Building the Foundation
In this phase, teams develop their mission and vision, build a team of strong leaders with diverse skill sets, learn about important requirements, and develop their timeline.
Vision, Mission, Philosophy and School-wide Goals
The vision and mission of your school are much more than a written statement. They are central to your identity, as both a development team, community partner and future school. The vision statement is an aspirational description of what an organization would like to achieve or accomplish in the distant future. It is intended to serve as a clear guide for choosing current and future courses of action. The mission statement states to the community how you plan to accomplish or achieve that vision. It should clearly define who you are, who you serve, and what you stand for. Your educational philosophy and goals should derive from your vision and mission.
Your vision should be a seemingly unattainable environment that your organization is constantly working towards achieving. A vision statement spells out goals at a high level. Simply put, the vision should state what impact your school will have on its families and community. As a founder, once you have defined your vision, you can begin to develop strategies for moving the organization toward that vision. Part of this includes the development of a school mission.
Think of a mission statement as a road map towards achieving your school's vision. It answers four basic -- but incredibly important -- questions that should give a clear and succinct representation of the school's purpose for existence: Who are we? Who do we serve? Why do we exist? How are we going to do it?
Mission statement alignment, which is the understanding that all school actions must directly connect with the stated mission, should be the first consideration for any stakeholder who is evaluating or considering a strategic decision or procedure. See several examples of California charter school mission statements. Learn more about a successful mission-driven charter school.
The "Educational Philosophy," which is a required section of your charter petition, describes how your program will take the "Target Population" (students) through the education process ("How Learning Best Occurs") to become an "Educated Person in the 21st Century." It is important to remember that your mission must have a direct influence on the way you present your educational philosophy. This continuity reinforces the mission alignment of your education program and ensures that your school will be better prepared to achieve your vision. The Educational Philosophy should address all of the following in an articulate and cohesive way:
- Description of the target students, how learning best occurs, and educated person
- Description of needs, challenges, etc. of student population
- Approximate enrollment projections
- Alignment with mission and target population
- Alignment with goals and outcomes
- Established a compelling need for school through use of student and other data
- Explicit connection between stated philosophy and needs of students
- Obvious understanding of student population, their needs, and challenges
The educational philosophy is the framework for the curriculum and instructional design of your program. Once determined, your educational philosophy will allow you to develop clearly defined goals.
Think of your goals as the steps to achieving your mission and vision. Goals highlight the individual elements or areas your school needs to focus on in order to successfully fulfill the mission and vision. They can also be very useful during community outreach or when marketing your school to prospective staff and families. Click here to see some examples of Guiding Principles and Goals.
Building a Founding Team
The Founding Team
A charter school founding team is a group of individuals, such as parents, teachers, community leaders, or educational leaders with multiple abilities united by a single vision. Typically, a well-rounded team consists of five to seven individuals with experience and knowledge in a variety of fields related to starting a school, especially education, business or finance, governance, and outreach. The need to demonstrate significant breadth and depth of experience cannot be overemphasized; authorizers will be wary of inexperience or an incomplete team.
What do founding team members do once the school has opened? Some members may go on to be board members, staff, volunteers, or parents at the school. Other members will lend their expertise primarily throughout the start-up process. There are several factors to take into consideration as you integrate team members: how the team will work together; the skills necessary to complete the start-up process; and how you will find team members.
Working as a Team
By assembling a team to start your school, you bring together people with the diverse, comprehensive set of skill sets that are necessary for success in this process. In addition to expertise, team members bring connections to different sectors and groups that may be helpful throughout the process. Working in a collaborative environment can also promote problem solving and creativity. A team will ease your workload, as there will be many tasks to accomplish, many of which are time intensive. It will also give you the opportunity to share the joys and strains of the process of bringing your school to life.
