From its inception, Sussex School has been a parent cooperative, whereby parents of enrolled students are the members of the Sussex School Corporation. A cooperative is a group of people united to pursue common economic, social, and cultural goals through a democratic enterprise. Some cooperatives have a one-member/one-vote policy that allows members to vote on all issues; other cooperatives are more structured, but both types of cooperatives are organized in a democratic manner. According to its original by-laws, Sussex is a blend of characteristics and processes, some found in many participatory and representative democracies. The success of this blend depends on clear boundaries, open communication, and mutual respect among all stakeholders.
Sussex School is governed by a Board of Directors. The Board is elected by parents, who also make up the majority of Board members. The board sets institutional policy, oversees committees that carry out the school's goals and procedures, and works with the Director to make decisions in the best interests of the school. The Board’s authority is balanced by the authority of the broader parent membership, which is able to veto board decisions with a two thirds majority vote.
The Administrative Team, which consists of the Director, the Assistant Director, and the Business Manager, leads the Sussex community and acts as the liaison between Sussex staff, students, parents, and Board members. Through frequent communication and solicitation of parent, staff, and student input, the Director fosters an environment that inspires all community members to work cooperatively and creatively. The Director prepares and submits to the Board of Directors recommendations and background information on matters requiring Board action. Once the Board makes a decision, it is the Administrative Team’s responsibility, working closely with students, staff, and parents, to ensure that Board policies and decisions are carried out.
As members of a cooperative, parents give time to the school in a wide array of functions. Each family contributes at least 60 hours per year fulfilling volunteer opportunities, including helping in the classroom, driving on field trips, fundraising, assisting in the office, and doing maintenance and cleaning of the buildings and grounds. For example, as an historical perspective, in the school year 2005-2006, with an enrollment of 58 families, the school benefited from over 5,000 hours of service to the school, an average of over 90 hours per family. At $20 per hour, the school saved $100,000!
All parents are encouraged to get involved in the school by serving on one or more of the school’s committees, staying informed, and asking questions. Parent involvement at all levels of operation is vital to the success of Sussex School. Other stakeholders (including the Board, administrators, faculty, and students) depend heavily on the support and involvement of parents for the successful completion of their responsibilities. A vital role of all parents is to provide input as requested for the decisions to be made by the Board, administrators, and teachers, and then either to support those decisions or express their dissent in a healthy and constructive way. It is essential that parents be dedicated to the school’s philosophy and be supportive of its cooperative structure.