Startup principals led their schools long before it was even populated with students. Founding principals are involved from the very beginning from creating a mission to creating curriculum. It is not an easy task, but for many it is extremely rewarding to see their vision come to life.
New schools are often created around academic models. Principal Melissa Zaikos founded Intrinsic Schools around team teaching, technology and no tracking. For Rickover Naval Academy, “The idea was to build a school that uses the ideals of the navy: honor, courage and commitment,” explained founding Principal Michael Biela. These principals tested experimental models that have proven successful in their new schools.
For some principals, their schools were years in the making. Early on in the development of CICS Loomis, “a core leadership team was able to really work through what the mission of our school was going to be and what was the vision and how to align it with CICS and the needs of children in our community,” said Principal Lindsey Girard. Melissa’s vision was assembled during the “year spent traveling around looking at really great schools and picking out which pieces we want to use.”
Other principals had little involvement in the planning of the school. Principal Melissa Sweazy was hired two weeks before UCSN Santiago opened. Although not involved in initial planning, she still faced the challenges of any first-year principal. Melissa said, “Opening our school at full capacity was extremely challenging… but the great thing about opening at full capacity is that you meet more students at a faster rate.”
Principals led the constant evolution and improvement of their new schools. Principal Mika Krause of Moving Everest Charter School explained, “It really was just a lot of creating and going through iterations and fine tuning things to make things better so we’re ready to launch.” Even after schools open, principals continue to rethink and reflect on what they have created to make it the best possible school for their students. Melissa Sweazy said, “It was certainly the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life by far, but I’m still standing and we’ve had great school and great growth.”