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Starting Your Own SchoolI stood at my stove angrily stirring corn and frying chicken. My dad was already over for dinner and sat flipping through the mail, patiently waiting for me to either self-combust or start ranting and raving to him.

I couldn’t stand it anymore.

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“I cannot believe school! It drives me crazy – the politics, the bureaucracy! I thought I was getting away from that, being in a private school. It absolutely drives me crazy!” My dad was watching me, somewhat amused, which only fueled this redhead more.
“I was called into my principal’s office – AGAIN! Guess what for this time?” I didn’t wait for my dad to ask. “Teaching ABOVE the curriculum! She told me that I needed to ‘back off’ a bit! Can you BELIEVE that?! She says a few of the teachers are ‘concerned’ that they are going to have to change their files next year, because my group will be further ahead than the other kindergarten class! I absolutely CANNOT believe that! It’s February! What am I supposed to do? Keep the kids swirling where they are even though they are ready to move forward? That’s NOT what I signed up for!”

I had been called in there the first time because parents were contacting the school board telling them how wonderful my classroom was and how the kids LOVED coming to school. Other teachers weren’t getting phone calls about them and the school board was afraid that once the kids in my kindergarten class moved on, the parents would realize that not ALL classes were like mine, so I needed to tone it down a bit.

Give me a break!

At this point I was boiling about as rapidly as the corn I was stirring. It was my dad who spoke next.
“So, what’s your solution?”
I need to stop here and explain something. My dad raised me to not complain UNLESS I already had a solution in mind. “Words without actions don’t solve problems.” I had heard it for thirty-two years. It was something that stuck with me and influenced not only my life, but the lives of my own kids and students. At this point though, I was so frustrated, I hadn’t really thought of an obtainable solution; only one that seemed very far-fetched.

“Start my own school! Run it the way I think it should be run, which is based on student ability and NOT financial gain like a private school or all the politics of a public school!” I poured the corn into a serving bowl with a flourish.
My Dad replied, “Sounds like you’ve got a plan. Is it time to eat? Smells good.”I remember just looking at my dad as he shifted to the dining table, thinking that I wished it were that easy. Little did I know that a seed had planted that evening.

I need to get it out on the table that I am NOT anti-public school, or anti-private school. There are some amazing schools out there from both categories. However the experiences I have had as a teacher and from a parent perspective has not been very good. You see I am a teacher who truly looks at what each individual child needs. These students are mine for a year. I assess each one not only academically, but emotionally and physically as well. I KNOW my kiddos. I can tell you favorite colors, sports played, sibling’s names, pet’s names. I want nothing more for my students to see their own potential and know that they are one in a million and that they can do anything they put their minds to. I want their learning experiences to be amazing! I want kids running into our classroom in the mornings and digging in their heels upon leaving in the afternoon. You get the picture?

At the time, Oklahoma ranked 46 out of the 50 states on the national report card and the behind-the-scenes garbage that went on at the public school I had been affiliated with left a lot to be desired in my book. Then at the private school I eventually went to, we began the two-year process of accreditation. I have NEVER seen the likes of ‘wining and dining’ going on in my life! The school board and principal were all about embellishing the strengths of the school, prepping us teachers over and over about what we needed to change for the week long visitation of the accreditation committee. It made me sick to think that some of the things that were going on in the other classrooms that shouldn’t be happening and would not be dealt with properly, but instead covered up . Those of us who were ‘outspoken’ were even told to just mind our own business and take care of our own classrooms. I kept reminding myself that the ones who weren’t doing what they were supposed to be doing would hang themselves. This was my mantra for the last six months as we prepared for the committee.

