A gutsy business executive in Raleigh, North Carolina, designed a private school that delivers a quality education for around $5,000. This innovative design has been replicated to four campuses so far, and even greater expansion is planned.
Recently I had the privilege of visiting Thales Academy. The founder of this school system, Bob Luddy, has been written about frequently in the press. He is the remarkably successful CEO of CaptiveAir, a company that manufactures ventilation equipment.
Most impressive to me in the design of Thales is the Operational Model. The governance, administration, and learning design were all good, but it's in the operations where this school really stands out.
This independent school charges 40% less than the state spends on each student, yet pays its teachers and staff salaries comparable to the public schools in the area. By comparison, North Carolina annually spends approximately $8,500 per public school student, which is low relative to most other states. Only Texas, Utah and Arizona spend less per pupil, and the national average in the US slightly exceeds $11,000.
We've seen plenty of private schools with an inexpensive tuition that is generally accomplished by hiring teachers who are willing to work for ridiculously low wages. Not so at Thales. Thales recruits highly qualified administrators and teachers who enjoy the quality of life commensurate with such a professional career.
1. By limiting the number of non-teaching staff in the building to two people: The Principal and an assistant.
2. By designing a school building footprint that is energy efficient and logistically easy to manage.
3. By creating economies scale, such as centralized accounting and management for all campuses.
4. By keeping it simple.
In my tour of Thales campuses I was impressed with the overall faculty culture, the commitment to a safe learning environment, and the consistency classroom to classroom in the student experience. Schools are not manufacturing facilities, but Bob Luddy and his team have gleaned some of the best practices from his business success to create an innovative school system that will be a competitive force wherever it goes.