When you launch an enterprise such as a charter school, there is a phase that starts after the approval, and before the school is operating smoothly.
The apocryphal example of Cortes, quoted famously by the "Vilnius Schoolmaster" in The Hunt for Red October, is "When he reached the shore, Cortes burned his ships. As a result, his men were sufficiently motivated." This is a mythic historical example of what school founders go through. At some point, they cross the point of no return. Finances are committed. Children are registered. Staff are hired and the die is cast. So begins stage two of the life cycle of a charter school.
If your school is in the opening stage, you have no time to read this blog. If you are still
in the planning stage, don’t let this entry discourage you. Move ahead and hold on! Exciting times are just around the corner… The nature of the opening stage requires overwhelming commitment and energy. Opening a school, especially a charter school, is a whirlwind of problems and crises. For many innovative leaders, it is the most exciting and desirable experience charter schools have to offer. For others, the opening phase is a time to wait impatiently while operational systems are developed. The expectation of the opening phase is simple: Every Effort from Every Person Every Time. During opening, there is no time to relax. There is no time to plan. There is only time to do and react.
One of the most obvious patterns during the opening stage is the flexibility and decisiveness of the staff. It is not at all unusual to see low-ranking assistants handling human resource and financial matters. Meanwhile, the principal and other leaders are fixing computers, sweeping floors and making their own photocopies. Rank is virtually irrelevant. The only rank that matters is the rank-order priority of the task. If it is urgent, then the first available person jumps on it.
This means that a start-up school is always filled with people working outside their area of expertise. This always causes errors in systems and administration, some of which can mushroom into crises without decisive action. Leaders who are entering into the opening phase need to give people permission to make mistakes, and amnesty for confessing them. Otherwise the volunteer spirit needed to launch a school will wither just when it is needed most. The rule needs to be, “Work hard at everything, when you make mistakes, admit them quickly, correct them decisively, learn and move on.”