In my years in the classroom, I’ve seen misappropriated funds, administrators and school boards telling parents they are doing one thing when in actuality they were doing something else. I’ve seen students tested without modifications. I’ve seen teachers belittle students in order to manage classrooms. These types of things are NOT what I signed up for as a teacher. And I hadn’t really thought the whole ‘starting-my-own-school’ through very well, but in my passionate mind it seemed like the only solution to all of the ‘injustices’ I was seeing. Like dad always said, ‘If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.’ I twisted it around to ‘If it IS broken, fix it right’ and thought about a total overhaul.
It was that night that Enriching Foundations was born. I just didn’t know it yet.
After saying all of this, I want to speak directly to those of you who have ever even thought about this venture (and I thought I was the only crazy one!). If I had it to do all over again, I’d do EXACTLY what I’ve been doing. I have no regrets. However my family would probably tell you differently. I work very long days. And even though I am finally getting better at this, I still have a very difficult time leaving school at school. I breathe it. I eat it. It consumes me. Even after nine years. In a word, it’s my LIFE.
I don’t say this to scare anyone away, but implementing great ideas isn’t usually easy. Having said this, here is a list of five things you need to ask yourself before you make this huge step:
1. Is it legal in your state? Be sure to check with your State Department of Education and ask what constitutes a legal school in your state. YOU DO NOT NEED TO GO INTO DETAIL! I’m not sure how every other state works, but accredited Oklahoma schools are paid per capita. If students don’t go to their ‘home school’ that school doesn’t get paid for that child. They still get the monies appropriated from property taxes, but not the per capita funding. Long story short, you will probably get a very vague answer to this question either because the person you are asking doesn’t know the answer, or because the State Department doesn’t want to lose funding. KEEP ASKING.
2. If starting your own school is legal, then you need to move to the second step of asking yourself WHY exactly you want to do this. Are you looking to provide a better education for students in your area or are you ticked off because your planning period was taken away (assuming you had one to begin with)? This is definitely not a venture to be diving into because you are irritated about something personal.
3. If you’ve made it this far, then the next thing you need to look at is funding. This is a HUGE financial undertaking and there are several ways you can find funding. I personally have chosen to be a private, non-accredited school. Being private in Oklahoma means that the school is tuition driven, but I had to come up with the initial funding myself. Being non-accredited means my school receives no state or federal funding. This means everything came out of my pocket to start-up. Thankfully after teaching for as long as I had been I had a ton of resources and classroom supplies to start out with. With lots of prayer and support, the money was there when I needed it, without taking out a loan.
4. Next you need to have a ‘business plan’ in place. Are you going to seek accreditation eventually? In Oklahoma, you have to be established before you can begin this process. Are you going to look into being a charter school or a magnet school? Are you going to stay private? Are you going to be an LLC or a non-profit? Will you have a school board? Are you going to serve as the administrator AND a teacher? There are a lot of avenues to explore and tons of choices to make.
5. Once you have your general idea of organization in mind, you need to look at grades to serve. Will you be an early childhood center (DHS might need to get involved if this is the case, which is a whole other set of issues)? Are you going to focus on elementary or include middle school and high school? Lots to think about, because remember, initially you have to find funding all of the grades you choose to set up.

The great thing about this venture is that IT CAN BE DONE! With lots of sweat, tears and support you can take a far-fetched idea and make it an absolute reality. I can honestly say that the last nine years of my 17-year teaching career have been the most rewarding. I feel like I have reached students who otherwise would have fallen through the cracks and that overall, students and families have been changed for the better.

Are you ready to be that kind of change? Then let your words become actions![/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Paula has a Masters degree in education with an emphasis on child development and child behavior....

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  1. I am SOO glad I found your article. I've been thinking about opening my own school. After I was fired because I would not scam parents of children who really seemed to have a reading disability. The principal's idea was to teach Spalding Phonics whole class. My dad was proud of me. I was teaching one of his best friend's granddaughters and he attested to the difference I had made on her, He did comment that perhaps I should get off my white horse and stop chasing windmills. I try, but —-._I will keep your contact information. I am very grateful to you for sharing your experience._Dr. Lisa Guidry

    1. I am so glad you found this piece beneficial! Be sure to check out the other two parts if you haven’t already. Feel free to contact me if you would like.

  2. Hi Paula,
    Thanks so much for this awesome article!
    I’m also interested in starting a small school in my home country: Early Education with the dream to expand and become an elementary school. Can you recommend any good books / reading for research and models? I’m scouring the internet.
    thanks so much!

    1. Hi! I have not found any books on this topic. I designed my own model based on the idea that I wanted to instill in my students the love of learning. The best place to start is with your department of education and go from there as far as legality is concerned. The rest of the design needs to be based on what you want to see accomplished with your students. Good luck!

  3. Thanks for the read. I am a frustrated Elementary teacher. I am currently not in a school, because I go above and beyond for ALL of my students. I’m not about teaching to the test. I’m more along the lines of Howard Gardner and multiple intelligences. Each student is an individual and should have a voice. I would love to start my own school, but I have no idea where to start. I live in Utah and have extremely limited resources at this time. I have a Bachelor’s degree. Should I try for a Master’s or PHD before even thinking about this venture? Any suggestions? My goal is to teach, but I just don’t fit in with the current educational climate.

