In 2002, educator Ryan Hill opened his dream school with all of 80 students, four teachers and one office manager. “I was there till midnight every single night,” he said. “It was really hard.”
Like many startups, the Newark middle school started with a single grade level and grew by adding a grade each fall. Eleven years later, TEAM Academy belongs to what is essentially a four-campus mini-district: two elementary schools, another middle school and a 525-student high school, each of which grew the same way. The TEAM charter school network, part of the national KIPP schools movement, enrolls 1,800 students, with plans to double over the next few years to 10 schools. Its waiting list, almost 9,000 names long, covers nearly one in four Newark students.
The secret to Hill’s success: starting from scratch. “Learning how to manage four people is not easy,” he said, “but (it’s) way easier than learning how to manage 40. It allows you as a principal to grow into the role and makes it possible for more people to pull it off.”
The Obama administration has long supported charter school startups like TEAM Academy, but it now invests much more — $3 billion in all — into a very different strategy. Instead of starting from scratch, Obama wants to “turn around” the USA’s worst public schools, improving the schools we’ve got.