Thinking about starting your own school? Here's an outline of what's involved.
Who in their right mind starts a private school? Starting any enterprise is a daunting project. Yet many parents and teachers are the impetus behind the dozen or so new private schools that appear on the scene each fall. Some schools begin modestly with a grade or two and grow by adding one grade a year. Other schools have much more elaborate plans. Why do these brave parents and teachers start a school? The main reason seems to be that they are passionate about teaching a certain way or adhering to a certain philosophy. Sometimes they do it simply because they 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, although there are many ingredients. Staring a school requires equal parts persistence, business acumen, and vast amounts of 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.
This video offers an overview of starting a nonprofit organization like your school.
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.
36 months before your projected opening date
Most school academic years begin in the fall. Usually in September or thereabouts. So you want to start the project at least 3 years out. You may even need an extra year or two more than that. 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 which you are planning?
30-24 months out
Form a small steering committee of talented supporters to begin the preliminary work. Include parents with financial, legal, and management experience. Include people who are not afraid to play devil's advocate. Constructive criticism will clarify your objectives and plans before you get past the point of no return.
18 months out
File incorporation papers with your Secretary of State. You need a legal framework for everybody's protection. That's why you asked some attorneys to be on the steering committee. They know how to protect the about-to-be-hatched school. Listen to them. Do not stint on what they recommend.
Develop a business plan. Your gift may be teaching. But you need to enlist the aid of a successful business person to draw up your business plan. Potential donors will want to see what you hope to accomplish in Year 1, Year 3, Year 5, Year 10, etc., before they will commit significant sums to the project. Your vision will become a reality when guided by a sound, well-devised business plan.
Develop a budget for 3 years. The business plan lays out the steps to realizing your vision. A budget breaks down that vision into an annual financial plan which enables you to project income and expenses.
Locate a facility to house the school or develop building plans if you will be creating your own facility from scratch. Consult a commercial real estate professional to determine what kind of facilities are on the market in your locale. Yes, you need commercial real estate and the zoning which goes along with it for the establishment of your school. Just because an anonymous donor has said that she will give you her baronial estate, you still need to understand that zoning approvals must be obtained and won BEFORE any commitments can be made. Your donor's single car and driver didn't create any traffic. Hundreds of cars arriving in the early morning and late afternoon will attract neighborly attention for sure.
16 months out
Apply for tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status from the IRS. You need this document in order that donations can be tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. Don't piggyback on some related institution's tax-exempt status. Get your own.
Identify your Head of School and your Business Manager. Once you have the IRS approval in place, then search for your Head of School and Business Manager. These professionals will translate your vision with all its goals and objectives into reality. Hire people who are not afraid of risk. Starting a new school is a leap of faith. Some more timid souls will look at the job as potential career limiting experiences. The candidates with real leadership skills are the ones you need and want to hire.
14 months out
Secure your initial funding - donors and subscriptions. All gifts are welcome. But the money will really start rolling in once you attract a couple of well-known donors. Do your homework and lay the groundwork for fund-raising from the earliest stages. Your enthusiasm will be a powerful tool. But a sound business plan and key professionals will cinch the deal.
Attract skilled faculty by paying them fairly AND with the vision of your new school. Appeal to their entrepreneurial side and emphasis that you are looking for team players. Given the number of job cuts in public K-12 schools, you should be able to attract the talent you need without too much difficulty.
This video will help make your first open house a success.
Market your school. Advertise. Promote. Tell the story of your new school through presentations at service clubs and other community groups.
9 months out
Open your school's office. Schedule admissions interviews. Organize tours of your new facilities by service clubs and other local groups. It is so important to create some buzz about your new school. Schedule open houses both for prospective parents and community leaders.
2 months out
There's much to do before opening day. Have faculty in place early in order to get the school ready for opening. Don't leave the teachers out of the picture until the week before your opening. Organizing their classrooms, tweaking their curricula and timetables - these essential tasks take time and lots of energy. You can also build invaluable esprit de corps during the weeks before school opens.
This video recaps just about all the main points which we have discussed above.
Make it a festive occasion. Invite the local dignitaries, members of the city council and state legislature. Lots of positive stories in the local press and television stations will expose your new school to a wider audience.
Welcome your students. Begin to make them understand this is the best thing they ever did. Make them believe, as you do, that this school is going to be the very best. This is a very special opportunity for instilling school spirit. Once students believe in their school, word will spread very quickly about all the special features and unique qualities of your school. After all, isn't that why you wanted to start the school in the first place? You did want to establish a school that reflected your take on education, right? Good luck!
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