How To Start A School in 2022 Step-by-Step Guide

by | How to Start a School, Learning

How to Start a Private School

So, you are interested in how to start a school. Great! You are in the right place.

It is one of the most googled questions amongst passionate teachers desperate to stay in education, but not under the challenging conditions in today’s traditional schools and some established private schools. 

It came as a total shock, when thousands of people, teachers, and a few parents, found a Youtube video I did explaining how I started my own school. They couldn’t believe that a teacher, like them, with little funds and resources, started a school and was fully accredited. 

Most information on starting a school will say that it’s a lengthy, expensive, and complicated process. My experience was different. It was totally different.

I wouldn’t say it’s easy. It is work! This will be an investment of your time, money, and faith. But it’s totally doable and I want to help you on your journey. I am going to take you step-by-step through what I think you should do to start the process of starting a school.

10 Steps on How to Start a School of Your Dreams

  1. Find Community
  2. Determine what type of school you want
  3. Create an advisory board
  4. Determine where your school will be located
  5. Develop a business plan
  6. Create a budget 
  7. Identify your business structure 
  8. Develop a fundraising strategy 
  9. Develop a marketing plan
  10.  Find and Train your staff

Along with sharing the 10 steps you need to take, I’m going to share some resources with you! I’ve published YouTube videos on my Cindy Lumpkin channel on some of these different steps. It’ll make it really easy for you to dive deeper as you get going. 

Also, this happens to be my first blog on this subject. I plan to publish several more in the upcoming weeks and months. This article will be updated from time to time with new information or links.

If you don’t want to miss what’s new join my mailing list here, so you can stay up-to-date on inspirational and practical advice about how to start a school. 

Let’s jump in!

Step 1. Find Community 

If you are serious about this process, the first thing I suggest you do is to find other people who are taking this journey. This is my number one piece of advice. This journey can be so lonely. 

It doesn’t matter if they are across town or out of state. But it is vitally important for several reasons:

  • It provides support. Trust me you will encounter moments of discouragement. Having community will help you fight feelings of hopelessness that may come on this journey. It can also help celebrate those small victories.
  • It provides connection and belonging. Togetherness is so critical to our experience as humans. Connecting with others who share some of our values, interests, and world view helps us understand we are not alone.
  • It provides an opportunity for us to share, give back and learn from one another. Let’s face it, teachers are some of the most giving people there are. It’s in us to want to give back. I believe it’s an innate desire. There is so much I am still learning from the many teachers and parents in our School Builders community. For example, people are often finding new, easier, and less expensive ways to do so many things as it relates to creating and running private schools. I can’t possibly keep on top of all the changes. But I come close because of connections. 

Don’t underestimate the importance of finding a crew who understands and who can speak to you where you are. The networking opportunities among you will prove to be invaluable. 

I wish I could give you an invitation to our School Builders community. We are still deciding how it will be structured and the qualifications to be a member. We want to be a safe place for serious, committed, and passionate people interested in taking this journey.

If you want to be notified when we have worked everything out, sign up for my newsletter. This group will be the first to know.

Step 2. Determine what type of school you want.

This step is twofold. I don’t want to assume that we are on the same page with knowing what type of school I am trying to position you to start. Therefore, let me make it clear.

Ideally, one can start a charter school. This is NOT the type of school I help teachers and parents to create. This type of school is a HUGE undertaking. In addition, it’s expensive and in some situations will need to be approved by your local school board. The application is ridiculous too.

We are not even building your typical, well-established, rooted-in-money private school. (It could for sure turn into one.). Although what I am helping you to create is technically a private school, you most likely are a one or two-man show. And right now you may not have a lot of resources, but your business structure will be that of a private school.

Thus, for many of you, it will be a micro-school. In other words, a small school that serves generally 5 and upwards of 150 students. It can be religious or non-religious. It can be accredited or non-accredited.

I encourage you to watch this video if you haven’t already. It talks about this more in context.

