What Happens When Schools Adopt a Startup Culture.

You may be in one of two places. Either, you’ve just survived the holidays with each and every family member asking the dreaded question, “What are you plans after graduation?” Or, you’ve spent the last few months (or years) thinking that you need a change; the job you thought would bring you opportunity, ignite your passion, and grow your career has turned into a daily grind with no end in sight. Maybe you’re ready to take the next step in your career, but you’re looking to build a few key skills or find a role that is crafted just for you. You’ve considered various startups but want the assurance that you’re dedicating your time to a job that matters and an organization that will leverage your strengths, develop your skills, and, let’s be honest, pay the rent – this is New York City, after all.

When I began my career at Classical Charter Schools in 2012 I was looking for the same thing. I was a recent college graduate and a Teach for America corps member. Classical was a single K-5 charter school with a small staff of 40 people, mostly in instructional roles. In the past eight years, the organization has grown to include four charter schools, with two in the pipeline, 275 staff members, a Business and Human Resources team, a growing Data and Research group, a robust Talent department, a teaching fellowship that has attracted top candidates and transformed them into excellent educators, and a School Leader Fellowship that is rapidly preparing stand-out staff members to spearhead new schools and replicate our exceptional educational outcomes throughout the South Bronx.

I began as a learning specialist at Classical, a support role that provides a mixture of small and whole group instruction. The following year, I was promoted to a lead teacher position and was provided with ample support from my instructional coach to propel my scholars to unparalleled success in our district. As I built a skill base and passion for curriculum development through lesson planning and revising Classical’s scripted curriculum, I partnered with organizational leadership to design a unique curriculum planner role that enabled me to work part time while pursuing a second graduate degree. Because of the ample opportunities for growth and the intentionally diffused leadership structure, I was able to earn a leadership position the following year, being responsible for an team of teachers. Since then, I have led various teams to achieve 100% scholar pass rates on New York State Assessments and moved into a position as an instructional coach for the growing network. Most notably, I’m positioned to open our next school before my 30th birthday as the school director.

My experience at Classical is not unique. Because of Classical’s in-house leadership development and adaptable organizational structure, our staff can operate as though they are working in a successful startup. Staff members quickly develop a broad set of skills that, when combined with our accelerated growth as a company, allows them to quickly ascend into leadership positions or adapt to new roles that fill the changing needs of our growing organization.

Classical’s growth model has successfully brought the best aspects of a startup company into the landscape of education. The result has been a significant shift in the attitude and professionalism of teaching and education leadership, data-driven success for kids, and the creation of a new generation of leaders that set the standard for education in the 21st century. By combining a startup ethos with intense professional development and support, our staff is able to accelerate their career growth and possibly end their search for the perfect company in which to build a meaningful career that inspires excellence.


This post was contributed by Ms. Erin Linnehan, a School Leader Fellow at Classical Charter Schools. As a non-CMO charter network, we rely on the thoughts, opinions, and innovations of our staff to move our mission forward and provide an excellent academic option to families in the South Bronx. To hear more from our staff, check out the next post! Or, click here to learn more.

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