Why and How to Open a Microschool

Acton Academy, Austin. Image courtesy of Tom Vander Ark.

Microschools have been popping up around the country for the last decade. New learning models and tools have made it easier to open small schools serving 15 to 150 students.

There are at least four reasons to open a microschool:

  1. Speed: Given their small size, microschools can be opened quickly in nontraditional spaces. They can be used to kickstart a change process by illustrating high engagement learning experiences and environments.
  2. Community: Microschools rapidly create new community-connected learning options (e.g., themes, careers, and experiences) for students.
  3. Needs: They can be designed to quickly address underserved student populations (e.g., preschool, dropout recovery and career education).
  4. Leadership: Microschools can be instrumental in leveraging teacher leadership.

Starting a microschool can lead to four successful outcomes:

  1. Small option: a good microschool with lean staffing can remain an attractive and sustainable local option.
  2. Flip host: strategies tested and exhibited by a good microschool launched within a larger school could be adopted by the host school.
  3. Big option: a good microschool could expand into a larger school option.
  4. Network: A successful microschool could serve as an anchor for a network of schools (examples below).

Some microschools are distinctive options and intentionally small:

  • One Stone is a student-centered design-focused school in Boise, Idaho (see feature, podcast, conference, and movie).
  • NuVu Studio is a design-focused school in Cambridge, Mass. (see feature).
  • The Forest School is an Acton Academy in the woods of Fayetteville, Ga.
  • NOLA Micro Schools is an Acton Academy affiliate in New Orleans, La.
  • LEADprep is two secondary microschools in the Seattle area where young people develop the confidence and ability to lead.
KM Global, Kettle Moraine School District student playing guitar in a classroom. Image courtesy of Tom Vander Ark.

Microschools and academies within large schools can offer distinctive pathway options:

  • P-Tech and early college academies in Dallas, Texas are examples of school-within-a-school options that provide a pathway to college credit (up to an AA degree) while in high school.
  • E.P.I.C.C Academy at East Hall High in Gainesville, Ga. is a student-centered alternative for ninth and tenth graders (see feature).

Microschools can be launched in large high schools to kickstart personalized learning:

  • Kettle Moraine High School in suburban Milwaukee is home to three small schools launched to kickstart high school transformation (see blog and podcast).
  • Nearly all of the 380+ school partners of Summit Learning launched the personalized program in a small program.
  • Pathfinder spaces at all three levels of Singapore American School enabled teacher teams to illustrate and integrate the use of new flexible learning spaces.

Microschools launched in large schools can pilot competency-based learning:

  • Huntley High in suburban Chicago launched Vanguard Vision, a 200-student, competency-based academy as part of a state pilot program and an iterative approach to personalize learning in the large school. The academy will grow to 400 students and some of the practices will be incorporated schoolwide (see blog).
  • Synergy is a student-centered academy at Kuna Middle School in a southwestern suburb of Boise. It’s one of the 32 schools in the Idaho Mastery Education Network. A team of four teachers supports just over 100 students using the Summit Learning platform (see feature).

Networks of microschools (most are standalone academies) serve more students at scale:

Support organizations are launching that encourage early-stage founders:

  • 4.0 Schools encourages entrepreneurial problem-solving by offering an Essentials Fellowship to develop an idea that improves education in the United States, and a Tiny Fellowship to test it out.

For more, see:

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Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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1 Comment


I just want to point out a scrambled link above. "Action Academy" is supposed to Acton Academy. The second link takes you to the right group. The first link is not a microschool from what I can tell.

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