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Getting a Good Start
Who starts charter schools? Thoughtful community members, concerned parents, dedicated teachers, university educators, and political and business people are among those who have come together to create charter schools. KIPP Academy Houston was started by two former Teach For America teachers using two classrooms within a pre-existing public school. The BASIS School in Tucson was started by a husband and wife team of college educators. Roxbury Prep in Boston, the School of Arts and Sciences in Tallahassee, and Community of Peace Academy in St. Paul, were launched by educators with a vision for an academic alternative to the public schools in their local communities. Others such as Oglethorpe Charter School in Savannah, and the Arts and Technology Academy in Washington, D.C., were developed by groups of parents working together with community members on a grassroots level.
As new public schools, they all experienced immense start-up challenges, including developing the mission and vision for the school, thinking through every facet of the school program, writing the charter, hiring staff, making decisions about curriculum, and securing the building and funds needed to open. One comment resurfaced at each school: They could never have anticipated how much hard work would be involved and how many decisions they would have to make to create the systems to start a charter school.
Some charter schools begin from scratch; others are conversions from pre-existing public schools. Some handle every aspect of running a school-from curriculum to accounting. Others contract out administrative and business functions. Education management companies can provide charter schools with an operational structure and a curriculum model. For example, Mosaica Education, Inc., contracts with 24 charter schools nationally, including the Arts and Technology Academy, to provide the company's education model as well as central office functions (see figure 3). The Core Knowledge Foundation contracts with the Oglethorpe Charter School, providing curriculum and teacher training. Other charter schools such as KIPP Academy Houston are part of a network of schools that ascribe to a particular school organizational model. The KIPP, Inc., national office helps to support the training of principals and the replication of new KIPP charter schools around the country. But however a charter school originates, each starts with a clear mission, a unifying vision of what the founders want students to know and be able to do, and why.