    1. Hi randi! I think it totally depends on where you plan to teach. Do most teachers in your area have a masters degree? Is it looked at as an important career plan for you? Higher degrees are usually seen as more credible, but do not necessarily mean the teacher is better. I’m of the belief that if you have a distinct teaching philosophy and have a ‘product’ to market that will meet a need, then you have everything you need already. Id be happy to answer any other questions you have. Also be sure to watch the interview I did on the educators room YouTube channel.

    2. Randi, I know this is from a few years back, but my husband and I are seriously considering opening up a private school here in Utah.I read this article and saw your comment and was wondering if you every pursued that interest here in Utah, and what your experience has been.

      1. Where in Utah? I recently moved to southern Utah and find it very disappointing compared to schools back east. I also have just come to the conclusion that a change needs to happen for my kids and others here. I am curious to what you have found out about goingthis route in Utah.

  4. Hello,

    My name is Andrea. I would like to start a private school in Pinellas County, Fl. I am seeking out individual outside my county and state that is willing to assist with information on how to start a private school.

    I am inquire who are the key official in county that assist with starting a school?

    If you could share what titles, I can look up the information on phone number and contact them.

    I also need information on how to budgeting for a school and building requirements.

    If you could assist with that info. that would be great.

    Signed, Andrea

  5. Hi Paula,

    Thanks so much for this article! It was a great read.

    I, too, am thinking of opening up my own school. It would be called Life Learning Skills Institution, and it would be based in Chicago (where I live). The vision I have for this school is that it would serve students between the ages of 15 to 22 years old, and be a place where students can learn essential life skills such as Conflict Resolution/Problem Solving, the effects of bullying, understanding different social situations, proper communication, on educating on disabilities. It also would have an American Sign Language (ASL), an EMT course, a Fundamental Arts course, and an acting course, in addition to a Young Men Empowerment Program (which would set out to be a mentoring program for young men in improvised and violent-prone communities here in the city).

    My vision is for the students to come into the school with troubled or challenging backgrounds, students who have Special Needs, or students who don’t feel that they are growing personally in their life, and help them to learn the life skills I have mentioned in hopes that it will lead these students to grow personally and spiritually (and even academically, as well) into the person they were intended to be. It is my sincere hope that the students we would serve at LLSI would be changed forever by the instruction, mentoring, and other aspects that we plan to offer, and in that being changed, that they would be able to take these skills and use them in society to create change, for many years to come.

    I don’t believe these skills are being adequately taught to our young people in Chicago within our public schools or at our colleges, and the three other people on my team and I believe that we can truly make a difference in the lives of Chicago’s youth. However, I’m not really sure where to start. For one, I only have an Associate’s Degree (working for my Bachelor’s now), and it’s in Criminal Justice. I’m considering switching my major into an Education-related field as I continue to work for my BA. Here in Illinois, I’m told that you have to have a teaching license to teach. Then, I have a person on my team in a similar situation, where they’re working for their BA as well. One had to drop out of college due to medical and personal reasons, and the last person has an Art certificate from an online school in Minnesota but no college degree. We have the slightest idea on how to get funding, and I’m having difficulties with teaching them on how to write curriculum and other instructional methods (syllabi, lesson plans, etc.). I’m also trying to get together a Board of Directors with little success. So, it’s a big dream right now, but we’re not quite sure on how to make the dream a reality.

    If you have any advice, suggestions, or info that may help us out, I’d greatly appreciate it very much.

  6. My son and some of his classmates are having a hard time with the school and environment they’re in. I’ve been dealing with this for a few years now and the family of the other kids are not happy with their current situation. I’ve thought of starting a school, where my child and children of special needs have a place that welcomes them, challenges them and embraces their unique qualities, but most importantly teaches them in small structured settings. In the end we all want the same thing, for our kids to be well rounded and successful individuals in society. This is why I want to start a school in our community. I have a small group of teachers and parents, but its up to me to build and make things happen. I don’t know where to start!!!!!!!!! I will be blogging about my journey on my site, which isn’t live yet…So thankful that I found your article. I have yet to read thru the second portion, but welcome any advice. Thank you for sharing!

  7. Hello. My name is Destiny Osborn. I am a senior and will go to a community college in August. I want to start my own school (in Texas). I want to make a difference in children’s lives through education. I’ve asked multiple people and did a lot of research on where to start. Even so, I am still in the dark. Reading your article gives me hope that you can open the way and guide me on where to start. I want to know what major I need to achieve and what obstacles I need to overcome to reach my goal.

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