Team members have different styles, interests, and approaches to the work of starting a school. To work together effectively, it is recommended that the team conduct a self-evaluation of the team's skill sets and work styles early in the process. Effective teams also identify a clear decision-making process, plan for handling conflicts within the team, and plan for managing the project (see "Management" tab of this article).
Effective teams are composed of individuals with the following wide-range of skill sets.
- Education: In order to develop a strong and defensible educational program and eventually bring the school to life, the team should have individuals with expertise in curriculum, assessments, school leadership, and serving special populations such as English Learners, students with IEPs, and socioeconomically disadvantaged students.
- Finance: In order to manage the development of a strong and defensible budget, ensure it is updated properly, and work most successfully with a business service provider (also known as back office provider), the team should have individuals with experience in budget management, cash flow, and/or business.
- Outreach: In order to engage families meaningfully throughout the school development process and successfully recruit students to attend the school, the team should have individuals with expertise in community outreach and engagement.
- Governance: In order to develop a strong and defensible governance model for the school, guide the early board, and work most successfully with your legal counsel, the team should have individuals with a background in nonprofit governance, nonprofit and/or education law, and/or organizational structure.
- Facilities: In order to secure and ready a facility for your school, it is recommended that your team have individuals with knowledge of real estate and zoning.
- Fundraising: In order to secure grants and gifts to support the launch and early operations of your school, it is recommended that your team have individuals with experience in developing and executing on a fundraising plan.
- Personnel/HR Management: In order to develop a feasible human resources plan and support early hiring efforts, it is recommended that your team have individuals with related experience in human resources.
- Technology: In order to develop a feasible technology plan and support early technology set-up, it is recommended that your team have individuals with experience in technology planning/implementation.
- Communications/Marketing: In order to effectively leverage the media, as well as develop a strong message and marketing materials for the school, it is recommended that your team have individuals with experience in working with the media and developing and executing a communications and/or marketing plan.
- Program-Specific Expertise: If your school will have a particular focus, such as Montessori or high school, your team should have individuals with that experience to help demonstrate that your program is likely to be successful.
Finding New Team Members
Before inviting individuals to join the team, think about the roles you are recruiting them to fill. Potential team members should have skill sets and expertise that will serve the school development effort. They should also have the necessary time to commit to the project, be willing to publicly support the school, and be able to persevere in the face of obstacles and opposition. Create a clear plan to communicate these expectations to team members early in the process.
Recruiting team members pose a challenge for many developers. The following strategies can help with recruitment.
- Use your network: Ask team members to share your plans and needs with friends, colleagues, community members, and co-workers.
- Get the word out via social media: Use platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to inform a wide net of individuals of your mission and vision and your desire to connect with other individuals who would like to work on such a project.
- Host meetings: Open community meetings are a great way to meet parents in the community who may be searching for alternative education options and may be interested in becoming involved in your project.
- Alumni networks and related organizations: Posting through alumni networks, education-related organizations, and local community organizations, is also a great way to recruit team members.
Overview: The Importance of Project Management
Project management is essential to the viability and sustainability of your school development process. Without proper project management, you will have a difficult time meeting your internal and external timelines for petition development and authorization. Knowing and understanding the importance of project management will steer your charter school development from dream to reality.
Key Dates and Tasks
Throughout the four major phases of the charter school development process, it is generally a good practice to start with the date you want your school to open and work backwards. Every team and situation is unique; and each team will need to account for the other variables that could impact the dates chosen.
Key tasks in successful project management:
- Designate a team member as the project manager
- Determine how the project manager will hold team members accountable for completing assigned tasks
- Determine the time commitment of each team member to determine the appropriate frequency of team meetings
- Determine the capacity of the team to identify and address gaps and needs
- Backwards map general dates and phases from the target opening date
- Within each phase, identify major tasks and activities
- Assign the appropriate team member for each task and activity
- Assign internal deadlines for each task and activity completion, or create a map for how tasks relate to one another and which need to be completed in what order
The Project Manager
Choosing the right project manager will set your team up for success. The project manager's responsibilities include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Keeping the team on track
- Sustaining the team's motivation
- Maintaining focus on the objective
- Holding the team accountable for their roles and responsibilities
Look for a project manager that has successfully taken projects or programs from concept to reality. Your project manager should always have the end-goal in mind, be inclusive in sharing responsibilities with the rest of the team, and be an effective and efficient communicator.
