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Designing an Innovative Public Charter School

Students walking in hallway

Because of who they are and how they come together, most founding groups are entrepreneurial leaders that start with a vision to design and launch a charter school that is both part of Wyoming’s public education system yet different than traditional district public schools. The below list covers nine unique innovations by which the most successful charter schools are started and run. Each innovation shares one thing in common – they create the conditions in which a quality charter school can be successful in serving families and students in a particular community – because that is the whole point.

Breakthrough Vision

Frequently, charter schools are started to make good on a bold new vision for educating students. The purpose is to develop innovative schools design to tailor  education to each student’s unique talents. 

New Principals and Leadership

Rather than being selected from within the district, the founding boards of charter schools typically conduct a rigorous search to attract a highly-qualified school leader with the expertise, practices, and energy required to achieve the school’s breakthrough vision. We often see charter school leaders who have previously worked in local district schools. 

Thriving Culture

Great charter schools foster a thriving culture with distinct norms, behavioral expectations, and performance standards. This climate is built on public school options and families often enroll in a charter school because it aligns with their own values, ideals, and educational goals. Parents help the school to succeed through their engagement, support, and dedication.

Autonomy-Accountability Bargain

Charter schools are built on a basic tradeoff. In return for operating independently from district schools, charters are held strictly accountable for performance in several important ways:

  • Charters operate under an agreement – or charter – with their authorizer, which is either a local school district board of education or the Wyoming Charter School Authorizing Board. When parents enroll in a charter school, the state per pupil funding follows the child to a charter school.
  • Charter schools are required to provide academic and operational performance reports to their authorizers and the Wyoming Department of Education.
  • Should a charter school fail to meet the performance goals in their charter, an authorizer may place the charter school on an improvement plan or even close the charter school if merited.

Resource Generation

During the charter application process, founding groups would do well to generate additional resources for the school like writing grants, building academic, non-profit or business partnerships, involving community members in volunteer efforts, and others. Luckily, other Wyoming charter schools stand ready to assist your efforts. 

Community Ownership

Each charter school has its own board of directors which by law has full authority over all school decisions, like curriculum, school calendar, budgets and finances, personnel decisions, and professional development. Charter school boardmembers are selected from the school and local community and by law have the authority to make all decisions about the school. This site-based governance model, “from the bottom up” rather than “top down’ make charter schools unique.

Specialized and Certified Teachers

Charter schools typically have the freedom to attract, employ, and develop their own teachers. Quality charter schools invest heavily in selecting, training, and developing specialized teachers who are partners in helping to accomplish the charter school’s mission and vision. All educators in Wyoming charter schools are licensed and state certified. In healthy charter schools, teachers have extraordinary buy-in, passion, and commitment to what they are teaching.

Change in Resource Allocation

Since charter schools create and manage their own school budgets, they usually allocate their resources differently and more prudently. Frequently, they save funds in some parts of their budgets, which allows them to invest more heavily in other parts of their budgets. This flexibility allows charter schools to be agile and more impactful in serving students and families.