Companies, like Apple and Dyson, frequently start in homes and garages. Not for profit schools start in homes and churches. Mirman, one of the top gifted schools in the world, started in a home. Science and Arts Academy started in a church basement, Catherine Cook began in a JCC and then moved to Immaculate Conception before having enough funds to build their own space, and Montessori Academy of Chicago was started in the founding parents’ home. The only different model was the municipal-funded schools. Everyone’s got to start somewhere – it was always this way, until now.
Enter large volumes of For-Profit Education players, what a game changer! Take, for example, GEMS, Fusion, ALTSchool (which didn’t pan out), etc., all built out their facility first. Therefore, everyone is asking us, where is our beautiful, shiny, investor-backed facility. You see, it’s not a simple question for us. We do not have the for-profit investors backing us, and that is by choice. We were approached by foreign investors within just the first two weeks that we started floating the idea out there. But then, we would have to deliver to a whole different set of priorities. While funding would be easier, fulfilling our mission of giving each student what they need would be much harder. We were also told that it is pretty easy to start a school for regular kids and admit everyone. That’s not what we want. We want a school that specializes in the needs of the gifted. And therefore, we need to stay independent. Our funding model is tuition and grants.
Let’s cut to the bottom line here. We have a nice safe back-up location – a home of one of the founders. It’s in a great neighborhood, with multiple parks nearby, close to tons of after-school enrichment school activities and sports, and with many potential community partners nearby for field trips and during-school enrichment. It is close to the expressways and is centrally located. It has functional classroom, indoor, and outdoor space along with being surrounded by free street parking. If we have 8 or fewer students this year, then we are set, and the costs will be kept low for all, as we will have to pay a single teacher’s salary as the biggest overhead. Sign up to receive emails from us on our contact page to track our progress with location and its impact on tuition.
However, if we gain more interest and have 10-16 students, then we will be renting a facility. In order to be able to make the decision quickly in June, for occupancy in July and move-in by August for teacher in-service days, we have created a bank of locations that fit our various criteria. Some of our criteria are safety, centrality, scalability, amenities, proximity to expressways, colleges, green space, the ability to streamline our drop-off and pick-up and provide parking, and the heat map of where bulk of the students will be coming from. One of these sites is right in downtown, and the rest are about 2.5 miles away. The plan is to be in the same rented facility for the first 5 years.
Our portfolio of locations have been or are currently being used as schools or offices and will require minimal preparations for us to move in. They are all up to code and will not require any sort of construction or major overhaul/rehab, and have the right zoning. In fact, finding a location is not a big problem. Neither is finding teachers – we have several fantastic educators that are helping us establish the school. We can’t unmask them until we are able to give them an offer and they accept, because they need to hold on to their jobs so that they could pay their bills in case we don’t get the enrollment that we need, though serious families will be able to meet them before handing over a check. Nor is it curriculum, ours is well-defined. The hardest problem will actually be, as a new school, for us to find families that are willing to weather our first year. If you could help us spread the word about our initiative, we would be grateful to you.
While most children, gifted and not, will be able to get a great education at the other schools, this is not consistent for the IQ130+ crowd. We are looking for the top 2% - the more gifted, the more likely it is that the main lesson will not be applicable to the student, and the “at level” instructional time may be small. Many of those schools, including some area gifted ones, when presented with information such as a neuropsych assessment that shows how many years ahead a child might be, will straight up say that they can’t accommodate, and some will say that they can, and will do their best, and will fall short.
We are looking for the needles in the haystack, the ones that need more. The ones that are only at their current schools for lack of better options, the ones that would really soar if they were in a smaller class size than CPS, or the ones that are homeschooling because they need more. If we can teach them at their academic level, then we will have accomplished the most basic mission of our organization. We are always going to be a micro-school by design. After all, it’s not the looks that count, when it comes to knowledge. It’s what’s inside.