How Will Your School Actually Look

Now that we are on the same page, what type of school do you envision? Will it be a k-12? How about a middle school or high school only? Maybe you want a day school or boarding school? Or, is your vision a Montessori or a specialized school where you work with students who have learning differences only?

It’s ok, create your ideal school on paper. Dream big! Your vision may be to one day operate a k-12 program, but you may start off with either elementary, middle, or high. You may even start with k-12 in a more modern one-room school house concept. 

The possibilities are endless. Dream big! But know that it’s totally ok to start small and grow into your long-range vision of your school. The cool part about this is that you are the architect. 

I totally went against the gain and start with the high school first. Within about two years, I worked my way down to middle school. Eventually, I will start to serve elementary. 

But How Did You Know?

You may be asking, “how do I arrive at knowing how this school should look?” Well, I have two different answers- it can be a Calling and/or business strategy. 

The business person in me says, “Search for parents who are interested in having an alternative education for their children.” 

Survey these parents and maybe even some teachers in the area too. What is it that they want?  A good business move or sound business decision is to start a school that is in demand in the area. 

On the other hand, I allowed my Call from God to determine the type of school I created. I LOVE working with students who learn differently.

More specifically, I LOVE working with those from middle and lower-income households who can’t afford the “traditional” private schools, but desperately need their flexibility and smaller community where everyone is seen and heard.

I want you to follow your passion, I want you to succeed too. However, assess the actual need for a school in your area. Are the public schools performing well or badly? Can families in your community pay tuition? 

Depending on where you live, a private school may or may not generate enough interest. Seriously consider this. 

Lastly, I will not discuss it much in this article. But knowing what type of school you want will help as you decide on what type of curriculum you will use. 

Step 3. Create an advisory board

Please understand the difference between an advisory board and a community as I discussed above. Many of you, like me, are the visionaries of your school. You are the founder. 

When you form your board you will seek people who are in support of your vision. They will hopefully use their gifts and talents to help you achieve your vision for the school. 

This group will empower you. But they will have less stack in your business. Most likely they will not see the daily ends and outs.

Who are the ideal people you would want on your advisory board? I would ask a few parents and other influential people in the community. It would be great if they had a heart for education or young people. However, they don’t have to, but they need to have skills that would help the organization.

I would ask members of your community who have financial, legal, management, and building experience. You can ask people who are on the boards of other foundations or work for them. 

Connections are key. One of these people could very well connect you to a resource that you will need.

When you make the ask, be sure that you ask for and get a commitment of time and financial support from each member. This group can become the core of your first board of directors. 

In the meantime, they can give you advice in their specific areas of expertise. They can provide feedback as you make decisions about what type of school you will build.

Step 4 Determine where your school will be located

This is another two-fold step. What side of town will your school be or what side of town would you like for it to be? Make sure you are not competing with any other schools in that area. 

Have you ever heard of Woodard Academy? It’s a nationally ranked private k-12 school. However, its campus looks more like a college. My school was located within blocks of it. We literally could walk to their campus.

It wasn’t a big deal because they weren’t my competitors. Anyone looking at their school wasn’t looking at my school.  And anyone looking at my school wasn’t their ideal student.

You really want to have an idea of the side of town. Later on when you are planning your budget, you will need to know an average amount of what to expect for leasing space. Remember, all this could change, but it’s good to have an idea going into it.

Find a Physical Home

Now that you know what side of town you want to be on, you can start the process of locating a facility for your school. It might be a good idea to get a realtor to be a part of that advisory team. They can be a wealth of information about what leasing and/or purchasing prices look like for the area. Also, having them scout out properties can be one less thing you do.

Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. You may not need your own building. You may be able to lease or sublease from another organization within the community. The most important is safety and all schools require good locations. 

Step 5 Develop a business plan

Don’t stress! 

