When Sara was 3, she attended an exceptional Montessori school here in Mesilla. The proprietor, Ms. Shirley, created a wonderful learning environment with top notch staff and quality learning materials. CYFD commented that her preschool was one of the best run facilities in the area and held to the highest standards beyond what the state required. The families whose children attended were very happy with the program and students adored Ms. Shirley. Tragically, the school closed after being open for roughly 18 months. Ms. Shirley later commented to me that the income the school generated didn’t offset the costs. The business model behind the operation of the school had failed. A small group of parents got together with Ms. Shirley to see if we could resurrect the school but everyone felt it was too late. Having experienced the disappointment of losing this great school, I want to do everything I can to ensure Acton Academy Las Cruces can stand the test of time. My baby Zach is 18 months old and it is my goal to get him graduated from high school through Acton. Zig Ziglar said, “Never make a promise without a plan.” Here is my plan…..
When we began the process of launching an Acton Academy, we were provided with financial information on what the average cost of opening a school was. The average costs were roughly $300,000 to $1,000,000 for a full K-12 program. As I am paying the final bills for our school remodel and equipment, I can vouch for those numbers. The fire sprinkler system alone was $80,000. Launching the school has been a huge financial investment without a guarantee of any financial return. Evicting all the paying tenants in the building and buying the land next door was a leap of faith. This, however, was not a “business” investment on our part but rather a way for us to invest in our own children and your children. Investing time and money in the next generation will pay dividends more beautiful and rich than any stock market portfolio. As I watch the children, I see future scientists, inventors, artists, mathematicians, naturalists, speakers, leaders, entertainers, philanthropists, chefs, writers, entrepreneurs, and teachers. Above all, I see children who will grow up to be adults of character who believe in honor, bravery, hard work, showing compassion and forgiveness, honesty, and doing what is right even if it’s hard. I believe in the hero’s journey philosophy which is why building good character at Acton is equally as important as academics.
This past week, I spent a great deal of time budgeting and reviewing cash flow for the school. With any startup business, operating in the red is anticipated for the first months and possibly years as clientele is established etc. Our goal is to be in the black by fall 2017. To do this we need the school to be at 60+ students. When I started the school, we anticipated 20 students at launch. Enrollment has blown me away and I am excited to report we will likely be at 40 students by January. I offer school tours twice a week and I have been booked solid for the past 8 weeks with potential new families. Some families are considering a move to Las Cruces solely based on finding a good school. People are excited about Acton! At some point, we will likely have a waiting list to join our program.
The tuition of $5900 is competitive with other local private schools and significantly lower than the state average of $8200. This price doesn’t necessarily cover the hard cost of the individual student until we reach the 60-student enrollment mark. We felt that this was a price our market could bare. We offered scholarships to every family who needed financial aid to attend the school. As the administrator of the school, I am not drawing a salary which helps me keep my promise of no fundraising since we don’t have to pay an admin salary. I am using technology like SmartTuition and Vcita to handle collections and scheduling which avoids paying accounting and secretarial staff. I am committed to avoid fundraising! I am motivated not by a paycheck, but by a mother’s passion for her children and deep belief in helping other likeminded families pursue excellence for our children’s education.
To summarize our 2017 goals…… Our goal is to be a learner driven community where students are challenged with self-paced work and real world projects. Our goal is to pay staff well to ensure the highest motivation level and exceptional personnel working with our kids. Our goal is to invest in new technology and programs for students – like microscopes and extra classes such as sewing, baking, carpentry, agriculture, film making, etc.. Our goal is to build a green house on campus so children can experience hydroponics and sustainable fisheries – yes I want to grow fish at school and have chickens too! Our goal is to give students unique experiences to expose them to our big beautiful world. How will we do this? By working together to grow enrollment. The only way our school has long term sustainability is to max out enrollment. Our building can hold 99 students per zoning codes. Even as our school grows, I will continue to provide the same level of service you have experienced and feel we can even do better with more experience under our belts!
You can help us grow by sharing our Facebook posts, giving us a 5-star rating on social medial and Google, writing a testimonial letter for marketing purposes, and spreading the word to friends and family about the good things happening at Acton. Many of our new students have come based on referrals from existing Acton families – thank you! Without your support, we wouldn’t have a school.
Thank you for your faith in me and this collective vision we have for our children. I am sincerely grateful and humbled by this entire experience.
P.S. Some have asked about our corporate status. We opted not to be a nonprofit as we couldn’t personally deduct any of the huge initial expenses. We couldn’t afford to invest in the school and not at least have some positive tax benefit. Additionally, Mesilla found it very desirable that we were a for profit school as we would pay gross receipts tax. This was a factor that I believe encouraged them to give us our zoning exception. Over the years, I have served on many nonprofit boards. Getting work done with a board involved can be very slow. My former real estate company employees used to joke with me that if I had an idea, it was implemented the next day. I have enjoyed this autonomy with launching the school to tweak things without having to go through a committee. I have asked our CPA to give me an analysis on becoming a nonprofit down the road to see if this makes sense.