Member Perspective: Starting a Charter School

June 15, 2011

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To be psychologically ready for the challenge, I would highly recommend jumping out of a plane. That's what I did. I would reflect on that experience during the petition process and think, "Remember that? That is what this is like, too. The chute will open."
- Jim Kennedy, Founder of Extera Public School

Perhaps only those who have done it themselves truly understand the myriad of challenges that begin to unfold the moment you decide to start a school, hurdles that persist on a long and arduous road leading to opening classroom doors on the first day of school. It is an intense emotional journey for even the most veteran educator.

This September, Jim Kennedy will be heading a new elementary school opening on the eastside of Los Angeles called Extera Public School. This exciting new beginning is also the culmination of two decades of work in education for Kennedy, who visited the CCSA offices recently to reflect on the events of the past year since taking the plunge into the charter school landscape. He had two key pieces of advice for those thinking about starting a charter school.

Don't do it alone - in fact, you can't do it alone.

Over the course of the process, Kennedy was buoyed by a very hands-on board. A small but dedicated team of business, legal and education leaders have supported and encouraged him every step of the way. He also benefited from the emotional support of family and friends. Recognizing a steep initial learning curve, he participated in charter-related workshops and conferences, received ongoing support from CCSA, and employed additional consultants and legal counsel to provide input on Extera's petition.

Have the right attitude.
There were many unanticipated challenges along the way, but Kennedy said that the key to getting through was maintaining a positive attitude. In many cases that required figuring out how to turn a negative into a positive. For instance, he had initial plans to include a bilingual program within the petition, something he as a bilingual educator believes in strongly. After submitting the petition, preliminary feedback from the district made it clear that getting a bilingual component approved would require more work than could be accomplished in his tight time frame.

At first, I was devastated, but shortly after I thought, if this is the best decision, how can we put it in a positive light? Maybe we can make this work for us by looking at it from a different perspective. A delay would allow us to get other pieces in place - including teachers, the curriculum, and parent interest. We can submit an amendment to the petition later once the team and program are established. The collaboration and buy-in will strengthen the outcomes.

Extera Public School's petition was approved by LAUSD in February, and Kennedy is now in the process of hiring his team.

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