A business plan is important because it will serve as your blueprint of how your school is going to operate. However, it doesn’t have to be perfect nor do I believe you have to outsource this.

The reason why I don’t feel it’s a life of death document at this point is that I wouldn’t recommend getting a loan. At least not one so much they would actually ask for this document. 

It would be awesome to have someone on your advisory board who is an expert here. If not, no worries! Put one together that has all the basic components. 

The plan will be good to share with potential board members when you start to recruit them. It will show how serious and well-prepared you are. Your business plan can also keep you focused as you cast your vision. 

Step 6 Create a budget 

Great news here! If you do your business plan well enough this will be done. However, the budget which is part of the business plan is extremely important. I don’t want to minimize this.

When I developed my budget, I focused on a 3 years operating budget. I was very detailed with my expenses and income projections. 

I feel like you are a little tired of me talking about this advisory board, but the financial person on your advisory board should be responsible for developing this critical document. So hopefully you have someone in mind for this.  

As you project your assumptions about income from tuition, fundraising, and grants, be conservative. Factor in some wriggle room in case things don’t go as planned.

Step 7 Identify your business structure

Another key step is to determine what your business structure will be. Will you be a sole proprietor? I do not recommend this. It’s best to put separation between you and the school.

With that said, you will most likely be a limited liability company or a partnership if someone is working with you. There is also the option of being a non-profit. 

File incorporation papers with your Secretary of State. (Here I go again.) The lawyer on your advisory board should be able to handle this for you. There are costs associated with the filing, but nothing outrageous. Since the lawyer is on the board ideally he/she will donate their legal services to the cause.

For Profit or Non Porfit

Deciding for or against a nonprofit is critical. As a nonprofit, it’s much easier to fundraise. People will give money much more readily to a legal entity or institution as opposed to a person. If you decide to establish your own proprietary school, you will be on your own when it comes to raising money.

If you do decide on the nonprofit, you will have to apply for tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status from the IRS. This is a process. For your sake, I hope your lawyer can handle this application. 

No matter who does it, submit it as early in the process as you can so that you can begin to solicit tax-deductible contributions. People and businesses will definitely take your fundraising efforts much more favorably if you are a recognized tax-exempt organization.

Tax-exempt status might also help with local taxes. Check your individual state.

Step 8 Develop a fundraising strategy

Most of your school’s income will come from tuition in the beginning. Of course, this is outside of your start-up cost. However, you need a well-thought-out plan of how you will generate money in other ways.

Sorry, bake sales and car washes are not going to cut the mustard. Although, they still may have their place.

You need a strategic fundraising plan. Ideally, you and the team can work together to come up with a well throughout, creative plan that will work for your specific school.

At Triumph School, we love to include the kids. We like to show them off. So we hosted a Nightmare on Main Street, which was a hunted house the month of October. 

Once you finish the article check out the video below. I hope it can serve as motivation for you and get those creative juices flowing. 

What to Include in Your Plan

Over at Donor Box, they identified the following steps as a starting point in creating a strategic plan. 

  • Include your mission
  • Create objectives
  • Build a team
  • Find funding options for different donor types
  • Use new marketing techniques
  • Research campaigns by others
  • Start online fundraising 

Including well-planned appeals to foundations and local philanthropists in your plan can pay off. If you can afford it, I would hire a professional to help write proposals and identify donors. 

These documents are the gifts that keep on giving because you can use them over and over again. If you do have to change them, it would only be small things. Nevertheless, you will use them over and over again. 

A well throughout and implemented plan can pay off big time. Not only can it help you obviously meet your fundraising goals, but it can help you build a deeper connection with your donors.

The Village Schools

Establishing a connection with your donors is powerful. To give you an example, I donated to The Village Schools because I just love the founder and her vision and mission. 

About five days after making my online donation, I got a package in the mail. It was from The Village Schools. Inside the package was a little stuffed animal with the following written on his shirt, “Thanks for being a friend of The Village Schools. 

