In North Carolina the authorizers of public charter schools have rejected over 75% percent of applications over the last two years. Long gone are the days where 40-50% of applications are being approved. There is a lengthy evaluation process that entails multiple readers, subcommittees, a clarification interview and then, only then might you actually have an opportunity to defend the content of your application.
Since 2012 over 90 North Carolina charter applications have made it from “vision to heartbeat” while over 300 exist only in the memory banks of hopeful change agents. Since 2012 I have read over 200 applications, some good, some great, many poorly crafted. Our team has successfully supported 15 applicants receive approval over the past three years, 12 of those schools are currently in operation!
Here is my top ten of WHY applications fall short.
Good ideas with a weak plan of execution: A charter application should read like a two to three year plan of implementation. The ideas are worthy, but the ideas are not built out enough to seem feasible in the eyes of the evaluators and authorizers. Successful charter school applications are aligned from the mission and purpose all the way to the last dollar allocated for operations.
Lack of clarity: It is alright to be uncertain, but it is not alright to be unclear. In your application you can mention multiple plans of success based on your research, but you be unclear with who you are, who you aim to serve, and why your school will meet their needs.
Lack of unified leadership: There is an epidemic out there called “Founder’s Syndrome.” I have seen this go both ways. Whether it is a founding board made of very strong personalities who find a principal, or a strong willed founder who finds a board they can lead…without a unifying voice in key leadership positions the marriage will not last even if the school receives its charter. Successful applicants have multiple leaders who can communicate with clarity on the tenets of the plan and verification processes.
Low dose academics/operations for high risk kids: Charter applications that propose to serve at-risk pupils but plan to employ “low dose” academic programs that do not include sufficient academic supports, such as intensive small-group instruction or individual tutoring. In addition, no focused plan for transportation or lunch programming. You will have a challenging time attracting families if you are not willing to build a bridge and meet their needs. The members of the Charter School Advisory Board (CSAB) is made up of some of the best principals in the state that serve students of all needs. One trap applicants fall into is your charter school serves all students who enroll. You have to show the capacity to serve at levels of students (gifted through students with disabilities).
Child-Centered Curriculum Co-dependence: Charter applicants that propose to deploy child-centered, inquiry-based pedagogies, such as Montessori, Waldorf, Paideia, or experiential programs need more than one leader who is trained and certified to lead the implementation of the curriculum plan.
Conflicts of interests: Although typically charter schools are founded by like-minded people, too many people with internal and external ties is challenging to explain how someone will not be benefiting financially, or worse, the group implodes because of internal behaviors.
Poor fiscal planning: A lack of evidence that the school will start with a sound financial foundation: revenue is the oxygen for any small business. You need to demonstrate you understand how to effectively manage public dollars.
Lack of research and homework: Every charter application I have read and written starts of with a section called “Educational Need”. In many states this section will make or break your eligibility for application. You need to do your homework and know, not think, that the community will choose you.
Not Aiming High: It is not that schools aimed too high and missed it is that they aimed too low and hit. To transform a community you need significant goals that lead to action towards change. Board members must be able to communicate how they will raise the expectations, inspect what they expect and hold leadership accountable for meeting those standards set.
Lack of guidance: I hear charter applicants who fail say, “well, this is what they told me to do” in terms of the feedback they receive from an external evaluator or authorizer. This might be true, but it doesn’t mean it align with the rest of your plan. You are the expert on your community. Use tangible evidence to prove it!
Be clear on what you will do, why you exist, and who you will serve. If you cannot answer those three questions in 60 seconds and influence someone to join your team…then you are not yet a builder.