Want to know how I started my school ? Read part I here.
The first five points of starting your own school checked out: it’s legal in your state, you’re not doing it for selfish reasons, you’ve been able to secure funding, you have a ‘business plan’ and you’ve decided what age groups you would like to reach. Great- now what? I started my school nine years ago, with a total of eight students, three of which were my own. I know, crazy, right? Well, let me throw this in there to make it sound even crazier-I started it in MY HOUSE. Now, let me clarify that I have an early childhood certification, with my Masters in Education, which also allowed me to obtain certification in school counseling. Having said this, my focus was going to be on pre-school and possibly kindergarten students. I wasn’t planning on being very large school, ever.
I made the decision not to renew my contract with the private school for the upcoming year. So come June, I had to run with my idea if I wanted to be employed in August. I had a friend (of a friend of a friend) who had a private pre-school in her home for ten years and was looking to get back into the public school system. She was looking for someone to pass names to for the upcoming school year. I contacted her and off of her waiting list of twelve names, two had not yet found places to put their children in for the upcoming Fall. Come August, I had eight students; my own three who I planned to home school, two who followed me from the private school, two off of the list, and one that I picked up from my son’s swimming lessons. So far, so good.
In the middle of June, I began transforming my garage into a classroom. We tiled the floor, hung bulletin boards, decorated with all the cutesy early childhood stuff. School began in late August, and as life would have it, we ended up MOVING to another house over fall break in October to be closer to my sick dad so we could care for him. In two days, I set up my formal living room into a classroom, complete with shelves filled with manipulatives and art supplies and our little tables and chairs. All in all I spent around $2,000.00 to get my ‘classrooms’ ready. I need to stop here and really stress the importance of checking with your city ordinances if you plan on doing anything like this to start out. This is an entirely separate issue than dealing with the state department. I had to show that I was not a daycare and also had to make sure that traffic flow was kept to a minimum. City ordinances are mutually exclusive from your State Department of Education.
The first year was a HUGE success! I continued this type of set-up for the next THREE years, expanding my classroom into the formal dining room and increasing my enrollment to 15 kids. It was awesome, except I was maxed out space-wise, but had a waiting list of families who wanted what I was providing. I didn’t advertise. All families heard about me by word-of-mouth. To keep my school growing, I had to make a decision as to what I was going to do next. I knew I was providing a needed service, and I sure didn’t want to stop with 15 kids if I could take on more. I needed a bigger space- It was time to build a building.
We live on almost an acre and had room in the backyard for a 400 square foot building. We built it and the families came. I was up to 25 students and one assistant within two more years. Again, I was cramped space-wise. That summer I made the decision to hire an additional teacher, turn my formal living and dining room BACK into classrooms, split the kids by grade levels since now I had pre-school through fourth grade and I would take the younger class with my assistant while the other teacher took the older class. And again, we grew.
Six years into doing this out of my home, with my family tripping over school stuff everywhere, it finally dawned on me how large of an idea this really was. My husband agreed that if I was going to continue this journey for a while longer, I needed to be out somewhere. So we began to hunt for a building, away from our house. Up until this point, the school had paid for itself, I was getting a monthly paycheck which was comparable to the school I left. I was able to pay a nice salary to an additional teacher AND I had awesome tax write-offs. It was great. But would I be able to make it work outside of my home?
We found a perfect place, an old church that needed renovating. I need to stop here and back up a year. Six years into this journey, which started with my dad’s encouragement, my dad died. My dad had been the driving force behind everything with the school; he loved to come over and watch the kids work. He loved to see me do what I love. He helped me with business questions. That November, my world collapsed. He believed in everything I was doing, even when I didn’t believe in myself and he wanted my dream to continue. Being an only child I was able to take some of the money he had left me after he died and used it to fund the purchase and remodel of my new building. My dad would live on in a wonderful 3,000 square foot, handicap accessible, brick building complete with a full kitchen and a one-acre playground.
Nine years later, we are still going strong. I have chosen to not be accredited and I have also chosen to not take more than 30 students each year. My program is ability-based and we individualize EVERYTHING. With more than 30 students I do not feel like we are able to maintain the quality, which we are known for, nor are we able to keep up with all the planning that goes into an individualized program such as mine. My goal was never to get large, although I know I could if I wanted. I still have never done any advertising, but yet my roster remains full.
Having said all of this, I continue to stay to true to the vision that started it all- the frustration of the teaching career being reduced to a political game where learning had become merely an education. I remain focused on students as individuals, teaching as a work of heart, and learning being an amazing journey for all involved.