So you say “Yes” to your wanting to start a Tiny School?
You need to identify a flavor, that resonates with you and your community. In our community, it is helping kids who have stopped attending high school and using hands-on learning to make it happen. These resonate with me too! Your flavor might be arts, tech, sustainability,? You need to KNOW that your flavor is backed by research (it works with kids), and that you OWN it. There is not a minute ever when I doubt that our approach is valid – I did my homework and have 4 pages of peer-reviewed journal articles, that I READ, that proves it. If you are WEAK SAUCE and do not do your homework on this, you are just waiting for a career bureaucrat to come along and torpedo your work, and the hopes of a lot of people, in a budget meeting.
Once you have a flavor, and know your approach (Flavor = The Arts, approach = project based learning), you next need to identify your potential students. If you love to work with “salty” kids – the ones that do not come to school in mommy and daddy’s porsche, who do not always follow the rules, and who will take a bullet for you if you believe in them – your sale to the district office will be easier. If you know how to navigate in the upper socio-economic circles (I do not), then you may have the savvy and social capital to pull off a school for top performing students.
Getting all of the pins right on the lock tumbler…..
In order to pull this off, you need to get all of the pins lined up, at the same time, and all in agreement with one another. Fail any one of these and you are going to be sitting on a large pile of poo, which you will not have to clean up, as you will likely be looking for work in another place.
- Who are you “stealing” these kids from? If these students have dropped out, they are not being stolen from anyone. If you steal them from the local middle school, even though it is best for these kids to have this Tiny School experience, the middle school staff will likely go ballistic as it will take away staffing (funding) from their school. You need their full support if you are going to do this, or they will sabotage your efforts.
- What space will you use? You need adequate space, the right kind of space, in the right proximity to what you will be doing, to pull this off. Walk the ground, every square inch of it. Make sure your district maintenance folks are good with this.
- How do you create new revenue for the district? If you do not create additional revenue, then you are a new program and will be gutted like Bambi on opening day by your peers when budget time rolls around. Our school pumps a large amount of cash into the district coffers. If we go away, so does our six figure Christmas Gift that helps to run other schools. You need to bring in NEW students, unless you are really well connected, and your program is supported at all levels.
- How will this impact test scores and graduation rates? You need to be able to show, by research, what your school will do. At my school we do not worry about our students passing the state tests – we do the best with each kid each day that we can. If they pass, great. If they do not, we administer alternate assessments and work samples. We do really well when it comes to getting kids across the stage – which benefits the kid, and also gives a boost to our local high school’s grad rates. VALUE ADDED.
- Will your school be positive PR for the district? It better be, and fast. We do not have a spin doctor, we simply showcase the amazing work our students do, and it sells itself. Our community loves what our kids do. If your tiny school is an irritant, it will be terminated. Make sure it is value added.
- Food Service, custodial, busing – Figure these out way before you even think of approaching parents. Nuf said.
- HQT – between you and two other teaching staff (we are running about 40% of state average for licensed staffing – it is not sustainable – do not try it – we have higher rates than our local high school, and we are working with 100% At-risk kids), you need to have HQT in the bag for every subject. Nobody knows math – go take the test and get the sticker. I studied two to three hours a day for 5 months to brush up. You can too!
- Admin support – your superintendent needs to be a HUGE Fan. A local businessman told me once that as a car salesman, when you are down to talking colors, you have made the sale. Until then, no sale. If you are down to talking colors with the super, you are good to go. If you have to try hard to convince the super, and they look uneasy, politely say that you obviously have not sold them, ask them if it is possible to sell them on the idea, and what would it take for them to be a RABID supporter. If this cannot be achieved, stop wasting your time, and find another district. Our super is a RABID fan of helping At-Risk kids.
- Admin on site – somebody needs to have their admin license. If you do not, your school will get used and abused by some people in the school system. You need that piece of paper to keep people from being icky. You also need to be able to evaluate staff, deal with IEP’s, budget, etc. If you have a team of folks and nobody has the paper, draw straws. Just know that the relationship is going to change forever as one person has to be in charge, and there are going to be disagreements.
- The Best Staff: no excuses, no tears. Recruit KID MAGNETS. People who are kind to adults and students – who are SELF ACTUALIZED. If you get great people, your school will be harmonius. If you do not, it will fail. If you guess wrong, send them packing – sometimes you might get a person great for kids who cannot get along with adults – let them go, asap!
If you think you might have the pins all lined up, I DARE you to go for it. My only regret is that I did not do this ten years ago. Drop me a line if you have questions….