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Why do TEACHERS start public charter schools?

• Sam Duell

During this year’s National Charter Schools Week, you may hear about charter schools and about teachers, but did you know that many charter schools are founded by teachers? Here are seven examples from seven states of teachers and administrators starting new schools.


When a former Montessori teacher and community members recognized that the rural county of Sussex did not have any Montessori elementary schools, they decided to found Sussex Montessori School in Seaford, Delaware. The school is remodeling an old barn on a farm, expects to include agricultural elements into the curriculum and plans to serve students in kindergarten through third grade by June, 2020.


A former journalist and school administrator along with some other parents founded the Baxter Academy for Technology and Science, a charter school in Portland, Maine, “in response to a growing urgency among students and parents for greater access to high-quality STEM education.” Their robotics team just won New England’s FIRST Robotics Competition, besting 32 high schools from Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut.


The Baltimore International Academy West was the only charter application approved by the school board in 2018. An expansion of Baltimore International Academy, the charter specializes in language-immersion teaching students Spanish, French, Arabic, Russian and Chinese. One of the founders of the charter, a former French-immersion teacher and public school administrator, said upon it’s approval, “I feel humbled. It was a difficult application process and I feel like the school system has finally realized the merit of this kind of program in Baltimore.”


Two former administrators from Plymouth Public Schools founded Map Academy Charter School last fall to serve students who have dropped out of high school or are at risk of dropping out. Rachel Babcock and Josh Charpentier started the school after recognizing that they could map 398 students in and around Plymouth, Massachusetts for whom the traditional model of schooling wasn’t working. “We saw the limitations of the traditional model and the available alternatives,” they wrote on their website. “The traditional model serves some kids, but not all kids. We set out to reimagine high school.”


A Yale-educated teacher founded a new charter school with a fellow teacher in the Dutchtown neighborhood of south St. Louis, Missouri that draws inspiration from his self-directed, multidisciplinary education in college. Kairos Academy will open this fall, offering year-round, Montessori-like education first to sixth graders then to other grades in subsequent years.

New Hampshire

Opened last fall in an old Concord department store, long-time teacher Stephanie Alicea founded Capital City Charter School with a focus on service-learning. “Service learning is an integral part of the academic work,” she told the New Hampshire state board of education. “It teaches students that the skills they’re learning can be put to use to make life better.” The school is driven by Alicea’s experience and educational philosophy, creating an option for families she had not previously seen in the state.


A former teacher founded Deep Roots Charter School in Philadelphia, a school that relies heavily on teacher development. “If we want to see students grow,” the founder said to a local news outlet, “we should be investing in the people in front of them every day.” Deep Roots is the first new charter school operator to open in Philadelphia in ten years.

From this short list, we can see that public-school teachers and administrators care about educational philosophy whether it’s Montessori, project-based learning, or a focus on teacher development. They care about students and their experience in school. In many cases, passion for specific pedagogy drives teachers to start new schools. Policymakers should remember that charter schools allow teachers the ability to expand their own autonomy, serving children in more effective and fulfilling ways.

About the author

Sam Duell

Before Sam joined ExcelinEd as the Associate Policy Director for Charter Schools, he was a special education teacher, a school and central office administrator, the Executive Director of School Choice at Oklahoma’s department of education and the Managing Director of OPSRC’s Education Collaborative. In every position, Sam worked creatively to meet student needs. He founded the Integrated Support Program at Fischer Middle School in San Jose, California to increase the number and percentage of students with learning disabilities who have access to the general education classroom. He was the first administrator of Oklahoma’s Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, the authorizer for online schools in Oklahoma. And he co-founded a statewide afterschool network called the Oklahoma Partnership for Expanded Learning to organize and advocate for expanded learning opportunities after school and during the summer. Sam’s current interests include charter schools and their role in a functional, thriving democracy.