Project Management Tools
Many successful teams select a project management tool early in the process to help them stay on track and ensure that they are hitting critical milestones as they move through the process of starting their school. A critical piece to project management is organization.
As a benefit of CCSA's School Developer Membership, you can gain access to CCSA's Start-Up Planner on Asana, a project management tool designed for teams that are starting new charter schools. This tool is preloaded with tasks specific to starting a school, and is organized into the four school development phases. It is interactive, so you can set due dates and assign tasks to team members, keeping the whole team on track. Contact your CCSA School Development representative to learn more.
Outreach & Deciding Where to Locate
Where Should Our School be Located?
Before you can begin outreach, your team must answer this important question: Which neighborhoods will our school serve?
Use meetings with residents and other stakeholders, as well as data, to make an informed decision about where to locate. Some of the factors to consider include:
- Demand: How high is demand for a new school like yours in this community?
- Facilities: Are there affordable facilities available?
- Authorizing Environment: Is the political/authorizing environment more or less hospitable to charter schools?
- Funding: Do funding opportunities to support a new school exist in this community?
Once you have identified your target community, begin meeting with critical stakeholders and potential partners in that community. Who are the community leaders, elected officials, school leaders, and nonprofit leaders that could serve as allies in the development of your school? Make a list and begin meeting with them.
Schools that Engage Communities Are More Likely to Get Approved
Community engagement is critical to your success in the school development process for several reasons. First, you need families to be aware of your school so they can enroll. Your funding depends heavily on enrollment and under-enrollment has prevented schools from opening. Second, your school is ultimately designed to serve students and families. Engaging families from the beginning can help you design a responsive program. Finally, to persuade your authorizer to approve your school, you need parents and community members to demonstrate demand, and as their constituents, apply pressure.
Here's how to do it:
1. Craft an ongoing community outreach strategy.
Outreach is time-intensive and requires a clear strategy and a designated community outreach leader or committee. Be sure your plan includes meaningful engagement and a plan for soliciting input on your school design. Think about who your intended audience is, where they already gather, and how you can best appeal to them. For example, connect with community leaders at religious congregations, youth-oriented or community-based nonprofits, and preschools. Plan to attend community events and reading circles at the library, and incorporate grassroots strategies like knocking on doors and tabling at grocery stores. Translate materials into languages commonly spoken into your community. Here is a sample outreach plan.
2. Designate primary spokesperson for school and create short "school message."
Funders, parents, and interested community members will all need you to explain your vision for the school. Learn more about creating a school message. A designated spokesperson will help with time and message management when you start to receive media and speaking requests.
3. Create social media presence, website and media strategy.
Just as with traditional outreach, you want to get your message out to the widest possible audience. To do so, go where the people you want to reach are spending time. Increasingly, they are spending it online, whether exploring websites or communicating with friends via social media. In fact, people are probably already talking about your school online. Learn more about how your school can be a part of the conversation and leverage social media.
Researching Your Educational Program
Charter schools are unique in that they are able to implement innovative programs as long as they are well-researched and support the needs of the students to be served. It is incredibly important to know as much as possible about the educational program you wish to implement in your school and make a clear connection to the social, emotional, and academic characteristics of your students.
It is important to know why you are choosing a particular educational model and how it will serve the best interest of your students. You can research your educational program in a variety of ways. Take some time to contact and even visit other charter and non-charter schools that currently utilize the educational program that you are interested in implementing. Schools of education at local universities also provide a multitude of resources regarding a wide variety of educational philosophies and instructional approaches. You also will want to look at peer-reviewed, published research found in educational journals and books. It is ideal to look at research that is fairly recent. You will want to cite that research at various points in the charter petition.
