Starting a charter school can be one of the toughest jobs anyone can commit to but also one of the most rewarding. A clear plan of a quality charter school is critical to your success. On average, the development of a new charter school can take anywhere from 1-3 years, which may vary depending on a number of factors, including your team’s experience and expertise. Below are some general steps on how to start a charter school in Michigan.
What is your dream? More than likely, if you are reading this, you have vision for a charter school. Hopefully this vision fits the unmet educational needs of your community. This vision needs to address a unique problem that current educational options don’t solve and drive an innovative approach to education. Put the pen to paper and draft your mission and vision to bring life to your dream and to gain community support!
Who will be on your side? A founding team is vital to the success of your dream. Finding engaged community citizens to lead your school board from start to finish can be beneficial to ensure you have informed and engaged team members. Although there will be intelligent people on your side, it is important to continue to build the capacity of your team to ensure that they are up to date on school-related items, such as recent policy changes, academic standards, instructional strategies, budget requirements, and the list can go on and on…
Who will lead the dream to reality? Leadership is always a necessary ingredient to any successful business, but even more important to a charter school. What will your governance structure look like? Will you hire a network to manage your school? Forming a sound organizational structure with which your school will be operated by will ensure a sound foundation to your plan.
Innovative instruction and academics is key! Designing an academic program can be a very creative task. It is always important to be able to draw the connections of your program back to the unmet educational needs of your community, including, performance standards, curriculum and instructional methodology. Don’t reinvent the wheel here, research what has worked and be innovative and unique in the culmination of components of differing curriculums and the way in which they will be delivered to your students.
What does success look like? Defining an accountability plan will help your team measure your success. What educational goals will support the successful implementation of your mission and vision? What other forms of anecdotal data will you collect and measure?
Create a roadmap! Crucial to the development of your school is a concise and concrete map. Capturing on paper what your goals are and why you believe they can be achieved and your plan of attack on how to accomplish these goals, will help your team navigate the bumpy terrain. The map should also include plan B and C, just in case plan A doesn’t pan out to be what was envisioned. Your first 5-year operational budget should include a contingency plan. Be conservative in your enrollment numbers and budget based on priorities to account for the haphazard circumstances that are inevitable with any new business startup.
What will be your address? Most often, founders think that finding a facility is one of the first steps in the process of starting a charter school. However, don’t be mistaken that identifying your turf really is part of examining the unmet educational needs of your community, but building your foundation off of a vacant facility does not promote the true need for a school. Although this is one of the toughest steps in the process for most founding teams, it is crucial that the needs of students and your plan to serve them guide your decisions, including where your school will reside. Get creative and think outside the box when it comes to a physical address. How about that run-down strip mall or the vacant event center?
Dot the i’s and cross your t’s. Filling out a phase one charter application can be scary at first, but know that you can apply to more than just one authorizer. Universities, community colleges, intermediate school districts and local school districts can authorize a charter school in Michigan, but beware that each may have their own process, applications and deadlines. Do your due diligence and research the best fit for your the school.
If you thought opening a school was hard, try leading, governing, measuring, overseeing and managing an operational school! After obtaining the charter from your authorizer, recruiting your staff and students will be key priority. Implementing that genius marketing strategy during this step will hopefully lead to many student applications, but beware that applications in the spring does NOT equal enrollment in the fall. Continue to hit the pavement hard with a grassroots strategy of door knocking and hand shaking and get the community involved! Hiring and on-boarding staff is time consuming and tedious work, but is so impactful to the success of your educational goals. Make sure to give yourself time in your hiring deadlines, to ensure you hire rock stars! Of course, there are a million other tasks that occur in this final phase before you open, but as promised this was intended to be a broad overview. Best of luck and continue fighting for educational choice of quality programs for the kids in your community!