I founded two international schools and help clients start schools around the world. Some schools start in church basements, houses, etc. Others open in state-of-the art facilities. Some are for-profit and some not-for-profit. Missions vary significantly.
Regardless of the type of school, financial resources, mission, etc., starting a school is complex. It's also very exciting and rewarding. The specifics of how to start a school depend on many factors such as governing laws, type of school, location, mission, ages of students and more. However, the following ten steps are critical to any school startup.
- Develop a Compelling Vision
- Demonstrate Strong Leadership
- Conduct a Feasibility Study
- Prepare a Business Plan
- Get Professional Help
- Develop Facilities
- Conduct a School Head Search
- Hire Excellent Teachers
- Market Your School
- Open Your Doors
A compelling vision is essential to guide you through the startup phase and beyond. Your vision will drive decisions and actions in the short-and long-term. Envision your school. What kind of education do you want to provide? Who do you want to serve? What kind of academic and social experience do you want to give your students? Where do you want your school to be in 5 years, 25 years and 100 years?
Someone needs to take a strong leadership role. Although the responsibilities of the leader will vary significantly from school to school, a competent leader is critical to a successful school startup. Regardless of your circumstances, there will be many hurdles along the way. The leader must continue to move the process forward and provide competent, visionary leadership for all those involved.
Early in the startup process, it is essential to conduct a feasibility study. A good feasibility study will help you take a hard look at your vision and determine how best to proceed. While it is possible that a feasibility study will lead you to the conclusion that your school is not feasible, it is much more likely that the feasibility study will help you make sound decisions about next steps to starting a school successfully.
Your business plan will describe your goals, the reasons they are attainable and how you plan to achieve them. The process of preparing a business plan requires thoughtful analysis of your goals, whether they are achievable and how you will accomplish them. A business plan can be used for many purposes, such as raising funds, public relations efforts and recruitment at many levels. Yet perhaps the greatest value of a business plan is the process of creating one.
Starting a school requires professional knowledge in many areas, such as curriculum, strategic planning, financial management, real estate, legal matters and marketing to mention a few. If you don't have people with the necessary expertise in your founding group, it is essential to seek assistance from others. Even so, it is often highly advisable to get advice from people outside the founding group.
Whether you're leasing existing space or building a new campus, the acquisition and development of facilities is a significant undertaking. Begin the search for facilities or the planning for renovation or construction early. The leasing, renovation and construction processes tend to take longer than anticipated. Also, if possible, design your physical space to facilitate your school's mission.
If your school leader is not among the founding group, conduct a search to find a strong leader. First-rate leadership is essential for all schools and critical for new schools.
Your faculty will determine the quality of your school. Nothing else comes close. Your teachers will be the single most important factor in the quality of your school's education. That quality will determine your school's success. Attract and retain first-rate teachers who are passionate about education and compassionate with students.
Design a high-impact branding, marketing and public relations plan and be prepared to carry it out with gusto. Create a buzz about your new school. There are many creative and cost-effective ways to market your school. Good marketing is not necessarily expensive. The important thing is to know your market and what you need to do to be successful in attracting the number and kind of students you want to enroll.