Community Letters to the Board


November 29, 2018

The Board of Directors
Old Town School of Folk Music

Dear Board Members,

On November 20, 2018, the Save Old Town School group put out a call to the community, asking for copies of letters that Old Town School of Folk Music supporters had written or would write to the Board of Directors. In the course of seven days, we received the enclosed 136 letters.

As you’ll see, they include expressions of sadness, dismay, and anger about the recent events, but they also include many stories about what an incredible impact the school has had on people’s lives, and so many offers to help.

These letters are a testament to the strength of the school’s community, and a reflection of our commitment to using the current situation to ultimately build an even stronger, more vibrant and united school.

We ask you to read each letter, and listen to the community’s voices.

With warm regards,

Michelle Stenzel
Janna Henning
and The Entire Save Old Town School Community

cc:  Ms. Rashida Phillips, Acting Executive Director

These are a few representative quotes taken from the full letters that follow:

“909 W. Armitage is a space of positivity. Everyone who walks through the doors for their first core guitar class says the same thing: “This is something I always wanted to do.” How often do you go anywhere where you can look around and know everyone wants to be there? That energy sits in the bones of 909 W. Armitage.”  – Kathryn

“There has been no transparency in your decisionmaking so if we don't have the facts straight, it is up to you to inform us. We are sharing stories of why the Old Town School of Folk Music is so important to us. We are offering pro bono help in a number of different areas. We don't need to spend what little free time we have doing this. Perhaps we seem like a nuisance. Some of us probably are. But listening to the community you serve is what it means to run an organization and be on the board of an organization.”  – Mary

“Like many, many others, the OTS has played a major part in my life story, literally saving my mental health after a traumatic divorce and helping me find myself again; in addition to meeting lifelong friends, I met my husband at OTS (he is also a former volunteer, student, and concert staff) and we would have had our son born at the school if we could have (just kidding, kinda). The Old Town School was our church and we felt lucky to be a part of it.” – Sandra

“I’m left with the following dilemma: It may well be that selling the Armitage site and trimming the administrative staff are, in fact, the right steps. However, (a) the reasons given by the Board so far don’t make sense, (b) whoever is making these decisions at OTS is doing so completely unilaterally, and isn’t involving the teachers at all, (c) I have little faith that the administrative savings will occur in the right places, and (d) I have very little faith that any these decisions are being made for the right reasons. In light of all this, I see little reason why I should continue to support the OTS with my financial contributions.”  – Peter

“I’m sure you know well that the staff and students of OTS are not like the managers, employees and customers of a normal for-profit. We're invested in the success of OTS and engaged in a way most business would kill for. Harnessing and building on this engagement can unleash a host of benefits for the school -- including ideas, promotion and donations.  Instead, there are no town halls, no newsletters or bulletins to share information. No open board meetings. What other public organizations operate like this? I can't think of any myself. For many, including myself, it feels like OTS leadership is not just missing a chance to harness the amazing asset, but deliberately turning its back.”   – Matt

“I understand that one of the biggest pains for the School is the downturn in class enrollment.  As a student who signs up every 8 weeks for the next class, I think I know one reason enrollment is down.  You have fewer returning students.  Do you know how difficult it is to navigate the website to sign up for the next guitar class? It takes me about 10 minutes every time I have to do it. That is a big barrier. And I am a computer savvy marketing exec. … In summary, I would love to help you find a better solution than selling 909 Armitage.  And I know I am not alone. You have a great staff, great teachers, and an extremely talented student community. We are willing to pitch in and volunteer. Just ask.”  – Ken

“The OTS community of students and concert goers have many gifts to share, and in my view, this asset has not been cultivated at all. Many of my fellow students have often wondered why we’ve never been engaged by the OTS staff for input, for volunteer support, or even for financial contributions. I’m very sorry that it has taken this PR nightmare and bad decision to mobilize the community to come forward.”   – Amy

“The sign of a true leader is someone who recognizes great talent in the resources around them and maximizes, shapes that talent to truly bring out the best in an institution and in the people who work there. The institutional knowledge of Old Town School lies in the teachers and the community that supports the school. Listen to them! Or they will take their support, love, energy and creativity to another institution who does.”  – Julie

“Leadership can turn this around! Don't sell the building. Embark on a marketing campaign to build enrollment (I can help you! I am a marketing and PR pro!) Manage the class pricing better. Involve the students and the faculty to work together to bring Old Town School back to its former glory and build a future based on collaboration and community.” – Liz

“I treasure the friendships I've made with fellow students, and the knowledge I've gained from my teachers, some of whom I'm lucky enough to count as friends as well. There are thousands of other Chicagoans out here with similar stories, all sharing the same fierce love for this school and the community around it. We've all been changed by OTSFM, and we want it to be around for generations to come, so others can have the same life-changing experiences we did. I implore you to listen to all of us who are reaching out to you right now. Don't go down in history as the people who destroyed the Old Town School of Folk Music. Go down in history as the people who saved it.”  – Carey