Additionally, you may want to consider the 11 Best Practices confirmed by case studies that may apply to your potential student population. Your research needs to align closely with your unique community and student body.
With the new Common Core State Standards and Local Control Funding Formula Requirements, it is crucial that you understand the new requirements and integrate them into your program. This resource explains what the Common Core State Standards are, and what charter school leaders, teachers and boards should be doing to prepare to implement the Standards. This Leadership Planning Guide offers essential considerations and recommended first steps for implementing each of the ten key components of the Common Core State Standards.
Other Program Resources
There are many programming options available for charter schools. The following are selected resources to assist with program planning.
- Linked Learning: In depth look at the core components and principles of Linked Learning (previously known as Multiple Pathways), how it works, proven benefits, and ways to establish a similar program.
- Activate Instruction-Open Resource Platform: This is an open platform where teachers can browse, search, rate, add, share, and organize their favorite Common Core-aligned resources, and put them together in personalized playlists for students.
- Leadership Planning Guide: Common Core State Standards and Assessments Implementation: This guide offers recommended first steps for implementing each of the ten key components of the Common Core State Standards.
Defining a Governance Structure & Incorporating
Before establishing a nonprofit corporation to govern your school, it is important to determine how your school will function in respect to your authorizer. This determination will impact how your school is governed, how funding is received and allocated, who hires employees, and a variety of other operational factors. Learn more about these factors and your options.
Should Your Charter School Incorporate?
CCSA recommends as a best practice that charter schools form nonprofit corporations to govern their schools, for a number of reasons.
Often, charter authorizers expect a charter developer to submit proof that the school has been incorporated before a charter petition is approved. Therefore, it is important to determine from your authorizer whether incorporation is expected before the charter petition is submitted. Please note that while incorporation can be completed fairly quickly, the tax-exempt process takes much longer and many schools do not have their state and federal nonprofit letters of determination prior to petition submission. Learn more about the process of incorporating your school, and view annotated form bylaws and articles of incorporation in our Library.
It is strongly recommended that charter developers consult with an attorney throughout the incorporation and tax exemption process to ensure that the school's nonprofit status is obtained properly. CCSA offers incorporation services at pro bono and reduced rates to qualifying members.
Start-Up Costs & Creating a Fundraising Plan
Even before your school opens for the first day of instruction, your team will incur expenses associated with starting your charter school. In the beginning, these expenses may include legal fees, consultant fees, and outreach materials. As you get closer to opening, they may grow to include staff costs, professional development, facilities, and supplies. Develop a budget for these expenses, and determine where you will get the revenue to cover these costs. CCSA's Budget Workbook provides a template for planning purposes.
Create and Implement a Fundraising Plan
New schools fundraise for a variety of reasons. They may need to cover pre-approval expenses, cash flow gaps that arise because start-up capital arrives late or state funding is deferred, and any shortfall between program expenses and their revenues.
The most successful schools begin fundraising early in the start-up process. Keep in mind that in order to be eligible to receive many grants and avoid paying income tax, your organization must be incorporated and have tax-exempt status.
As you begin to think about creating a fundraising plan, consider including diverse revenue sources: individuals, foundations, corporations, giving circles, government, and earned income. Diversifying your revenue sources ensures that you are not beholden to one resource that may experience a down year and increases your access to resources.
Creating a successful fundraising plan starts with looking back at what you (or other schools like yours) have done and evaluating the success of those efforts. Then identify the people who will lead the fundraising efforts (your fundraising team) and work together to set realistic but ambitious goals. For each goal you identify, think about the activities that are necessary to get there, and create a timeline along with costs, related tasks, and the personnel necessary for each task. Finally, determine how you will track progress, and share the plan and solicit input from everyone involved. For additional support as you develop your fundraising plan, contact your CCSA School Development representative.
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