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Zeke is the founder and chairman of Manhattan GMAT, a national GMAT test-preparation company. The company employs over 100 administrative and instructional staff, has classroom centers in 7 major US[…]

Zeke Vanderhoek, the brains behind a revolutionary charter institution in Manhattan, explains how to do it.

Question: What’s the process?

Zeke Vanderhoek: It varies from state to state. So I only really know how to start a charter school in New York and that’s essentially there are three authorizing agencies in New York, the New York City Department of Education, SUNY which is the State University of New York and the board of Regions. You decide who you want to apply to and then you go through their application process. You need a board because charter schools are public schools that are nonprofits, there set ups are nonprofits and you go through the process. When we did it, first we had to write a concept paper. We applied through the New York City Department of Education. They narrow down all the concept papers that they received. Then we went in for an interview. Then we wrote a more extensive application. So the various stages along the way and ultimately it’s a pretty long process. I think it took us close to a year from when we started the process or at least when I started writing the Charter to when we actually got approved and the charter is essentially a contract, it’s a five-year contract so we have a five-year contract with New York State that says, “Hey, we are public school. We receive public money just like the public school down the street. The difference is that we can sort of run how we want to run within certain parameters. We operate the way we want to operate. A good example is we can pay teachers what we want to pay them.” And then at the end of the five years we are evaluated based on whether we’ve met the results, the goals that are laid out on our charter. If we have, we’re offered a renewal for five years if not then we’re shut down.

Question: Can administrators make changes given the current system?

Zeke Vanderhoek: It depends on the public system. New York City happens to have schools that aren’t charter schools but are autonomy schools or empowered schools so the flexibility may or may not be quite as high as what a charter school administrator and staff can make but there are certainly are schools certainly are much more flexible and principals are much more empowered now than New York City public schools than they were say ten years ago. So, again degrees of flexibility vary but I think a lot of the things that might at one time have not been the purview of a school, a principal, now are.

Recorded on: June 30, 2009