Growing Pains: Tackling Charter School Facilities Challenges

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Students learning inside the Albert Einstein Academies of Ohio.

As the student population of Albert Einstein Academy of Ohio (AEA) has grown since its inception during the 2012-13 school year, so has the school’s need for additional and expanded facilities. Enrollment in 2012-2013 was less than 80 students in a building that was approved for 230 students. Today, we have grown to house 400 students on three different campuses. While opening our third facility in six years, we have run into some financial and environmental challenges. As a charter school (known as community schools in our state), we report to the Ohio Department of Education through our sponsoring (authorizing) agency. Fiscal solvency is required to add additional facilities. Our treasurer submitted a five-year forecast to the Ohio Department of Education and our sponsor showing that we had enough funds available to support the additional cost of adding another facility to our portfolio. AEA receives $6,000 in state per pupil funding plus any additional funding needed to support students’ special needs – far less than traditional public schools that receive real-estate tax dollars.

Students working together at the Albert Einstein Academies of Ohio.

In terms of environmental factors, it was important for us to locate a community that would not only understand, but fully embrace our mission as an LGBTQ affirming campus. Once we identified Lakewood, Ohio, the next challenge became finding an appropriate space for a school with a landlord who also understood and embraced our mission. This took more time, but eventually a space was located.

There is so much to consider when planning to add a new campus. The major operational considerations of this project included:

  1. A financial review with a 5-year projected forecast
  2. A study of enrollment trends (ages of students, districts of residence, etc.)
  3. A study of existing facilities 
  4. A study of the distance between buildings and if/how that would affect educational opportunities for our students as well as its viability for our staff
  5. The need for additional support and teaching personnel
  6. The purchase of additional technology and related training and maintenance 
  7. Coordination with contractors, building inspectors, city officials as well as representatives from police and fire
  8. A safety and security plan at all facilities to share with local authorities as well as the State Attorney General

As we scaled our educational model we wanted to ensure a continued focus on best practices and the implementation of research-based curriculum, the availability of teachers and professional staff in the areas needed, technology, and staff professional development.

We were also very proactive in our community engagement efforts and considered the connections of each of our campuses to community resources, institutions of higher learning, and relationships with the school district of the campus as well as the student’s residence.

The site of one campus for the Albert Einstein Academies of Ohio.

While it would appear that most focus and attention revolve around operational matters, it was important to us not to lose sight of the learning and social emotional needs of our students. Our schools attract a unique type of student whose experiences in a more traditional school may not have been the best. We are tasked with providing with academic opportunities to meet their needs (credit recovery, credit acceleration, AP classes, tutoring, and support)as well as with supporting the needs of a population of students who, for whatever reason, have been marginalized, disenfranchised, or otherwise treated poorly in their previous school. The facilities expansion or addition should always be We view expanding and adding to our facility as an opportunity to provide a safe, supportive, and caring learning environment for our students.

A group of students at the Albert Einstein Academies of Ohio.

Rebecca Woodson is the director of admissions/recruitment at the Albert Einstein Academies of Ohio.

Learn more about the facilities challenge many charter schools face and help ensure charter schools can open their doors to students!