Frequently Asked Questions about Starting a Wildflower School
Can anyone start a Wildflower School?
The School Startup Journey is designed for Montessori trained teachers who are interested in starting their own, co-led Montessori school. If you are currently in Montessori training or are exploring training, we are happy to connect with you to design a timeline that might make the most sense for your unique journey.
Is there an application process to open a Wildflower school?
In keeping with our nonhierarchical model, Wildflower does not have a formal application process to begin the School Startup Journey. Instead, the School Startup Journey is organized into phases, with clear decision points when teachers and members of Wildflower come together to discuss the school’s vision, plan, and alignment with network principles. These decision moments are conducted through an advice session in which the teacher team has an opportunity to share their plan with members of the Network, receive feedback, and ultimately make a decision whether to open their school with Wildflower and move forward with the process, or leave the School Startup Journey. If someone within Wildflower has a concern with their decision, they can raise the concern with the team directly. Wildflower has a process to support that conversation. Typically, this open dialogue results in the teachers making a clear decision for themselves whether Wildflower is the right community in which to open their school.
What is the typical amount of time it takes to open a school?
At Wildflower, we have seen a range of startup timelines, from the accelerated to the extended. Typically, we recommend thinking of this as a 12 - 18 month process. However, within that, there are key decisions, opportunities and challenges that will impact your timeline, such as identifying a partner, leasing and renovating a facility, and securing startup funding. When embarking on this journey, it is important to know that this is an entrepreneurial journey and, as such, can be somewhat unpredictable. Our team is here to walk through these challenges with you, lending our advice and expertise. Ultimately, though, the decisions are yours to make.
Can any school be a Wildflower school?
Each Wildflower school is unique and a reflection of the identities of the Teacher Leaders along with its surrounding community. In practice, this community and teacher-led design process has resulted in schools operating in partnership with affordable housing developments, community centers, nonprofits serving refugee and immigrant families, shelters for women and children, and Indigenous language reclamation projects. Some of our schools are language immersion programs, some focus on centering children with neurodiversity and functional diversity, and others are nature / forest schools. While each school is a unique expression of its community, every Wildflower school is committed to nine principles. Wildflower schools can operate as independent non-profits, charter schools, magnet schools, and within district partnerships. Existing schools may convert and join the Wildflower network. The schools in our network serve children in 3-year age bands ranging from birth to 12th grade.
How big are Wildflower schools?
Wildflower schools are small, 1-2 room schools. Across the network, the smallest school serves ten toddlers and the largest schools have two classrooms serving 40-45 children. Schools remain small to avoid the administrative complexities associated with coordinating the activities of many classrooms, and to ensure that teachers are able to express their vision in the design and operation of their own school. The micro school model creates the conditions to center community while reminding us that each child, family member and teacher is an individual to whom respect is due.
Do Wildflower schools have to be in a shop front?
No, Wildflower has evolved our thinking on the shopfront principle and prioritizes spaces that are accessible and community-embedded. Wildflower schools are living systems, independent and whole, and at the same time each is part of a larger system – a thriving community. Each Wildflower school seeks to be connected directly to the public life of its community, visually and physically. Sometimes, this happens by placing schools in shopfronts on public streets along which people regularly walk, in neighborhoods that include residential and commercial activity. In some communities, the ground floor of a residence might work as well – so long as it’s on a street with foot traffic, has windows that allow children to see out and passersby to see in, and is separated from living spaces in such a way that the children’s environment feels like it is connected to the public square. Some Teacher Leaders open “seedling” programs in a home or temporary space before they find a permanent space. This allows them to serve children sooner, immerse themselves in Wildflower practices, and have additional time to plan for their permanent location. Seedling programs can help introduce Wildflower to a new community. Our current thinking is to support the creation of seedling programs, as long as the intention is to transplant the seedling to a permanent location within a few years.
Are Wildflower schools non-profit? Can Wildflower schools be for-profit?
Nearly all Wildflower schools in the network are not-for-profit – including The Wildflower Foundation. We prefer non-profit schools because it aligns with our philosophy that our schools are like living organisms and not the property of an individual, and because The Wildflower Foundation’s tax-exempt status can be jeopardized by gifts status prohibits us from providing anything of value as a gift to a for-profit entity. So far, we have identified one situation in which a different legal structure (such as an LLC) could make sense: some Wildflower schools start out as very small, one teacher, in-home programs or parent-child educational programs, both of which can be so small that the overhead associated with non-profit status would be overwhelming; we allow these programs to remain as for-profit programs until they are ready to move to a permanent location and become a full Wildflower school.
Can Wildflower schools open outside the U.S.?
Wildflower schools outside the U.S. may be organized differently. We have received significant interest from Teacher Leaders around the world, and because not-for-profit laws and structures are not the same in all places, some and may not always work.
Do I have to have a co-founder? How do I find a co-founder?
For the most part, yes. Starting and running a school is a huge endeavor and the support of a partner is crucial. Before starting a school, Teacher Leaders work together to determine that they have a shared vision and that they are a good match. They divide the teaching and administrative roles within the school, with each responsible for making the decisions necessary to carry out their own roles. This type of partnership requires trust, honest sharing, vulnerability and an appreciation of mistakes as learning opportunities. Wildflower Teacher Leaders embrace the idea of “Montessori for adults” and strive to treat each other with the same respect, kindness and compassion that they bring to their work with children.
Does Wildflower provide funding for starting a school?
Wildflower raises money to provide startup grants to teacher-leader teams as they start new schools and offer low-interest loans that do not require personal guarantees from the teacher-leaders. For more information on these programs, please visit the pages for Grants to Schools and the Sunlight Loan Fund.
How do Wildflower Teacher Leaders manage the responsibilities of both teaching and administration?
Most schools use a roles & responsibilities division system. Wildflower provides a basic template that schools individualize to the roles within their school. Every role within the school’s teaching and administrative spheres is listed, from giving lessons to managing the website to taking out the trash. Teacher Leaders use a scale to determine how much they want to take on each role, how skilled they are at the role and areas where they want to develop new skills. The Teacher Leaders share the roles by assigning the clear preferences and negotiating through the roles that they both want and that no one wants. The list is revisited annually.
What are Teacher Leader salaries? Do schools offer benefits?
Wildflower strongly feels that Teacher Leaders should be well compensated for their important work. As the leader of your own school, you (in partnership with your co-head of school and your board of directors) manage your school’s budget and set your salary. Schools strive to offer salaries between the typical teacher salary and administrator salary for a geographic area. Wildflower provides budget templates as a starting point to help you design your school’s financial model. Compensation and standard benefits are included in these templates, though Wildflower Teacher Leaders have the autonomy to adjust compensation and benefit offerings according to their own vision for their schools. The Wildflower Foundation has established (optional) partnerships to allow schools to access health, dental, and retirement savings benefits.