Aspiring charter school operators face a common challenge when developing plans for a new school.
“In most places, you have school leaders and instructional leads who have a great academic vision,” says Greg Thompson, who has helped several local foundations and organizations launch nearly two dozen Tennessee charter schools over the past decade. “However, it takes a lot to put together a good school design and distill it into a coherent plan and application. SchoolWorks has been instrumental in bringing coherence to the academic program design, curricular choices, and design of the school day in many applications.”
From navigating the details of an authorizer’s guidelines or RFP to developing a detailed program design, creating an effective charter school application requires an understanding of the founders’ vision and the broader context of the application process. It also requires a command of best practices in instruction and school management.
Over the past two decades, SchoolWorks has brought its expertise assessing quality instruction and best practices for effective school operations nationwide to bear on developing charter applications for a variety of organizations—from established CMOs and foundations to individuals with a vision for providing high quality educational options in their community.
For SchoolWorks Consultant and Editor Sarah Rapa, assisting clients involves collaboration, brainstorming, and helping align aspirations to actual practice. “Our objective is to push their thinking and see what their vision looks like in the day-to-day operation of a school,” she says.
Through a series of questions framed by the authorizer guidelines, Rapa and other SchoolWorks staffers work collaboratively with school founders to develop an application that begins with their vision and supports it with a plan that reflects best practices, operational realities, and regulatory and budgetary requirements.
“The challenge is taking the big picture and translating it into the nitty gritty of getting the school operational,” Rapa says. “It’s often a process of extending their thinking.” Along with developing the application, the iterative process also generates materials that can help flesh out the future school’s operations. Working closely with school founders, SchoolWorks helps develop aligned course scopes and sequences, lesson plan templates, feedback forms, professional development plans, and other resources that operationalizes the vision for the school.
“At the end of the process, the founders not only have an application supported by best practices, but also a roadmap to inform the planning and implementation stages of the school,” Rapa says.
For larger organizations entering the network-building phase or seeking footholds in new states, SchoolWorks also has helped support different stages of the replication process. “With charter operators that are expanding, we focus on the network effect—how finances or business operations will work as the organization grows,” Rapa says.
Charter experts give SchoolWorks and its staff high marks for developing applications that also guide the startup process for new charters. “Whether it was a local nonprofit or a leader in a community, SchoolWorks has been instrumental in taking their raw goals and helping them create a document to guide the startup of the school,” says Thompson.