Savannah River Academy – An Amazing Parent Led Initiative!

Maribeth Burns, Principal at Savannah River Academy and her team are really making a difference in children’s education with their brand new school!  I learned so much from her in a phone conversation and school visit where she really took the time to outline details of the paperwork and process as well as how they handled some of the hurdles they encountered. I did get a chance to visit the school as well and will cover that in future blogs!

When I tell people I’m starting a school, most times they have a recommendation of a school for me to visit. I’m truly enjoying visiting schools and/or talking to the people who have created schools, but even after a few years, the details of that first step is blurry as it is in their rear view.  I’m so lucky to have been directed to Savannah River Academy by Linda Tucciarone at Heritage Academy and Gary Dennis of Jessye Norman School for the Arts.

Savannah River Academy started having classes THIS past FALL – only a few months ago! Everything is still fresh in the minds of the organizers, and I’m soaking up all the knowledge about the process that I can.

There were several logistical processes I hadn’t even thought about, like applying for zoning permits, meeting with commissioners about zoning and getting the fire marshal inspections!  This information alone made my thoughts swirl!

She directed me to make sure my Vision and Mission statements are in place, and to make sure I “go for the boring business part.”  Luckily, they had a team of emotionally and financially invested people that were determined to make the school a reality. The hard work was split up, and everyone made sure their piece of the puzzle was in place.

I on the other hand, right now, am working through this on my own, but I’m sure I too will have a team of wonderful people working toward our vision and mission.

Maribeth told me, first and foremost – Get my plan together and file for 501(c)3, this can be an arduous process and is time consuming. Hiring a lawyer may be necessary. Charitable donations cannot be accepted without 501(c)3 status being in place.

Assembling a board of directors and having bylaws are required, as well as a starting budget which is difficult to assess because in the beginning it is hard to predict what is needed for the first year. Applying for business license in the county is also required.

I learned that IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) doesn’t apply to private schools (honestly, I was very relieved to hear that, even though I have my Master’s in Special Education and one of my prospective board members has her Specialist degree as well, we really don’t believe the way the Special Education system works benefits the child as much as it creates extra paperwork). We also discussed immunization laws that have specific circumvention aspects protecting the group of children at large.

She stressed having board members that will stick to the vision and mission is very important. Heartwood ALC staff stressed this as well when I visited them. Boards have control of the organization, so they need to be able to trust you to run the school, and you need to be able to trust them to stick to the vision and mission!

We discussed teacher pay scales as well as the requirements for teachers and the accreditation process through SAIS (Serving and Accrediting Independent Schools) as principle GAC (Georgia Accreditation Commission). Originally the school thought they might have a hybrid program, but then decided to go for full accreditation and got it right away. Maribeth encouraged me to seek accreditation for the students and parents security as well as grant access and educational discounts.

We went over how the tuition based process works, the basic break up of payments and when they are due, the option of parent partnership contracts, and possible ways to handle exceptions to the process (e.g. students transferring away or to the area).

She told me when it is time for me to look for a location to be aware of the codes and county laws that have to be followed. I’m thinking this is one of those, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse” things. I don’t want to get shut down for not following laws and regulations of which I was unaware!

I cannot express how thankful I am for this information, much I which I was completely ignorant! Thank you so much Maribeth Burns!  You and your team are amazing!

Also, I will say again, it is wonderful that our communities can pull together and help each other with their visions and goals. Every positive change and link is a step in the direction of bettering our community, our state, our country, and our world.

Education is truly the key to living a wonderful life, and as a community, we want that for everyone!



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