We're Going to Miss You, St. Anthony's
St. Anthony High School (Jersey City, NJ) is terminating operations this month. After 65+ years of service to a diverse population, the leadership ran out of money because the economic model of the school was unsustainable. It's a harsh reality that President Bob Hurley, Sr., and his team were unable to overcome. I'm sad for the families of Jersey City and the many students and alumni who will be impacted by the loss of this important community institution.
This isn't a new trend for private schools nor for charters--who don't have the advantage of a government safety net. Back in 2013 The Atlantic published an article entitled, "Why Private Schools are Dying Out." This sentence was particularly interesting:
What's really happening here are big structural changes across the industry as the traditional model of private education -- at both levels -- becomes unaffordable, unnecessary, or both, and as more viable options for students and families present themselves.
It's true--over the last decade competitive forces and structural changes have forced private schools to close or adapt. Too many school leaders have convinced themselves that they aren't leading a "business," but the laws of economics apply to schools too. You don't get a "pass" on managing cash-flow and creating a sustainable economic model just because you're trying to help kids. The healthiest schools are re-examining the design of their business models to find more efficient ways to govern and operate.
At School Growth we believe that a plurality of high quality options (including vibrant private schools) is critical to the advancement of education quality and economic growth. Furthermore, because they have less encumbrances to limit innovation, private schools can contribute uniquely to our collective body of knowledge about what works and what doesn't work in modern school leadership and design.
While innovation in education is heavily focused on the Learning Domain of school design, more emphasis is needed on the Operations Domain to find economies-of-scale through collaborative cost-cutting among schools, wise outsourcing of functions that don't directly contribute to the value proposition of the school, and improved management practices.
Like St. Anthony's, more schools will go out of business over the next few years. The question is, how and what can we learn from these scenarios to create more sustainable schools?