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Stage 6: Opening Day

Stage 6: Opening Day of Your Charter School


It may have taken a year, a few years, or even a decade to make it this far, but you’ve finally made it: opening day. Your governing board is all on the same page with the strategic vision and mission statement, and this shone through when your charter application was approved. The whole time you were working hard on finding an old building to convert, and right when your charter was approved you purchased the building and hired the right company to build your school. You used the site plans from the architect to show to an established educational leader in the community, and he or she agreed to become your Principal. He or she undertook the process of hiring the right teachers and school staff, and the marketing campaign that you have been managing from Day 1 paid off in the form of full enrollment your first year open. Congratulations, you’ve done it. You have successfully opened a charter school.

But the work doesn’t end there. You now have an entire community of families to keep happy, hundreds of children to educate, dozens of teachers to pay, and more than likely a slew of journalists waiting for you to mess up and become a front-page failure. The hardest part is over, but here’s the reality of operating a charter school: there is no easy part.

To say that your opening day will be somewhat hectic would be like saying Krakatoa was somewhat loud, so here are a few things that you should prepare for prior to opening day.

  • Complete any mandatory inspections well in advance of opening day. If you fail a vital inspection before opening day, you run the risk of being denied your Certificate of Occupancy until the issues are resolved. The most common inspection failures that force opening delays are those related to safety, particularly those related to fire codes. However, even something as benign as a traffic-stacking violation code cause problems, so make sure that your entire collection of facilities-related paperwork is in order.
  • Have a clear and easily understood procedure for pick-up and drop-off. Even if your state/district provides busing, there will still be some parents who drive their kids to school on the way to work, and a school parking lot quickly turns into a car swamp if there is no clear flow of traffic. Instead of hiring traffic wardens, you should enlist parent volunteers to direct traffic. If parents aren’t available, use maintenance workers in the morning (drop-off) and teachers in the afternoon (pick-up). Important note: during your facilities process, you should make sure the planning committee includes the traffic-stacking element into site plans. They should know this already, but it never hurts to be sure.
  • Make sure that any uniform policy you have implemented is fully understood by all incoming families. It only adds to the ascetic chaos when half your school shows up in uniforms and the rest are in jeans and a t-shirt, or worse, shorts/skirts that are too short or necklines that are unnecessarily revealing. Make it clear early on that dress-code violations are punishable offenses.
  • A majority (if possible, all) of your incoming students should have their established class schedules ahead of time. There will be changes, and there will be errors, and if you are dealing with changes and errors on top of the omissions that you could have avoided, you will have a line of students at the Dean or AP’s door stretching into the hallway.
  • Have the student schedules printed out and taped onto walls in the cafeteria, entrance lobby, or entrance hallways for any confused or lost students. The truth is, no matter how well you prepare the students’ schedules ahead of time, the students themselves will forget them at home or just ignore them. It’s important to get them into their first classes as soon as the day begins so that they’re introduced to the bell schedule and they know where they need to be each morning when that first bell rings.
  • The general plan for the first day should include explaining rules and laying out expectations. In fact, very little teaching will happen the first day, and that is just fine. Students won’t be able to pay much attention anyway, and teachers will want to do introductory exercises and familiarize students with classroom etiquette like the raising of hands, the location of the daily agenda (which should be in clear view), and hall-passes.
  • The Principal should explain the bell schedule to everyone thoroughly, especially if the school has a complicated schedule (such as a combination bell schedule for Middle and HS). Too frequently on the first day, a teacher isn’t sure when to let the kids go to lunch but releases them anyway under pressure from the students themselves, and is later reprimanded in the afternoon meeting by the Principal. It’s best to simply make sure everyone is on the same page with the bell schedule so you don’t have a single class roaming the halls after being prematurely released.
  • Stay flexible. If a teacher contracts the flu the first day of class, just stick the school counselor in that classroom for the day and wheel in a TV with episodes of Nova. If a kid breaks his arm on the playground, use it as a teachable moment and explain why horseplay is dangerous. If a student breaks an important rule, make an example of that child early on to set a precedent for other school leadership and send a message to rebels. If a parent makes threats against school policy, tell that parent that this is a school of choice and the child can be enrolled elsewhere if there is an unresolvable problem.