She hooked me! I felt so important and like a friend…I felt a connection. It most likely will not be my last time donating. 

She wants everyone to walk away feeling like I did. It’s part of her strategic fundraising plan. She also includes a handwritten letter. This too is a part of her plan. Super creative!

Step 9 Develop a marketing plan

You can’t afford to get this wrong. Many times we think we can just build it and they will come. Well, that is NOT true. Not by a long shot. You have to promote and promote some more.

A marketing plan includes all your school’s marketing goals and objectives combined into a single comprehensive plan. The plan will include detailed information on how it’s going to achieve its marketing goals. 

Part of that plan could be advertising for students using billboards and using ads on social media. Designing a website and setting up a mailing list to keep interested parents and donors in the know should also be a part of the plan. 

Marketing is one of those things where you need to be consistent. You may not see any results from your labor immediately, but it does pay off. It can be expensive. However, once again you have to be creative to get it all done.

Step 10  Hire and Train your staff

You are most likely starting small. I still suggest laying the groundwork for when you are ready to hire staff.

I also suggest avoiding being the one-man show. This may mean you have someone part-time or better yet a volunteer who can give you a few hours a week.

Will You Be Head of School?

I have assumed that you will be Head of School. If you are not going to be the one who will run day-to-day operations, I suggest you identify someone soon.

It is critical to attracting skilled faculty and your Head of School should be involved in that process. So, if this person isn’t you, identify them as soon as possible.

Start by writing job descriptions for the Head of School position. Do the same for faculty positions. These descriptions should be specific to your vision/mission and the type of school you are creating.

I will say that you are looking for self-starters who enjoy building something from scratch. Ideally, you may want certified instructors, but in many states, they don’t have to be. I have hired amazing certified and non-certified teachers.

One way to attract great employees and volunteers is to sell them on the vision of your school. If your school is filling an identifiable need in the community, people will love the opportunity to be a solution.

You may be worried about paying competitive compensation. It could be an issue, but I also think there are many people who like the idea of flexibility. I also think retirees are a group that goes untapped for volunteer and paid positions.

How To Start A School Wrap-UP

At the beginning of this article, I promised I would share steps on how to start a school. I identified and went into detail on the following steps:

  1. Find Community
  2. Determine what type of school you want
  3. Create an advisory board
  4. Determine where your school will be located
  5. Develop a business plan
  6. Create a budget 
  7. Identify your business structure 
  8. Develop a fundraising strategy 
  9. Develop a marketing plan
  10. Find and Train your staff

This process can seem overwhelming. It looks more intimidating than it really is. 

I tried to beat the horse over the head with the different members you may consider for your advisory board. But, I personally did these steps by myself. However, I would NOT recommend you do that.

Your success will be greater as you get others to buy into your vision. So, take the time needed to sell your advisory board, parents, community, and staff on the school’s vision.

Lastly, if this article has been helpful please let me know below with a comment. If you have a question that I can answer, I sure would be happy to do so. And if you are new and don’t know much about me, read a little here.


  1. Olivia West

    This was some GREAT information! Thank you Cindy! I will be sharing this with my colleagues

    • Cindy Lumpkin

      Thank you and please do. My goal is to be a wealth of information for anyone wishing to embark upon this journey.

  2. James Aumack

    I have just completed a 8000 word true story regarding why we started our own Afterschool Program that ran for 20 years and brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars in Grant Money in Jersey City, New Jersey. This program ran for over twenty years and serviced hundreds of minority children. In New Jersey there is money available from both State and Federal sources if you are a Registered Non-Profit Corporation and have the guts to apply and operate the project. If interested on how we did it get in touch with me at [email protected] and I’ll send along my true story.

    We started this project because several teachers were removed from the Bd. of Ed. afterschool jobs and replaced with ‘favorite sons’ so to speak. We moved on and they failed.

    • Cindy Lumpkin

      This is wonderful. I would love to hear your story.


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