Several years ago, a wonderful veteran teacher was describing his classroom to a group of people. When they expressed admiration for what he had accomplished, he smiled and responded, “The problem with good ideas is that they inevitably degenerate into hard work.” That is true of a fine classroom and true of a fine charter school.
This chapter describes how some of the best charter schools began (see sidebar on p. 122). The following two chapters discuss promoting the school to the community and the operation of the school once it is up and running. Charter schools do not all face the same challenges or the same opportunities. Charter schools that are conversions of existing schools, for example, will have a somewhat different set of issues from those that must be addressed by brand-new schools. But there are also some things, like business operations and evaluation systems, with which all charter schools must deal.
Existing charter schools have found there is no set formula, no one best way to do things. But some steps are critical. Moreover, charter school operators stress that dozens of details are critical. Reliance on theory is not nearly enough to get a school up and running. But having said that, 110 charter school directors interviewed in the 1995 national survey of the Center for School Change and the Education Commission of the States urged people with the commitment and the energy to “go for it.”1 The central message from these directors is that although stardng and operating a charter school is extremely hard work, it is also very gratifying and fulfilling. The following pages are intended to provide helpful advice. Although the tasks may be daunting, remember that many other