I 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]