Pushing the Boundaries: What Does It Mean to be a Pioneer?

As we have learned, getting new families involved in a brand new school is different from getting them involved in an existing school. We have no school-specific data and track record to prove our success. We have no students engaged in learning you can come and observe. We have no fancy facility with sparkly classrooms to show you. We have no current parents with whom you can discuss the experience.

What we do have is an incredible amount of passion, a clear vision, and a network of colleagues and supporters around the country who have helped to guide our process. Over the last year, we have engaged in an intense process of speaking with hundreds of people in Denver and around the country, learning the latest about every area possible including zoning and licensing, financial sustainability, data and assessment, social emotional learning, curriculum development, culture building, community engagement, classroom design, communications, and more. Einstein Academy is built, from the ground up, taking into thoughtful consideration the research-backed practices in every area.

We have learned from several inspiration schools, schools in Denver and around the country who are doing pieces of what we are planning, all founded within the last 20 years. Anastasis in south Denver, for example, began in 2011 and focuses on inquiry education and small, personalized classes. The Idea School in Tenafly, NJ is currently in only its second school year and is based on project-based learning. The HIgh Tech High network of Charter Schools in San Diego is celebrating 20 years of existence and also emphasizes project-based learning. Each of these schools is seeing remarkable success from its students and alumni, and each of these schools started with just a handful of pioneer parents.

Not everyone is cut out to be a pioneer parent, true. Being a pioneer parent involves an element of risk and trust that is far different from enrolling a student in an established school, but it also involves significant benefits that cannot be found at established schools.

In a recent conversation with Lisa Schopf, the founding middle school director of Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School of the Nation’s Capital, she emphasized the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of being involved in a school from the start, sharing, “There is an aspect of risk, but there is also an opportunity families and students cannot get elsewhere.”

While most schools present a clearly defined vision, mission, and program as well as policies and procedures and leave it to the parents to decide whether they align or not, being part of a new school affords the opportunity to be involved in crafting that program and having input on the direction of the school, considering the needs of your student, your family, and your community in a way that just cannot be considered in an established school. Pioneer families have the opportunity to connect with other like-minded parents and share the journey, forming lifelong friendships and bonds while they work collaboratively to build the school.

Being a pioneer family also means acting as founders of the school, giving those families the opportunity to truly impact the school (and, in this case, Denver in general), leaving a legacy as a founding family. In speaking with families who helped found schools around the country, they all share a certain nostalgia about those foundational years, clearly articulating what was so important about the project and how, years or decades later, it was still one of the most rewarding experiences.

Additionally, new schools generally start out much smaller than their eventual size and the size of the schools around them. Being a pioneer family allows students to benefit from highly personalized attention as part of that small community in a way they may not receive elsewhere. Students also have significant voice in crafting the program in a way that best suits their needs and interests, instilling a love of learning in a unique way.

Arnee Winshall, founder of Jewish Community Day School Boston, shared that being part of a new school is truly a “ Gift to your child.” The first few years of building a school are such an incredibly special time that just cannot be replicated by a more established school, and being part of that experience is truly memorable and impactful.

We do not expect any of our pioneer families to embark on this journey alone. Rather, we welcome families who are excited about taking this journey to somewhere no one else has been before, making an impact, both locally and nationally, and joining with our faculty and other families to build Einstein Academy.

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