How To Start A Hillsdale College Member School

Mission Alignment

Hillsdale College provides assistance to a network of Member Schools that serve a wide variety of local communities. Each has its unique challenges and opportunities, but the network is bound together by a common understanding of American classical education and shared program features.

Classical education is a model of K-12 instruction that is rooted in the liberal arts and sciences, offers a firm grounding in civic virtue, and cultivates moral character:

  • It emphasizes the centrality of the Western tradition in the study of history, literature, philosophy, and the fine arts.
  • It features a rich and recurring examination of the American literary, moral, philosophical, political, and historical traditions to equip students for citizenship.
  • Its curriculum is balanced and strong across the four core disciplines of math, science, literature, and history, with explicit phonics instruction leading to reading fluency and explicit grammar instruction leading to language mastery.
  • Well-educated and articulate teachers are central to the classroom, in contrast to conventional “student-centered learning” models.
  • The school culture demands moral virtue, decorum, respect, discipline, and studiousness among the students and faculty—and simultaneously produces a spirit of wonder and a desire to know that which is good, true, and beautiful.

In short, classical education offers K-12 students the sort of rigorous education that undergraduate students receive at Hillsdale College.

Each of the Member Schools serves students from Kindergarten through 12th grade or has a plan to serve all grades as it grows and matures.

Treasure Valley Classical Academy, est. 2019

Mrs. Ronda Baines, a former teacher and homeschool parent, first learned about Hillsdale’s support for classical charter schools at a May 2015 College reception in Boise, Idaho. Over the next several years she led an impressive founding team to establish Idaho’s first Hillsdale Member School in a beloved old school facility in her community of Fruitland. The school opened in fall 2019 with 350 students in grades K-6. Now in its fifth year, Treasure Valley Classical Academy is thriving—and the board, led by Mrs. Baines, is already looking to expand its facility as the school grows to serve grades K-12.

Public charter school founders should begin by doing research on charter school requirements and conditions in their state. The “charter” agreement for each charter school is granted by an “authorizer” acting on behalf of the state’s education system (sometimes the authorizer is literally the state board of education). School founders will need to identify authorizers and the local processes and expectations for starting charter schools. Charter schools offer the advantages of a tuition-free public school, but school founders will need to determine if state requirements are consistent with an American classical education and their own vision for a school.

Private school founders have a different set of parameters to consider, but should be asking similar questions about who they wish to reach and how best to do so. Without the opportunity to receive state funds, private school founders will need to put a high priority on fundraising and marketing plans—though these are also important concerns for charter school founders.

Building a Board

The relationship between Hillsdale College and its Member Schools is unique in the charter school world. The College does not own, govern, manage, or profit from any affiliated school. The College’s services to Member Schools include consulting, curriculum, and training; these services are supported through gifts to Hillsdale College, and affiliated schools incur no financial obligation for receipt of these services.

Starting a school is a project that should involve a unified but diverse group of people. Unity of mission is essential to the success of the project, and so is a diversity of skills, experience, and background. Whether in a charter or private school environment, starting a school requires capability in business, education, law, finance, fundraising, and real estate—and also strong connections with the community of students and families the school hopes to reach.

Good founding boards meet regularly, set clear goals, and make regular progress towards those goals. Founding a school is like running a marathon, not a sprint, and success requires steady and deliberate progress. Most school founding efforts will take 2-3 years to move from inception to school opening.

A good board may include some special interests (e.g., a parent seeking to create a school for his or her child’s benefit), but the best boards are primarily composed of those motivated by charity, civic duty, and a love of classical education.

In most cases, a founding board is not a governing board—though the same members may eventually become the governing board. A founding board is usually operational, and its members are intimately involved in the work of starting a school. When the board begins to hire employees, it will need to transition out of management and into governance. Making this transition is key to the success of the school.

Receiving Support from Hillsdale College

Hillsdale College assists schools and school founding groups who demonstrate fidelity to our mission and program, have a strong plan for a successful launch, and are selected through our competitive application process. Notably, Hillsdale College does not own, govern, or manage its affiliated schools. Rather, all of the schools supported by Hillsdale College are established as a collaborative effort between the College and a local founding effort that does the hard work to assemble a team, develop a plan, and see the project to completion. The College provides curriculum, consultation, and training—allowing a local and often inexperienced group of citizens to replicate our model of an excellent American classical education in their own community.

Hillsdale College’s K-12 team reviews applications on an annual basis with applications due in July. For more information, email us at [email protected].

Contact Us About Starting a School

For inquiries about how to receive Hillsdale College K-12 support or curriculum, please email us at [email protected].

For other inquiries, please give us a call at (517) 437-7341

Many of our most frequently asked questions have been answered at our FAQ page.