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Five Reasons Serving on the Athlos Board is Fun Right Now

About 18 months ago, a friend of mine, Bethany Zeyer, let me know about an open position on the Athlos Academy of Utah school board. I've always had a passion for education, and my kids' school seemed like a place where I could have a positive effect on the community.

Also, I'd just finished reading "The Smartest Kids in the World" by Amanda Ripley and, based on Amanda's advice, interviewed the school's director.

I was in the mood to contribute!


I applied and was accepted, and I've been serving on the board for a little over a year now.

Since then, I've learned a whole lot about how a school is run.

I've learned that someone needs to determine the school guidelines for pesticide usage.



And that someone needs to be thinking about the long-term future of the school, whether or not to increase grade capacity, whether or not to match the pay increases big school districts are giving, and most importantly, evaluate whether or not the school is achieving its mission.

Really, though, in the beginning, it was boring (you don't say?). It was a headache combing through policy documents and carefully parsing rules to make sure that procedures were clear and efficient, that the rights of students and teachers were protected, and that the law was upheld. I think in the first year we probably reviewed over 50 policies (as a group, mind you, meaning the discussion for a single one could sometimes take 30 minutes).

But that phase of establishing the school taught me a lot. And now, we are on to more impactful things:

1. Athlos Academies 

Athlos Academy of Utah is part of a collection of charter schools across the United States which are all under a parent organization that provides a number of services for the school that a district would normally take care of. It also provides an organizational and branding model (they hire the director, they provide the school logo). This entity is called Athlos Academies, is based in Boise, Idaho, and charges the school a fee for these services, organization, and branding.

The school wouldn't be what it is today without these guys.

As a board, it's our job to keep tabs on this relationship, both the cultural and the contractual, making sure that both are healthy. This summer, in conjunction with some of the points that follow, we've been reviewing this contract, and it's really fun because it is something that will have far-reaching effects for the future success of the school.

Evaluating the cost of what Athlos Academies provides is complex. Some things come down to dollars and cents, while other things come down to the "cost" of local choice and local management. Stakeholders on both sides need to be satisfied. And looking for and finding that win-win for everyone is invigorating.

For me, I got my kids into this school because I wanted to have a bigger say in their education, and this is one of the biggest chances I've ever had to do it.

2. School Director Search

As you may already know, we are looking for a new school director this summer. (Athlos calls their principals directors.) Esther, the former director, was a legend, especially for her diligence in setting up operations and a culture that is infused with the mission of the school: Healthy Body, Prepared Mind, and Performance Character.

Now that she has gone to direct a different school, we as the board get to be a part in finding the new director for this fall.

I'll be honest with you: My primary reason for selecting Athlos over other charter schools for my kids was the result of my interview with Esther. I believe that perhaps the single most important thing to consider when looking into school is the staff, starting at the top.

The downside is that, in most cases, picking one director over another means sending my kids to a different school, which comes with its own challenges.

But now, I get to hand-pick my director *without* changing my school! How cool is that?

3. Building Purchase 

One awesome job that the board has is making sure the school is financially viable, which sometimes means looking for ways to save money long-term. Currently, Athlos leases its building from the parent organization (Athlos Academies), and there are some advantages to us looking at other options to lower the school's risk and make the balance sheet a little brighter.

One of those options is to purchase the building and bond for the funds. This has the potential to save the school a lot of money in the long-term.

In the last couple of months, we as a board have learned a lot about bonding, about building appraisals, and several other factors that are helping us decide whether or not now is the right time to make a big leap like this.

Honestly, it's been both humbling and exciting to be entrusted with decisions like these.

4. Enrollment 

One of the bigger challenges that a charter school has is recruitment.

There are, of course, dozens of charter schools for a family to pick from in the surrounding area, and the vast majority of a school's funding is based off of enrollment.

And because of enrollment caps, families have to apply, potentially get waitlisted, and then declare their intent to enroll. These extra steps, though simple in the end, are an extra hurdle for charter schools to overcome.

We as a board get to administer the waitlist, determine grade caps and distribution, and, most importantly, work hard on getting the word out about the school's mission and vision and making it easy for families to apply.

Well, this year, we are shooting for 1000 students enrolled by September.

It's fun to have a goal that will have such a positive impact on students, teachers, and the community.

5. Ninth Grade

The board recently announced its approval for the school to start the process of opening 9th grade in 2019-2020!

Being on the board allowed me to be a part of that.

Honestly, the single biggest stress for me with my soon-to-be 7th grader was whether or not to keep him in Athlos, given that they currently don't offer 9th grade (though will be in 2019). I didn't want him to go to 7th and 8th at Athlos and then spend just one year at Copper Mountain Middle.

On the other hand, he has really thrived at Athlos, loves the teachers, and I know, in the end, that it takes a community to make a school like Athlos succeed.

Now, we get to do something super-cool: Help open up a new grade at the school.

Bonus: Volunteer Recruitment! 

And you may have guessed it already, but you are being recruited to help us out right now!

The board gets to do its own recruitment. We are looking for people who want to help out.

Whatever your availability, if you want to help, we have something for you!

There are roles with the board that literally take 1 hour per month to do, while there are others that take 15-20 hours per month.

The needs we have are the five (six!) I just listed.

If any of those things sound interesting to you: Contract Negotiation, Leadership Search, Real Estate, Student Recruitment, School Administration, or Volunteer Recruitment, then contact me at info@athlosutah.org

And, of course, we'd love to have you on the board! If that sounds like something that you'd like to do, then fill out this board application form and email it to me at info@athlosutah.org

(P.S.: Don't let ability or availability deter you. I have neither, too! =])

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