrank the community of adults participating in helping students become fully themselves (adults) to include only the teachers, coaches, and parents in their lives, we robbed them of the role models, mentors, and voices of wisdom and perspective that they need; we robbed them of the experiences that help them grow up.  Evidence this way of doing things doesn’t work: kids are taking longer to grow up.

So, we want to invite you into the Waterloo school community—in fact, we think you are a part of it (another meaning of ‘the city is the school’). Three ways you can participate:

Learn with us Did you know the word from which we get ‘school’ and ‘scholar’ scholé means leisure time, free time, the time with which we are free from practical concerns to cultivate our higher powers of discernment? It’s why our recruiting events are ‘experience days’, and why we have our ‘Deep Dive’ series on Saturday mornings, open to teenager and adult alike—(RSVP to an upcoming ‘dive’.)  Our first one was rich—‘The Incredibles’ + brain science + breakfast tacos.  To be in our ‘schole’ community is to learn with us, in purposeful leisure, how we ought to live in order to live most fully.

Get involved. 

We want a diverse network of adults in the lives of our students—not just ‘professionals’.  Laura and Malcolm Gauld of The Hyde School, in The Biggest Job We’ll Ever Have, note that the biggest change in the last forty years of education regression hasn’t been in the classroom, but in the dissolution of what they call the ‘spokes’ of adults around each kid (the hub) as they grow up: there are fewer adults around each kid.  So join us: throw your name in the hat to volunteer to be in kids lives in some capacity—a mentor, an internship,  guest instructor, adviser, tutor, something else you think you could share.

Consider Giving

Not all families can afford our tuition even though the focused nature of our micro-school allows us to be less expensive than a ‘full product’ model of private high school.  And we are building the Waterloo Scholarship Fund so we can offer Waterloo to students whose life circumstances keep them from ever developing their potential and thriving in college. We want students who wouldn’t even think to pursue a private education if we do not pursue them.  If you are interested in helping with tuition assistance or a merit and need-based student scholarship, emailme—I’d love to connect.

Finally, not sure you can do any of those three but want to be in our community?  You are!  If you’re reading this because you get it as a newsletter, you are a part of Waterloo.  (If it was forwarded to you, subscribe here!) Waterloo isn’t just a school that you’re enrolled in or you’re not.  We’re a mission of people that cares about what school can be.  Have something specific you’d like to do—mentor, internships, ideas, something else? Email me and let me know, (or you can also fill out this brief online form that has some ideas of ways to be involved.) We’ll continue to give you a little more inside story on Waterloo development, and invite you to special opportunities in the future.

We are building a school: Program and People.  The program opens in the fall.  The school for people is open now.

Postscript: What about viewing a school…building? The title was playfully misleading. Yes, having a building in which to meet is important, just as a house or apartment is important to make a home for a family. And we have a great one right on S. Congress Ave.  But a building does not make a school a school nor a house make a home. And in the case of a school, buildings can become too comfortable, and we can fool ourselves into thinking all learning can and should happen inside them. And yet the world awaits outside, the best teacher, the greatest adventure, the place for which we prepare our students to live. When the city is the school, the building in which the school meets is only one setting of the story of student learning. #thecityistheschool

Craig Doerksen

Craig Doerksen

Prior to becoming the director of Waterloo School, Craig provided leadership for a number of prominent institutions, including Regents School of Austin; the Bluetower Arts Foundation in Eugene, OR; and Trinity School in Raleigh, NC. Craig holds a master’s degree in English from the University of Ireland and graduated from the University of Oregon with a bachelor’s degree in English.