Observations on charter school start up

One of the charter schools in Nashville

My good friend and former colleague Ken McLemore, who runs this shop that assists charter schools in Tennessee, sent me and some others a great note a few days ago about his charter school-related observations over the last few months, as someone with a management and finance background. I asked him if I could re-purpose his missive for the blog, and so here it is:

Various charter school leaders (and I) believe the following themes are essential for the charter movement to be successful. Some of these are specific outcomes that schools might seek. Some are opinions as to how the work of charter schools should be done. Others are more akin to understandings the school’s leader and board should have.

1. Make the kids’ success the highest priority. Consistently demonstrate superior student success relative to the district’s traditional schools. Further, as these successes are attained (within the year or following the end-of-year testing), broadcast them widely. The education reporter for the local paper should be on your speed-dial.

2. Actively and routinely engage the community. Have plans, activities, and expectations that will result in 20-30 community members visiting the campus each month.

3. Acknowledge that an effective launch team may not be good at running the school. The make-up of the initial board and leadership team may need to change some.

Many moons ago, I helped with the launch of DC's Chavez school

5. Adopt proven high performance education models rather than trying to invent everything yourselves.

6. Plan for and move rapidly to multiple sites. Single site schools will have a more difficult time reaching the economies of scale which are necessary for a financially sustainable operation. In addition, investors (venture capital firms and foundations) generally discriminate between their investment alternatives using three key themes: student success relative to the norm, the ability to impact increasing numbers of students, and the organization’s financial leadership and sustainability. At a minimum, plan to have three to five sites in five to seven years.

7. Staff thinly – three to five non-teaching staff at each site. Outsource the talent that is needed for facilities, back-office, charter authorizing and renewal, transportation, and the various compliance tasks required of the school. It might also be most effective to outsource professional development work, although staying true to the educational model may require this work periodically be done by the school’s leaders. Student recruitment may also be an area that can be designed and coordinated by a third party.

The Nashville Prep image came from here. The Chavez school image came from here.

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