Running a Private School

Get help and guidance on running a private school. Find guidance and resources related to administration, fundraising and marketing. Explore strategic plan development, creative fundraising ideas and the latest technology uses in marketing.
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Who in their right mind starts a private school? Parents and teachers do. Why do they start a school? Because they are passionate about teaching a certain way or adhering to a certain philosophy or sometimes because they simply want to run their own school and do things their way.

No matter what the genesis of the idea might be, the recipe for bringing a school into existence is straight-forward enough. It requires equal parts persistence, business acumen and patience. To those basic ingredients you add huge lashings of money. Mix thoroughly. As you do, you discover that you will have to add more money regularly as the other ingredients soak up gobs of money.

Here is a template for planning and opening your own school. Good luck! I did it. Lived through the experience. I still recall it as one of the best things I ever did.

24 months before your projected opening date
Most school academic years begin in September or thereabouts. So you want to start the project at least 2 years out. You may need an extra year or two. The size and scope of the project and the funding resources at your disposal will determine how early you should start.

Determine what kind of school the local market needs. You may know what you want. But does the market affirm your vision of the kind of school you are planning?

18-24 months
Form a small steering committee of talented . . .read more
Most of us like to start a project and see it through from start to finish. Signing on to run a going concern is a pretty safe bet too. But what about tackling something which is going to make enormous demands on your abilities, energy and experience but which has a lot of risk? Such as taking over a struggling school?

Actually, taking over anything which is struggling entails a lot of risk. Anyway, you have talent and experience. So let's examine what's involved in investigating a head of school position in a struggling school before you sign on.

First of all, let's agree to define the struggling school as a school which is having financial difficulties. Once you understand that you are going to have to do some very heavy lifting raising money, that will help you focus on what has to be done. The truth is that most struggling schools didn't arrive in their present condition overnight. This is train wreck which the previous head of school and the board saw coming for several years before now.

Let's look at some of the reasons why a school finds itself facing difficult times.

 

  1. Its business model is flawed.
  2. It didn't market itself effectively.
  3. It wasn't managed properly.
  4. It didn't invest in the future.

 


These four reasons cover most of the more common situations. But there are others.

When you interview for the position, be sure to ask tough questions of the board. Was it a matter of the . . .read more
"Popular teacher murdered"
"Accusations of sex abuse at prestigious private school"
"Lavish expenditures on headmaster's house renovations"
 
I am not making these up. These are examples of incidents which have actually taken place at private schools. In the course of running any business things happen which can generate negative and unwanted publicity. A private school is a business. How you handle a crisis will have a huge impact on the future of your school.
 
It's a head of school's worst nightmare to read a story about something which happened at his school.
 
It's a parent's worst nightmare to read a story about something which happened in the school her children are attending.
 
It's a teacher's worst nightmare to be in the midst of the maelstrom which is the evolving story with all its investigations.
 
The Head of School
 
21st century heads of school know that they cannot simply circle the wagons and deny the existence of the story. A couple of decades ago when social media such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube email and blogs did not exist, the fortress mentality was how many heads handled tough situations. You expelled a few students, fired some staff and hopefully the matter was put to rest permanently. Not any more. Unfortunately smartphones flash photos, comments and opinions around the world in seconds. Your story better deal with all those reports. Effectively. Professionally.
 
Now when bad press appears, it takes on a life of its own. It is bad enough to see a column or two in a respected national journal such . . .read more
Have you ever thought about starting your own private school? There are a couple of reasons why you might be pondering a major project such as starting a private school. Perhaps you are discouraged by the lack of education options in your area. Maybe you have a vision and philosophy which is ahead of the curve. Also, no school in your area is doing what you know is necessary and beneficial for young people. These are but a few of the reasons why private schools get their start.

Separation of Church and State Historically this has been one of the major reasons why private schools were established. Public schools cannot teach faith-based religion. So if you are a devout follower of your religion, you will probably want your children to have a thorough grounding in their faith. That's why 22,731 private schools are affiliated with a religion according to the 2009 data available from the Private School Universe Survey of the National Center for Educational Statistics. To put that number of schools in context the PSS shows that there were 33,366 private schools in the United States in 2009. Based on those statistics religious private schools constitute 68% of the total.

The largest number of religious schools are Roman Catholic with 22,731 schools. Coming in at a distant second place are Christian (non-denominational) schools with 4,602 institutions under that grouping. So, as you can see from the data, parents want their children to be brought . . .read more
A decade ago you spent a fortune on a gorgeous catalog and a couple of recruiting trips. Then you waited. If you had gotten your catalogs into the right hands and had a good turnout for your recruiting trips, you were in good shape. The applications came in hopefully in a three to one ratio. All was well.

That approach doesn't work very well today. Your demographics have changed. More and more of your target parents belong to Generation Y. They get their information from social media.

The diversity goals your school has require different approaches too. You need to extend the reach of your advertising campaigns by using social media which is easily shared. Your market has become more segmented and much more competitive. As the economic outlook makes the future look more and more uncertain parents are examining the educational foundations which their children will need in order to be successful in their adult lives.

The uncertain enconomy which has dogged us since 2008 causes financial concerns for both you and your school and your current and prospective families.

That's where social media comes in. Done well, social media will improve your admissions yield. Done consistently, social media can cement value in place in the minds of your target audience.

But remember: social media is still marketing. It requires planning and execution of that marketing plan to work. It cannot be a hit or miss approach. Neither can you leave your marketing . . .read more
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Running a Private School

Administrative

Here you'll find information on the administrative side of running a private school. We'll cover strategic plan development, state regulations, human resources and school safety. Learn more about the obstacles of taking over a struggling school, get tips on hiring a headmaster, and receive expert advice on dealing with bad press.

Fund-raising

Private schools often need to be creative when it comes to funding. This section provides tools, tips and resources on fundraising. Learn more about supporting your school, how to handle major gifts, and why keeping in touch with graduates can benefit your budget.

Marketing and Technology

Advances in technology have changed the way businesses market themselves. This section provides tips on social media marketing, information on the latest technology being used and SEO basics for private schools.