Letters

For more insight into my background and motivations, below are three letters I sent to the community during the School Principal search and School Board election.

2018 School Board Run – Concession Note

November 7, 2018

Dear Friends,

I wanted to write and thank all of you who one way or another wished me luck during this recent school board run.  Please don’t be disheartened by my loss.  I feel all the board members will remain open to my input and ideas.  We are a small school and community and there are many ways I will influence outcomes going forward.  My energy is not dampened by yesterday’s vote.  I’ll remain more free, and with more time, to work on the specific school and community-related issues I consider most pressing.

As I’ve been here less than 10 months and preferred not to campaign beyond the personal letter I sent to voters, I’m ok with the result.  I received 325 votes which are about 275 more than the probably less than 50 registered voters I’ve actually met.  Please also don’t feel we just missed it had we only campaigned harder.  I still lost by 70 votes and it would have likely taken a lot of time and energy campaigning to possibly get those votes.

As you’ll learn in the upcoming weeks, I’ve been putting that time and energy to good use.  And I’ve now met many of you all during this process.  This is all great progress.

Please stay tuned and keep an eye on this website, VisionForCommunity.org, where I’ll share my thoughts on ways for us all to strengthen the school, and equally important, our special community that I’m so pleased to be a part of.

Warm Regards,

Steve

P.S.  On Winning or Losing

A farmer had only one horse. One day, his horse ran away.
His neighbors said, “I’m so sorry. This is such bad news. You must be so upset.”
The man just said, “We’ll see.”
A few days later, his horse came back with twenty wild horses following. The man and his son corralled all 21 horses.
His neighbors said, “Congratulations! This is such good news. You must be so happy!”
The man just said, “We’ll see.”
One of the wild horses kicked the man’s only son, breaking both his legs.
His neighbors said, “I’m so sorry. This is such bad news. You must be so upset.”
The man just said, “We’ll see.”
The country went to war, and every able-bodied young man was drafted to fight. The war was terrible and killed every young man, but the farmer’s son was spared since his broken legs prevented him from being drafted.
His neighbors said, “Congratulations! This is such good news. You must be so happy!”
The man just said, “We’ll see.”

Letter of Introduction to the Community (and the extent of my campaigning).

October 18, 2018

Dear Neighbor,

I am running for a seat on the Bolinas Stinson School Board.  As I don’t believe in making important decisions with limited information, you can learn more about me at http://www.VisionForCommunity.org.  Or, even better, feel free to contact me directly and we can speak or meet.

My wife, Orasa, and I are parents of three children ages 4, 5 and 5.  We moved here with considerable intention, to raise our kids in a small community, in a natural environment, and where virtually all the children went to the local public “community” school.

Addressing the housing problem for school staff and families is a major focus of mine.  There are not enough kids and enrollment has been declining. Eventually, with no kids, there will be no school.

Other priorities will be to increase parent involvement (especially non-English speakers) and to help raise the academic bar in any areas we fall short.  We’re a small, agile school that can implement creative ways to effectively monitor individual student progress and offer everyone an exceptional educational experience.

With all our children in the lower grades, I have a great view of the daily comings and goings on the Stinson Campus in particular, where almost half the students are.  I hope to help further unite our two unique towns, so it seems prudent to have at least one board member representing the Stinson Beach community.

As for my background, I grew up in Peterborough, New Hampshire and moved to the Bay Area in 1990.  I have lived in Berkeley, San Francisco and on a houseboat in Sausalito that we designed and built.  I have worked for myself as a designer and contractor, created two tenancy in common communities in San Francisco, and had a number of entrepreneurial adventures.  Over the years I’ve employed about 250 people full time, from whom I have learned a great deal.

I am committed to community building and have worked closely with exiled leaders of Burma’s ’88 generation uprising, co-leading the protests when the Olympic torch came through San Francisco.  They inspired me to later work for the UN in Burma, and in 2008 helped get me into their country at a time when it was closed. I then led initial assessment teams after the humanitarian disaster precipitated by Cyclone Nargis.

Personally, I’m passionate about learning, evolving and helping others.  I think a lot about what true community really is (www.visionforcommunity.org/on-community) and how I can help cultivate it.

In my experience, great ideas emerge from committed people, with differing backgrounds, openly and thoughtfully working through, and often disagreeing on important issues in an effort to get the deepest understandings and the best outcomes.  To my mind, this community has a vast amount of untapped potential.

To increase my odds, if there are candidates you are neutral about, consider voting for just one or two of us.   If you have questions or ideas, please do feel free to reach out to me directly as I’m happy to meet.

Thank you,

Steve O’Neal

Letter to the School Community regarding the new principal search.

Dear Parents, Staff, and Community Members,

I’m new to this community, with two children in the pre-k program and a third joining next year.  As such, I’m hesitant to reach out to you all so directly. Please excuse my audacity for doing so.

However, given Jason’s April 24th resignation, we are now obviously faced with the most important decision a school community makes, if they’re lucky, once a decade.

And yet, while intentions are good, and we are indeed late in the school year hiring cycle, I feel the process around this major decision is moving too fast and we’re not putting our best collective foot forward.  More importantly, it seems we are missing the full opportunity to bring the entire school community together around this crucial hiring decision – right from the beginning of the process.

Hiring a principal should be a very big deal.  It is a time to hear from anyone (staff, parents, the wider community) who cares about the outcome.  It is an opportunity to heal old wounds and begin anew.  It is a time to reflect on what has worked well in the past, and perhaps, more importantly, an ideal time to demonstrate our adult growth mindsets, by acknowledging our past mistakes, discussing them, and learning from them – a key skill we all strive to teach the children.  The best schools are widely inclusive, learning organizations.

Today at 5pm there is a special board meeting where the school board will review the hiring process for a new principal.  It is open to all so if the short notice doesn’t prevent you from attending, I encourage you to.  If childcare is a challenge, we have two young friends in town (one is a music teacher) who will be hanging around campus and are happy to help watch kids.

The new leader of the school will have a big impact on all of our lives, and those of the children.  I hope we can thoughtfully work together to fine tune a vision for the school and for the type of person we want to lead it.

To help jumpstart a collaborative conversation among us all, I’m including a link to a discussion tool, called Loomio, that a few of us have been trying out. It was originally created in New Zealand to help the organizers of the 2011 Occupy Movement brainstorm, coordinate, and stay in sync.  It has since been adopted by thousands of citizen groups, municipalities, and companies to help teams of busy people, in different locations, and with differing schedules, work together on matters of importance.

Loomio’s greatest strength is that it allows people to think and deliberate about something when they have the time to do so.  It also tends to build consensus and community as you can see everyone’s views and opinions in real time.  You can change your views as other’s thinking impacts your own. The wisdom of the crowd often emerges and prevails, with everyone understanding how we got there.  Over time, using Loomio results in far fewer emails and messages and more free time for everyone.

You can join our “Bolinas-Stinson – Education Focused Discussion Group” here:

https://www.loomio.org/join/group/eb1291a2e0d442952c2a/

If you have any questions about Loomio or anything else you’d like to connect with me about, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.  Here’s an overview of Loomio: https://tinyurl.com/Loomio

Please also forward this email to anyone you think would be interested in it, as I only have email addresses for those of you in our children’s grade (pre-k).  In addition to our school board, it might be great to get a more formal parents/staff/friends of school group going.  And lastly, apologies for not getting this email out sooner.

Coheartedly,

Steve O’Neal